Scots climber makes rare ascent of the UK's highest sea cliff

A pair of expert climbers have joined the elite band of adventurers who have managed to conquer The Long Hope, a route to the top of the tallest sea cliffs in the UK.

By Stephen Wilkie
Tuesday, 7th June 2022, 1:30 pm

The Long Hope is a sheer rock-face overhanging the North Sea at St John’s Head on Hoy in Orkney, famous for the nearby ‘Old Man’ sea stack.

It is seen as one of the world’s stiffest tests with constant danger from crumbling rock, curious seabirds and storm force gales.

The route is 1,617ft (493m) long and leads to the top of St John’s Head which at 1,128ft (345m) is the highest vertical sea cliff in the country.

Alex Moore on the ascent of the Long Hope Pic: Ryan Balharry

Despite numerous attempts dating back to the last century, the first successful ascent was only achieved in 2011 – a feat which took seven days to complete.

It has now been conquered by Robbie Phillips from Edinburgh and his Cornish climbing partner Alex Moore.

Phillips, 32, from Burdiehouse, began climbing as a teenager at Edinburgh International Climbing Arena and has made numerous prominent ascents, repeating world famous climbs on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and the infamous North Face of the Eiger.

Phillips is also a prominent first ascensionist, putting up new climbs in Australia, Madagascar and Chile.

Ominous: St John's Head is a towering sea cliff looming over the North See Pic: VisitScotland

Moore, 25, a residential care worker for traumatised children, took up climbing after being encouraged to stop climbing the school walls and instead focus that energy on purpose built walls.

The towering Hoy cliff has no fixed protection from a fall from the Long Hope, which is more than 1.5 times higher than the Eiffel Tower and split in 23 sections.

Phillips’ previous attempt at the climb last summer was abandoned due to poor weather and a team member breaking his ankle.

He said: "You need to keep a cool head for the whole day when nearly everything your fingers grab wants to crumble to dust in your hands, or anything you stand on feels like it will explode under the pressure of your climbing shoe."

Robbie Phillips stays fully focused on the climb Pic: Ryan Balharry

After spending weeks hanging on a rope to memorise the sequence of movements they would need to succeed, Phillips and Moore set off at 4am to complete the 2hr walk to the top, before abseiling down to the base of the cliff to start the climb.

Following a rocky start the pair were boosted when the weather brightened and Phillips said: “Out of nowhere the clouds parted and the sun hit the wall casting an orange glow across the rock. My chances were low, but I knew then I had this one opportunity to do it. I told myself I had to leave nothing on the wall and commit everything to the final pitch.

" I pulled on and blocked out all thought as I climbed through the most difficult section, achieving what I can only explain as “flow state”. Grabbing the final hold I came out of the trance and screamed in disbelief. I was over the moon, in utter shock at what had just happened. After all the effort and setbacks it finally came together.”

Stomach churning: A look down The Long Hope Pic: Ryan Balharry