Friday, 10 August 2012

A climb on Stac Polly

Godfrey Solly (1858-1942 was a Merseyside solicitor who was at the heart of technical advances in the sport,throughout a long and remarkably successful mountaineering career. Amongst his more notable achievements was an ascent of the UK's first VS(US 5.8) climb-Eagle Nest Ridge on Great Gable; the first ascent of Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis and explorations in the Alps, Caucasus and the Canadian Rockies His long career spanned the unfolding epochs and he continue to evolve as a pioneer and climbing innovator until into his ninth decade.

The record of the Easter (1907) Meet at Inchnadamph has already appeared in the Journal and the climb described in this paper was briefly mentioned, but perhaps it deserves a longer description. To most of the members the district was new, and one of the allurements held out to induce the Club to go so far was the prospect of new climbs, particularly on Stack Polly. In this we reckoned without our Honorary Secretary, who spent part of his previous summer holiday there.After Dr Inglis Clark has wandered over a district for three weeks with motor and camera, the search for new climbs is harder and descriptions of the scenery unnecessary. Ignorance as to Stack Polly may be pardoned, for the index to the first eight volumes of the Journal does not mention that mountain, nor is it named in " Anderson's Guide to the Highlands," published in 1834. It is named on the map of Black's Guide for 1875, but even there it is not referred to in the text.

As has been stated, it is only the advent of the motor that has placed it within practicable reach of mountaineers during the short days of early spring.

On Monday, 30th March 1907, a party of six left Inchnadamph at 8.10 A.M. in the motor. We had a beautiful drive through Elphin and past Drumrunie Lodge, arriving at the foot of the hill near Loch Lurgain at 9.40. On the way we had magnificent views of the snow-clad Teallachs.

Leaving the car and driver by the roadside, we all ascended  the heathery slopes above us. Then, while three made direct for the summit ridge by one of the gullies in the centre of the mountain, Messrs W. N. Ling and G. L. Collins and I turned westwards. We skirted the fine cliffs, passing under the starting points for the  climbs made by Messrs Collie and Inglis Clark  and rounded the western extremity of the mountain. The cliffs on the north-west buttress are tremendously steep. There had been a snow- storm during the previous night, and the rocks were cold  and wet in places, although firm and good. I know of no serious attempts to climb them in former days but Mr C.  Pilkington tells me that some years ago he was there and made two or three starts, but after ascending about 15 feet each time found the rocks so steep that he came down.

That was in mist, and he had no opportunity of looking out a route as he could not see the upper rocks. We roped at the foot at 10.45, the aneroid showing 1,600 feet. Then came the question of leadership. It was obviously an occasion where if youth were on the prow there would be pleasure at the helm, so Ling as the junior was sent first,.

I went in the middle and Collins last. We climbed straight up for some distance on what might be called the principal ridge, but were soon forced by overhanging rocks to turn towards the gully on our left. A narrow ledge, which required care, and with one rather awkward pitch in it, led us some way towards the gully. Just where the ledge became impracticable we were able to traverse back again to our original line above the overhanging rocks.

The next obstacle was a leaf of rock but by steadying Ling's foot until he got jammed in, this was surmounted and it was easy work for the second and third. Then came the most difficult part of the climb. A narrow ledge led to a small platform on the extreme edge overhanging the cliff. ' Just below the platform was a kind of letter-box where the third man could get his shoulders wedged and be secure. From the platform ran a short shallow chimney which bulged outwards so as to throw the climber out. Ling cleared out what holds there were, but they were not good. I was able to kneel on the platform and Ling got on my shoulders, and after some hesitation as to the wisdom of an advance he went ahead. As he struggled up I raised myself so as to help him for as long as possible, first with shoulders and then with hands holding his feet, but of course he had to do the last part alone.

From my shoulders he got into the chimney, then hanging by one hand he swung his right foot on to a hold on the edge of the chimney, and grasping some heather pulled himself up to a large platform. He was then quite secure and with what a novice calls the moral support of the rope we quickly followed. Some very steep but good rocks led to the top of the buttress, where we built a small cairn.

The height was about 1,950 feet. It was then 1.15. We soon reached the top, where the other party were waiting for us,and joined us at table. It had been a most enjoyable climb, but a very difficult one for the leader, who deserves all the credit that attaches to it.

It is difficult to generalise upon the climbing of a district after only one visit, but my first impression is that,except on Stack Polly, few distinct climbs of much difficulty will be found. There are many magnificent ranges of cliffs and steep mountain faces, but the climbs seem for the most part to be either impossible or too easy. A party may go out and get as much climbing as they wish in disconnected pieces on the mountain faces, but probably an easy route could be found a few yards away on either side, and no two parties would be likely to take the same route. One or two gullies on Quinag may perhaps be successfully wooed, as Raeburn's party showed, but the great buttresses on that mountain are perpendicular in places and apparently impracticable. I saw nothing at all comparable to the distinct ridges and gullies of the north side of Ben Nevis.

One other memory of a most enjoyable Meet is perhaps worthy of record. I was lodged in the manse a short distance from the hotel, and one morning about 5.15 I was aroused by a most unusual disturbance amongst the birds. I thought it meant that some beast or bird of prey was about. I got out of bed and looked out of the window. All the small birds were twittering and chirping and on  the move, and innumerable gulls were circling around in every direction screaming their loudest. In two or three minutes I saw three eagles almost in line sailing in the air high up above Loch Assynt. They came from the direction of the foot of the loch, and when nearly opposite to me made a short turn and then went on  and disappeared beyond the head of the loch. It was a magnificent sight, and it is, I believe, unusual to see so many hunting in company. They were evidently looking out for their breakfasts, but the smaller birds did not wish to be present at the meal, and by their screaming induced the eagles to look elsewhere. I went back to bed, and the noise of the birds soon ceased.

Godfrey A Solly: First published in The Scottish Mountaineering Journal 1909