Old Man of Hoy & Scottish Sea Stacks

The most majestic sea-stack in the British Isles. There is something extra special about climbing sea-stacks. There is no ‘easy way’ to the top like most crags and mountains and they are therefore reserved solely for climbers and vomiting sea-birds.

Do it before it falls down!

450 feet high the Old Man of Hoy was first climbed in 1966 by Chris Bonington, Rusty Baillie and Tom Patey over a period of three days. Some reports suggest that it may not have long to live so if your keen to climb it you’d better do it soon.

The logistics

It is just about possible to climb the Old Man in a round trip of 3 days though this does require a pretty hectic schedule and for the weather gods to be on your side. Given that it requires 2 ferries and a couple of taxis on top of a very long drive, it makes far more sense to save up some more holiday and do the trip over at least 5 days. That way there is some flexibility with the weather and allows the possibility of adding other stacks such as the Old Man of Stoer or Am Buachaillle. Ticking these 3 in a week would provide a truly memorable holiday and probably require another week off just to recover!

If one stack provides your quota of adventure or if the weather dictates a change of plan there is endless amounts of fantastic cragging that could be added into the equation. Be blessed with good weather and you will wonder why you never explored this wonderful part of Scotland before.

Never climbed E1? Don’t worry. Trips can be arranged to climb the Old Man of Stoer and other fantastic climbing in the area if you operate more at the VS level.

Further information about sea-stacks can be found here in these articles from UKC.

The stack climbing guide to Britain

Sea stacks of NW Scotland

The Routes

Climbed by the normal routes they go as follows:

Old Man of Hoy

  – Original Route 135m. E1,4b, 5b, 4b, 4b, 4c.
Can be reached by scrambling down the adjacent cliffs on a worn path and crossing a non-tidal rock platform. The crux pitch climbs a steep wide crack that requires good jamming and thrutching techniques – or else some sneaky use of the remains of the wooden wedges used for protection on the first ascent.

Old Man of Stoer

 - Original Route 65m. VS 5a, 4b, 4c.
Regarded by some as being the finest of the 3 old men this is an exhilarating route with impressive situations. If the sea is calm it is just possible to boulder-hop across the 9m channel at low water springs but in more normal conditions a tyrolean is required.

Am Buachaille

 - Original Route 50m. HVS, 4c, 4c, 4c.
This impressive finger of Torridonian sansdstone is situated to the South of Sandwood Bay one of the most remote, unspoilt bays in the British Isles. The approach to the stack requires accurate knowledge of the tides and a calm sea or it can be too dangerous to consider. The rock is also less than perfect and if that’s not enough to put you off it is host to a flourishing fulmar colony most of the summer.

Castle of Yesnaby

 - East Arete 25m. E1 5b
This one requires an abseil descent of the sea cliffs and a swim across the channel before a tyrolean can be set up. This process will then need to be reversed after climbing the Castle and abseiling back to the base.

 To climb the Old Man Of Hoy you should already be steady at seconding HVS and ideally have some experience at E1. That said someone with a good background of climbing VS and HVS cracks on the grit is going to have a far easier time than someone who has climbed lots of E1's on limestone.

If the Old Man of Stoer is your objective then you should be steady at seconding VS.

For all sea-stacks you must have previous abseiling experience.

Private Bookings: Cost & booking information


The price for this trip is available on request. It depends on a number of variables including number of people, length of trip and whether clients and guide can car-share to keep transport costs down and be kind to the environment.

Open Courses: dates and costs

 May 2011

Related Photos


  • Ian, many thanks for an outstanding weekend - you judged our ability perfectly and tailored the programme accordingly. We will be talking out that final pitch for a few years to come..... ~ Chas. Guided Scrambling
  • Hi Ian ! Thanks for making a great weekend for us we had a superb time in your company, really enjoyed ourselves. thanks for making up the CD for us, that's great. Looking forward to those action shots !! Would definitely be good to catch up with you again Ian .. we'll get on the case building anchors in the lounge and hopefully be up to scratch for the next time ! Karan just called me and we discussing stiff arms and shoulders but said she's dying to get up there again :-) !! ~ Rob and Karan. Intro Rock Course