Woodall and Dealtry bag Marilyns

Rob Woodall and Eddie Dealtry bagged themselves a bit of history a week ago when they completed their monumental quest to become the first people to successfully tick all the Marilyns. For those not in the know, a Marilyn is a British hill which has a 150 metre drop on all sides. Alan Dawson’s 1992 book, The Relative Hills of Britain (RHB), listed a total of 1542 Marilyns but the current (2014) list includes a total of 1556 Marilyns.

 

Having landed first Paul Reeve moving onto the South East corner of Stac an Armin. Photo Rob Woodall

Like many other hill baggers, Rob Woodall and Eddie Dealtry have invested serious time and effort into the challenge over the years as they steadfastly ploughed through the list of Marilyns. However, since 2009 Rob has been on M-2; ie just two Marilyns short of the 1556 target. Eddie joined Rob on M-2 in February of this year after what he describes as "a couple of cock-ups". (Eddie is at pains to point out that he's "been about 400 behind Rob for the past decade and a half, until he [Rob] met The Wall". Eddie also points out that "Ken Whyte was second to The Wall" Unfortunately for Rob Woodall, Eddie Dealtry and the others on M-2, the two outstanding Marilyns they needed to climb to successfully complete the Marilyns were Stac Lee and Stac an Armin, two giant (170m+) sea stacs in the St Kilda group, a remote and uninhabited (since 1930) archipelago some 45 miles off the Western Isles. Although both stacs had been climbed previously, they were last climbed in the summer months of 1990 and 1994 before bird bans were introduced. Since then, landings and therefore possible ascents, have been restricted to winter months after the sea birds have fledged. In order to mount an attempt  a number of crucial ingredients most come together; sea swell must be 1.5m or less, the wind should be force four or less and free from any southerly element, suitable groups must be able to mobilise within a short time-scale and the services of suitable boat operators must be secured.

 

Rob Woodall summits Stac an Armin with Stac Li and main Hirta group in background. Photo Rob Woodall collection

For the last five winters Rob Woodall, along with Eddie Dealtry and friends, has been on stand-by ready to go for the two remaining stacs at the drop of a hat. The first actual attempt came a year ago although in the event they were defeated by the rough sea conditions. Undeterred by their failure in 2013, Rob Woodall, Eddie Dealtry and a number of others mounted another attempt last weekend in favourable conditions. Finally on Monday 13th, they managed to land and climb both Stac an Armin and Stac Lee. Paul Reeve, a well-known climber and adversity junkie, and Richard Mclellan were the group’s two experienced climbers. Whilst the climbing on both stacs isn’t considered hard by modern climbing standards, the rocks are usually covered in guano from the summer nesting season. However, before the climbing can begin the group must first jump ashore onto barnacle or slime covered ledges from small dinghies. The landing was reported as the hardest part on Stac an Armin but climbing up to VDiff was found on Stac Lee. The zig-zag route up Stac Lee was pitched and some ropes were fixed (and removed) to help the non-climbers overcome the hardest sections. Sections of the descent off Stac Lee necessitated abseiling. The team were initially shod with Kahtoola running spikes to improve their grip but they found that the recent storms had left the rocks clean and with adequate friction on the rock. The spikes helped though on the grassy and guana-covered ledges.  In total, 11 summited Stac an Armin but only 6 of the group were successful on Stac Lee. The round trip for most of the team on Stac an Armin was c.90 minutes but the more technical climbing on Stac Lee meant that the climb up and decent down  took several hours.

 

Paul Reeve leading the initial section on Stac Lee. Photo Rob Woodall

With their ascents of Stac an Armin and Stac Lee, Rob Woodall (54) and Eddie Dealtry (66) become the first to successfully complete all 1556 Marilyns. It’s taken Woodall and Dealtry more than twice as long to polish off the Marilyns challenge than they took on the well-know Munros challenge – not least on account of the remoteness and difficulties associated with the St Kilda Marilyns. Four others were also M-2 prior to the trip and although they successfully completed Stac an Amrin they didn’t manage to tick Stac Lee. Given that they now stand at M-1, further trips to St Kilda seem inevitable.

Pete Ellis preparing to leave Stac Lee. Photo Rob Woodall

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