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Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh


Postby Spanish Highlander » Tue Feb 09, 2016 12:07 am

Route description: Stac Pollaidh ridge and circuit

Grahams included on this walk: Stac Pollaidh

Date walked: 29/11/2015

Time taken: 3 hours

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To inaugurate my (future?) set of reports in Walkhighlands, nothing could be better than starting with a small but classic hill like Stac Pollaidh. During my time in the Highlands (the one writing is a Spanish expat living in Inverness for almost 2 years) I have climbed it several times, being the area of Assynt among my absolute favourites in the whole Scotland. But definitely, my last walk up Stac Pollaidh will remain in my mind as the most memorable time I ever spent on that hill!

With a weather warning issued that weekend for most of the Highlands , it seemed that there was no other option apart from staying comfortably at home... WRONG! That's not the preferential option for two southern Spaniards hungry for cold wild weather and wintery hills. Metoffice showing sunny intervals together with light snow and excellent visibility on Stac Pollaidh helped us to make the decission...

Heading out of Inverness to Ullapool, most of the journey was under quite miserable weather conditions, and it wasn't until past Ullapool that the clouds broke and let the sun light the spectacular scenery of Coigach and Assynt that opened in front of us. The hills half covered in a thin layer of snow, patches of blue sky and beautiful light, this is how I like it baby!

This was my first attempt in quite wintery conditions, trying to tackle the whole ridge and get to the top. Stac Pollaidh is a popular and "easy" mountain with a very well built path up to the main bealach, therefore is quite well documented and not much of a walk report is needed here. But, although reaching the ridge is easy, walking the ridge up to the top is tricky and requires some scramble. And there was ice...

First half of the hill we walked very quickly and didn't bother taking many pictures. Some low clouds had suddenly appeared from nowhere and were covering the snow-capped tops, so we just made progress walking up.
After we reached the final steepest stretch before getting to the ridge col, the clouds had lift up leaving an unbelievable picture behind.

Here some pics:

Getting close to the bealach on the ridge. Dramatic and threatening sky over Cul Mor:
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And looking north across the Assynt wilderness, with Suilven and Canisp in the distance. That sky is frightening!:
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Once on the ridge, we climbed first to the easy eastern summit, and realized it was quite icy and slippery... Good fun if we want to attempt the real summit! Also, lovely strong frozen wind gusts would add to the challenge. So there we went, headed west to the ridge, and started the scramble. Mostly nice and easy, there were a couple of spots where we struggled because of the ice and wind. I can remember specially one step on the north side, with a very narrow and slippery ledge overlooking a deep gully, where I really thought I wouldn't go on. But the mind-blowing panorama around me kept me going. Some more pics:

On the ridge, looking east over Cul Beag and Loch Lurgainn:
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Rock formations on Stac Pollaidh ridge, overlooking Loch Lurgainn and Ben More Coigach:
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Four different shots looking towards Ben More Coigach, jaw-dropping landscape and light!:
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Summer Isles in the distance and sky starting to open a bit from the west:
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Now it was time to pose for the typical “outdoors magazine shot” traditional in every walk, standing as close to the edge of the cliff as possible. First was time for my dear mate Alex, with pretty good outcome as can be seen below. When my turn arrived, I tried my best to be presentable and majestic-looking, but conditions didn't help... Wind gusts together with slippery ground as well as my poor balance added up for a series of ridiculous pictures that I'm afraid can't be shown. I'll keep working on my modelling skills, I swear.
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Finally, we got to the point where we couldn't keep going. There was a big rock in front of us, about 3 meters high, with big drops to both sides, which required an exposed and not easy scramble that couldn't be bypassed in any way. Alex gave it a little go, whereas I didn't even bother as it was too icy and windy. Even in good conditions I think I would struggle to pass it as it seemed quite exposed. Will have to check next time... But that day, Stac Pollaidh beat us!! Lucky us that at least this other rock didn't fall on Alex's head...
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As a conclusion, one of the most rewarding day out I can remember since I live here. Stunning scenery, isolation, wilderness and wild weather, absolutely dramatic skies and light... just nature at its highest. Stac Pollaidh, or where the reward highly exceeds the little effort.
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Last edited by Spanish Highlander on Tue Feb 09, 2016 3:05 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby Avocetboy » Tue Feb 09, 2016 11:38 am

Some spectacular photos. I have been up to the bealach a couple of times but have never traversed the ridge. I need to visit again!
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby jacob » Tue Feb 09, 2016 12:29 pm

True, some very atmospheric photos that do this amazing hill justice. Very impressed. :clap:
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby Petr Dakota » Tue Feb 09, 2016 1:05 pm

Great photos from the great area ! :clap: 8) :clap:
I love the dramatic sky 8)
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby rockhopper » Tue Feb 09, 2016 2:29 pm

excellent first report - well done - and a great location for it too - cheers :)
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby Jaxter » Tue Feb 09, 2016 6:08 pm

Wow some amazing photos there :clap:

Looks like you had a decent day for views, despite the scary sky. And hey, now you have an excuse to go back :D
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby Mal Grey » Tue Feb 09, 2016 10:05 pm

Great little report of a great little hill. That final scramble is pretty exposed at the best of times, wise to avoid when icy and windy.
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby Alteknacker » Wed Feb 10, 2016 12:39 am

Absolutely SENSATIONAL photos :clap: :clap: :clap: How can one not love Assynt???
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby weaselmaster » Wed Feb 10, 2016 2:40 pm

I envy you the conditions that day - not surprised you didn't get to the true summit mind - that's a challenge I've yet to take on (and am not particularly looking forward to :wink: )
SP is a great mountain, pocket sized but with all the components needed for a good day out
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby Sgurr » Wed Feb 10, 2016 5:44 pm

Lovely photos. Shame you won't put up a picture of you posing. No way would I do the last bit in conditions like that. Did it as my final Graham and due to shoulder problems (self inflicted through showing off) I took a guide, and also took a print-out from malky_c's instructions of how to get up that last tricky bit, which I found very useful. However, am sure that anyone under 70 could do it on a good calm dry day without a guide.
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby Spanish Highlander » Wed Feb 10, 2016 9:10 pm

Thanks everyone for the good comments. The light is the only one to blame for the good-looking pics, not me 8)

Great picture Sgurr, very explanatory, seen from this angle the scramble appears even easy! And I'm sure it technically is, it's just that things change quite a bit when you have two big drops on both sides :crazy:

Anyway there will be more chances for me to do it, as SP is the "affordable" hill where I take to all my (non-familiar-with-hillwalking) visitors from Spain to show them what the Highlands is about. Just to the bealach, obviously :lol:
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby BobMcBob » Fri Feb 12, 2016 4:48 pm

Some great pictures there of one of my favourite hills. That final scramble is extremely slippery even on a dry summer's day (the rock has been polished by thousands of boots) so I'd say you made a very good decision in those conditions. :) Hope to see more reports from you.
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby Sgurr » Fri Feb 12, 2016 6:05 pm

BobMcBob wrote:. That final scramble is extremely slippery even on a dry summer's day (the rock has been polished by thousands of boots) so I'd say you made a very good decision in those conditions. :) Hope to see more reports from you.


For those who can't face the polished rocks, there is an alternative pinnacle bypass route, very well described here, but I took one look and opted for the other


I think it would have been impossible/dangerous in your icy conditions.
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby Jiriki » Mon Mar 21, 2016 8:11 am

Wow is all I can say! We did Stac Pollaidh in quite easy conditions, with just a bit of wind. To us the scrambling then was challenging enough, in your conditions with all that ice and those clouds - well, I must say! (I think I might have wetted my pants...) :crazy:
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Re: Spectacular conditions on an icy Stac Pollaidh

Postby Alteknacker » Mon Mar 21, 2016 11:14 am

Congratulations on your report win. Some really fantastic pics :clap: :clap: :clap:
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