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Suilven from the East, with complications

Suilven from the East, with complications


Postby PDK_Mitchell » Tue Sep 06, 2022 10:47 pm

Route description: Suilven

Fionas included on this walk: Suilven

Date walked: 23/08/2022

Time taken: 9 hours

Distance: 30 km

Ascent: 1000m

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The usual route in to Suilven is the long trudge up the Glencanisp track from near Lochinver: pleasant enough, but a bit of a long and often featureless slog. For our first day’s walking after the long drive up from England, me and my climbing buddy Chris decided to boldly turn this notion on its head by undertaking a long and often featureless slog from the other direction. A small layby off the A835 a mile or so north of Elphin opens on a path leading across the rolling Assynt hinterland of lochs and moors, winding over the landscape to sneak under the shadow of Canisp and emerge broadside-on to the northern approach to the main Bealach Mòr path up to Suilven’s dogtooth ridge: our wizard wheeze was that we’d follow this path, do a full traverse of the ridge including the tricky bits on Meall Meadhonach and Meall Beag, and then descend back towards the car by a route yet to be decided. That indecision caused us annoyance later.


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Anyway: the path from the A835 is great. We started out in gentle sunshine winding along the banks of Cam Loch, one of the beautiful mild salmon lochs that attract the rich, the posh and the plain fish-mad to this part of the country, a huge maze of wooded coves and gently lapping shorelines. The views here are a a grand back-view into Coigach, with Culs Mòr and Beag, Stac Pollaidh and the foreshortened spires of Suilven itself all opening up on the skyline as you go.

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Really, it's very nice

After a little while the path veers left up over a rocky rise (where it loses some of its definition – you’d want to keep your wits about you in poor visibility here), and heads over towards the gloomier and more recessed Lochan Fada and Loch na Gainimh, both black pools in the narrow glacial trench that runs under the steep southern face of Canisp. Coming in this way takes you alongside of most of the ridge of Suilven, and you get a spectacular view of its towers and notches as you walk along the north side of Loch an Gainimh. Just before Loch na Gainimh there’s a ford over the burn and a path heading up towards the Meall na Braclaich; this would make a good approach to the eastern end of Suilven if you fancied doing the difficult bits of the ridge first.

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Suilven and Loch na Gainimh from the approach path

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Suilven looking very fearsome and sexy over Loch na Gainimh

For some reason the main path up to Suilven itself isn’t marked on the OS map, but it’s impossible to miss, and a 2018 restoration by the Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape Trust has made the first heave up towards the lochans at the very base of the mountain almost embarrassingly pleasant. After a quick rest at the bottom, the sharp heave up to the bealach went surprisingly quickly, and we bopped along the ridge via some nice little scrambly bits to the summit at Caisteal Liath. By this time, however, Suilven was doing what it often does and hiding its head inside a big hat made of clouds, so views were sporadic, and often better from the notches in the ridge than the tops.

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Looking north from partway up the path to Bealach Mòr, Quinag just about to get swallowed by cloud

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Cul Mòr looking very tempting

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Weeping, for there were no worlds left to conquer

The summit ridge is thrilling, but over all too quickly. Last time I’d been here, ten years earlier, I’d lost the route on the way up Meall Meadhonach and not had the courage to scramble it: this time – older, wiser and handsomer – I found it to be an interesting challenge with some nice slithery moves and plenty of adrenaline-pumping exposure.

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Not a lot of places on Earth look like this

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Meall Meadhonach (r); Chris (l)

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Me almost exactly ten years earlier on Meall Meadhonach, trying to look chill while recognising that if I tried to climb any further I would probably die

In or out of cloud – and we were both, in rapid succession – Meall Meadhonach is a spectacular pyramid of rock to stand on top of, with the bare rock of Coigach stretching away to a broken coastline and the Assynt mountains sticking up out of it like ruined molars.

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Not a lot of places on earth look like this, pt. 2

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Your reporter, gazing heroically into the void

The best part of the ridge, if you’ve a little scrambling experience, is step between Meall Meadhonach and Meall Beag. The notch between the two is dramatic enough to descend into – a deep cut between vertiginous rock walls, with total exposure on either side. Meall Beag itself presents a completely vertical wall of rock, but by cutting sideways (and steeling yourself against the gulf opening up beneath your feet) it’s possible to gain a neat ladder of terraces up to the summit. This route is well described in Highland Scrambles: North, ed. Ian Thow; directly before the beginning of the upward route there is also a very tempting-looking vertical ladder of blocks, which looks like it could be a lot of fun to tackle if you were to come properly equipped with either climbing ropes or a serious appetite for commitment.

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Cul Mòr seen from the notch between Meall Meadhonach and Meall Beag

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Meall Beag; the scrambling route loops around to the left up the broken terraces

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This cleft is on top of Meall Beag. We spent a good couple of minutes debating whether we should try jumping it before walking over via a tiny earth bridge

The descent from the top of Meall Beag is very steep and mostly pathless – and what path there is peters out once you reach the gentler slopes at the base of the mountain – but less difficult than it might look from a distance. Walking down the long tail of high ground that extends from Suilven to Meall na Braclaich is pleasant and easy going over broad boulder-strewn slabs and terraces, with the views out over Coigach, back towards to Suilven’s eastern towers and over to Canisp (a mountain I’d never thought of climbing, but was beginning to develop a yen for) enough to keep your mind alive for hours.

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Looking towards Stac Pollaidh from the bottom of Suilven's east end

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The view East from Suilven's lower slopes, along the high ground to Meall na Braclaich - this is is probably a better route than the one we chose down towards the right

Here, though, we made a mistake. The OS map shows a path appearing at about gridmark 219760E 915451N, and heading ESE alongside the Allt na Braclaich to join up by the shores of Cam Loch with the path we walked in on. We would probably have been alright if we’d stayed on the top of the ridge and gone over the slabby top of Meall na Braclaich to meet the path where it crosses the high ground between Cam Loch and Lochan Fada. Sweet summer children that we are, we decided to head downhill, meet this notional path and follow it home. But the path, alas, does not exist in any form useful to humans, and we spent the next couple of hours navigating the darkest side of the Assynt lowlands: rocks, tussocks, ankle-breakingly uneven ground and a maze of glacial and fluvial debris, all of it built on a solid foundation of at least three feet of bogwater. Then it began to rain. Then the insects began to take an interest in us. It doesn’t look like much on the map – it looks nice enough in real life too – but this was our Gedrosia, our Passchendaele, our Worst Journey in the World. We finally reached the path sadder and wiser men, and marched grimly back to the car on our unexpectedly ruined legs, looking back to see Suilven’s top entirely obscured by cloud in the sunset.

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Looking back at Suilven from where the path should have been

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Last few yards. Zoom in to know suffering

It’s a long walk anyway, but those few miles of stumbling through bog finished us. It was as much as we could do to make it back to Ullapool in time to catch last takeaway orders at the very fine Essence of India. Next day we were so ruined the best we could do was to walk up to the falls of Inverkirkaig, climb the knoll next to the waterfall, and look at the mountain we’d climbed the day before basking innocently in the August sunshine.

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Me and Chris with the thousand-yard stares of men who have Seen Terrible Things, and the mountain that did it
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Re: Suilven from the East, with complications

Postby jmarkb » Wed Sep 07, 2022 8:23 am

Great report, enjoyed that. Seems like I had a lucky escape then, by going over Meall na Braclaich and not via the (non-existent) path!
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Re: Suilven from the East, with complications

Postby litljortindan » Wed Sep 07, 2022 7:25 pm

Glad to read that we were right to stay on the high ground in 1997 but sorry to read that you had that difficult end to what looks like an otherwise fantastic trip. No pies in Lochinver?
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Re: Suilven from the East, with complications

Postby cantabrigian » Fri Sep 09, 2022 5:31 pm

How wide (and how deep) is that cleft on Meall Beag? (Not that I'd be tempted to jump it at any scale..)
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Re: Suilven from the East, with complications

Postby PDK_Mitchell » Sat Sep 10, 2022 8:33 pm

cantabrigian wrote:How wide (and how deep) is that cleft on Meall Beag? (Not that I'd be tempted to jump it at any scale..)


It's definitely jumpable! But also quite a jump downwards as well as across, and I'm forty and no longer confident in my landings, or my ankles' magical ability to stay unsprained, and then it's a long steep way down off the mountain and back to the car...
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Re: Suilven from the East, with complications

Postby Alteknacker » Sat Sep 10, 2022 10:39 pm

Suilven is still at the top of my "must do" list - and this thrilling report has done nothing to change that (just - perhaps - the precise route for getting there - and back!! :roll: ).

Great stuff :clap: :clap: :clap:
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Re: Suilven from the East, with complications

Postby Christopher Pulman » Mon Sep 12, 2022 10:02 pm

There was a bit of a path alongside the river. But as we got towards the lake, it had entirely vanished.

Regarding the east ridge of Suilven, I think the climb up the second summit was actually more difficult than the climb up the final tower. I wanted to take the direct route, but Pete vetoed it.

Anyway, here a few further photos of the route.

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Cul Mor above the heather

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Cul Mor is somewhat good looking.


We spent some time laughing at the fact that "Cul" means arse in French.

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Suilven is in view for the whole approach, peaking over the horizon as if Assynt were flashing us

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Suilven from the new path

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Stac Pollaidh and others

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Suilven sinister in the cloud and wind

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Heading towards the second top

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The scramble up to the second peak (not entirely straightforward)

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The scramble to the final tower

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Back of the second tower

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The jump we didn't take

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Cul Mor in the last of the sun

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Descending the ridge

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Grassier lower ridge
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Re: Suilven from the East, with complications

Postby Assyntfan » Tue Oct 04, 2022 1:48 pm

deleted at posters request
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Re: Suilven from the East, with complications

Postby Duncan1960 » Tue Oct 04, 2022 1:52 pm

Love the little Easter egg on the map. :)
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Re: Suilven from the East, with complications

Postby seadog12 » Tue Oct 04, 2022 8:00 pm

Reading your great report, it makes me glad that we just went for the main summit at the NW end. We looked at the second summit and nearly went for it but as I'm 70 and we had a long walk back to Lochinver ahead of us, we decided to play safe. That gully gave me the willies and I'm not great with a lot of exposure!
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Re: Suilven from the East, with complications

Postby Sgurr » Sun Oct 09, 2022 7:19 pm

I'm glad this got Trip Report of the Month, as I missed it first time round, and it's a cracking report. We stayed in the bothy where some joker had signed the book "Kylie MInogue". No way was I going to do anyhting but the main peak aat 74. Our final bothy trip. (so far)
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Re: Suilven from the East, with complications

Postby PDK_Mitchell » Tue Oct 11, 2022 5:16 pm

Sgurr wrote:I'm glad this got Trip Report of the Month, as I missed it first time round, and it's a cracking report. We stayed in the bothy where some joker had signed the book "Kylie MInogue". No way was I going to do anyhting but the main peak aat 74. Our final bothy trip. (so far)


How do you know it wasn't the real Kylie Minogue? That lass is an avid munro-bagger if ever I've seen one.
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