The Old Man of Hoy - notes
Ruth Love and Bryan Rynne

For more about our climb, with photos, see our trip report. On this page we have gathered together some basic notes on the journey and the climb for anyone contemplating doing it. We did the Original Route E1 5b ***, 135m. There is loads of information about how to do this route in the SMC guides and on the internet.

Some web pages I found useful:

How we got there:

  • Drove to Inverness Friday evening.
  • Drove to Scrabster (near Thurso) Saturday morning for the 13.15 ferry to Stromness (obviously, any times/prices will be out of date by now).
  • 3 hour wait in Stromness, then the 18.00 ferry to Moaness on Hoy.
  • Taxi to Rackwick (if staying in the youth hostel, the warden's husband drives the taxi, so when you phone her you can book the taxi!).
  • We stayed in the youth hostel, but there is also a quite a nice bothy just by the beach in Rackwick - it seems to be popular, so might be busy. The hostel is small and somewhat spartan, but is clean and comfortable. It has 8 bunk-beds. It also has storage heaters, so if there is no-one there before you, you won't get any heat for 24 hours. You need to book with Orkney Council (see number on above link), but you then phone the warden to arrange to pick up the key (this will give you something to do during your 3 hour wait in Stromness); she lives a couple of miles away from the hostel.
  • The return journey basically reverses this.

Notes on the journey:

  • The Scrabster-Stromness ferry requires foot passengers to be checked in 30 minutes early - although they only mention this in the fine print, they are strict about it. I saw people who were not there 30 minutes early being turned away. They also insist on photo ID (e.g. a passport) - again, this is in the fine print, and again they are strict about it.
  • If you drive there, there is a medium stay car park just inside the security gate at the terminal. The ferry docks about 800 yards past this, so it is worth driving to the ferry and dropping bags there, then taking the car back to the car park.
  • There is a later Scrabster-Stromness ferry, but the small ferry to Hoy leaves 15 minutes before the big ferry arrives. Similarly, on the return, the small ferry at a nice time in the morning arrives back in Stromness 15 minutes after the big ferry departs. Thus, you have to get the earlier ferry back to Stromness and wait there another 2.5 hours. The ferry companies are clearly being deliberately awkward, but I have no idea why.
  • Julia's cafe is straight across the car park from the Scrabster-Stromness ferry terminal and does very good food (including a good veggie breakfast), and is a very pleasant place to spend some of the time between ferries - you will have a lot of this.
  • Stromness is quite a pleasant place to stroll around in, although this will not occupy 3 hours. There are left luggage lockers in the ferry terminal that you might imagine you could leave your gear in until you return to get the Hoy ferry. However, the ferry company has realised that this might be convenient for passengers, so they prevent it by closing the terminal an hour before the Hoy ferry departs, so you can't get your luggage back from the left luggage lockers...

Getting to the stack:

  • There is a signposted path starting in front of Rackwick youth hostel (you can get more directly up to the path from the bothy) leading to the stack. The walk is about 1.5 miles and took us about 45 minutes. When we were there the path was in the process of being upgraded to a solid gravel path, and the walk is very easy.
  • The descent to the stack from the cliff top starts about 200 metres to the right of an obvious viewing spot opposite the stack. It starts down the second 'obvious' gully (the first 'obvious' gully looks like it would work, but looks steeper than the second, so if you are looking down an 'obvious' gully and don't like the look of it, try going another 30 yards and see if there is a better one).
  • The descent to the stack from the cliff top is fairly easy, traversing gradually down steep grassy slopes - this can be muddy and slippery if it has been raining but is probably fine when dry (this last bit is a guess ...).
  • The climb starts at the end of a ridge of rubble linking the stack to mainland.

The climb:

  • There is a good photo of the route on the Sam Moore page above, although he describes the route in 4 pitches, rather than 5 as in the SMC guide and the Chris Mellor page. We did 5 pitches and I think that makes more sense. When you look down at the stack from the cliff top and compare it with that photo, the route is pretty obvious. We brought a copy of the SMC and Chris Mellor descriptions, but the route finding is simple (I wandered around a bit on pitch 4 looking for protection, which wasn't really there).
  • Large friends are essential for pitch 2 (the 5b pitch). The SMC guide says '2 X 3.5 and 2 X 4 are ideal'; I say 'the more the merrier', and I used a 5. I also used up all my quick-draws - you can get a lot of protection in if you want it!

The descent:

60m ropes: There are good abseil stations at the top of pitches 2, 4 and 5. Hence, the descent is as follows.
  • A 20m abseil down pitch 5;
  • A long abseil down to the top of pitch 2 - this involves swinging leftwards across the ledges to find the top of pitch 2, which isn't visible from above (make a note of it on the way up). So use an abseil backup (you do anyway, don't you!).
  • A 55m (free-hanging most of the way) abseil back to the base, landing a bit below and to the right of the start of the climb.
50m ropes: If you own 50m ropes, the best way to do it is to buy 60m ropes. The next best way is as follows.
  • On the ascent, leave a rope tied between the belays at the top and bottom of pitch 2.
  • On the descent, having got to the top of pitch 2 as above, the next abseil involves descending below the overhangs and then using the rope you left behind on the way up to pull yourself in to the belay at the top of pitch 1 (clip it into your harness). As Chris Mellor notes: 'the last one down has the most fun as the guide rope has to be untied from the upper belay, leading to a real "out-in-space" experience'.
  • Abseil down pitch 1 to the bottom of the stack.

Last updated: 2 Jul 2016.