A Stac Pollaidh Wild Camp – Searching for a Scottish Sunrise
“You’re going where?”
“Four hours in the car to spend the night on a freezing mountain!?!”
Ok, so I am maybe paraphrasing here but you get the gist of a conversation I had with a colleague who had asked me what my weekend plans were. Those “in the know” don’t ask and even those who don’t understand but have known us for long enough start to accept our addiction with such activities!
For me, I love any outdoor activity but there is something about being on the summit of the mountain, alone and spending the night in solitude. The effort required to transport your temporary belongings up the hill is sometimes energy sapping, and just the solitude is sometime award enough, but occasionally you get rewarded with natures finest spectacles! I was rewarded at sunrise in Assynt on this weekend’s adventure for sure……
Stac Pollaidh ain’t big, not even in Scottish terms. At just 2008ft in height a statistician looking at lists and numbers may well dismiss it. However it may well be one of the finest mountains (and not just “small mountains”) in Scotland. This was my fourth visit to Pollaidh and my first in over 8 years. On every prior visit I have been amazed at how much fun and adventure can be packed in to 2008ft of ascent and an afternoon or mornings exertion! A well-made path takes you round to the north side of the mountain before ascending to a col near the Eastern Summit. From here the fun starts as the route to the higher western summit takes you along the mohican ridge of Stac Pollaidh. The mountain’s ridge had attained its hair cut “Mohawk” during the last ice age as the ice sheet swept past its lower ramparts but left the ridge poking out and exposed to weathering. This Nunatak had Mother Nature as a hair stylist and I am so glad it did!
Weaving in and out of the sandstone pinnacles and rocky blocks was great fun and for those with a scrambling or climbing frame of mind can increase or decrease the level of difficulty as so desired. Paths do bypass most of the difficulties but this isn’t the mountain for you if one doesn’t like exposure or hands on fun. The real and most tricky scramble isn’t optional if you want to make the summit however! A rocky block bars the way just as the summit looks touchable! A tricky, but short lived scramble gets the adrenaline pumping for the final few strides to the summit!
Having set up camp on the Eastern Summit and then taken my time enjoying the Torridonian Pinnacles I was aware that daylight was staring to run out, and I wanted to get back to camp for sunset – did I mention the views you get from this hill (more of that later!).
A careful reversing of the “bad step” and I was heading back down the Mohawk, taking a different route back. The Bad Step is seen by many as the trickiest part of the scramble but I think it’s the views that provide the danger. You can’t keep your eyes on your feet as the views over Assynt – in all directions – are amazing! Forget the 3hr timing that most guidebooks suggest – just spend the whole day up here, you won’t be disappointed! There is a reason why Landscape Photographers flock here as individuals and also whole classes! I’ll not bore you with the view descriptions – just watch the video ! (please ignore my stupidness as I got the Culs mixed up right throughout the length of the film – doh!).
Safely back at camp and Mother Nature had extinguished any chances of a fiery sunset. The cloud had moved westwards and dusk approached in monochrome… However winds were light and the views stunning, a few light showers drifted in over the watery landscape before night arrived.
In the wee small hours I was woken as the wind had picked up. The tents sheets were making it a bit noisy and my sleep was broken until I decided to rise around 05.30am. It was still pitch black but by the time a coffee had been made I could make out a band of clear sky towards the lightening eastern horizon… A good sign for sunrise… The next 90 minutes were fantastic. The light just got better and better, the skies burned red then pink towards the east and I was so occupied by this view that I nearly missed the pink rainbow lurking over Stac Pollaidh behind me! I have seen many rainbows but never one this colour and a manifestation from the sunrise- it was some sight!
As the sun rose over the horizon the light shifted and the focus on the sky changed to the landscape of Assynt lighting up. Suilven won the crown with the light contrasting its rugged form perfectly. Surely this must be one of the most impressive landscapes in Scotland. I had managed to time the sunrise perfectly as shortly after this the sun was extinguished by the encroaching weather front that was to bring high winds and blizzards later in the day. I counted my blessings, packed up and headed back home. Another memorable trip….
Short/ Highlight Movie here:
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In the last two years I've found myself standing on the summit of The Kingdoms highest hill more than any other time. The Lomond Hills are viewed and passed by tens of thousands of people each year as they motor up and down the M90. Looming over the magnificent Loch Leven, I am sure these hills are a tad underrated. I am one of those motorists who pass by two or three times a week and until 2014 had only really been up them when out with the kids on sunny summer days.
Yesterday I decided to explore a little further and was delighted to descend via the popular Maspie Den. My friend from Glasgow had been up a few weeks earlier and was keen not to miss the waterfall this time. A waterfall, I thought- mmmm. The last waterfall I had visited was the Falls of Glomach and my mocking words were heard from when we left Falkland , up and over East Lomond to West Lomond and in to the descent. How on earth was there a waterfall on these shallow slopes, a babbling brook maybe? Well a short time later I was well and truly eating my words! The Yad Waterfall isn't big, its source is a small burn but it sure is scenic. Unfortunately there wasn't much water falling over it yesterday but I would highly recommend it as I would the rest of the walk - short video here :
Earlier we had ascended East Lomond from the picturesque Falkland, recently made popular by the Outlander TV show - its easy to see why this location was chosen! Historic Fife on a par with the East Neuk!
A steep pull through the Autumnal Forests saw us top out on a breezy summit, with sea views to the south and snow capped mountains to the North. A familiar trail led us to the "car park" as we continued on to West Lomond and deciding to take shelter from the strong northerly we ascended the last pull from the quarry. The sheep weren't daft either all keeping warm in the lee of the hill. A quick stop on the summit (views great as always) and we headed back down towards Maspie Den. At this time of year the colours were rich and I would thoroughly recommend Maspie Den. I'll be back soon!
Prior to this visit I had also visited West Lomond from a different line of attack the month before. Usually experienced on the high hills, I felt an eerie present as I was reaching the top of the ridge... Someone was watching me, then, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a climber moving very quickly up the rocky ridge to me left... A strange movement until I turned round to witness one of the most vivid Brocken Spectres I have seen. The inversion had moved a layer of cloud round the hill, and just under my position. As I had been moving up hill I hadn't noticed this until this point. I stood and watched myself cast onto the cloud by the strong midday sun until the cloud moved away - a grand sight and rather fitting as Halloween was just round the corned!! A tongue in cheek video here :
Great hills and so much variety and places to explore.... Fifes finest....
Some thoughts and reports from my outdoors activties...