#311 – Return to Stac Pollaidh

Stac Pollaidh as seen from the minor road into Coigach (May 2017)

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

Some of the mountains of Assynt and Coigach – Cul Beag (L) and Stac Pollaidh (R) viewed from Cul Mor

Assynt and neighbouring Coigach make up one of the most remarkable landscapes in the Scottish Highlands.  The mountains are like something out of a fairy tale – although not particularly high, they rise up steeply, straight out of the surrounding moorland, and are like nothing else in the UK.   Add an equally amazing coastline with cliffs, sea stacks and hidden sandy beaches and you have just found the perfect destination for hiking and mountain walking.

The Northern Highlands of Scotland showing Assynt-Coigach with Stac Pollaidh (red cross) in the centre
Closer view of Assynt-Coigach

Stac Pollaidh is one of the iconic peaks of Assynt, which seems strange for such a small hill that only just scrapes in to be classed as a UK mountain, at a lowly altitude of 612 metres (2008 ft).  Height isn’t the only criteria to become an iconic peak though – character counts for a lot, and Stac Pollaidh has character in buckets!

The Stac Pollaidh route, anti-clockwise from the car park (shown in greater detail below)

That character makes Stac Pollaidh one of the most recognisable and popular hills in the Highlands.  There are two summits, connected by a rocky crest – the lower one (551 metres/1808 ft) on the eastern end of the ridge and easily accessible to hikers, with the higher 612 metre summit to the west and accessible only by a precarious scramble, making it one of the most inaccessible summits on the British mainland.

A murky, misty day ‘somewhere’ on Stac Pollaidh – May 2017
Back again in September 2021, with the mist coming and going – nothing new there then!

We first came here in May 2017 (see post #229) but missed out on the ‘iconic peak with buckets of character’ thing – the summit was clouded over, and we ended up having a walk round the mountain instead.  It remained on the ‘to do’ list though, and we were back again in September 2021 – low cloud and mist swirled over and round the jagged crest, but we decided to give it a go.

Setting out, with Loch Lurgainn and Sgorr Tuath (the nearer peak) behind
Loch Lurgainn panorama
Below the East shoulder of Stac Pollaidh
Round the corner now, with Cul Beag in the background ….
…. and Suilven coming into view

The surrounding peaks were cloud-free as we set out from Loch Lurgainn, with the sky overcast but with occasional breaks, allowing the sun through.  The route doesn’t waste any time in gaining height and before long we were passing under the east shoulder of Stac Pollaidh, with Cul Beag now behind us and Suilven coming into view.

Close up of the route – the ‘normal’ route in red, our route in blue
The approach to the east summit, straight up to the gap in the centre and left of the fence
Our approach route with the gap and East Summit on the left
Border Collie ‘Mist’ on the traverse path
Chris on the traverse path, with a steep drop below
The final rocks to the East Summit

The ‘normal’ approach to the East Summit takes a direct line up the steep hillside (shown in red on the map above).  I had read that sections of this path were quite eroded, so we carried on heading round the hill until we reached another path that doubles back and traverses in at an easier angle (shown in blue).  The diversion dropped us in nicely below the final rocks of the East Summit.

A rocky section on the final bit of ascent ….
…. before the summit pops into view
‘Mist’ on the summit, possibly checking for sandwich opportunities

From below, the final rocky section to the top looked as though it might be ‘a bit interesting’ for Chris, who doesn’t like big drops, but once started, it was quite easy, and the summit soon popped into view.  As Border Collie ‘Mist’ gets older, I often clip a leash into her hill-harness for safety when on potentially hazardous ground, but the Collie was more interested in checking out sandwich scrounging opportunities.

The view down to the gap – the other paths heading to the left are rising towards the West summit
‘Mist’ heading back along the traverse path ….
…. with the dog leash finally off on safer ground
Chris back on the main path round Stac Pollaidh

The summit was a good a place as any for a food and coffee break.  On the descent to the gap in the ridge, we could see the other route heading for the West Summit, but this was probably going to be a bit too exciting for Chris and ‘Mist’, so we followed the traverse route back to the main path. 

Turning the corner round the western side of the mountain ….
…. and passing below the West Summit
The dot spotted on the skyline ….
…. which turned out to be one of the locals

Back on familiar ground, we turned the corner round the western side of the mountain, before starting to lose height down to the car park.  It always pays to stay alert, and on the skyline I could see a dot in the distance.  It was a long way off, but I thought I could pick out antlers.  It wasn’t until I downloaded the images later that I got a proper look – a young red deer stag.

Stac Pollaidh in the distance, seen from Knockan Crag on the A835 (The nearer peak on the left is Cul Beag)

We parked up near Knockan Crag on the A835, and as the evening came on, we had a great view of Stac Pollaidh through the gap between Cul Beag and the lower hill of An Laogh – once again, the zoom lens was put to good use, giving a close-up view of the East Summit of Stac Pollaidh.  It had been four years since our aborted misty trip, but the return had been well worthwhile.

Zoom view of Stac Pollaidh from the same Knockan Crag location

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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5 Responses to #311 – Return to Stac Pollaidh

  1. Why did they change the route to round the back? did the frontal approach to the gap get too eroded? It looks a lot less steep on the map. I was hoping you’d done the other summit and were going to show me the route in close-up photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think the route shown in red on the map is as bad as I thought it was – that’s my story anyway. As for the Western summit, back in the day I might have soloed it, but now extreme cowardice (or common sense) suggested that it should be left well alone 🙂


      • I mean why are they now taking the path right round the back of the mountain instead of ascending the front/roadside slope to the col? It looks much easier


  2. Margo McPherson May 19th says:

    This little mountain remains one of the most magnificent in my memory. Don’t let the remarks about the route to the true summit put you off accessing it. It’s perfectly doable. I’ve stood on taller mountains but never have I experienced such a feeling of being somewhere really ancient, as I did when I stood on the summit of this mountain in miniature.


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