We had to think long and hard whether the window we had to get me and all my kit out to and then onto Rockall would be big enough. We knew that the swell may also be a deciding factor, and in the end it was.
Having arrived on site, in the dark, at around 0100hrs, after leaving Leverburgh on Harris at 1130 the previous morning, we circled for a couple of hours, waiting for first light. Orca 3 moved in close to the rock as dawn broke, to check conditions: there were more sea birds on the Hall's Ledge and scattered around the summit than last year, but there appeared to be less guano.
However, the striking factor was the swell; hitting Rockall from the West, exactly where you don't want it to. There is a small step in the cliff on the Western flank which is the landing 'platform', and the point from where you would commence the fast vertical scramble to safety out of the swell zone, before traversing across the western face and back to reach the summit; but not today!
The swell ebbed and flowed in waves, hitting exactly the point where I would have to jump, hurtling three or four metres up the side of the rock, well above the usual safety mark, and then plunging four or five metres into a deep hole below the step. This created a potential fall, before being able to reach safety, of almost ten metres onto the skirt of rock around the base of Rockall, and a hole into which a RIB, its crew and any kit on board would be sucked, flipped and then scraped back up the rock face.
Last year I remember looking at the landing point and being overwhelmingly confident of making the jump and clambering to safety. Today was different; the combination of such a short time to reach safety, which would mean climbing to a higher point up the face in a shorter time, and then the exposure as the sea fell away below, just did not feel right. Angus Smith, the skipper, took me aside and made it clear that he was not happy about me leaving the Orca to attempt a landing in these conditions, nor was he keen to endanger his crew on the RIBs. In the end, he took the inevitable decision out of my hands.
Like a mountain summit, Rockall will be there another day. Its obviously difficult to turn my back on the rock, and to be sailing away, running before the weather, but I'm confident that it was the correct decision today. With time on my hands during the return journey to Harris, I've watched back the footage and looked at the pictures taken whilst we were there and they all reaffirm that today was not the day.
Now its time to take stock, thank my sponsors; LPG Exceptional Energy, Calor, Kukri, and Petrostrat, my employer DM Hall, and all the companies who have kindly donated or loaned kit and equipment for the expedition; and think how to move forward. I'd also like to thank everyone involved up to this point, including The Guardian, for their hard work and support for a personal project that has been a part of my life for the past four years. This was a solo attempt, but I couldn't have got to this point without the help of a huge number of people.
Nick Hancock FRGS
The Rockall Solo Expedition
Twitter: @RockallNick #RockallSolo