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Stac lee, climb, climbing, saint kilda

Saint Kilda

The end of the world, Saint Kilda.

40 miles west of Harris Saint Kilda sits on it’s own, taking the full force of the Atlantic Ocean. Hirta is the largest island and contains the World heritage site of Village bay. Not only does the Saint Kilda archipelago contain the largest sea cliffs in the UK it also contains the largest two sea stacks in the UK and these were to be our destination.

It was thursday morning and I received a call from fellow Assynt Mountain Rescue team member Bob Kerr. He told me that the weather was looking good this weekend and asked was I free to guide him up a couple of sea stacks on Saint Kilda. As I accepted and tried to juggle my diary I started thinking what have I let myself in for.

Both Stac Lee (172m) and Stac an Armin (196m) are Marilyns (hills with more than 150m of prominence) and are considered the most technically challenging of the 1556 on the list.

Catching the morning ferry from Ullapool to Harris we had plenty of time for the suspense to build along with several others who had gathered in Tarbert by this point. An early start on saturday morning saw us up and away before dawn. Flying across calm waters towards our mystical destination aboard the aptly named Enchanted Isle.

Saint Kilda
First views of Saint Kilda from the Enchanted Isle
Bob Kerr
Bob Kerr enjoys the boat ride

We were treated to views of Minke whales, dolphins, puffins, gannets, shearwaters and many other birds as we made the two and a half hour crossing.

Our first views of Stac Lee making it seem improbable.

Climbing, Stac Lee, Saint Kilda
Stac Lee, Saint Kilda

However we are here to climb and with the time now about 09:30 it was time to get the show on the road so to speak. Landing was one of the greater challenges as the intertidal zone was covered in green slime. Previous parties had recommended microspikes which proved to be very effective adding traction when jumping ashore.

Stac Lee, Climb, climbing, saint kilda
Stac Lee looking intimidating
Stac Lee, climb, climbing, saint kilda
Jumping onto Stac Lee

With everyone now ashore and only a few wet feet it was now time to travel in a more vertical direction. The first pitch was a slimy gully of sorts, unfortunely full of dead bird carcases that had fallen from higher up. Pitch two saw us making a much more vertical step on very solid gabbro to access the traverse ledge.

Stac lee, climb, climbing, saint kilda
Bob and Michael on the traverse ledge

One last pitch took us to the top of the difficulties and the safety of a big wide ledge. From here to the top it was easy scrambling ground on an exposed path. Dodging the guano and the odd bird we snaked our way to the top in a state of euphoria and awe.

Stac lee, climb, climbing, saint kilda
Bob and Michael on the Summit plateau
Stac lee, climb, climbing, saint kilda
Michael Earnshaw completing his Marilyns
Stac lee, climb, climbing, saint kilda
A happy man on the summit. Capturing the moment.
Stac an Armin, climb, climbing, saint kilda
A good place to learn abseiling on the side of Stac Lee
Stac lee, climb, climbing, saint kilda
Mike Lates abseiling the final stretch on Stac Lee

Back to the boat by 4pm we had 12 very happy climbers drinking tea and telling stories. I was honored to guide Michael Earnshaw to the top to complete his set of Marilyns. He and Alan Whatley became only the 3rd and 4th to complete the Marilyns.

With the light fading and the forecast set for the swell to increase we decided to use our time to set a rope on Stac an Armin incase we needed it the next day. A very slippery lead with very sparse gear saw me onto an easy ledge and a good place to start to climb. As we left Stac an Armin heading for Hirta and Village bay the full sense of the place started to unfold.

Stac an Armin, climb, climbing, saint kilda
Sunset, Stac Lee

Walking around Village bay and talking to the warden I felt privileged to be there. After dinner I make the short walk up Conachair where I sat with my head torch off for 10 minutes in the stillness and watched the stars, thought about what it would have been like to live there.

The dawn arrived as we were putting harnesses on and getting ready to climb Stac an Armin the easier of our two objectives but the more difficult to gain access to from the sea.

Stac lee, climb, climbing, saint kilda
Sun rise, Stac Lee and  Stac an Armin

Our previous afternoons efforts proved very useful and we were all soon past the slippy green zone and making our way up through the abandoned gannet nests.

Stac an Armin, climb, climbing, saint kilda
Boreray from Stac an Armin
Stac an Armin, climb, climbing, saint kilda
Tim at the summit of Stac an Armin
Stac an Armin, climb, climbing, saint kilda
Hirta with Stac Lee in the foreground
Stac an Armin, climb, climbing, saint kilda
Bob abseils back down to the Enchanted Isle
Stac an Armin, climb, climbing, saint kilda
Abseiling straight into the boat

It felt like a mythical land that we were on as we reached the summit then started to make our way down. I was eager to get off the sea stack in time to catch the last passenger ferry off Harris but also sad at having to leave such a beautiful place so soon.

As we got aboard the Enchanted Isle from the tender for the last time it was difficult to believe it was October and even more difficult to believe we’d done it, success!

We even made the BBC news.


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