Two men have spoken about their harrowing experience of becoming stuck on the Old Man of Stoer in Sutherland.
The pair raised the alarm at about 6.30pm last night after they found themselves crag fast on a small ledge near the bottom of the 200ft sea stack, unable to make their way up or down in poor weather.
With high waves battering the stack and the tide coming in, Lochinver RNLI and multiple coastguard teams – including the Stornoway Coastguard helicopter – were scrambled quickly to the scene.
The men, known only as Mike and Chris, were winched to safety by the coastguard helicopter and taken to Lochinver where they were passed into the care of the coastguard rescue teams.
Cold and tired from the ordeal, they were able to make their own way home.
‘It barely seemed possible’
“We’re just so grateful,” Mike said. “I didn’t want to call really, I kept thinking we could get out of it, but the weather was just getting worse and worse, and I started to get really worried about Chris.
“He was much further down the stack than I was, and I kept losing sight of him – he was getting battered by the waves and the sea spray was making everything really difficult, there were moments when I thought he was gone.
“So it was a huge relief to see the helicopter arriving.
“We were both so impressed with the entire rescue operation, every member of the crew were top class. It barely seemed possible to carry out an operation in those conditions so close to the stack but they did it.
“We also really appreciated the teams waiting for us on the ground to ensure we were OK and provided us with blankets to warm us up.
“Chris was a lot worse for wear than I was as he was stuck further down and I know he feels quite lucky – and extremely grateful – that HM Coastguard came to our rescue.
“If the seas had got just a bit stormier, all it would have taken was one wave to sweep us away.”
Changing weather can pose ‘significant risks’
Captain Will MacLeod, from the HM Coastguard search and rescue helicopter at Stornoway, said: “This was a potentially life-threatening situation for all involved – the two men who became isolated, and the teams of coastguard rescuers, police and volunteers who responded.
“The Old Man of Stoer is a popular location for climbers but weather can rapidly deteriorate and, particularly at this time of year as we come out of the summer months, rising waves and high winds from the North Sea present significant risks that anyone moving around the coast can expect to encounter.
“Thankfully we were able to return these men to safety without injury however, the situation could have been far worse had weather conditions become more severe.”