Sta Pollaidh is an iconic mountain in the Assynt area of Sutherland, Scotland. Although relatively modest in height, it offers a feisty ridge hike to reach the summit.
Modest yet mighty hiking
With a summit of just over 2000ft, Stac Pollaidh, in the stunning Assynt area of north-west Scotland, can’t claim the status of being the tallest, nor the most remote of mountains.
However, what the peak lacks in stature and distance, it makes up for with rugged beauty, a feisty ridge and views that are frequently spell-binding.
I enjoyed a walk-run of Stac Pollaidh – pronounced Stac Polly – with a group of friends on a dry summer’s morning.
A well-made path that climbs to the ridge begins across opposite a car park, over a narrow, tarmac road. While constantly uphill, the path provides a relatively gentle gradient to start with and my friends ands I set off at jogging pace.
Did you know?: Stać Pollaidh means “steep rock at the pool”.
At first, the scenery is shrub and young woodland before the terrain opens up into a rough moorland.
As we ascend, contouring around the eastern side of the mass of Stac Pollaidh, we’re treated to ever-widening views of the surrounding landscape, including the mountains of Cùl Beag and Cul Mòr, as well as the iconic humped outline of Suilven.
At a junction, there is a choice to continue on a lower-level circuit of Stac Poliadh, or turn uphill on a path of large stone steps to reach the ridge.
The gradient suddenly steepens and our group slows to a walk before finally emerging on to the lowest point of the ridge, between the west and east summits.
The vista is even more gratifying as we survey the otherworldly landscape of Assynt. The area is dominated by Inselbergs, which is the geological term to describe the many isolated peaks – or “island mountains” – created from Torridonian Sandstone some 1000 million years ago. To the west, we can see the sea stretching to the horizon and, in the foreground, the scattered Summer Isles.
To reach the highest point on the ridge requires a ridge scramble over a succession of tricky towers.
Th ridge has been slowly cracking over the centuries. The sandstone rock is worn by wintry frosts, which fracture and shatter it into scree. Wind and rain have helped to hasten the erosion, with storms washing out deep gullies in the slopes.
While I admire the spectacular ridge, I fear the exposure of steep drops and I need to dig deep mentally to stay calm.
Our group is fortunate to have the benefit of an experienced climber Aaron and we take his lead to find our way on the undulating crest.
We manage to avoid some of the towers by skirting around to the north, but the final pinnacle requires a couple of anxiety-inducing moves above a steep drop.
Aaron patiently and expertly points the direction and one by one we achieve the crux move.
The final metres are on a short, but narrow path that finally gives us our summit at 2011ft.
I am proud – and relieved – to have made it, although there is still a test to come as we reverse the route back to the bealach.
The group decides to head to the slightly lower eastern summit of the ridge, too. This is a much easier goal and one that many other people find is perfectly satisfactory for their highest point on Stac Pollaidh.
After more photographs, we descended the rocky steps again and, at the junction with the circuit path, we turn north-west to compete a full circle of Stac Pollaidh.
There are more amazing views as we look up at the tower at the western edge of the ridge and the many pinnacles.
At a little over three miles, the outing took only 2.5 hours, but the rewards felt much greater.
Stac Pollaidh details
Start and finish: Stac Pollaidh car park, north of Ullapool. There is a bus from Ullapool if you want to use public transport.
Distance: 3 miles
Total ascent: 700m.
- This “wee adventure” was written for The Scots Magazine.