Stac Pollaidh – Weather to Fly?

We trundled further north out of Ullapool, temporarily part of the North Coast 500 procession of giant white motorhomes (actually, the circus isn’t really in full swing yet, though most of the obvious parking spots have a van in them by 7pm and you suspect that Scotland’s biggest growth industry is campervan rental companies!). We’ve got a vague plan to head out onto the Reiff peninsula for the night, before climbing on the seacliffs there the next day, but pull in at the Stac Pollaidh parking to admire the view and decide to settle down for the night.

It’s a striking mini-mountain, only about 600m high but rising straight from sea-level and isolated from adjacent hills, it’s castellated, craggy summit looks like an ancient fortress. Waking up to this view from our bedroom window,

and an absolutely stunning day, Helen decides to switch objective and head up for a mountain route.

For quite a big hill, the approach is very amenable – you just follow the well constructed walkers’ path clockwise (taking the left fork just before the deer fence) which leads all the way onto the west ridge until a good horizontal path breaks off left to skirt the base of the crag (no bushwacking required!)

We’d picked November Groove, recommended as the best of the VSs on the hill, which takes the prominent groove / chimney just left of the arete of the West Buttress. Here’s a team (Steve and friend) just finishing the shared first pitch of Jack the Ripper, an E1 which sticks closer to the arete.

Our line is 100m and nominally 4 pitches, all around 4c, but we decide to run these together into two monster pitches (careful ropework required!) Here’s a photo of Steve, now on pitch 2 of his route (or maybe not – route finding was proving tricky!)

Here’s Helen passing the normal first stance before the crux pitch – a classic thrutch up the recessed chimney inside the main groove line (the climbing line is not quite as grassy as it looks, but has a definite “mountain feel” – Helen despatched it elegantly).

The remaining two pitches were also quite “traditional” but the compensation is topping out on a real “summit” with stupendous views of Suilven and Cul Mor, Coigach and the Summer Isles.

The descent is quite scrambly and there’s a handy (or maybe not) abseil point down the spectacular south-east face, home to a clutch of mega E4s & 5s, all with names themed around flying. Elbow’s classic “Weather to Fly” had been buzzing around my brain ever since we’d started walking up, and rapping down the line of the 4* E4, Expecting to Fly, a cursory look suggested it maybe wouldn’t be too bad. Here’s Helen rapping down the line.

A bit of soul searching at the foot of the crag followed: Whether to fly? I decided to go for it. Just pull the rope and off we go… About half an hour of sweaty toil later, shifting the rope about a metre at a time, I finally swallowed my pride and stomped grumpily up to the top of the crag to retrieve the jammed rope. Despite our best efforts it had nestled itself into a crack, and a chance twist had cemented the perfect auto-block:

… I guess there are worse places it could have happened.

Psyche and energy were somewhat depleted, but a plan’s a plan – I geared up and set off. Easy scrambling leads to a traverse across onto the wall and the start of the climbing proper. All the good-looking cracks scoped out from below proved to be flared and unhelpful for gear or progress (should have wised up to the terrors of Torridonian Sandstone by now!), the rock wasn’t as clean as I’d expected, the line wasn’t too obvious and I was absolutely roasting. How many excuses do you need? After another bout of pondering I decided not to chance any flying, and reversed back to the deck.

Oh well, we’d still had a grand day, and worked up a thirst – Beer o’clock! Fabulous light on the crag as we headed down,

and still toasty on the roof-top beer terrace chez nous. Cheers!

2 responses to “Stac Pollaidh – Weather to Fly?

  1. First time I had a rope on was up the right hand side of the gully above your grand day comment. Great mountain and great scrambling across the ridge. Feel jealous.

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