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Stac an Armin, St Kilda

Stac an Armin, St Kilda


Postby petejkenny » Sat Jan 02, 2010 11:08 pm

Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Stac an Armin

Date walked: 13/05/1994

Time taken: 3 hours

Distance: 1 km

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I hope I'm not breaking any rules with this post. I was just struck by the interest in the Stacs when I posted my Boreray report. I want to be absolutely clear that I have not climbed Stac an Armin and probably never will. This is Jon Warren's account of his ascent in May 1994 with Andy Elwell and Jim Vaughan, the then NTS warden on St Kilda. It was published in "The St KIlda Mail" 1995, a newsletter/ journal for members of the St Kilda club. Having met all three in 1992/3 and having had quite a few drinks with Jim I am sure that they would all three be happy with me posting it with this full acknowledgement. Unfortunately I do not know any of their whereabouts to check.

It would be great if this post led, via the wonders of google or the St Kilda grapevine to any of them posting here - some pics would be especially fine!

This is the only modern account/ascent I am aware of so I thought it deserved to be more widely shared.

I've posted two pics - one of mine of the Stac from Boreray. From the account I think they landed on the left of my picture at Rubha Briste and then walked along the slabs to just above the large inlet of Am Biran on the right of the picture, then making their way up the gannet covered slopes to the top.

Stac an Armin 1.jpg


The other picture is by Arthur Grosset of http://arthurgrosset.com/ to show the top of the stac. He gives permission for his pics to be used on non profit making sites.

7971stac.jpg


Finally before Jon's account here's a link to a clip of someone sea kayaking near the stac which I thought people might enjoy:

An Ascent of Stac an Armin
by Jonathan Warren


Ever since my first visit to St Kilda in 1977 a new burning ambition took hold of my life. I had become totally besotted with the Gannet infested island of Boreray and its two satellite stacs - Stac Lee and Stac an Armin My ambition was to climb to the summit of all three.

In 1990, my 10th visit, I achieved half my dream with my climbing friend, Andy Elwell, and the (then) Warden Steven Holloway in reaching the summit of both Stac Lee and Boreray. It had been an unbelievable experience. However, I did feel a great disappointment not having climbed Stac an Armin; we had our chance but failed to take it. In the intervening years my obsession with the elusive stac became even more intensive.

In late August 1993 the frustration finally ebbed when I contacted John Reid, owner and Skipper of the 96-foot brigantine “Jean de la Lune”. Together with David Quine I assembled a crew of twelve which, once again, included Andy Elwell whose agility and climbing skill has always been an essential factor in our previous successes.

In early May 1994 we set sail from Oban. Unfortunately south-easterly winds persisted and it took five frustrating days going via Canna, Skye, Lewis and the Flannans to reach St. Kilda. However it was a new and exciting experience to approach the islands from the north. On meeting the current warden, Jim Vaughan, plans were formulated to attempt a landing on Stac an Amiin as soon possible. Jim also needed to collect 10 gannet eggs for research purposes.

Two days after our arrival, the 13th May, dawned fine with blue skies and a light north-easterly wind offering a brief interlude in the unpredictable weather that St Kilda can throw at the unsuspecting. With Jim on board we set off for the Stacs at 10.30 am. As the Jean de la Lune motored out of the bay I had butterflies in my stomach. I tried chatting to the other crew members but found I could not, my nervous excitement kept me on tenterhooks and my thoughts focused on what the landing would be like as I knew that the Stac had a reputation for a difficult landing. As the bulk of Boreray loomed nearer, John Reid steered the Jean de la Lune to starboard to pass its eastern side. The butterflies were really fluttering in my stomach when I noticed that the waves were crashing over the two Sunadal landing sites. Beyond Boreray, we soon rounded the east face of Stac an Armin and were now on the lee side underneath its huge western ramparts.

As Jim, Andy and myself hurriedly put on our life jackets the inflatable was launched Our coxswain was to be Sheila Gillin with Dave Clark in the boat as helper. As we motored away from the Jean de la Lune, John Reid shouted over to us suggesting that we have a look at a possible landing site opposite. We looked at this spot first; it was near the south-western end of the stac at Rubha Bhriste. It looked difficult to me, but at least the sea was calm here. We then decided to have a look at the traditional landing sites on the southern slabs, and the vertical site at Am Biran at its south-eastern corner. As soon as we rounded the corner the swell increased almost immediately. Passing the huge base slabs, Jim pointed to the gully he had landed at last year. It was awash with surf. It soon became evident that these sites would be impossible to land at without a thorough wetting and possible damage to the dinghy, so we all agreed to have another look at the site of Rubha Bhriste.

There had to be no indecision now and with a closer inspection it looked possible. Sheila skillfully nosed the inflatable into the wall of the stac. Andy, now barefooted, went first and leapt on to a sloping cleft of rock, landing safely on the spray-washed seaweed It proved impossible for him to stand up inside the hollow because a slab of rock loomed above his crouched back. Lying on his stomach, he shuffled to the left along a two and a half foot wide crack for two metres until it was possible for him to stand up and reach comparative safety. Following Andy’s instructions, Jim and myself then repeated this process without a wetting and joined Andy on the ledge. The rucksacks were then hauled up to our ledge by rope with help from Dave in the inflatable.

Above us the rock looked almost vertical, thankfully there was a crack line running up half of its length enabling us to jam fingers and toes into it. The lower section was extremely greasy but, as we ascended, the rock dried rapidly which made the climb (and my nerves!) much easier. After another 60 ft. climb we reached the top of the most exhilarating landing site I have ever experienced at St. Kilda. This classic route led us onto the western end of the southern slabs. As we stored the rope and life jackets under a rock I looked across to Boreray and shuddered at the sight of this colossal massif looking dark and forbidding as the sun had not yet reached its western wall. To add even more to the scale of Boreray I noticed the inflatable had been re-launched and was looking so tiny at the base of its gigantic walls.

Heading for the eastern corner of the stac, we proceeded to traverse the full length of the huge southern slabs. This route took us past some fine guillemot, razorbill and kittiwake colonies which showered off their ledges as we passed underneath. Reaching the south-eastern corner above Am Biran, the view of An t Sail on Boreray lay a few hundred yards away. This wonderful spire, over 700 ft. in height, dominated the scene with gannets in profusion peppering its black vertical walls offering cliff scenery of the highest order.

The ascent began on a series of steep rock bands which led on to mud slopes interspersed with thick tussocks of vegetation. Here the fulmars nested in vast numbers. This huge concentration of fulmars was the thickest I had ever seen in density. I felt for Jim who led us through hundreds of these spitting birds. Some left their nests in the immediate vicinity raining oil on our heads, whilst the bolder birds spat at our legs and bodies. At the top of this steep slope, at about 300 ft., found the ruined bothy perched on a flat terrace below a huge bulge of rock.

The oval shaped roofless structure, now tenanted by the inevitable fulmars still retained its walls despite many stones littering the interior. A central doorway with the lintel still intact faced eastwards, the open sea and the Hebrides beyond. Unlike the bothy on Stac Lee which hugs the wall of the stac, this bothy was a larger, free-standing structure which would have seated 12-15 men. Although we did not measure the bothy I would estimate its overall length and breadth to be 20 ft. x 10 ft. I would have liked to stay longer but time dictated us to move on.

We left the bothy and veered to the south side again, passing cleitan in various stages of collapse. The sun now shining brightly onto the glistening sea beat warm rays into our bodies. The still air being pierced occasionally by a sing wren or the whistle of a fulmar wing as it effortlessly passed overhead. At the t of this slope, scrambling over a short rock wall we encountered the first main gannet colony. We could also see Stac Lee and the distant Hirta for the first time since leaving the southern slabs. The majority of the gannets lay below, enabling us to skirt the colony at its most northerly point causing little disturbance. This colony holds about 2000 pairs which occupies a series of wide ledges, dotted with cleits. Once above the gannets and another series of rock bulges, we again ran the gauntlet of more spitting fulrnars until we reached a jumble of stone blocks.

From here it was possible to see the largest colony of gannets covering the majority of the stac’s eastern face. Above, only the summit tower beckoned us to venture. We took a rest and a cigarette for 5 minutes to tiy and absorb the scene all around us, as squadron alter squadron of stiff winged gannets flew past. At such a great height, I was also surprised to see the occasional guillemot appear from underneath nearby boulders. Unbeknown to me, I had been sitting on a rotten mackerel which I wiped off with my hands. On taking a sniff of the slime, the smell sent me into an uncontrollable retch - much to the great amusement of Andy and Jim.

Now wading through the guano, we began to ascend the last reach of the stac, sending panic through the colony. Some gannets regurgitated half digested fish of various sizes adding more odour to the stench that already filled the air.
Armed with a video camera, Jim filmed Andy and myself making the final 80 ft. push to the summit. Andy reached the top first where I quickly joined him and we both gazed in amazement from the finest viewpoint anywhere within the St Kilda archipelago.

It was difficult to tear our eyes away from the turrets and towers which capped Boreray’s gigantic western wall, but eventually, the spearhead form of Stac Lee and the grey and green humps of Levenish, Dun, Hirta and Soay, all making a perfect backcloth to the scene, drew our attention. We could not see the Outer Hebrides due to the heat haze. Jim joined us on the two-pronged summit and produced a hip flask containing whisky. Celebrations were in order as we each took a nip congratulating each other, with Jim making a profound toast to stacs everywhere.

From our lofty perch I peered over the western wall. It was a frightening sight, plummeting vertically the full 627 ft. and even overhanging in places. It was indeed an awesome sight. The western wall of the stac fell away to the north to meet the upper quarter of the gannet encrusted eastern face in a knife-edge ridge. We could have sat for hours watching the gannet spectacle but could not linger, as the Jean de la Lune had now disappeared behind Boreray and would soon return.

Before leaving the summit, Jim collected the gannet eggs which were carefully wrapped in cotton wool and placed in boxes. After spending a good 20 minutes on top, we began to descend the summit tower. Just off the summit Andy found a toilet brush cemented into one of the gannet nests, to which Jim quickly quipped “well they do like to keep their nests clean!” A little further down I found an old whisky bottle with its neck sticking out of the mud. I would like to think that Finlay Macqueen had drunk from it.

The descent went quickly and without mishap. Crossing the base slabs we could see Jean de Ia Lune had rounded Boreray and was now approaching the stac. Climbing down the steep rock to the disembarkation point proved a lot more difficult than going up. However, at least the greasy rock was now tinder dry. When we reached the landing rock I was shocked to see the tide had dropped by least 10-12 ft.

I should not have worried as one by one we all leapt safely into the inflatable which added even more spice to the excitement we had all felt on this memorable day never to be forgotten. We had spent 3 hours on the stac. The date was Friday 13th but this day had proved it had been lucky for some.
Last edited by petejkenny on Sun Jan 03, 2010 9:50 pm, edited 3 times in total.
petejkenny
 
Posts: 32
Munros:181   Corbetts:5
Grahams:1   
Sub 2000:7   Hewitts:7
Wainwrights:14   
Joined: Jan 26, 2009

Re: Stac an Armin, St Kilda

Postby mountain coward » Sat Jan 02, 2010 11:51 pm

An incredible account that's for sure... i wouldn't like to see lots of people start to climb the 2 stacs though as it would certainly upset a lot of birdlife if it were to be a regular occurrence!
mountain coward
 

Re: Stac an Armin, St Kilda

Postby petejkenny » Sat Jan 02, 2010 11:55 pm

The current NTS guidance doesn't allow landings/ascents during the nesting period. That cuts out most of the good weather though!
petejkenny
 
Posts: 32
Munros:181   Corbetts:5
Grahams:1   
Sub 2000:7   Hewitts:7
Wainwrights:14   
Joined: Jan 26, 2009

Re: Stac an Armin, St Kilda

Postby mountain coward » Sun Jan 03, 2010 12:24 am

Ah okay - that's probably a good idea! It doesn't look 600 and odd feet high does it? It looks like it would be a doddle until you hear the details of the ascent!
mountain coward
 

Re: Stac an Armin, St Kilda

Postby DonnyW » Sun Jan 03, 2010 7:12 am

For anyone interested in seeing more photos and learn some of the history of St Kilda and the Stacs I can thoroughly recommend a look at my brothers blog site. The link is below

http://seakayakphoto.blogspot.com/searc ... St%20Kilda


Enjoy
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DonnyW
 
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Re: Stac an Armin, St Kilda

Postby petejkenny » Sun Jan 03, 2010 10:35 am

That's a great link thanks.

Yes the stac does look quite manageable in my picture, doesn't it? Of course it is taken from about 500 feet above!
petejkenny
 
Posts: 32
Munros:181   Corbetts:5
Grahams:1   
Sub 2000:7   Hewitts:7
Wainwrights:14   
Joined: Jan 26, 2009

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