Scottish Sea Stacks

Fitness level
Tech level
Number of guiding days
Guiding ratio
1:1 or 1:2

On our Scottish Sea Stacks climbing week, we climb Britain’s highest sea stack – the Old Man of Hoy, off the coast of the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland. Hoy is the most iconic of all the great sea stacks in Britain and a brilliant adventure, complete with big exposure, some sandy rock, seagulls and the huge backdrop of St Johns head nearby. We aim to combine Hoy with the Old Man of Stoer and other sea cliff or mountain crag venues, on a mini road trip across this amazing part of the UK.

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Thanks to Rich for safely guiding my son on his ascent to become the youngest person ever to have climbed the Old Man of Hoy! #safehands

Ollie Buckle

Trip overview

On our Scottish Sea Stacks climbing week, we climb Britain’s highest sea stack – the Old Man of Hoy, off the coast of the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland. Hoy is the most iconic of all the great sea stacks in Britain and a brilliant adventure, complete with big exposure, some sandy rock, seagulls and the huge backdrop of St Johns head nearby. We aim to combine Hoy with the Old Man of Stoer and other sea cliff or mountain crag venues, on a mini road trip across this amazing part of the UK.

We aim to climb the Old Man of Hoy first, followed by whatever else suits the team, the weather and tides. Other venues we have visited on previous trips include the Old Man of Stoer, the Caithness sea cliffs, the wonderful Sheigra sea cliffs including a wild camp by the beach, long mountain routes on Stack Pollaidh, and the famous sea cliffs at Reiff.

Recent Trip Reports – May 2016, Old Man of Hoy

Dates and Availability

This trip is available through May and June when the conditions/weather are usually at their best for Scottish rock climbing. Please contact us to discuss your preferred dates.


You can book this trip as an individual, climbing at a 1:1 ratio with your guide. This costs £1350.

You can also book this trip is a group of 2, so you can climb with your regular partner plus the guide at 1:2 ratio. This costs £795 per person.


This is an advanced level trip. To take part you should be at Fitness Level 2 and Tech Level 3-4 (see our Fitness/Experience guidelines). Previous multi-pitch rock climbing experience required, seconding at HVS, with good crack climbing technique. You should also be very comfortable on exposed multi-pitch abseil descents.

Guiding ratio

One IFMGA/MIA guide climbing with up to 2 clients.

Included in price

  • Guides fees and all guides expenses, including ferries, taxis, food and accommodation
  • Local travel in the guide’s vehicle to complete the course itinerary

Excluded from price

  • Ferries and taxis*
  • Food and accommodation*
  • Travel to Scotland
  • Insurance
  • Equipment hire
    (* Budget £200 to cover your ferries, taxis, food and accommodation – paid directly during trip)


Accommodation is very flexible during this week, depending on weather and personal preference, but we typically use a mix of BnB’s, Youth Hostels, bothies and camping.

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1

Meet in Inverness in the afternoon. Drive to Scrabster, take the 7.30pm ferry to Orkney and overnight in BnB in Stromness.

Day 2

Take early ferry to Hoy, then taxi to Rackwick Bay. Walk in and climb The Old Man of Hoy. The classic route is around 5 pitches long, mainly at VS standard, but with a crux pitch of E1 taking a stunning crack/chimney feature in a wildly exposed position. Crack climbing skills are essential! The last pitch is perhaps the best on the route however, taking a clean corner of immaculate sandtone – steep positive laybacking, bridging and jamming, leading directly to the summit of this iconic British rock climb. Return to Orkney mainland on last ferry pm. Overnight in Stromness.

Day 3

Early ferry to the mainland. Drive to Sheigra and climb here for the afternoon – excellent remote sea cliffs near the NW tip of Scotland. Wild camp near the beach at Sheigra.

Day 4

Drive to the Point of Stoer, climb Old Man of Stoer (VS) – the second most famous sea stack in Scotland, involving an exciting tyrolean traverse above the sea! Overnight in Ullapool.

Day 5

Climb at the excellent sea cliffs of Reiff. Drive to Inverness pm, drop off and goodbyes.

This is a very flexible itinerary, as ferries can usually be changed at short notice to suit the weather. The main objective is the Old Man of Hoy, so in the event of bad weather the time spent on Orkney can be extended/timings altered as neccesary to complete the route – we have a 100% summiting record on the Old Man of Hoy.

Location and Travel

Your initial meeting point and base is the town of Stromness on Orkney, the gateway to the island of Hoy.


There are various ways to reach Stromness, all involving a long journey (from anywhere!). You should arrange outward travel on day 1, arriving in Stromness that evening. Return travel should be arranged on the evening of day 5 or the following morning from Inverness.

Drive to Scrabster ferry terminal on the North East coast via Inverness, car sharing with your guide – approx 9 hours from Yorkshire, but meet at a suitable location in UK. Take the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness (1.5 hrs crossing), leaving car on the mainland. Arrive Stromness pm.

Take the train to Inverness, meet your guide, then drive as above (3 hrs to Scrabster).

Fly to Inverness, meet your guide, then drive as above. Or – fly to Kirkwall on Orkney mainland – for all options from the UK, check:
Take a taxi from Kirkwall to Stromness (25 mins). Meet guide in Stromness pm.

Cars will be left on the mainland. All ferry crossings are required as a foot passenger: 1 return journey from Scrabster to Stromness on Orkney mainland, and 1 return journey from Stromness to Hoy. We will organise all ferries required.

A taxi ride is required from Hoy ferry terminal to Rackwick bay, where the approach walk starts to the Old Man. We will organise all taxis required.

Further information and travel links can be found on our Travel Planning page.

Fitness and Experience


If you need to top up your fitness for this trip, please see our training guidelines.

Tech Levels

Please make a self assessment against these levels, and refer to the trip suitability requirements.

Tech Level 1
Hillwalker/scrambler. You have UK hillwalking and perhaps summer UK scrambling, or European via ferrata experience – but no rock climbing experience.

Tech Level 2
Novice climber. You have indoor or outdoor bolt protected sport climbing experience, or have seconded traditional naturally protected outdoor climbs up to V Diff/Severe standard. You haven’t done any outdoor trad leading.

Tech Level 3
Intermediate climber. You have led single or multi pitch traditionally protected rock climbs up to Severe/VS. You are familiar with multipitch abseil descents.

Tech Level 4
Experienced climber. You lead multi pitch traditionally protected rock climbs at HVS standard. Alternatively, if you mainly climb with guides or seldom lead climb, you have extensive experience seconding at this standard.

Tech Level 5
Very experienced climber. You regularly lead multipitch E1+ trad rock routes. If you mainly climb with guides or seldom lead climb, you have very extensive experience seconding at this level.

Fitness Levels

Please make a self assessment against these levels, and refer to the trip requirements. These are cardiovascular (CV) fitness and activity levels eg. running, cycling, hillwalking or competitive sports that get your heart and lungs working for extended periods of time (not strength training in the gym!).

Fitness Level 1
You do 1-2 hours of training/cardiovascular sport per week. Eg: you should be able to climb Snowdon from Pen y Pas in around 2 hrs carrying a day sack, or Bow Fell starting from Langdale in the Lake District in about 2 1/2 hrs.

Fitness Level 2
You do 2-3 hours CV training/sport per week. At this level you should be happy doing either a 3-4 hour hillwalk, cycling 30-40 miles or mountain biking 2-3 hours without being exhausted. Eg: you should be able to walk from Ogwen Cottage in North Wales up Glyder Fach – Glyder Fawr – Y Garn – Ogwen in ~5hrs. Or in the Lake District Langdale – Bowfell – Esk Pike – Angle Tarn – Langdale in ~ 6hrs.

Fitness Level 3
You do 3-4 hours CV training/sport per week. At this level you are happy doing a 5-6 hour hillwalk, 50 mile cycle or 3-4hr mountain bike ride without being totally exhausted. If you are into challenges – then the thought of doing a road sportive, or training to do a 1/2 (or maybe even a full) marathon, wouldn’t seem too ridiculous. Eg: you should be able to do the full Langdale Horseshoe: Langdale – Pike of Stickle – Angle Tarn – Bow Fell – Crinkle Crags – Pike of Blisco – Langdale in a day without finishing up exhausted.

Fitness Level 4
You do 4+ hours CV training/sport per week. A 70+ mile cycle ride, or 20+ mile hillwalk on a weekend would hold no fears. If so inclined, you might be the kind of person who has done longer road sportives/challenge rides, a ~3.30hr marathon or other similar endurance events. Keen hillwalkers who happily knock off 3-4+ munros in a day also have this kind of fitness and endurance.

Fitness Level 5
You do 5-6+ hours training for competitive sport per week, have a background in the same, or you are annoyingly talented! Either way, doing a 100 ml bike ride or about a 3hr marathon wouldn’t be unreasonable.


Rock Climbing Kit List

Above all, your kit needs to do the job but be as light as possible. Lightweight breathable fabrics are ideal for waterproofs, which are carried as often as worn (hopefully!).

Technical Clothing

  • Waterproof jacket – lightweight breathable model
  • Overtrousers – with long side zips
  • Socks – warm ‘Smartwool’ type, plus thin liner socks and spares
  • Wicking thermal tops/t-shirts
  • Fleece mid layer – or equivalent light insulating layer
  • Mountain trousers – light/mid-weight windproof softshell model
  • Thin gloves – windproof ‘hardfleece’ model is good
  • Warm hat – must fit under a helmet
  • Spare warm layer – fleece or lightweight synthetic belay jacket

Personal Items

  • Water Container – at least 1 litre
  • Headtorch and batteries
  • Map, compass and whistle (optional, but a good idea)
  • Personal medications and blister kit – zinc oxide tape, compeed, painkillers etc
  • Sun Glasses – CE rated 3 or 4
  • Sun and lip cream – factor 30+
  • Sun hat
  • Shorts and t-shirt
  • Wallet and passport

Technical Equipment

  • Rucsac 35/45l is perfect for general use
  • Rucsac – superlight 15/20l model, for taking on long multi-pitch rock routes
  • *Semi rigid B2 mountaineering bootsAxe, Boot and Crampon advice
  • Rock boots – must be comfortable enough to wear for several hours
  • Approach shoes or trainers – sticky rubber models are excellent
  • Trekking poles
  • Harness, locking karabiner and belay device
  • 2 prussik loops and karabiner – if in doubt, bring 3m of 6mm climbing cord!
  • 120cm sling and locking karabiner
  • Climbing helmet
  • Camping gear if you choose to camp in the valley

Your guide will have ropes, climbing rack, first aid and survival equipment.

*Boots must be reasonably stiff 3/4 season mountaineering models. These will be needed if we decide to go ‘big boots’ climbing on easy rock climbs or scrambling terrain. Very soft bendy boots are no good for technical scrambling/climbing. See below for advice.

Recommendations and Advice
Visit the Knowledge Base section of our website or our blog for equipment advice. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please get in touch!

Purchasing Equipment
Backcountry UK in Ilkley offer an excellent mountain boot fitting service and general equipment advice.

Hiring Equipment
It’s best to have your own rock climbing shoes so you can get a proper fit, but if you need to hire some please get in touch. Other safety equipment can be hired from us (subject to availability) – please see our Equipment Hire page for details.


We strongly recommend that you purchase cancellation cover, in case you’re unable to attend your trip due to personal circumstances or injury.

Please arrange your insurance as soon as your trip is confirmed to run.

Insurance for UK residents

British Mountaineering Council. The gold standard in insurance for UK residents. Very competitive single trip or annual cover for all climbing activities. Use this link to book your BMC insurance.

If you use another insurance provider, then please check terms and conditions very carefully to make sure your activity is covered.

Insurance for non UK residents
Search and rescue is currently free in the UK, but you may be charged by the NHS for certain treatments, and you should also consider the need for emergency repatriation in the event of a serious illness/accident.

Austrian Alpine Club. Available to all European residents. AAC insurance is cheap and works ok for minor accidents and rescues, but is not as comprehensive as many other insurance providers. The medical cover included would not be enough for complex treatment or a prolonged stay in hospital. It also doesn’t include cancellation cover. If you choose to use AAC we recommend you take out extra medical cover with another provider, to ‘top up’ the AAC medical limit, as well as a separate cancellation policy.

Travelex. For US citizens – a range of policies with comprehensive cover.

Global Rescue. Cover offered to all nationalities.

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This gives you reciprocal health care in European countries. You can apply for an EHIC card online here or from most Post Offices. You need an EHIC in addition to your travel insurance.

Details of your insurance must be sent to us before the course starts, and brought to the course briefing at the start of your trip.


What happens to my deposit if I book a trip, but it isn’t confirmed to run due to insufficient bookings?

You may transfer your booking to different dates, a different course, or choose a full refund.

See our terms and conditions

Does Alpine Guides climb with customers from overseas, including the USA and Canada?


See our info for overseas customers

How do I book a climbing trip?

For scheduled climbing trips it’s easy to book online, directly from your course page. For hire a guide/bespoke courses please get in touch for a quote.

More booking information

How do I rent mountaineering equipment?

You can rent certain items of specialist equipment from us, and the rest can usually be hired in resort.

Climbing equipment rental info

What happens to our plans if the weather is bad, or climbing conditions are poor?

We will make every effort to stick to the itinerary, but sometimes its necessary to change plans and select different objectives more suited to the prevailing conditions, or travel to a neighbouring area or sometimes even further afield.

A sound mountaineering decision - running away....!

Who goes on our trips?

We climb and ski with a broad range of ages and experience levels, and a large number of our customers come back year after year. We’ve guided 10 year old Ollie up the Old Man of Hoy in Scotland – now the youngest person to climb it. And 70 year old David has climbed the Matterhorn with us, as well as out-skiing people half his age!

The Matterhorn at 70 yrs young

What happens if I need to cancel my course?

If you wish to cancel you must notify us in writing, where upon the following charges will be applied from the date we receive your notice of cancellation:

  • More than 8 weeks (56 days) before start date – loss of deposit.
  • Between 4 and 8 weeks (28-56 days) before start date – 50% of course fee or loss of deposit, whichever amount is greater.
  • Less than 4 weeks (28 days) before start date – full course fee.

See our terms and conditions

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From £795