Sunday, 23 June 2013

Pabbay and Mingulay

I have just returned from an amazing 10 day trip to the islands of Pabbay and Mingulay in the Outer Hebrides with 8 friends from uni. The group consisted of Jamie Sparkes, Morgan Trigg, Robert Taylor, Anne Peale, Liam Ingram, Fergus Cuthill, Alistair Rocke and John De Leyser.

If you look through the guide for the islands lots of routes are graded with 4 stars, as are lots of routes on many other crags in the North West. I don't generally agree with stars on routes. I feel they are often over starred. Routes are usually graded 0 to 3 stars, although some 4 star routes do exist. I feel a 3 star route should be really good climbing in a nice place. 4 star routes need something a bit extra on top of the 3 star criteria. This should be in the effort required to get to and from the climb. A road side crag doesn't cut it. A big mountain or inaccessible island does. Pabbay and Mingulay are one of the few places I feel deserve 4 stared routes. You may ask why I stop at 4 stars. Well I don't, however 5 stars should be an unobtainable goal.

The trip started on the 12th of June with us catching the ferry from Oban. It almost ended then for me too as I nearly missed it as I had to drop the car off and run back across town. When I arrived they were removing the ramp onto the ship! The ferry drops you in Castlebay in Barra, named after the castle in the bay. From there you get picked up by "The Boy James" with captain Wee Donald, which dropped us off on Pabbay.

So much stuff

Aborad "The Boy James"

Pabbay is a playground of Gneiss, cross cut with dykes. There is an interesting abrupt change in vegetation at the northern end of the island which may have been affected by the geology, but I haven't been able to look t a map yet and I only realised on my way back.

Sand Fortress

Day 1 on Pabbay saw us take our huge amount of gear (77 cams, 82 quickdraws, over 1km of rope and more) up a stash at the top of the hill near the climbs. We then made our way to the Poop Deck for some nice steep single pitch climbing. The stand out effort for the day was Fergus who climbed the majority of The Raven, an E5, before taking quite a large fall.

The Great Arch

So much gear

The trip had quite a nice weather pattern. It generally rained in the morning and was dry in the afternoon, allowing us to have a lie in and plentiful water for tea and coffee whilst waiting out the rain. The crags are generally steep enough so as not to get too wet too. Day 2 was Hoofers Geo, for more single pitch fun. I climbed with Jamie again and managed an E1 lead each. On Day 3 I went to the Grey Walls with Jamie, Anne, Liam and Robert. To access the Grey Walls you need to make a 90m free hanging abseil onto a wave cut platform. I found this a bit scary, but once committed it wasn't so bad. We climbed U-Ei in 2 teams. I climbed with Jamie and Anne.


For our final day on Pabbay Jamie and I went round to 3 different crags to climb as many routes as we could. After trips to The Poop Deck and The Galley we finished the day off on The Banded Walls. Here we climbed Endolphin Rush. The first pitch has to be the best pitch of climbing I have ever done.

Wiggly Wall

Endolphin Rush

Monday was our moving day to Mingulay. The weather was amazing, and maybe even a little to warm to climb. Donald picked us up at about 11.30 and took us around Mingulay so we could see the crags we were going to climb on. Once on Mingulay and having set up the tents we had a look around. Robert and I went for a climb on Waterfall Geo and had a look at the Puffin Colony. I only had one more day of climbing in the trip, it was a holiday afterall. This was on the Wednesday before leaving. The entire team went to Dun Mingulay. Robert, Liam, Fergus and I climbed Voyage of Faith and John and Jamie climbed Sula. Dun Mingulay is a big sea cliff, which happened to have a big sea at the bottom of it on the day. After some hopeful looks over the edge we decided to give it an hour or so for the tide to drop before we could abb in. This meant that we didn't finish till 11, but its ok as it was still light! 

Voyage of Faith

It rained quite a bit on Thursday so we all went for a run back up the hill to get the stash. Friday saw us return to the mainland, smelly and tired but content with our Hebridean adventure.

Wet weather activities

I really enjoyed hanging out with the people in our little group but the people we met along the way made our trip even better. We shared Pabbay with another group of climbers who were all retired, and even had an ex EUMC president within the midst. One morning on Pabbay we were joined by Roger Wild and friends for tea and biscuits. They were kayaking around the islands as they retired too. On Mingulay our campsite had an extra tent in it, which belonged to a guy called Will, who was counting seabirds on the island for the NTS. Will had just finished a degree at Swansea Uni in Marine Biology, which he found out he got a first for during our stay.

Nice weather on Mingulay

The wildlife on the islands was also pretty cool. We saw eagles on 2 separate occasions, once on either island. There were lots of seals too. Seal song isn't as nice as it may seem, they just sound like winning dogs. There was one particular seal which endeared itself to us. It must have been cast away from the rest of the group and being British we backed the underdog. I think the decision in the end was to call it Tom H Seal. One night on Mingulay we even saw a basking shark swimming around the bay. A worry of mine before the trip was Fulmar vomit. I've heard it smells really bad and fulmars are like proximity puking devices that go off when ever you get too close. Luckily I avoided this peril, but John wasn't so lucky.

Tom H Seal

Ticklist (stars are my opinion)

Endolphin Rush - E3 ****
Corncrake for Breakfast - E2 **
U-Ei - E2 ***
Who Shot RJ - E2 ***
Bint There Dun It - E1 **
Hoofers Route - E1 **
Geovannie - E1 *
Wetter Than A Day At The Beach - E1 *
Illegal Alien - HVS **
Wiggly Wall - HVS ***

Voyage of Faith - E3 ****
Not so Diff - HS
Gneiss Slot - VD

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