Ascent of Mullach an Eilein on 2009-04-12

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Ian Teasdale
Richard Mclellan
Denise Mclellan
Colin Crawford
Richard Webb
Alan Holmes
George Morl
Date:Sunday, April 12, 2009
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Boat
Peak:Mullach an Eilein
    Elevation:1260 ft / 384 m

Ascent Trip Report

Brent Lynam started the ball rolling with plans to look at a St Kilda trip in 2009. It had been six years since my stormy Conachair trip with Messrs Barnett, Upson, Dawson and the Bowkers - and with management arrangements changing, there was hope of progress with the remaining Marilyns. Andy Strangeway had advertised some trips, albeit at a price most folk thought too high. Then Ken Whyte suggested we set something up ourselves this spring. He came back with the ok from NTS and some dates from Seatrek, then went off on holiday leaving me to see if anyone else was interested. Within 24 hours I had a dozen people wanting to send deposits, crucially including two capable lead climbers. All we needed was for the forecast to improve. In a cruel twist of fate, just before departure Ken fractured his collarbone, ruling himself out of the trip (but he was back in September and summitted).

Full ferries led to a few problems getting to Lewis, but by Monday 6 April, nine of us were assembled at Seatrek HQ looking at gear choices and weather forecasts. Weather windows came and went; Lewis and Harris hills were bagged. A day trip on Sunday 12th became our only hope before most of the party had to head home.

At 6am off we go, in force 4 winds. There may be too much swell even for Dun, but we hope to get on Hirta and have a look around the stacs. Plenty of sick bags in use on the bumpy 4-hour crossing, but after an eternity Boreray appears, then Stac an Armin. We head in close to check the landing site on the east side of Boreray. In the sheltered nook there is only a foot or two of swell, so I suggest we go for it. It is an impressive location, with gannet cliffs up left, and vertiginous grass directly above us, leading to the north ridge.

Ian Teasdale and Richard Mclellan are first ashore, neatly landed by Murray, the Seatrek skipper, making it look easy. I'm on the second boat: step down into the little plastic tender, across 30 metres of calm water, stop beside a little staircase of barnacled rock protruding down into the water. Murray gives the ok; I step across and clamber up slippery rock. I'm wearing my trusty Walsh hillrunning shoes: good on wet rock and excellent on steep grass; however most of the party are in boots and these seem to work fine. Richard has rigged up a static security rope for this first section. Then easy slabs lead up to a steeper section, dampish and a bit loose, with poor holds. Ian has a rope in place here and all eight of us are soon above the main difficulties, albeit now directly below a gannet colony and up to our ankles in guano. However, we are soon on the 40° grass slope above, which passes for easy ground on Boreray. A rising traverse gets us high on the spectacular north ridge, which falls 300m vertically to the sea, with Stac an Armin thrusting implausibly from the sea at our feet. A few grassy pinnacles to circumvent, then we are at the neat grass summit, with Stac Lee directly below and Hirta beyond, flanked by Dun and Soay.

A few of us cross to the slightly lower west summit then we all assemble for a group photo before heading down. We abseil the awkward steep section, recover Ian's now-filthy rope then scramble down to the landing point. The wind has now come round to the SE and the swell is about six feet. It's a matter of perching on the rock while Murray manoeuvres the little boat, waiting while it lifts on the swell, then quickly stepping aboard. Time and sea state rule out Village Bay, so we spend the next hour or so studying the ascent routes for Soay and the two stacs, then shelter in the lee of Stac an Armin for a brew. By now the wind is dropping and we enjoy a much calmer voyage back to Meabhaig, the sun setting as we thread the labyrinth of islands guarding the harbour entrance. We're all buzzing after a long but very successful day.

Three days later, Ian T and I returned to St Kilda on a "tourist" day trip and summitted Bioda Mor on Dun

Later that same year, 13 Sept, we were back again. Ian T and I stayed with the boat, and while the rest of the party were up the hill we discovered a much neater E side landing point, about 200m further north (see below): a decent landing with easy slabs (easy YDS 3 when the rock is dry, needing a lot more respect when damp) leading directly to the grass above. However it tends to be a little more exposed to the swell.

See Cnoc Glas (Soay) report for an account of the September trip which also included Soay, Dun and Stac Levenish.

St Kilda photos

Aerial photography on People's map : select the Getmapping layer.

Access / restrictions / timing: to my knowledge, as of 2009 there are no bird issues affecting either of the normal routes (from east and from south). The main issue is the sea state which dictates which landing (if any) is feasible. The weather is most likely to be suitable between April and September, which is the main "tourist season". It will probably be necessary to charter a boat - unless you can persuade a boatman to drop you off on the way out and collect you 4-5 hours later on the way back (worth a try!).

(1S) In very calm conditions it's apparently easiest to land on the slabs at about NA 15400456, due south of the summit. From here it's apparently an easy walk (barely a scramble) up onto the grassy slopes which lead to the summit.
(2S) In slightly less favourable conditions an easier landing can be made a few metres further southeast. However, it is necessary to cross the Bad Step (an exposed step across a chasm) before reaching safe ground. On our Sept visit, our group didn't fancy it.
On both my visits I have landed from the east side, ESE of the summit.
(3E) The easiest landing is at NA 15804 05380 (GPSr) as mentioned above: land on rock and ascend the slabs (barely a scramble, on nice clean rock) to reach the grass above. The swell is typically from the west and I would recommend planning to land here if conditions are reasonable.
(4E) The "normal" eastern landing is a little further south at NA 1570 05160. Land on rock, scramble up easy slabs then ascend slightly loose messy rock to the foot of the cliff (be prepared for ankle-deep Gannet droppings from the colony above). Get away from under the cliff a.s.a.p. to avoid possible rockfall (helmet recommended). This landing is very sheltered: we landed in calm conditions despite a significant westerly swell (wind Force 4).

Ascent: Once safely above the rock, ascend E then NE on very steep grass, to reach the north ridge. Ascend the ridge, passing any obstacles on the L (E). There is some exposure but nothing technical.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1260 ft / 384 m
    Round-Trip Distance:0.6 mi / 1 km
    Grade/Class:YDS 4 (3)
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Rock Climb
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 

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