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An Assynt crossing

An Assynt crossing


Postby jmarkb » Sat Sep 03, 2022 7:13 pm

Fionas included on this walk: Suilven

Date walked: 31/07/2022

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 21 km

Ascent: 1000m

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This summer, the last part of our holiday was spent in Elphin, in a cottage with a superb view of Suilven, so it seemed appropriate to go and climb it again. I have to confess that I have favoured other hills in the area for multiple repeats over the years which have a better ratio of hill to walk-in, such as Ben More Coigach, Quinag and Cul Mor.

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The view from our cottage

We set off on the normal approach from Glencanisp Lodge. The parking was already quite full, and were expected the hill to be busy, but we soon encountered several teams who were returning from a summit camp who accounted for quite a few of the cars. Just before the lodge, there is a perfect spot for photos across Loch Druim Suardalain.

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Canisp

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Suilven

The track gives pleasant easy walking, passing Suileag bothy before eventually crossing the river.

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Suilven and Loch na h-Airigh Fraoich

A little further on the path to Suilven branches off to the right. This has been significantly renovated from its former bogginess since our last visit! The path passes the lovely Loch a' Choire Dhuibh before rearing up steeply to ascend the gully leading to Bealach Mor. This is now a good set of stone steps, in contrast to the previous eroded scree, and make the steep ground much less of a trial. The views to the north now start to open out.

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Quinag and Loch a' Choire Dhuibh

The hard work is now over and it is time to enjoy the fine ridge with a few easy rocky steps, leading to the main summit, Caisteal Liath.

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One of the rocky steps

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Meall Meadhonach from Caisteal Liath.

We had our lunch break on the summit, propped up against the upturned slab of rock a short way beyond the summit cairn, gazing out at the views to the west. My partner had decided that she was not wanting to do any hard scrambling on this occasion, but was happy to head back to the car on her own while I completed the traverse eastwards to the main road, so we returned to the col and parted company.

The route to the east passes over an unnamed top, before dropping down to another col. On this descent a pair of ptarmigan took off from almost under my feet, while a third sat tight and pretended to be a rock.

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Well-camouflaged ptarmigan



The next ascent to Meall Meadhonach is straightforward until the final 20 metres or so, which are defended by two rocky tiers. The first is climbed by some slabby steps, to a detached block. Here I think there are two options - go left and up, or go behind the block and traverse for 20 metres or so before making an awkward step (with neither good hand- nor foot-holds) up the topmost rock tier. I chose the latter, as it was the way I had gone before, but I think the left hand route may be a little easier?

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Caisteal Liath from the top of Meall Mheadhonach

The way forward is now much less travelled, without a clear path. The next descent is more of a steep face than a well-defined ridge, and I initially kept too far right, before realising my mistake and traversing back left to pick up a trace of a path in a shallow grassy gully. Soon I was at the col below the towering face of Meall Beag. The route up this is devious and exposed, but easy enough to follow. The hardest move comes first, a step left round a protruding rock with a big drop into the gully below. Despite the sunshine and a breeze, this section was shaded and still a bit damp, so I took it carefully. The route continues leftwards along grass ledges and up a couple of short steps, before turning back right up a short slab and soon reaching the top.

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Meall Meadhonach from Meall Beag

There is now a slight sting in the tail - just beyond the summit of Meall Beag is a narrow neck when gullies cut into both sides of the ridge, requiring an awkward and exposed step down. After this the descent is straightforward - there is one rock band easily avoided on the left-hand side. Soon I was on level ground, and facing a choice of onward route - bear left to reach the main path east of Loch na Gainich, bear right to reach another path near Bracklach, or stick to the highest ground over Meall na Braclaich. Given the fine weather I opted for the last of these as it promised the best views and the going did not look too rough. Thankfully this proved the case in the main - a mixture of grass and sandstone slabs with only the occasional boggy bit. Every so often I had to stop and admire the end-on prospect of Suilven gradually receding into the distance.

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Below Meall Beag

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Meall Beag with Meall Meadhonach towering behind

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Stac Pollaidh

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Looking back from Meall na Braclaich

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Suilven making her own personal cloud!

The last kilometre before reaching the path does get a bit rougher, so I was initially glad to reach it near the end of Lochan Fada, only to discover that it is itself pretty hard going, little more that a vague line between cairns, across bogs and quartzite stones. After a couple of ups and downs, the "path" descends to the shores of the Cam Loch, where it improves somewhat, and the views are still a magnificent distraction.

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Cul Mor across Cam Loch

At the end of the loch I missed the path turning away from the shore, and ended up on the main road a couple of hundred metres too far south, but no matter: my partner had just arrived at the parking spot to pick me up.

So now I think I have experienced the very best of Suilven: a very satisfying end-to-end route in perfect weather. I'd recommend this to anyone who doesn't mind some exposed scrambling and can set up the transport logistics!


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jmarkb
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Re: An Assynt crossing

Postby litljortindan » Sat Sep 03, 2022 11:02 pm

A classic. Been in from the east and back out via Canisp. I remember that descent into the notch beyond Meall Beag requiring a bit of attention. Wouldn't fancy it with damp grass.
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Re: An Assynt crossing

Postby weaselmaster » Mon Sep 05, 2022 11:24 pm

Something I always fancied doing but am well aware that it's beyond my meagre abilities in terms of scrambling or dealing with exposure. You got a fine day for it.
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Re: An Assynt crossing

Postby Sunset tripper » Tue Sep 06, 2022 1:53 am

Great stuff jmarkb - a stunning mountain and relatively few folk are ever on that route.
All the best. :D
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Re: An Assynt crossing

Postby jmarkb » Tue Sep 06, 2022 6:17 pm

litljortindan wrote:Been in from the east and back out via Canisp. I remember that descent into the notch beyond Meall Beag requiring a bit of attention. Wouldn't fancy it with damp grass.


That was a big day! I think it is probably easier to go west to east as I did, all the hardest scrambling is uphill that way.

weaselmaster wrote:Something I always fancied doing but am well aware that it's beyond my meagre abilities in terms of scrambling or dealing with exposure. You got a fine day for it.


One to hire a guide for perhaps? The weather was ideal, unlike most of the rest of our holiday!

Sunset tripper wrote:Great stuff jmarkb - a stunning mountain and relatively few folk are ever on that route.


Thanks ST, I saw no-one between the main col and the Cam Loch (a fisherman) - one of those places with a fine sense of remoteness.
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Re: An Assynt crossing

Postby spuncher » Fri Oct 07, 2022 8:27 pm

Nice one Mark. Enjoyed it
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