Walk in Britain, Stac Pollaidh Meall a\'Chaorainn, ascent 611m, length 7.5km
Peter Walker: Track 3849 in area near Stac Pollaidh, Lochinver to Ullapool (Britain)
Length: 7.5km, Creator time taken: 3h24m, Ascent: 611m, Descent: 610m
Places:Start at NC10513 09452, Stac Pollaidh, Meall a\'Chaorainn, end at Start Logged as completed by 1
Possibly the finest miniature mountain in Britain and Ireland, Stac Pollaidh rears up starkly above Loch Lurgainn in the wonderland of Coigach in Scotland's far north-west. The whole area seems designed to make small children want to grow up to be geologists, but Stac Pollaidh properly takes the biscuit...and then behaves like one, with its sandstone crest worn and tortured to a porcupine state of erosion. By local standards it's reasonably accessible (half an hour out of Ullapool with about 8km on a good single track road at the end) and it doesn't absorb more than a few leisurely and adrenalised hours.
I arrived early in the afternoon to discover the car park full...this is not a place you're likely to have to yourself. I left the car about 250m further on and walked back to it, taking the constructed path upwards from opposite the parking. Initially this is through trees but once you leave them the path forks, with the two branches forming a circuit of the mountain (originally the ascent to the ridge was generally made up the facing slope, but erosion caused the current rerouting around the far side). I turned right, continuing a steady ascent around the foot of Stac Pollaidh's stark eastern buttress before taking another left turn to incline steeply up to the saddle on the mountain's skyline. On leaving the road you quickly have an impressive view along Loch Lurgainn from the stark pyramid of Cul Beag to the intricate craggy fastnesses of Beinn an Eoin and Ben More Coigach, but as you cross the shoulder of Stac Pollaidh to its hidden north side you are confronted with a vast wilderness of moor and lochans with the remarkably bold outline of Suilven constantly reminding you (well, specifically me) that you haven't done that yet either. The saddle lies towards the eastern end of Stac Pollaidh's ridge, with the highest point lying about 400m of fun and games to the west. I quickly nipped up to the eastern summit...an easy an unexposed clamber. This minor top had a scattering of red rose petals...possibly it had been the scene of a recent ostentatious marriage proposal...I give it a year. I retreated to the saddle for some sandy contemplation and guidebook reading...the ridge ahead has couuntless variations at all levels of scrambling and climbing and with a fair number of other people about I always prefer to present a semblence of competence. So, onwards. The initial steep wall on the ridge was passed on the left, then I proceeded to make an utter horlicks of picking a gully to climb back up to it. After a fair bit of back and forth and 'that doesn't look right' and 'oooh, not sure I fancy that' I found my way up to the crest. The going was now fantastic, an amazing adventure playground of ups and downs, alongs and arounds, nicely athletic without being constantly life-threatening. Further along there's a more absorbing moment where a shuffle across an outward-sloping ledge above a sizeable drop is required...I dropped my rucksack before this but it was pretty secure in execution. An easy crack leads up a slanting slab beyond this, and I was at the small cairn that's as far as most folk go. But...
...the actual summit of Stac Pollaidh lies beyond this over a famous 'mauvais pas', a 20ft wall leading over a tower. This gets a climbing grade of 'Diff', and is soberingly close to 'splat'-magnitude drops on either side. Certainly the younger me would have had little trouble with this, but the 46 year old iteration (with his Achille's tendonitis and hip flexor injury and two stone in weight that said injuries had rendered him unable to shift) was umming and ahhing. Another English bloke joined me, and together we fondled the holds, had a look down the gully on the left where there's a more strenuous but slightly less exposed 'alternative' way, all the while conspicuously failing to summon the necessary psyche to get more than one move off the ground. Inevitably, someone then came along and made it look a doddle. Sometimes you meet folk in the hills who remind you that the people you meet can be just as splendid as the things you're climbing, so hats off to Davy and his son Adam from Edinburgh...having come back from the top Davy then proceeded to demonstrate both the direct way and the 'round the side way' for me, cheerily offering to give me a 'spot' on either. The direct way can be done without really placing yourself above a big drop: the hard moves are the ones you do immediately from the deck, with smears for your feet and a pinchy hold for your right hand...from here you kind of have to lunge for what look like good holds above. If you fell off this it'll probably hurt but you're unlikely to chop yourself. With a dodgy hip, too much weight and (don't laugh) inflexible trousers I couldn't commit to the lunge.
We then walked down to look at the alternative...a strenuous squeeze up a narrow groove led into what looked like an easy chimney. I got into the groove fine and had my arms wrapped round the blob of rock at the top of it, but a sense of unease about the next move (standing up on a ledge which looked like it was fearfully exposed) meant cowardice won out over valour. And so I backed down, happy to not be dead or seriously injured, but silently furious with myself. That weight WILL be lost. I WILL sort my hip and ankle out (I'm even prepared to resort to the embarrassment of yoga...that's how serious I am). I WILL get some core strength back. And I WILL come back and get to the actual high point.
So, if you look at the Stac Pollaidh listing on MV you should see that I haven't logged myself as having climbed it. In my head, someone like me should be getting to the actual summit. I'm ok with heights, I've done a lot more rock climbing than most hillwalkers...it's all about recognising what the challenge is for you. I'm not for a moment criticising anyone who logs Stac Pollaidh without getting to the actual summit...getting to the cairn on the ridge will be plenty exciting enough for many, and I'm not going to denigrate that experience. Sermonising over, it was time to go back. Having retrieved my rucksack I didn't really pay much attention to retracing my exact upward route, and as such I shouldn't have been surprised when I ended up going down a completely different gully than the one I came up. From the saddle I took the path that slants down to the NW in order to regain the path circling the hill. I could have just followed that down to the road, but I felt the need to divert to the subdued eminence of Meall a'Chaorainn just so I could claim to have ticked something on the day. Back on the path and an easy descent, Stac Pollaidh's colossal western prow giving way to its prickly southern frontage as I made my way back to the car. Yes! And Dammit!
Uploaded on: Mon, 9 Jul 2018 (18:38:31) Linkback: https://mountainviews.ie/track/3849/ To download GPS tracks you must be enrolled and logged in. See "Login or enrol", top right - quick and easy.
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