New on Sidetracked:

The Long Hope Route

Lukasz Warzecha

I remember vividly looking down at the overhanging top pitches of the Long Hope Route thinking to myself ‘Shit!’ and being genuinely scared and excited at the same time… I usually have no problems with exposure, but here the 1200ft of air really hits your senses hard. Looking from the mainland the St John’s Head appears banana shaped, an overhanging headwall curves over the grassy bottom half of the cliff which slopes down towards the boulders and the sea.

Before heading out to St John’s Head for the first time I had a lengthy email exchange with both Dave Macleod and Paul Diffley trying to get to know about the location as much as possible. I thought I knew a lot and later it all became irrelevant… Back in 1970 it took Olivier Hill and Ed Drummond 7 days to climb the route, 40 years later I was hanging on a rope only meters away from one of the World’s best rock climbers who set out to climb it free in a day!

My plan was to document Dave’s successful ascent and if possible (weather permitting) re-shoot the final headwall crux pitch. It may sound simple, but in fact all I could do is prepare myself for the unknown. How soon Dave could succeed on the route was a big unknown and the Scottish weather was not improving the odds. Right from the beginning everything about this trip was special, being on an assignment from Mountain Equipment, shooting a Climb Magazine cover and at the same time working alongside Paul Diffley and the HotAches crew.

When we had arrived on Hoy there was no time to waste. Day one of our three week stay on the island saw the entire crew carrying large payloads of camera equipment and ropes to rig the entire top half of the cliff. In total some 1000m of ropes and 60 cams were fixed on the wall, nearly as far down as The Vice, a wide horizontal crack somewhere half way up the wall. It was also my first opportunity to spec the angles while Dave was working the crux moves one more time.

I snapped many test frames and I also shot a self portrait to remind myself what it felt like to be there… Later that day I shared some of the pictures on my blog, the very next morning I discovered a comment had been left by Olivier Hill:

Lovely photograph of you speccing out crux pitch angles. Green hair, red rock just like Eldorado Canyon. Looking forward to the photos to do this incredible pitch justice. Olivier Hill.

Nearly every day on Hoy during the 3hrs long approach to the cliff I would think to myself: I need to make sure the images I shoot not only document Dave’s efforts but gave the top pitch justice and represented the achievement of Olivier Hill and Ed Drummond’s epic journey on this grand route. I would not want to say that I felt the weight on my shoulders whilst shooting the Long Hope Route but I certainly had this feeling that this was a unique opportunity. I was shooting with a conviction that this was history…

I would think to myself: I need to make sure the images I shoot not only document Dave’s efforts but gave the top pitch justice and represented the achievement of Olivier Hill and Ed Drummond’s epic journey on this grand route.

After two days of rain the day had come! A very early start for most of the crew especially Dave and Andy (Dave’s climbing partner)! The next time I would see them would be on The Guillotine, a small ledge exactly where the crux pitch begins. By which time though Dave would have climbed nearly the entire route, mostly on-sight with many loose sections of E6 and E7 whereas all I had to do was 3 scary abseils through the overhangs… I would meticulously check the anchors (mainly Camelots No.5 and 6) at every abseil… I had plenty of time for another cup of tea.

At The Guillotine Dave turns around to me to say that he’s tired and I should be prepared for a fall. My photography mind went into overdrive… Fall… frame wide… fast shutter speed… wide aperture… Composing frame after frame… shooting mostly vertical images… I am shooting a cover after all! I felt like I was driving a race car… keeping an eye on the camera buffer count… I needed all the possible frames to capture a fall!

Meantime Dave passes the first crux… OMG! Surely I can jummar faster than Dave can climb… but can I? Before the second crux things got complicated… the Thurso to Stromness ferry entered the frame. Another element I need to keep an eye on… Dave passes the second crux… It’s all over! WHAT? Damn, what an anti-climax, no fall?! Dave clambered restless onto the ‘Thank God Ledge’… I just cannot believe what just happened! He did it! Fantastic! A mixture of emotions go through my head… I’m chimping nervously through the images on both cameras… Have I got enough? Have I shot it too wide anticipating the fall? No, I got the money shot, the one moment in time I wanted to capture, climbing history being made. Well done Dave incredible effort!

IMAGE CAPTIONS (from the top)

1. Dave on the crux pitch, but this picture was taken during an arrenged photo session over a week after Dave has free climbed the route.

2. St John’s Head.

3. Self portrait… Crux pitch of the Long Hope Route.

4. Andy Turner and Dave Macleod on The Guilotinne belay… seconds later Dave turned around to me to say that he’s really tired.

5. Dave mid through the bottom crux.

6. Ed Drummond posing for a portrait on the edge of the headland overlooking the St Johns Head. One more reason. why this trip was so special… Spending time and photographing with Ed was a very emotional experience.


During the past 4 years, Lukasz has worked overtime in order to be considered among the top adventure photographers in the World. Known for his radical approach, he’s been shooting ‘anything climbing’ – from winter in Lofoten in gnarly conditions, Ice Climbing World Cups to portraits of Reinhold Messner at the London’s Royal Geographical Society.

In 2011 Lukasz joined the HotAches film crew to document with his camera Dave Macleod’s efforts on the Long Hope Route, St John’s Head, Hoy. His images from this assignment landed him 7 international magazine covers around the World together with publications in the mainstream press (including The Times, The Guardian and The Independent).

Lukasz is based in the Peak District where he has his own studio, he also runs his own photography workshops providing students with a unique experience to shoot with some of the best climbers in the World.

Lukasz is sponsored by ClikElite, Redged, Mountain Equipment and Lyon Outdoors.