Ten year-old Ollie Buckle recently made mainstream news with his charity-fundraiser climb of The Old Man of Hoy's East Face Route (Original Route) in the Orkney Islands, making him the youngest person to complete the route since Leo Houlding's ascent at the age of 11 in 1990 and raising over £3,500 for WaterAid in the process. Ollie was climbing with the support of his father Ben and a guide, but he also received recorded messages of encouragement from none other than first ascensionist Sir Chris Bonington - who reclimbed the sea stack aged 80 in 2014 - and celebrity adventurer Mr Bear Grylls.
The iconic sea stack off the coast of Hoy in Scotland was first climbed in 1966 by Sir Chris along with Rusty Baille and Tom Patey. Their Original Route has become a UK classic and is a sought-after tick at the grade of E1.
I interviewed Ollie - who's just turned 11 - and Ben to find out more about taking on The Old Man...
*There was a recent forum discussion about a 7 year-old boy who was reported to have climbed the stack in the 60's, but it is difficult to ascertain whether he climbed it or if he was hauled up by his dad. Either way - it's the experience that counts. Well done Ollie!
How did you get into climbing?
My dad took me climbing before I was 3 years old to a church that had been converted into a climbing wall (Undercover Rock, St. Werbergh’s), and that’s how it began!
What do you enjoy about climbing?
I enjoy completing grades and then finding the next grade even more challenging – it always makes me push even harder on the next climbs.
Which areas have you climbed in so far?
Harrisons Rocks, Peak District, Wye Valley (Wintour’s Leap and Symonds Yat), Bosigran, Lake District, Fontainebleau.
Why did you choose to climb the Old Man - what was special about it?
I attended a lecture by Leo Holding back in November and I decided then that I wanted to beat his record on the Old Man of Hoy. I like that it is in quite a remote location and that it’s an iconic/classic rock climb.
You were climbing it for charity - why did you choose Water Aid?
WaterAid helps large numbers of people gain access to something we take for granted; clean drinking water and basic sanitation.
How did you prepare for the climb?
We did lots of sea cliff climbing in Cornwall to gain experience of the exposure we’d likely encounter on the Hoy. We practised lots of crack climbing, so jamming with fingers and fists and careful placing of feet. Before our guide agreed to support us, he put me through a tough assessment day in the Peak District after which he was satisfied that I had the ability to tackle the climb.
You received good luck messages from Sir Chris Bonington and Bear Grylls before you started. How did this make you feel? Did you feel pressure to succeed at all?
It felt great to be supported like this, and it also made me more determined not to let them down.
Tell us a bit about how it went on the day. What moments stood out for you? Were there any really tricky bits?
The second pitch was a bit tricky. I put my foot on a sandy ledge after the traverse, but before the crux and lost my footing so slipped off; dangling about in mid-air for a few seconds did raise my anxiety levels. I managed to get myself together and back to the base of the crack leading to the crux, my dad saw me pop off and so started coming across the traverse but by then I’d figured out the way out onto the arête off the traverse and into the crack system leading up to the roof/crux. I was determined not to use any aid on the crux and was really chuffed when I pulled through the roof and romped up to the belay.
Your Dad is a climber too and was with you on the climb. What was it like having him with you?
It gave me lots of confidence knowing my dad was there behind me. It was lovely having him there to share in the celebrations at the top!
How did you feel when you reached the top?
I felt great! It’s wonderful to achieve a goal you’ve been thinking about for 6 months! All my training and preparation paid-off! I feel like a real climber!
What's your next big challenge?
I don’t know yet. I just want to get out on the crags as much as possible and have some fun, I’d also like to canoe the Devizes Westminster Canoe Race with my mum in a few years time.
What would your advice be to another young person who might want to do such a climb, but lack the confidence to do it?
Don’t worry, keep striving and if you doubt yourself, having a charity to support does help you focus and keep trying. The important thing is just to get out there and have a go!
How did you get into climbing?
After finishing Uni in Bristol in the mid-90’s I started working in Harrogate and used to give a lift to a colleague to the newly opened Leeds Wall; I started bouldering at Almscliffe five nights a week shortly thereafter and was hooked!
How did you react when Ollie first expressed interest in the challenge?
“Let’s not be too hasty!” After his initial interest following the Leo Houlding lecture I thought he might forget about it, but he kept raising it in conversation in the months that followed; Ollie’s mum finally told us to stop talking about it and make a decision!
How did it feel to watch and support Ollie both in the run up to and during the climb?
A great privilege. We’d been climbing over in the Wye Valley and down at Bosigran over Easter trying to get on rock as much as possible; working hard with some excellent guides, Justin Nicholas at Climb SouthWest and Alec Roberts at Guided Mountain to ensure I didn’t pass on all my bad ropework habits to Ollie. I saw him grow as a climber over this period, leading to a go/no-go formal assessment with our would-be Hoy guide Rich Cross of Alpine Guides Ltd. My greatest feeling of pride was at the end of this tough assessment day in the Peak with Rich when he turned to me and “well, he can climb. The Hoy’s on.” I’m thankful we were in a position to give Ollie the opportunity to try for it.
Did you ever doubt his chances of completing it?
The crux on P2 was going to be the decider. Rich and I agreed that if needs be we could throw a sling or a cam in around the roof section on the crux just in case Ollie needed to grab something; Ollie was most insistent that he wasn’t going to use it! Just after the traverse to the start of the crack that leads up into the chimney and the crux, Ollie slipped off a tiny sand-covered ledge; both Rich and I thought this might not bode well for the rest of the climb since he hadn’t yet got to the crux. Ollie’s anxiety level rose a bit and I offered to climb the traverse and see if we could figure it out together; I started making my way across to him, by which time, he’d figured it out, pulled onto the arête and rocked through the crux without aid! I think I knew then it would go. (and then I promptly went on to struggle with the crux myself - remind me to remove my rucksack for this bit next time please!)
What do you think he has learned from the experience?
The importance of social responsibility; those that can, should work hard to provide what we consider basic resources such as clean water and sanitation to those who literally have nothing. To believe in himself and that he can do it. Also, he has a much greater understanding of the need to wait patiently on belays for other climbers to move on!
What will you remember most from the climb?
The feeling of pride as he moved through the crux then watching him layback and handjam confidently up pitch 5. And then the feeling of relief when we were stood back on the top of the cliff overlooking the Old Man!
Well done Ollie!
Donate to Ollie's Crowdfund page.
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