I had been agonising since my ascent of Ben Rinnes last week over what or where to climb or walk the following week, and as they say "It came to me in a dream" !! I am not as fussy as I once was, or perhaps as snobbish some might say regarding climbing the hills and mountains of my glorious country. In short, they don't have to be Munros. I don't care what they are, as long as I get the satisfaction of knowing I've achieved something I wanted to, and at the same time satisfy another hobby, that of taking nice pictures. So........ Corbett last week, Graham this week! Woo hoo!!
A few years back, a friend and I set out to climb Stac Pollaidh. My wife drove us all the way from Inverness so we could do just that. Trouble was, when we got there, the weather was absolutely atrocious!! It had been bad almost all the way, but now it was worse. There was no way on this green earth that we two, almost complete novices then, were going to attempt any climb in that kind of weather! My friend seemed pretty put out over this, but I insisted that we just withdraw gracefully and accept that it just wasn't going to happen this time. For years, I didn't even mention that trip, since he obviously felt cheated and that his time had been wasted. I can confirm now, that it would indeed have been a disater and we most certainly would have been forced to give up. Because Stac Pollaidh can be a very windy hill, add the element of torrential rain to the slippery crumbling rocks of the ridge, and if we had even made it that far, we may have found ourselves in dire straits indeed!! So, sorry mate, but my decision was the right one - now to the matter in hand:
I left Nairn at 4:00 am exactly, and as usual stopped for photo opportunities along the way. All weather reports had indicated that the North west of Scotland was going to be the only dry area of the country today, so I was on the right track. It was pleasant as ever at that time of morning though a bit dull. So photos on the way were disappointing.
On my approach to Ullapool, I was encouraged by the sight of misty mountain tops in the distance, and pressed on toward Coigach eventually arriving at the Stac Pollaidh car park at around 6:20 am.
I was well prepared for a once, so with just a change of footwear I donned my trusty Berghaus jacket and was on my way. I spoke briefly to an older, (and obviously more seasoned than I) climber as I left the car park. He said he had climbed Quinag the previous day and had enjoyed it. I made a mental note to add it to my list of Corbetts to do and told him that he'd probably pass me on the ascent, which he subsequently did. I watched him steadily stretch his lead on me and noted his progress. I, as usual was taking full advantage of my need to stop regularly, by breathing in the stunning scenery and taking tons of photos.
The going was made relatively easy due mainly to the well-made path, although as I advanced the wind increased and became surprisingly strong given the general state of the weather which, although dull and cloudy was basically pleasant for climbing. Once past the steep outset of the climb, and the regular going of the moorland stretch, I felt that I was advancing very quickly and I realised that I kept thinking "brilliant" in my head every so often! It was the sheer beauty of the surrounding landscape, and once I reached the eastern edge of the slope I was treated to the sights of Suilven and Cul Mor, both topped with cloud.
Okay, I'm lingering I know. As I grew closer to the ridge I had stopped for a self-timed photo when I heard a shout! As I looked around, there was the bloke I had spoken to earlier and who had passed me on the way, waving to me from the return path. "It's alright up there!" he assured me and indicated that he was off back down.
My briefly-met colleague was correct. It was "alright" up there. I hadn't realised how close I was to the "summit" when I was suddenly hit by the view! I think anyone who has climbed Stac Pollaidh would agree that on reaching the "top" you feel like you have arrived at a sort of reception area, with paths going off in all directions. I half expected an announcement over a tannoy with instructions on how to proceed but joking aside, the views from here were rewardingly jaw-dropping to say the least.
So here I was. It had taken me about an hour and a half to reach the top. Now I had to make the decision as to whether I would chance the scramble to the "true summit" on the western end of the ridge. After a wee bit of exploration and a cup of tea, I decided to at least have a look. What harm was there in checking it out at least?
Now, I'm not afraid of a wee bit of scrambling and I'd really like to tell you that I persevered. But faced with a myriad of paths, some of them going nowhere and others leading to treacherous drops and the like, I'm afraid common sense took priority. The fact that I was on my own and given my heart health, I decided against risking my life this time. I'd gladly do it another time though, but I'd have to have someone with me who'd done it before - any takers? (Please bear in mind that I would, by far prefer the accompaniment of an aptly-qualified, and preferably game female.)
And so it was, that I began my descent of the iconic Stac Pollaidh. I can honestly say that it's a long time since I've enjoyed a climb so much. It's got everything I want from a climb, (apart from the kudos gained from the ascent of a Munro of course) great scenery, fresh air, exhilaration and the sense of freedom that gives you a pride in your surroundings that can only be gained from getting out there!!
The descent is a gentle one, which I appreciate because I hate the relentless pounding of toes in boots experienced on some steeper descents. And the scenery is not disappointing either. With views of the west coast and the Summer Isles coming into view as you skirt the base of the hill, and looking back at the disappearing Suilven and the lochans dotted over the landscape I was filled with that sense of awe once again. The feeling that you are seeing stuff that so many people just do not see. What a privilege and an absolute honour it is to live, walk and climb in this, the country of my birth!!
As I reached the gate at the end of the path, I took one last look up at Stac Pollaidh. What a magnificent hill!! Despite it's lack of height, what a unique icon it is. I'm delighted to say I've climbed it now, and I hope to conquer that western summit one day. For now I'm satisfied to have done it at last and at all!
[Concluding Stats: An hour and a half for the ascent, an hour messing around on top and an hour to descend.]