Friday, 14 December 2012

"You're the sheep guy!" - Rescuing Sheep at Millstone

It was a grim day, I had just completed a miserable lead in the rain and we were packing up to head home when one of the only other pair of climbers desperate enough to be climbing that day came over asking for help.

There was a sheep stuck on the Embankment ledge. A few weeks previously I had climbed the wonderful fingers crack Embankment 4 only to top out into the truly horrific smell of a rotting sheep, so I knew this was something that needed dealing with.

And so the rescue began!

The other pair who were climbing were father and son (never did catch their names unfortunately), and the son volunteered to help while the father and my partner Julien stayed at the bottom to tell us what was going on (and take pictures!). I grabbed a few bits and pieces and went up the descent path to set an abseil in to the ledge. It is clear to see how the sheep got stuck down there, from the ledge to the top is just a series of giant steps - easy to jump down, not so easy to jump back up.

I got my anchor set and lowered myself down, my new sheep saving partner following behind.

Soon I was next to the stranded creature, thinking this was all seeming quite straight forward, but it was apprehensive of me and kept moving further away. The most amusing thing was that it kept stopping to munch on the little sprigs of heather growing out of the wall at every opportunity in between fearing for its life. There is an animal with it's priorities worked out. 

I sent the other guy round the back and we advanced in a pincer movement. Problem solved.

Except the sheep was not going to make this easy! It jumped down one more ledge, now on the last bit of flat rock before an unpleasant fall. We had to change our tactics.

I crouched down in an alcove, partially hidden from this less than intellectual creature, and got my sheep buddy to jangle his hexes to make it look at him.

And I pounced!

Remembering something from that Dave Birkett film - Set in Stone, I quickly passed a sling under its chest and clipped it together over the shoulders. Hardly a comfortable harness but I used a nice fat sling and figured it had plenty of padding.

With the wooly wanderer now clipped to my harness, I began stepping back toward the edge. Initially it was really not too bothered about the whole affair, but then it looked over the drop and realised what was coming! Very much unhappy about becoming a wooly pullover-the-edge, it started really putting up a fight and I was forced to clamp it between my legs and haul it over backwards.

Ever the wise and intelligent creature, it now decided to wriggle as much as it could to escape from the sling and I ended up with one hand on the rope and one holding its horns to limit the wriggling. Glad to be using a Shunt for all this, I shoved the sheep over with my legs and began to descend...

Eventually I reached the ground, the sheep safe and sound, and breathed a sigh of relief that it had not managed to wriggle free.

The sheep seemed quite intent on taking my sling with it, but I did manage to get it back, and the mincing ball of mutton went off on its merry way to find some more things to munch on.....

Some time after this rather bizarre rescue, I met a lady in Yosemite known online as Big Wall Kate. I recognised her from something she said about portaledges that matched with an article she posted on We got chatting about posts online, and when I mentioned that I had posted the picture below on SuperTopo she suddenly shouted - "You're the sheep guy!, hey everyone, he's the sheep guy!". Funny what you can get famous for these days. I later earned a new title from her "The Albatross Whisperer" for my apparently uncanny abilities with a BD Double Cliff Cabana portaledge. Another rather strange title, but definitely better than Sheep Guy.

Thanks to Julien-Robert Legault-Salvail for the awesome pics, and to the other guys who helped with the rescue whose names we never got!

This has to be my favourite pic though (photosheeped for dramatic effect):


  1. Hi Tom, I really enjoyed your philosophical blog stories and photo's(we met 2years ago at the OB) last month I was there again and met Roy&Emilio and Mel&Gary at their fantastic guesthouse, Kia ora Tom to you from Gino's father

    1. Kia Ora to you too! and thanks for the comment. We will be back for the season in September, so hopefully see you again!