St John's Head.

St Johns Head (346 metres) lies 3km to the north-east of the Old Man of Hoy and is best viewed from the Scrabster to Stromness ferry. The headland is breached by only four routes, three of which begin around the grassy ramps at the bottom of the north face. The Original Route and Longhope Route were multi-day undertakings climbed in 1969 and 1970 whilst Big John was climbed in a single day in 1988. These routes are now free of their original aid points and the cliff offers almost endless scope. Big John is based on the impressive left arete of the north face whilst Longhope Route tackles the headwall itself. The Original Route starts up the grassy ramps before moving rightwards at mid-height to climb the north-west face. The fourth route starts from a lonely wee bay 400 meters to the south and takes the relatively narrow south face.

St John's Head. North View

At the southern end of the St. John’s Head. The headland of St John’s terminates as a huge steep stepped arête. This arete is one of the largest and most obvious features on the headland and is easily seen from the Orkney to Scrabster ferry. Access to the route is gained by a scramble from the descent gully along the boulder beach below the main face. A short section below the main face is only accessible at low tide. Alternatively access by boat in calm seas. We accessed the base of the face by boat try MV Halton.. For a lift to the bottom of the face.

St John's Head. South Face

Testament to the Insane. 477m XS 5b

The route was climbed in a single 26 hour push with a short bivvy during darkness. A 8m leader fall was taken on pitch 8 and one point of aid used on lead, the pitch was then free climbed at 5b by the 2nd. Rock quality is in general poor but the location and the atmosphere is truly outstanding, an adventurous and serious route.

Pitch 1. 30m To the left of the boulder beach, directly below the arête, climb the steep grassy slope to the boulder on the horizon as you climb.

Pitch 2. 35m Scramble easily up the grass to the rock band, belay in cracks at its right hand end.

Pitch 3. 40m Continue up the steepening grass to the base of the towering arête, belay at the bottom of the big chimney/groove.

Pitch's 4 to 7

Pitch 4. 40m 4c Climb the chimney/groove, pull out left at its top to a slopping grassy stance. Climb up steep grass to another groove pull out left at its top follow the short loose corner to a small stance. In situ peg and gear belay.

Pitch 5. 12m Follow the grassy arête on the right to a bigger ledge at the bottom of the right facing corner.

Pitch 6. 40m 4a From the right hand end of the ledge climb the slabby right facing corner to even steeper vegetation, ascend this swiftly to a second right facing corner climb this to a good stance. Belay in the cracks on good rock.

Pitch 7. 40m 4c Climb up trending left gently to the base of a steep red wall below a huge precarious capping boulder. Traverse right hand and ascend the steep ramp on better rock to a steep and extremely loose vegetated slope. Climb this delicately to landward side of another massive perched boulder. Belay in the twin cracks on the wall below it.

Pitch's 8 to 12.

Pitch 8. 45m 5b Traverse along the grassy ledge to the bottom of the prominent arête, which bounds the right hand end of the huge slabby wall. Pull around the arête on good holds in an exposed position to gain the base of a left facing corner. Climb the corner steeply to a grotty ledge (several pegs) and belay at the back below a wide groove.

Pitch 9. 12m 4a Climb up the wide groove and up grass to a good stance. In situ peg and gear belay.

Pitch 10. 45m 5a Climb the steep right trending corner through a wee roof to further steep vegetation. Climb this to a recess on the left. Climb the centre of the recess to a huge boulder and belay. Bivvy on the first ascent.

Pitch 11. 48m Scramble through deep vegetation to the bottom of the headwall. Belay on the high point of vegetation directly below the huge central fault line.

Pitch 12. 25m 4b Climb the left facing corner on the left and up to and into a cave with a huge block on the floor, Climb through the niche in the roof of the cave to the bottom of a big left facing corner. Good flake belay at bottom of the corner.


Pitch 13. 20m 5a Climb the hand crack 3 meters to the left of the vegetated open book corner to a good triangular niche. At the back of the niche climb the steep hand cracks to a good stance on the left. Belay in sight and sound of others.

Pitch 14. 45m 5a Continue up the chimney making some classic thrutch moves to the wide grassy ledge above. Traverse along this narrowing ledge delicately to a loose recess. Ascend the recess to the summit.

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