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A billion years old and still unrivalled

A billion years old and still unrivalled


Postby FedericaG » Sun Jul 24, 2022 3:56 pm

Route description: Suilven

Fionas included on this walk: Suilven

Date walked: 17/07/2022

Time taken: 9 hours

Distance: 20 km

Ascent: 947m

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The Assynt is a land of dreams and of beautiful mountains. Since I first saw this landscape many years ago I have been longing to go back to hike more and explore more. And I finally did so a few days ago. Taking advantage of the long summer weekend in Glasgow, with a couple of friends, we drove the 5 hours north to Inchnadamph. I had prepared an excessively long wish list, especially considering that the weather forecast put us a world apart from the heatwave gripping the rest of the country, promising only clouds and rain. So I arrived ready to compromise on everything. Everything but one thing: hiking Suilven. For too long I had wanted to walk along its narrow ridge, see the ancient wilderness below its steep sides and feel closer to the sky on its top. The mountain had become an obsession for me, and I believe that after these days spent in the Assynt, it has become an obsession for my two friends too, but for all the wrong reasons!

The weather was disappointing as expected, but an improvement was forecasted for Sunday afternoon, when with one of my friends we decided to attempt Suilven ascent, hoping for some views.
After parking at the small carpark just before Glencanisp Lodge, we set up for the long walk across the ancient, undulating landscape that surrounds the solitary peak of Suilven. All around us only low and heavy clouds, and silence. We met no one. Soon the light drizzle stopped and the first part of the walk became humid and uncomfortably mild. Positively surprised by the good state of the ATV track, we proceeded at a good pace. Although we knew the Mountain was there, somewhere in front of us on our right, the low clouds kept the Assynt secrets well hidden.

Pic1.jpg
Loch na h-Airigh Fraoich below the low clouds hiding the horizon

Pic2.jpg
Along the ATV track


We passed the junction for Suileag Bothy without stopping and continued until the bridge that crosses the river we had kept on our right until then. Not much further, a small cairn indicated another path that climbs to the right. The path to Suilven. Again, we were pleased to find out how well maintained this path is (as we read, thanks to improvement works by the John Muir Trust and the Assynt Foundation).

The path brought us on top of what seems like the pedestal on which the Mountain stands, crossing a moreland littered with locks and little streams. And then, suddenly, we saw it. Suilven vertical north side raising from the roots of the earth to the sky and disappearing into the clouds. A vision that humbled and amazed.

Pic3.jpg
The first view of the north vertical wall of Suilven raising to the sky

Pic4.jpg
The imposing north side


While reaching the base of the climb, we encountered a woman who had found the ascent too steep and exposed and was retracing her steps, while her friends were continuing the ascent. We were not alone in the end. In the meantime the clouds had started to slowly lift, revealing the impressive buttresses towards the top. The climb up the gully looked impossibly steep from the bottom, but it was actually easier than expected, offering beautiful viewpoints, the ancient sandstone ensuring a good grip. Nothing like the slippery quartzite we had encountered on Conival/Ben More Assynt a couple of days before.

Pic5.jpg
Approaching the gully

Pic6.jpg
The steep climb up

Pic7.jpg
Amazing views of the north side landscape during the ascent

Pic8.jpg
Old engravings


Once reached the ridge, we were again in the clouds, pushed by gusty, cold winds against the south side of the Mountain and scattered on its top. A stark contrast from the quiet, mild north side. We turned to the right to head to the summit at the top of the dome and soon had to pass through the stone dyke, an amazing work of human craft, with quite a metaphysical feeling to it. A gateway to heaven. Beyond this, the path kept climbing up the dome, with some short exposed bits till the summit, marked by a cairn.

Pic9.jpg
The dyke

Pic10.jpg
The summit – 731 m


After taking some time for lunch in the strong wind, we headed towards the east side of the ridge, still hoping for some improvement in the weather conditions. Here we met the other women (only women on the Mountain during our visit of the ridge!), their voices coming and going, carried by the wind. And when the clouds started to finally lift, it felt as if a veil was taken from in front of our eyes and we could finally see again. There it was, Stac Pollaidh in the distance, and Suilven’s dome we just descended, behind us. And the dyke, hanging miraculously to the side of the mountain. And all around us, the oldest rocks on earth, shaping the three billion years old Lewisian gneiss landscape. Just breathtaking.

Pic11.jpg
With the clouds lifting, the south view appeared, with Stac Pollaidh in the distance

pic12.jpg
Looking back at the dyke and the dome

Pic13.jpg
West view from the middle nick of the ridge

Pic14.jpg
The north side view

Pic15.jpg
The east ridge

Pic16.jpg
Meall Meadhonach


Reached Meall Meadhonach, we decided not to climb it because of the strong gusts and sudden changes in clouds coverage. So we retraced our way back along the steep path, every new step offering new views and new emotions. We took it all in.

Pic17.jpg
Retracing our way back along the east ridge

Pic18.jpg
Descending from the east ridge

Pic19.jpg
Walking back to the middle nick


The path back along the valley was hot and midges and clegs were not a good company. But this time the Mountain was with us all the way, reminding us of its ancient beauty. Only some of its secrets had been revealed to us. But it was ok like that. Suilven might not be a Munro or an Alpine peak, but its astounding unique beauty will surely leave a mark.

Pic20.jpg
The walk back in the shadow of the Mountain

Pic21.jpg
Nearly at the car park, a last look at the magnificent Suilven
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FedericaG
Mountain Walker
 
Posts: 3
Munros:80   Corbetts:9
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Re: A billion years old and still unrivalled

Postby JWCW2014 » Mon Jul 25, 2022 1:14 pm

Thanks for this great report.

I did this with my young son a few weeks before you - weather slightly better (though certainly not as good as reported in the rest of the country!).

Whilst the ATV track makes fast going it’s quite a strange walk - 5 /6 or so miles of trudging on track with incredibly steep ascent and then reversed. A walk of two halves so to speak!
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JWCW2014
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Re: A billion years old and still unrivalled

Postby Sgurr » Mon Jul 25, 2022 2:27 pm

Was already 74 when I got round to doing this and we decided to stay in the bothy, but I'm not sure that lugging in all the heavy stuff wasn't as tiring as adding the 10 miles to the actual climb. Below, husband (R). Howeber we had wonderful weather and a great trip.
Image
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Sgurr
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Posts: 5679
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Joined: Nov 15, 2010
Location: Fife

Re: A billion years old and still unrivalled

Postby FedericaG » Mon Jul 25, 2022 9:10 pm

JWCW2014 wrote:Thanks for this great report.

I did this with my young son a few weeks before you - weather slightly better (though certainly not as good as reported in the rest of the country!).

Whilst the ATV track makes fast going it’s quite a strange walk - 5 /6 or so miles of trudging on track with incredibly steep ascent and then reversed. A walk of two halves so to speak!



Thanks! The note on the ATV track is quite correct! It is pretty hilly. We were actually wondering, before starting, where those extra 216 m were hiding...
Last edited by FedericaG on Mon Jul 25, 2022 10:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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FedericaG
Mountain Walker
 
Posts: 3
Munros:80   Corbetts:9
Fionas:4   Donalds:1
Sub 2000:3   Hewitts:3
Wainwrights:3   Islands:11
Joined: Oct 12, 2020

Re: A billion years old and still unrivalled

Postby FedericaG » Mon Jul 25, 2022 9:13 pm

[quote="Sgurr"]Was already 74 when I got round to doing this and we decided to stay in the bothy, but I'm not sure that lugging in all the heavy stuff wasn't as tiring as adding the 10 miles to the actual climb. Below, husband (R). Howeber we had wonderful weather and a great trip.

Would love to go back on a day like that, but not in the summer: too many midges, clegs and ticks (we got one each).
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FedericaG
Mountain Walker
 
Posts: 3
Munros:80   Corbetts:9
Fionas:4   Donalds:1
Sub 2000:3   Hewitts:3
Wainwrights:3   Islands:11
Joined: Oct 12, 2020

Re: A billion years old and still unrivalled

Postby JWCW2014 » Tue Jul 26, 2022 12:07 am

FedericaG wrote:
JWCW2014 wrote:Thanks for this great report.

I did this with my young son a few weeks before you - weather slightly better (though certainly not as good as reported in the rest of the country!).

Whilst the ATV track makes fast going it’s quite a strange walk - 5 /6 or so miles of trudging on track with incredibly steep ascent and then reversed. A walk of two halves so to speak!



Thanks! The note on the ATV track is quite correct! It is pretty hilly. We were actually wondering, before starting, where those extra 216 m were hiding...


Those metres on the track were much more apparent on the walk out, every corner seemed to lead to more track!
User avatar
JWCW2014
Walker
 
Posts: 429
Munros:90   Corbetts:4
Fionas:1   Donalds:1+0
Sub 2000:12   
Islands:11
Joined: May 31, 2022

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