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Two nice old ladies, Suilven, and a Loch

Two nice old ladies, Suilven, and a Loch


Postby BobMcBob » Wed Jun 06, 2012 5:33 pm

Fionas included on this walk: Suilven

Date walked: 06/06/2012

Time taken: 8.5 hours

Distance: 23 km

Ascent: 1435m

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I've always been a lazy bugger, never could get out of bed. As I'd planned to climb Suilven but was, for some reason best known to the exhausted self who drove up from Northumberland, camping at Dingwall I decided reluctantly that I'd best make an early start. So I set my alarm for 7am. And so it was that I got up at 8.15am and set out on the 2 hour drive to Lochinver.
Already late, and knowing that the parking area on the minor road is very small I decided I'd better just lump it so I parked up behind the information center in Lochinver. This adds a few miles to the already long walk. Perhaps I was punishing myself for ignoring the alarm. But the gods of walking were smiling on me because as I was walking up the road, two nice old ladies drove up next to me and offered me a lift. Splendid! Very chatty, these two. I learned from them that the whole area around Lochinver is owned by the community, who bought it in a community buy-out. I was about to start asking them about what the community's attitude to this glorious countryside was when the passenger said "She's the one who owns Suilven, you know". "Ach," said her friend, "how can you own a thing like that?" In one beautifully pithy sentence she answered any questions I may have had. They dropped me off at Glencanisp lodge, meaning I'd already gone past the usual parking place. Things were just getting better. (This, by the way, is the reason my attached GPX file starts at the lodge but finishes at Lochinver).
Suilven is a magnificently strange mountain. For one thing, the closer you get to it the smaller it gets. As you walk up the easy 4x4 track from the lodge, the enormous dome of Caisteal Liath looms over you like the prow of an invading alien spacecraft.
DSC_9103.jpg
Caisteal Liath

I think that, to the mind's eye, it looks like an enormous mountain that's a very long way away. And to be fair it is quite a long way away. But then as you continue walking and it gets closer you get a better idea of the scale of the thing, as well as the fact that you lose that famous profile as you draw alongside the ridge.
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Drawing closer

Make no mistake. This is a long walk and it's a bit up and down, but the path is an excellent 4x4 track and you get spoiled by fantastic scenery
DSC_8979.jpg
Gorgeous

and great views, especially of Canisp
DSC_8975_6.jpg
Canisp across one of the many reedy lochans en route

After much walking, and thinking you must have gone past it, you eventually arrive at the small cairn which is where the path to Suilven turns right off the main track. Conditions underfoot change abruptly. It's muddy (knee-deep in places) and boggy and grassy and gets quite steep. but this is nothing yet.
DSC_9077.jpg
Looking up the boggy path from the cairn

After a short while you arrive at Loch a Choire Dubh. Keep to the left of the loch and aim for the gully that runs up towards Bealach Mor. There's an easy to follow path all the way up, but it's steep and it gets very slippery towards the top.
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Halfway up. It gets steeper!

Now turn right to head up towards Caisteal Liath, the main summit. Curiously, right over the top of the ridge is a dry stone wall. Whose idea was that?
DSC_8999.jpg
The peculiar wall, with Canisp and Meall Meadhonach in the background

There are a few scrambly sections that can easily be bypassed and several false summits. The top is broad and grassy and it's hard to remember you're now on top of that massive dome. But the views are quite magnificent.
DSC_9001.jpg
Looking back at the path, from near the top

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Back towards Meall Meadhonach

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Cul Mor and Cul Beag

It was a very clear day and the Outer Hebrides and even Ben Nevis were clearly visible on the horizon.
And with the view of Meall Meadhonach in plain sight, who could resist it? Back to the bealach and up the other side. There's a top to get over and then down again with some simple scrambling and great views ahead and behind
DSC_9053.jpg
Back towards Caisteal Liath

DSC_9055.jpg
The way ahead

The ascent of Meall Meadhonach is reasonably straightforward. You cross a small boulder field and then it all gets a bit scrambly, up easy sandstone ledges but with a fair bit of exposure, and one rather worrying section:
DSC_9057.jpg
Oooooer!

But again, the views make it worthwhile
DSC_9058.jpg
Wow

As I'm not one for retracing my steps if possible, I'd been wondering if a descent to the east was possible. By chance I met a guy up there was was wondering the same thing. So with safety in numbers in mind, we opted to give it a go and descended down the very steep grassy slope towards the gully between Meall Meadhonach and Meall Beag. Apparently Meall Beag can be scrambled from this side, but it looked horrendously sheer to me. At the gully we turned left and headed north. Here it gets even steeper and very slippery with wet grass and loose rock, but you do have the cliffs on either side to hold on to. It wasn't too bad. Once we'd descended below the cliffs we parted ways - he to go east looking for a wild camp site and me to descend along the path of a burn, past a herd of deer to the banks of Loch na Gainimh.
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Taking stock on a rock in a loch

It looked like there was some weather closing in by this point
DSC_9076.jpg
That's coming my way!

So, I followed the banks of the loch round to the outflow (may not be possible after heavy rain), climbed up onto the heathery moorland there, where there is a bridge over the river on the 4x4 track, about a quarter of a mile east of where the boggy path turns off towards Suilven. It's a long walk back but not an unpleasant one. The weather never arrived, and I spent the night in a layby next to Ardvreck Castle, watching the sun set over Loch Assynt. Lovely.
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BobMcBob
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Re: Two nice old ladies, Suilven, and a Loch

Postby malky_c » Wed Jun 06, 2012 6:06 pm

Excellent :D . A lovely clear day, and it's great to finally see a report that covers Meall Meadhonach as well as the main summit.

I came up over Meall Bheag from Elphin about 10 years ago, then traversed Meall Meadhonach to reach the main summit. I don't remember Meall Bheag being anything more than steep grass though.
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Re: Two nice old ladies, Suilven, and a Loch

Postby BobMcBob » Wed Jun 06, 2012 6:14 pm

malky_c wrote:I came up over Meall Bheag from Elphin about 10 years ago, then traversed Meall Meadhonach to reach the main summit. I don't remember Meall Bheag being anything more than steep grass though.


I didn't take a photo because I was using both hands to stop myself sliding downwards :D but the west side of Meall Beag looked to me like one massive pile of sandstone blocks. I suppose that coming from the top you must have found a path round the side. There did seem to be something going off to the right when I got there but I didn't really look. Either that or it was so terrifying you've blanked it from your mind :lol:
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BobMcBob
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Re: Two nice old ladies, Suilven, and a Loch

Postby mountainstar » Wed Jun 06, 2012 8:31 pm

Good timing for me this report, as hopefully I will be doing Suilven on Sat (for the 3rd time) from Elphin to Lochinver.

Hope i have the weather you had, great pictures.
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mountainstar
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Re: Two nice old ladies, Suilven, and a Loch

Postby Avocetboy » Wed Jun 06, 2012 8:48 pm

Fantastic, bobmcbob On my list for next year.
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Re: Two nice old ladies, Suilven, and a Loch

Postby BobMcBob » Thu Jun 07, 2012 9:29 pm

Just to add, for anyone thinking of doing this and I forgot to mention it, that there is a sign by the usual parking area on the minor road which says that, in return for a small donation, the owners of Glencanisp lodge will let you park your car there if you're doing the walk up to Suilven. Apparently they're aware that parking is an issue and so have come up with a solution. Also, the lodge is open to the public at the moment and will be happy to sell you a cup of tea.
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