Sea Stacks – A few tales: The old man of Stoer. An early ascent in 1968 and a ascent of a foam covered Stack!

Well done Bridget from Skye ( All things Culluin) for climbing the Old Man of Storr a sea stack near Lochinver. A great day out for you and Adrian and what a way to experience a birthday. It got me thinking about the fun we had on Sea Stacks. Yet they are not to be underrated as the sea and rock climbing can be very serious as the weather especially the wind can change so quickly.

The Old Man of Stoer

This was the first Sea stack I ever climbed was the Old Man Of Stoer near Lochinver it was in the 70’s. I was brought up with the tales of “Doctor Stack” Tom Patey in his classic book “One Man’s Mountains”. A few of the tigers in the team had done it not long after the first ascent. My pal Derrick Harman told me of an early ascent in boots and getting the tides wrong and having a long wait on the Stack. I am sure they had a ladder to cross the gap.

The Old Man Of Storr Monday 28 July 1968 – This an extract from the RAF Kinloss MRT Diary of the day! A party from RAF Kinloss of Gonk Ballantyne, Yeni Harman & George Bruce set out to climb the Old Man Of Stoer, they borrowed a ladder from the Ullapool Youth Hostel to get across to the Stac without getting wet. They reached the bottom of the climb at 1700, left the ladder in place ready for withdrawal. Bruce decided against climbing, due to steepness, hardness and being incredibly frightened. Ballantyne and Harman completed the climb having difficulty in places finding the route and being spat on by nesting birds on the ledges. They eventually abseiled off at 2300. The sea by this time was fully in and the ladder was by now 6 feet under water. They decided not to swim back due to man –eating seals who were waiting patiently for the wrong decisions to be made. They spent the night testing Mr Harmans’s new space blanket and a fairly comfortable bivouac. They awoke at 0300 and found that the tide had ebbed enough to allow a crossing using the ladder.Although only graded Hard Severe the exposure was frightening , the abseil off even worse, not recommended for anyone with a weak heart. The route was climbed in big boots! CLIMBED IN BIG BOOTS!

I remember on my first ascent the steep descent down grass to the sea and being a bit wary at the time. The best swimmer swum over and rigged a rope for others to cross. I found it pretty intimidating that first day as the weather changed, the abseil was interesting in the wind. As was the getting back over the Tyrollean across the gap.

A bit wild!

Original Route – VS 5a Old man of Stoer It was first climbed in 1966 by Brian Henderson, Paul Nunn, Tom Patey and Brian Robertson. Along with Am Buachaille and the Old Man of Hoy, it has become something of a legend among climbers.

The classic and popular sea stack (not to be confused with the Old Man of Storr on Skye!) More Crag Info here:

Approach notes: Park at the car parki near the Stoer Light house (58.237948, -5.400902). Head 3Km northwards to the sea stack, going over the hill of Sidhean Mor. Take a steep scramble down and either boulder hop to the stack at the lowest of tides or set up a Tyrolean traverse if one is not in place already by swimming the 8 meter channel. Using a 40m static rope for this will be easier than dynamic climbing ropes if you can be bothered to carry it. 30m is a little short for easy retrieval.

Tidal and wind affected. Park near the lighthouse and walk along the cliff-tops. Scramble down to the platform opposite the base of the stack.

A Tyrolean traverse is required to access the stack. If one is not in place then a swimmer (preferably a volunteer) is needed in the party. Bring enough rope to leave a Tyrolean in place and carry out the descent abseil (60m ropes advisable).

At spring low tides and with a small swell it is possible to step/wade across to the base of the stack on the right hand side (facing out). You can scramble around (anti-clockwise) to the top of pitch 2 of the “Ordinary Route”.

The local Team Leader of Assynt Phil Jones took me there years later and he had a plan worked out if there was a problem or Mountain Rescue incident on the stack. A few years later there was a tragedy in bad weather and despite the incredible bravery of a few there was a life lost here. It’s hard to think when your there on a good day how bad the weather can get.

Years later early 80’s with Stafford MRT the stack was covered in foam from the sea. This was due to storms and Jim Morning swum across!

Later on a few years we took some of the Hong Kong Civil Aid Team over on a visit. We had some laugh with them on the abseil whilst Teallach my dog swam round the stack with the seals. Since then I did a few ascents of Storr always found it an incredible place to be always with great troops. It gave you a very different day with the sea and the climb.

Bairns on the Stack photo LMRT

In the early days our ropes were 45 metres a bit short for the abseil. Top Tip : Ensure you check the abseil slings replace any dodgy looking bits! Keep your eye on the weather it can change fast.

A naked ascent !

When I left as Team Leader of Kinloss and Leuchars MRT I was presented with some slides that showed I had no clue of what the troops were up to at times. Many were the odd epic on the Stacks that I was oblivious to. Yet those adventures make you who you are and the team members such great folk. As you get older you appreciate this even more.

There is a bond there that few can experience in other walks of life. I am so lucky.

Next Time Am Buachaille Sandlewood Bay your comments welcome.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Gear, Mountaineering, People, Rock Climbing, SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sea Stacks – A few tales: The old man of Stoer. An early ascent in 1968 and a ascent of a foam covered Stack!

  1. This reads like an April 1st spoof. But I am entirely ready to believe it was all true! Hard men!


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