Me and the old man on The Old Man of Hoy

I arrived Friday evening at the boat in Stromness after train, plane and automobile.  Dad and I had planned on two days in which to try and climb the Old Man before my friend Tom arrived and we had to set sail south back to the Scottish mainland.  The forecast for the weekend was not good and the week before also had been quite poor. 

We woke on the Saturday to see the hills of Hoy covered in cloud, with blustery rain showers blowing through frequently.  It was obvious there was to be no climbing and Sunday’s forecast was also poor.  However, the weather for Monday looked ok, and when we checked our itinerary we realised the third crew member, Tom, was not arriving until Monday evening so we had one more day.  We decided it was worth a try and caught the 7:45am passenger ferry from Stromness to Moaness on Hoy with our folding bikes, in dry but windy conditions.

1. The Brompton bimble 1. Warned off

Once on Hoy we rode 6 miles along the quiet roads to Rackwick Bay where the road ends and the path begins.  After reading the famous climbers’ warning sign we walked over the cliff tops where you catch the first sight of the Old Man.  Once at the view point you get the full scale of the Stack, it is very impressive and quite intimidating.  It was very windy, which was concerning as strong winds can be a problem on the final abseil which is a free 60m. 

We started the descent down the cliffs which was not much fun.  It was very muddy and slippery and feels very exposed, you really can't afford to slip as if you did you would not stop.  Dad was using walking poles for the approach; we took one each for the descent, which was very useful and I strongly recommend it to anyone considering going down there.  Once at the bottom the wind felt better so we racked up and set off.


3. The Old Man of Hoy - 4. Rob on the first pitch

I took the first pitch which is very straightforward and enjoyable climbing, we both agreed it was a very nice steady introduction to quite an intimidating environment.  All the belays on the route are on good stances and well equipped with slings and tat which make it obvious when you’ve arrived.

Dad had the second pitch, but having climbed the route only seven days before with the first crew of his Orkney trip he ran up it!  The waves below were quite big and noisy and as the pitch goes round the corner and up the chimney, you soon lose sight and sound of your partner. Three tugs on the rope were my signal to start climbing. 


5. An impressive old man! 6. Rob starts up the second pitch

This is a very exciting pitch, with great climbing and amazing exposure.  The initial traverse is delicate and quite sandy so you have to be careful – as with any traverse you wouldn't want to fall on lead or second.  You then start up the chimney, where good bridges and jams get you moving. The most difficult move involved getting out on the left wall of the second chimney section.  There are three stuck cams there which give the leader some welcome protection.  After that move the major difficulties are over, good solid climbing follows. A #5 Friend is needed which you can work up the crack as you go.  The 3rd and 4th pitch are easier but the rock is not so good. The fulmars also nest here but didn't prove to be too much of a problem for us. 

The 5th pitch is a fantastic corner crack on good rock which takes you right to the top.  I was glad this pitch fell to me and I really enjoyed it.  It has good gear, bridging moves and solid jams.  Towards the top you can see right through the stack and out to the sea in the west.  As I pulled over on to the top the people on the viewpoint gave a cheer and waved as I stood on the summit.  Dad was soon up as well and we took in the views and had a quick bite to eat knowing we were only halfway through the route, we had to get back down.


7. Summit selfie 8. Rob tops out (thanks to a spectator for the shot!)

We did it in four abseils. You could do it in three, but we decided shorter more manageable ones would be better due to the wind.  The first three went well and the final 60m free abseil is really quite impressive.  It starts from the top of the second pitch but you have to be careful in the wind as the ropes could easily be whipped away and jammed.  Dad went first but as he got off the ropes there was a gust of wind which blew the ropes below me out at a strong angle, they were fine but I had to move quickly to stop them wrapping round the lee side of the stack.  It really is an amazing view as you look up and see how overhanging the whole thing is!  The ropes pulled through easily and we were done! 


9. Abseil the third 10. Abseil the fourth, with added wind

The walk back up the cliff is better going up but you are still glad to be back on the cliff tops.  After a few more celebratory pics, we were back along the path to the bikes and rode back for a quick beer in the café while we waited for the 4:30pm return ferry (the last ferry is 6:30pm and a there is a bothy at Rackwick bay in case you miss it!).  I am so pleased that we had a weather window and we managed to do such an iconic classic British route, and with my old man!  Now all we had to do was sail the boat back to Inverness, but that's a different story altogether... 

By Rob Turnbull
Managing Director

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Rob Turnbull
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The Challenge of the Karakoram

It isn’t always easy to anticipate exactly when an adventure will begin.

Leading the KE Adventure Travel trip to the Karakoram to trek up the Baltoro Glacier, visit K2 Base Camp and cross the Gondogoro La, I thought it would begin with the dramatic flight from Islamabad to Skardu, over the top of Nanga Parbat.

In the event I was quite a few days out in my estimation because as I was in the process of changing planes in Turkey at Istanbul airport, the attempted military coup took place. We were on board our flight with the engines running when the captain announced that the flight had been cancelled due to “security”. Members of the cabin crew, knowing more than us, burst into tears. Over the next 24 hours we experienced glass shattering explosions, stampedes by other passengers, parts of the ceiling falling in after military fly-bys and the whole airport being overrun by thousands of shouting and singing presidential supporters. The next morning the information board showed all flights cancelled and very few staff appeared for work. Eventually, everyone in the airport had to queue for many hours to get a new boarding card to fly out.

When my group finally all gathered in Islamabad I hoped that things would go more smoothly. Wrong again. The flight to Skardu was cancelled due to bad weather, so we had to set off up the infamous Karakoram Highway. I have driven up and down this route many times since my first visit with Joe Simpson, Andy Cave and others in 1987. Our epic was graphically described in Joe’s book “This Game of Ghosts”. Whenever I travel this road, I always hope it will be the last time. It has improved slightly, in that we had a police escort through the potential trouble spots of Chilas, but it still takes two days plus.  As is traditional, we were held up by a traffic jam caused by a landslide near the Gilgit Skardu turnoff.

As it got dark we also learned that there was a delay further ahead near Skardu. The road along this section is a truck’s width chopped out of the cliff side. Driving along the road in the dark, let alone getting past another landslide or stone fall would not have been a good option. The nearest town is Gilgit so we drove there to try to find some accommodation. Unfortunately, despite phoning about 20 hotels we could not find anything. That was until Mohammed Ali, (a Police Officer with special responsibility for Tourist Facilitation as it said on his card), intervened and sorted it for us shortly after midnight.

The next day the news about what I thought was the only road to Skardu was worse. It was now impassable and would remain so for some time. However, Zafer, the Director of Baltistan Tours and our agent in Pakistan knew an ingenious alternative. This took us by bus and jeep over the 4000m Desoia Plains around the back of Nanga Parbat and finally deposited us in Skardu at some time around midnight the next day.

Finally, I thought we had made it to the beginning of our adventure and we could get on with the original plan. It turned out that three further obstacles stood in our way. Firstly, so called security. The Pakistan Army are very anxious about security in the area as it is near to the disputed border with India. We didn’t get clearance despite sending all the required documents in weeks advance, until the evening of the following day. The excellent K2 Motel didn’t have any rooms available either so we had to camp in the rose garden. And despite leaving the next day at 3am to try to drive to the beginning of the trek and then walk a bit, we couldn’t recruit any porters at our destination in Askole as they were all having a festival.

In the end though the trek went well. The local crew, especially Mohammed Khan and Karim were excellent. The cook team and the food they turned out was superb and the views were stunning. We all crossed the pass, flew back from Skardu to Islamabad and even had a coup free transfer in Istanbul airport back home.

The pictures below tell that bit of the trek story as well as words can.

Trango towers in the Karakorum. Photo by Tom Richardson

1. Trango Towers

The mule train stretches back through endless boulder fields and morraine on the through the Karakorum. Photo by Tom Richardson

2. Mule Train

Uli Biaho towers over camp in the Karakorum Mountains. Photo by Tom Richardshon

3. Uli Biaho

Broad Peak, in the Gasherbrum massif of Pakistan's Baltistan province, stands at 8,051m (26,414ft) and is the 12th highest mountain in the world.

4. K2 Broad Peak

5. Tom with Karim and Mohammed Khan

6. Laila Peak

7. Suspended boulders on Gondogoro glacier

By Tom Richardson
Footwear and expedition specialist

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Tom Richardson
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