Stacked odds – Climber tackle tough stac in the sea

PIC BY Dave Cuthbertson/ Caters News

The odds looked stacked against these climbers – as they tackle a tough stac rising right out of the ocean.

The four adventurous managed to rig a precarious rope between two points on the mainland to lower themselves onto a rocky ledge.

They then managed to pick their way up the stac, known as ‘The Castle’, to stand triumphantly on the top as the wave crash into its narrow base below.

The pictures were taken by former international climber Dave Cuthbertson, 59, from Ballachulish in the Scottish Highlands.

PIC BY Dave Cuthbertson/ Caters News

Now a mountain guide who provides consultancy on safety and rigging for film and TV crews, he took the photos while helping with filming for the BBC series Britain’s Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney.

The filming was taking place on Orkney’s west coast.

Dave said: “When I first saw ‘The Castle’ as a climber I thought about how wacky it is and immediately wanted to climb it!

“It’s not as high as the Old Man of Hoy but technically more challenging and certainly more serious and committing.

“The challenges are numerous and varied. The weather in these remote parts is never taken for granted but other more unusual problems present themselves.

“Fulmars, filter feeding sea birds which nest on little horizontal rock ledges, see climbers as predators so they defend themselves and their chicks by projecting the most vile vomit imaginable.

PIC BY Dave Cuthbertson/ Caters News

“Short of landing on the summit by helicopter and abseiling down, the only feasible way to access the stac is by boat or Tyrolean traverse. As the sea was very rough during our visit and a Tyrolean is very spectacular that was our preferred method.

“In plain view the stac sits within a horse shoe shaped inlet off the west coast of Orkney; a very impressive area of coastline.

“At the outer extremities of each arm of the inlet an anchor point is established and a rope is then dragged from one anchor point, following the cliff edge of the inlet and attached to the other anchor.

PIC BY Dave Cuthbertson/ Caters News

“The rope is then pulled taught and locked of and acts like a suspension bridge across the inlet and making contact with the stac.

“With special pulleys a climber can then travel along the rope to access the stac.

“The tricky bit is working out the amount of adjustment required, taking into account the weight of a person and rope stretch, so that the rope sits perfectly on a ledge at the base of the stac where the climbing begins.

“Factor in a distance of 200 metres and high winds and things can start to get messy. We had to abandon one attempt due to strong winds.”