A couple of weeks ago, I climbed a mountain! It’s ridiculous that I hadn’t done this in so long, given the amount of mountains there are in Scotland and how easy it is to climb some of them.
Lockdown has stripped me of all my fitness, so despite deciding I’d start tackling some more munros, I started off with a slightly smaller mountain that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time – but Stac Pollaidh has proven that size does not matter when it comes to the views. In fact, it’s one of the best effort > reward ratio hikes I’ve ever done.
Stac Pollaidh (known locally as Stac Polly) is a distinctive mountain plonked between Ullapool and Lochinver, surrounded by a stunning plateau broken up by other – much harder – mountains.
It’s also a pretty basic hike – straight up, an off-shoot to the top ridge, and back down. I did the loop back around the other side, but it’s a well-paved path and it’s less than three miles in total. It’s steep though, so what it lacks in length, it really puts the pressure on your legs, especially when you’re as unfit as I am!
That said, the western summit is supposedly one of the toughest summits to reach in the UK, and I decided not to do this one but I’m tempted to give it a go next time. It involves a lot of scrambling and almost an element of rock climbing by the looks of it. My friend over at Travelexx will tell you it’s not actually that bad! But he also made it up to the top in less than an hour, so don’t trust him.
Here are some of the basics:
Distance: 2.75 miles (4.5km)
Ascent: 510m (1673ft)
Time taken: 3 hours (plus stops – you’ll want some time to soak in these views!)
Difficulty: Moderate – good path but it’s steep
Starting point: Stac Pollaidh car park – if no parking is available there are some parking laybys nearby BUT please be careful not to use any that are marked as passing places.
When we arrived, I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to the top – I was going to give it a go but I didn’t know if I was overestimating my fitness. If I needed to take breaks, I’d take them. If I needed to go slow, I’d go slow. But I would do my damn best, and if my best wasn’t good enough, I’d pack it in.
As I said before, the hike is relentlessly steep, and that started the moment I entered the gate by the road at the bottom and headed up the stone steps (as seen in the first photo in the post).
Well, I got to this point about ten minutes in, and as the view of the mountain in front of me hadn’t changed one bit and I was already breathless, I wondered if I was really up to it. But then I looked behind me and realised how much progress I’d already made, and every time I thought I was struggling, I was equally amazed at how high up I’d got myself. Maybe I could do it after all.
Plus it was always a pleasure to stop for a moment to take in those incredible views.
I was nearly at the top before the outcrop, near the part where the path turns upwards towards the ridge, reconsidering everything again. That’s where I met Zen, another solo hiker (disclaimer: I suddenly can’t remember his name – it definitely began with Z). I had taken a couple of breaks, and was about to set off again when I saw him approaching, so I told him to go ahead because I was being embarrassingly slow.
He laughed and said I can’t be as bad as him. He’d already eaten most of his snacks and lost count of his breaks. I didn’t feel so bad then! We started powering up together and the motivation of suddenly having a hiking partner was just what both of us needed. We were at the top before we knew it, taking in the views both sides of the ridge.
Although the mountain at the forefront looks incredibly imposing, the one behind is more famous and one of the hardest hikes in the UK – Suilven. Haven’t heard of it? It’s an absolute monolith.
I climbed up to the top of the rock next to us and found even more astounding views. Although I didn’t go up to the very last rock (because you had to go down to get back up to it), it didn’t matter to me. This was phenomenal.
We sat for quite some time, unable to take our eyes off this place and even listening to the gentle chirps of cuckoos from however far away. Where were our struggles now? All behind us, I can tell you!
I still cannot believe how lucky we got with the weather, either. This was about as close to perfect as you could get – sunny but not too hot, zero midges, enough clouds in the sky to make my photos even better. I’m so glad I made it to the top while the weather was like this, because I might never get that again!
We could even see the Isle of Lewis & Harris in the distance, and I stood for a while trying to work out where various places were to the north.
I obviously had to take some photos of Gulliver too, who had joined me for the hike.
From where we were, we could see the western summit within our grasp and for a fleeting moment I considered it. But quite honestly we were content with where we were, and I didn’t want to wreck the moment by inadvertently overdoing it. I was on a high, even if I wasn’t at the highest point of the peak.
The route I’d looked at on WalkHighlands tells you to retrace your steps back to the circuit path which carries on around the back of the rocky outcrop. We saw people coming from the other direction and they confirmed that it led back down to the same path a bit further along, which saved us going back on ourselves.
The path down is really easy, and apart from navigating a couple of boggy areas, we breezed back down to the car park in less than an hour.
This is one of the few hikes I’ve ever done where I got to the bottom and immediately wanted to do it all over again! If I go with a hiking buddy next time, I think I’ll have a look at the western summit. Around the time I did the hike, there was actually a show on TV that featured the western summit – I haven’t watched it, but a couple of people have mentioned that they were showing people climbing with ropes! So maybe it’s above my skillset, but I’d be interested to give it a go and see if I’m capable of it.
Assynt is probably my favourite area in Scotland, and this hike has been on my list for years, so I’m thrilled that I finally did it AND saw most of Assynt from above in the process! In fact, we spent a couple of days in Assynt on our way up to Orkney, so I’m excited to share more of our trip with you, especially as we ended up driving most of the North Coast 500.
Plus, one thing that really kept me going on the hike was knowing that a couple of hours later, I’d be relaxing in a hot tub in our own private cabin! Here’s a sneaky peek:
I’ll definitely be writing more about our stay because it was fabulous!
But for now, I’ll leave you with one last photo from this incredible hike: a panoramic view from the top of Stac Pollaidh. Beatable only perhaps by the top of the western summit, though that remains to be seen.
One of the best views I’ve seen in my entire goddamn life.
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