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Old Man of Hoy clean-up consultation

Monday 9th October 2023, 2:06pm

A project is proposed to clean up the Old Man of Hoy, removing and disposing of decades of rotting pegs, old rusted bolts and unsightly tat that is making this sea stack look a mess, when it should be a pleasure to climb. This is with the agreement of the landowner, RSPB, who look after the extensive breeding seabird colony here.

In addition, the abseil stations for descent will be cleaned, installing modern and much more durable options, avoiding the need to add and leave further climbing rubbish.

Opinion is sought from the climbing community on this clean-up initiative.

What’s the problem?

The Old Man of Hoy – a classic climb, is a mess of old, rotting gear that has been left behind at each belay and accumulated over decades of use. The problem is the constant use of very old pre-placed gear and the use of increasing amounts of slings that is unsightly and is against the trad ethic of ‘leaving no trace’.

Many of the fixed belays are made up of rotten tat tied to rotten tat, tied off to rotten bolts. A meter or two of recently added fresh cord may reassure a climber that a 60m free hanging abseil will be safe, but the quality and reliability of what that cord is tied to cannot easily be judged. 

An ascent of the Old Man of Hoy should be a classic adventure, a pilgrimage for UK trad climbers, not a game of abseil roulette following success on the summit.


  • Removing and disposing of all the rotting climbing rubbish from the stack
  • Make abseil stations safer and ensure no old gear is required to abseil off

In full agreement with the landowner, RSPB, the plan is to massively reduce the human debris and make descent from the stack safer by removing the uncertainty of whether an abseil anchor will fail.

With the particular sea stack issue of abseil descent being unavoidable, and the increasing popularity of the climb and therefore an increasing amount of unsightly climbing rubbish having to be left behind, the aim of the project is to remove decades of these rotting pegs, old rusted bolts and unsightly tat, and replace them with something that will be less unsightly, will last longer and whose quality can easily judged by climbers

The need for the abseil stations

The only safe way to descend or retreat from the stack is by fixed abseil stations solo-down climb (or parachute!) Some of the abseil stations are also used as belay stations in ascent. Some of the ascent belays are on leader placed protection and nothing will be done at these locations other than efforts made to remove the heads of rusted away nuts to open up the cracks once again for placements.


  • Where possible and practicable, the aim is to replace like-for-like or removable equipment. Where this is not possible, old bolts will be replaced by modern and far more durable counterparts.
  • To make the climb less littered by removing old pegs, old bolts and old threads (most of which are rotten) from the entire climb.
  • On the pitches themselves these will not be replaced like-for-like when there is ample modern natural protection available.

On Belay Stations:

  • Some of the ascent belays are on leader placed protection and nothing will be done at these locations other than efforts made to remove the heads of rusted away nuts to open up the cracks once again for placements.
  • If on belay stations there is no natural protection available and they relied on poor old bolts and pegs, then in-situ bolts may be the only option.

On Abseil Stations:

  • On the required abseil stations, new in-situ abseil points will be installed on the following basis:
  • The intention is to install modern and much more durable options at all abseil stations mitigating the need for climbers to add further climbing rubbish.
  • Stuck and rotting natural gear will not be replaced with natural gear on abseil stations.
  • If there are natural threads that are solid at abseil stations and these can be made such that they will not degrade quickly, then these will be replaced like-for-like.
  • If there are no natural threads these abseil stations will also be replaced with stainless steel or similar bolted and chained options.

Current condition and action proposed

Current anchors for the original route are:

  • A rope thread and handline at the top of pitch one, this was previously two bolts that are now rusted beyond recognition. We propose to replace the thread with static.
  • Natural gear placements at end of pitch two. This will be cleaned of rusted-off heads of nuts if possible.
  • Two threads equalised at end of pitch three (abseil station), this takes the form of multiple ropes and cords, connected with multiples of rusted hardware. We intend to replace these with marine steel purpose made strops, with protective covers to stop wear on the sandstone, these will be equalised with marine quality stainless steel maillions, removing the temptation to add tat to the stance.
  • Pitch 3.5 is a spike and connected nut. The nut is impossible to properly inspect as it is buried in sand. What is visible is heavily corroded. this station is not necessary and is potentially dangerous. The spike is loose and the nut is not redundant; it relies on the spike. We would like to clean this and remove the stance. Options for leader placed protection exist here for a mid pitch belay if required.
  • At the end of pitch four is a mess of equalised tat from old bolts and one hanger. The original bolts are rusted through by around 40-60% and are bending. The newest is an old 8mm spit and should not be used. However, no other option exists here. The proposal to leave the original bolts for historical reasons and replace them with two modern marine steel sandstone specific glue ins with attached marine steel mailions to reduce wear on the bolts.
  • The end of pitch 5 (optional abseil station) has 4 pegs in reasonable condition. We propose to bring off the rusted mailions and replace them with marine steel millions, equalised with static.
  • The summit (abseil station) is a mass of complicated ropes, cords and karabiners but is fundamentally a thread. We propose to remove the all this rubbish and replace with one purpose made marine steel, protected strop.
  • Some of the ascent belays are on leader placed protection and nothing will be done at these locations other than efforts made to remove the heads of rusted away nuts to open up the cracks once again for placements.

All of the above is done in a voluntary capacity at their own cost and time, with the full support of the landowner. 

The intention is to make the stack a joy to climb and safe to descend.