Although the morning dawns clear and bright, the Orange wall is in the shade and damp from overnight wave-spray. It’s not ideal, and our schedule is now extremely tight. Tomorrow we have to be in, variously, Sheffield, North Wales and London, and at the moment we’re in a remote corner of Hoy, two ferries from mainland John O Groats, and at least ten hours of driving from where we all need to be. If we’re to make it back home on time, Calum and Tom both need to get the route first time and we need to be on the 3pm ferry back to Orkney. Climb a new E7, shoot photos and video, drive the length of Hoy on bumpy roads? Tight is an understatement.
The boys abseil down and warm up with a quick top-rope ascent, drying the holds with liberal quantities of chalk. I then abseil into the intimidating void and look down at the lurid orange rock with its tenuous line of white crimps and realize that this line is truly inspirational. Shooting straight up the middle of the wall, it’s uncompromising, hard and direct.
First off Calum scoots up and I get a series of images of the whites of his eyes, his gaze concentrated on the small, technical sequence of holds ahead. But he needn’t look concerned since his climbing is fast and confident, and he makes the well run out crux look as if it’s a gentle walk in some suburban park. With no whoop of joy and no scream of success, he calmly clips the belay and strips the pitch for Tom while I jumar back up the ropes and re-position myself.
Tom’s style is very different. His small green figure stands out against the orange wall as he climbs slowly, mindfully and steadily, looking completely self assured. His climbing states that even here on a remote and adventurous Orkney cliff, there’s just no need for drama.
Unfortunately, all this terribly-in-control-E7-climbing takes longer than expected, so we find ourselves running back across the hillside in the bright sunshine, sweating wildly and struggling under heavy packs. It’s a close call but we just about make the ferry, then cruise onto the second ferry to the mainland. Blimey, Hoy is remote. Amidst all the seagulls and puffins, the crashing waves and howling wind, I’ve kind of forgotten we are at the far end of Britain. It was beginning to feel familiar.
Back on the mainland, it’s only 8.30pm and there are a few hours of light left, so Calum decides on another attempt at the line he tried en route to the ferry. It’s horrible to watch this since the crux is protected by two sky hooks held down with a spare rope to a rucksack on the ground – effectively making it is a solo – but by 10pm there’s a second bold E7 to add to the day’s tally. It’s not every day that you get this much hard, sensational new routing.
Finally, it’s time to leave this far north adventure wonderland. It’s a crazy long drive back down, but we’re all buzzing with adrenaline and the self satisfied glow that comes from pulling off a great trip in the face of a poor forecast. It’s been brilliant, and huge thanks are due to Tom, Calum and Emma for being such a grand crew to get remote with.
Thanks guys – enjoy your onward adventures.