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Two Assynt Munros (and a Corbett)

Two Assynt Munros (and a Corbett)


Postby The English Alpinist » Sat Sep 04, 2021 8:26 pm

Munros included on this walk: Ben More Assynt, Conival

Corbetts included on this walk: Breabag

Date walked: 24/08/2021

Time taken: 11 hours

Distance: 27.4 km

Ascent: 2088m

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Ben More Assynt, 3,274 feet, in perfect conditions.

After vaguely toying for many years with the idea of doing all the mountains of Scotland, at the age of 53 with this walk I finally began in earnest. Why now? Well, I guess it comes down to reaching a certain time of your life when you think 'what is left' and 'what do I want to achieve with what is left'? The importance of having great experiences and making memories and enjoying true freedom have become crystal clear to me. Added to this is the fact I have been a keen long distance runner, with my best times well behind me - one of life's hard facts - but the fitness I have from it takes on great value here. I am a creature who thrives on challenges, obsession even, but I do want to - indeed must - take a balanced approach to this venture. I do not know if it will be possible, as it won't get any easier with ageing, and the practicality of repeatedly accessing deepest wildest Scotland. My calculations tell me I could do the lot (meaning not just the Munros) in roughly 20 years at the rate I can commit to it, but most of all the point has to be to have space to enjoy it and sample the varied and beautiful places I will encounter for the foreseeable future of the rest of my life. If I do it, I do it, but each trip has to be treasured for itself. So, it began: I took a week's holiday, and felt the priority was to use it to scoop up the 4 Munros furthest north, bearing in mind the size of the journey from Lancaster, Cumbria, England.

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The serenity of the A837 near Inchnadamph in Assynt.

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Up the Traligill gorge toward Conival, first Munro of the day.

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Guy on summit was from Lancashire like me.

The highlight of the approach through the foothills of Conival and Ben More Assynt was the Traligill Caves, even though I encountered them accidentally through misreading Cameron MacNeish's celebrated Munro book. The thing to do is NOT take the little wooden footbridge if you want to avoid detouring for them! I failed to take a photo of them, through anxiety to get back on the correct route (but did shoot a short vid which is included on my YouTube account). They were pretty good, giving you a feel for how water has gouged them out through the underlaying limestone over the eons of time. I had to forge my way across and down the rough moorland and ford the Traligill beck itself to reclaim the path, in the process literally descending on a couple who were correctly en route; my first two fellow walkers. From there it was a straight-forward slog up to the summit of Conival, Munro number 1 of my week. I met walker number 3 there, and we purred about wanting to simply stay there to enjoy the sheer intoxicating views on this perfect weather day. Try as I might not to think about the size of the walk that was ahead if I was to include an 'extra' I was hoping for - the Corbett 'Breabag' - the facts of time and distance are inescapable. After about 15 minutes soaking up the surrounding expanses, it was onward across the adjoining ridge to Ben More Assynt, beckoning austerely if reassuringly in perfect visibility.

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Loch Assynt from Conival.

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From Conival to Ben More Assynt.

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View to the north from Ben More Assynt.

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Looking back to Conival.

At the summit of Assynt, I caught up with walker 3 admiring once again the epic views: the phrase 'big country small world' (my own as far as I know) sprung to mind as it turned out he was from Colne in Lancashire. He confessed to thinking some rocks in the lochan far below were moving, before he made out that they were in fact deer. I voyeured in on them, as they clearly enjoyed a regular undisturbed communal place whilst very unstupidly cooling themselves down, and I hoped I was equally unstupid in the next move I was contemplating. From here a rather exposed and bumpy-looking ridge lay before me leading to the 'south top' of this Munro and beyond, tempting but worrying me with the grand circular route that could take me over 2,675 foot Breabag and back down to the A837 whence I began the day. It was not so much the fear of a death-fall but my energy levels that I was weighing up: it would entail solitary hours ahead. Everything is on such a bigger scale than the Cumbrian Lake District and '53 is not 33' were a couple of things running through my head. I truly agonized over this - the hazards of lonely exhaustion versus the experiences I'd regret missing - but after nourishing on smoked salmon sandwiches my spirit said 'go for it'. I was well enough watered and there'd be plenty more en route, and joints and muscles were intact. My brief Colne friend had headed back the way we'd come, as I so nearly did. I could see that future expeditions would be full of deliberations like this.

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Seen from the summit of Ben More Assynt.

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Looking down to the South Top of Ben More Assynt..

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Glen Oykell and Breabag to the south.

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I decide to go for it: the south ridge.

I soon became pleased if still a touch anxious about my decision. The view back to the Conival-Assynt ridge, which would otherwise have been denied me, was dramatic indeed. It had felt broad and safe enough whilst doing it, but a video-zoom I took showed the tiny stature of the earlier couple crossing it compared to the massive doom-laden fall it offered to the bottom of the corrie. Across from me to the right stood the imposing cliffs of Breabag's east face which I was visually tracing a direct attack up, once I'd accomplished the no-small task of getting down into the separating vale of Oykell (glen, I should say, we're in Scotland) via absence of any official route. It was not lost on me that fate was kind to me today with the conditions, and this luxury of plotting-by-sight would be utterly denied in a bit of mist let alone anything stormy. The endless open mountain-scape to the south was continually breath-taking, and I just had to enjoy all this, telling myself I would probably never be here again so I'd made a game and correct decision. The bonus of the Ben More Assynt's south top was ticked off, and after spooking some deer from a quarter of a mile away I was on my way down to the Dubh Loch.Beag. There I perhaps spooked a lone fisherman too, the last human I was to see on the day's trek. I purposefully did not come down close enough to speak, as I got a hunch he'd chosen this singularly isolated bit of water for a reason.

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The ridge crossing from Conival to Ben More seen in all its glory.

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I plotted a course up the crags, along the back of what vaguely looks like a Brontosaurus (right)..

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First I had to get down to Dubh Loch.Beag.

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Then cross the glen and the River Oykell.

The little loch served its purpose for me, not of catching fish but drinking like one, and soaking my T-shirt in it for heat stroke prevention. Crossing the glen to approach Breabag was the expected skirmish against raw peat moor, but I had no business complaining since in the middle of it was the River Oykell, which in less ideal conditions than these would not have been so easy to hop across. A bigger concern now was the scramble/climb up the rock face which my toils brought inexorably closer. The more I looked at it, the less I liked it, as my line up involved walking above a horror drop at the corner of the crag face on footing I couldn't be sure about until I got there. There were safer approaches, but I couldn't be bring myself to detour and my mind was set. This is a symptom of anxiety, an almost desperation to get there, and something I will have to keep in check by good self-disciple and choices in future, less benign ventures. Happily, I found what I very much hoped for when I got higher::a safer if steep gully to thread myself up, instead of having to round the horror corner. This entailed trusting my weight to a handful of grass once or twice, but it got me there. As I strolled out along the mountain top, my triumphalism was tempered by the obvious fact I was nothing but an intruder in a deer colony's territory, even though the summit did have a human-built shelter replete with stunning views of Assynt and the two Munros I'd just done. .
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The peat moor had creatures (look closely).

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Lots of rock: Breabag, Conival and the ridge to Ben More Assynt.

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Their territory, not mine.

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Summit of Breabag, 2675 feet, with Loch Assynt and the west coast.

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Very satisfying to get that Corbett in, but no denying the weather helped.

For my route down and back to my car at Inchnadamph, I could have safely trudged the length of Breabag to the col below Conival, and descend there and reunite with the ascent track in Traligill. However, partly through the anxiety thing and having a quirk whereby I feel a full circular route is always more aesthetically satisfying, I chose to descend sooner and link with the so-called Bone Caves lower down. This was evidently an important tourist attraction, and so in keeping with my mission-statement to 'experience the regions' not just 'collect the mountains'. There was an element of gamble in that I wasn't sure if the river gorge I followed down would be passable, and indeed at a couple of junctures it looked dubious, but I managed not to plunge down any waterfalls. Note to self, though: don't pull this type of thing in wet weather or winter. By the time I got down there, I was so weary and relieved I simply ignored what looked like some steps to the caves and headed for my finish line which was the A837. Part of the 'North Coast 500', this was positively serene in the evening sun, and let me tell you there's a lot less traffic on it, even at the height of holiday season, than your standard A-road in England. My successful first day's rewards were sweetened even more by a drive into Lochinver, where I feasted at the superb 'Delilah's'. Serving out of what is little more than a roadside refreshment shack, the food (I had crumbed fish chunks and chips) is gourmet quality and the customer care as warm as the late August. I felt I deserved it, though: two Munros plus a beyond-the-call-of-duty Corbett, is there any satisfaction greater?

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I begin the descent from Breabag.

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Down to the Bone Caves.

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I've made it.
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Last edited by The English Alpinist on Mon Oct 25, 2021 12:28 am, edited 5 times in total.
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The English Alpinist
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Re: Two Assynt Munros (and a Corbett)

Postby Mal Grey » Sat Sep 04, 2021 9:50 pm

Good effort! That's a big day.

Conival and Ben More Assynt are on my list as the two wettest Munros I have done, run close by Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers. We saw nothing. I will be back.
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Mal Grey
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Re: Two Assynt Munros (and a Corbett)

Postby R1ggered » Mon Sep 06, 2021 2:41 pm

Great post. :clap: :clap:
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Re: Two Assynt Munros (and a Corbett)

Postby cantabrigian » Mon Sep 06, 2021 4:37 pm

Thanks for a great report, and what a wonderful day you had for it. I was thwarted by terrible weather last time I was in Assynt, but this has inspired me to try to get back there and have a go at those Munros.
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Re: Two Assynt Munros (and a Corbett)

Postby The English Alpinist » Mon Sep 06, 2021 9:09 pm

Clearly I was spoiled by the weather, judging by some of your reminiscences. I would laugh, except I know my turn to experience the true Scottish climate will come soon enough!.
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The English Alpinist
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Re: Two Assynt Munros (and a Corbett)

Postby litljortindan » Sat Sep 11, 2021 9:56 pm

Twenty years sounds like a comfortable period of time for your campaign if you can do such long walks. Breabag was enough for me last July but I was feeling quite cautious back then.
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