Pabbay

7th July 2017

 

I've recently returned from a climbing trip to the uninhabited and quite magical isle of Pabbay, in the Outer Hebrides, and a long way from anywhere. Other Chamonix-based friends had made the pilgrimage in recent years, and all returned raving about the high quality of the climbing. Being a big fan of sea-cliff climbing, a visit was overdue..

The five-hour ferry journey to Castlebay on Barra impresses the great isolation and remoteness of the Outer Hebrides. The final leg, on a small open charter-boat expertly piloted by Francis, landed us on a wet headland to set up camp near to the only other occupants of the island - a large Dutch - German team.

The damp weather soon cleared, and with the sun out, we set about exploring our new home the next day. The majority of the main cliffs lie on the opposite (western) side of the island, and with bearings set, we dropped down to the Poop Deck for some non-committing single-pitch action. The rock is ancient Lewisian Gneiss, 2-3 billion years in the making, some of the roughest stone I've ever climbed on.

 

Climbing on Spring Squill

Sam Simpson enjoying the huge holds on Spring Squill (E1 5b), Banded Walls

 

Some of the bigger venues, such as the Great Arch and Grey Wall, require very steep and intimidating abseils of sometimes 90m and more. The rough texture and large crystals of the gneiss proved perfectly suited to compromising the abseil ropes of the unwary. Despite having three brand-new 100m static lines and plenty of rope protectors between our large team, one of the ropes still only survived three days..

 

The Poop Deck routes

Sam and Adam on the single-pitch routes at the Poop Deck

The Great Arch, Pabbay

Admiring the Great Arch

 

Despite the steep and committing nature of the situations, the rock itself proved incredibly sculpted, giving some huge holds and plenty of gear. An afternoon on the big classic E2, Prophecy of Drowning, with Sam and Adam was perhaps the highlight of my trip, an unlikely-looking line up the huge rock architecture of the Great Arch.

Gav climbs the Prophecy of Drowning

Myself trying to find the right way on the classic Prophecy of Drowning (E2 5c). © Andy Thow

The Priest route, Pabbay

John Crook on the second pitch of The Priest (E1 5b), Great Arch

Endolphin Rush in Banded Walls, Pabbay

Climbers on Endolphin Rush (E3 5c), lost in the expanse of Banded Walls

 

 Fatigue kicked in by the final day, with myself and Sam preferring to lounge around seal-spotting rather than committing to the Grey Wall abseil. So we returned from an amazing trip with plenty left to explore on future visits. The climbing was almost as much fun as sharing a tent with Adam for a week. Possibly the best rock climbing venue in the British Isles?

Looking up the Sugar Cane Country route

Sam shortly before taking to the air off the immaculate Sugar Cane Country (E4 6a)

Old farmhouse ruins, Pabbay

Old farmhouse ruins near the camping area. The population was always very small, but after all of the able-bodied men were lost to a storm on a fishing trip in 1897, the island was soon disbanded.