Terrifying experience on famous sea stack leads to multi-agency rescue

Two climbers say they are ‘extremely grateful’ to HM Coastguard after a terrifying experience on a 60m (200ft) sandstone sea stack in Sutherland, Scotland.

The men raised the alarm after they found themselves on a small ledge near the bottom of the Old Man of Stoer, unable to make their way up or down in poor weather, with high waves battering the stack and the tide coming in.

“Suddenly the waves got really fierce and were crashing into the rocks, which became slippery and hard to hold on to; the wind whipped the sea spray into our faces and made it impossible to see or hear each other and the climb was suddenly very treacherous.

“The weather turned quickly and all of a sudden, it was a much darker, scarier place and we were in trouble,” says one of the climbers.

The coastguard search and rescue helicopter from Stornoway, along with Achiltibuie, Kinlochbervie and Ullapool coastguard rescue teams, Lochinver RNLI lifeboat and Police Scotland were all sent to help as darkness rolled in.

The men were winched to safety by the coastguard helicopter and taken to Lochinver where they were passed into the care of the coastguard rescue teams. Cold and tired from the ordeal, they were able to make their own way home.

“We’re just so grateful,” one of the climbers says, known as Mike. “I didn’t want to call really, I kept thinking we could get out of it, but the weather was just getting worse and worse, and I started to get really worried about Chris.

“He was much further down the stack than I was, and I kept losing sight of him – he was getting battered by the waves and the sea spray was making everything really difficult, there were moments when I thought he was gone.

“So it was a huge relief to see the helicopter arriving.

“We were both so impressed with the entire rescue operation, every member of the crew were top class. It barely seemed possible to carry out an operation in those conditions so close to the stack but they did it.

“We also really appreciated the teams waiting for us on the ground to ensure we were OK and provided us with blankets to warm us up.

“Chris was a lot worse for wear than I was as he was stuck further down and I know he feels quite lucky – and extremely grateful – that HM Coastguard came to our rescue.

“If the seas had gotten just a bit stormier, all it would have taken was one wave to sweep us away.”

Captain Will MacLeod, from the HM Coastguard search and rescue helicopter at Stornoway, says: “This was a potentially life-threatening situation for all involved – the two men who became isolated, and the teams of coastguard rescuers, police and volunteers who responded.

“The Old Man of Stoer is a popular location for climbers but weather can rapidly deteriorate and, particularly at this time of year as we come out of the summer months, rising waves and high winds from the Atlantic Ocean present significant risks that anyone moving around the coast can expect to encounter.

“Thankfully we were able to return these men to safety without injury however, the situation could have been far worse had weather conditions become more severe.”