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Suilven the "easy" way

Suilven the "easy" way


Postby Mal Grey » Mon Jan 11, 2016 1:28 pm

Date walked: 04/04/2015

Time taken: 4 hours

Distance: 5 km

Ascent: 500m

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I’ve been meeting to write this report for many months. I guess because technically it was a failed trip, and didn’t actually involve that much walking, I never quite got round to it. So here is a story of a trip to Suilven from last Easter, in which that that wonderful mountain is just part of a wider adventure. I shall try to keep the canoeing bits down to a minimum!

A group of canoeing friends and I regularly try to get away to somewhere in the Highlands which is pretty wild and remote. This involves taking young kids, this year between the ages of 3 and 7, into quite remote places by canoe, something that has to be planned properly, but that the kids clearly love. Last year we did a canoeing-only trip down Loch Shield, into Loch Moidart and then round the coast to Loch Ailort. This year, I’d planned an exploration of parts of Assynt & Inverpolly, involving paddling down lochs and some walking on the hills. This would also mean some fairly serious portaging of canoes and gear…but at least an ascent of Suilven could be done without the long walk in.

Most of us live down south, so after a long journey, travelling partly in convoy, and an overnight camp in Ullapool, we pulled in at a layby on the A835, by the small meandering river that flows into Cam Loch here. Part of the group had arrived the night before, and we knew they were camped somewhere out there in the gloom. The rain started just as we arrived.

A brief half hour paddle brought us to our first obstacle, a portage of the waterfall, Eas Dubh, that leads into Loch Veyatie. This took us a good hour, with several loads each, but finally we were on the shores of the loch and reunited with the rest of the group. The weather remained pretty grim as we paddled westwards along the loch, mostly hugging the southern shore for shelter from the wind.

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After a few hours, Loch Veyatie empties into the shallow Uidh Fhearna, often not deep enough to paddle, but today it was an easy ride down to our intended campsite, where the river empties into Fionn Loch.


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Here a grassy peninsular makes for a perfect camp spot between a sheltered corner of the loch, and the flowing river. With the rain still coming down, we got ourselves sorted and set up camp. With a group like this, and kids in tow, more time is spent in camp so its important we had plenty of shelter and a few luxuries, so chairs, tarps and fireboxes were in order.


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We went to bed praying for better weather. It would be a grim few days if the rain stayed, and it needed to be perfect for us to consider taking the kids up Suilven the next day.

We woke to the sound of…nothing. No rain, no wind. I peered out of my tent to see tendrils of mist swirling around the nearby low hills, but it was lifting rapidly. By the time the morning rituals were complete, the magnificent outline of Suilven was looming over camp.


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After a breakfast of bacon and freshly made bannock, we were ready for the off. With the river too deep to wade easily, we decided to paddle even closer to the foot of Suilven, slipping onto the water and paddling about a kilometre round into Fionn Loch, where we hoped to pick up the path climbing towards the southern ramparts of the remarkable hill.


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OK, this felt like cheating, we were only just over a mile from the summit cairn, and we were only just having to start walking uphill. We did, though, have a 3 year old with us, well actually 3 years and 364 days, as tomorrow was young Ben’s 4th birthday. The other kids were Alex, 6, Sam, 7, Iskander, 5 and Tobey, 7. Tobey is the veteran, having climbed Suilven before in similar manner. Off the kids went, running ahead on this easier ground, whilst the 7 adults toiled behind sinking into the tussocky bog.

As the climb started to get closer, we called the kids to heel ;), and took our time, resting regularly.


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The climb steepened, with some loose scree. Here, as we’d expected, we decided some of the group would stop, as not everyone was happy and it was important the adults weren’t distracted by other adults struggling! The kids were pretty much fine…


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The day was lovely, and the views back and over the loch studded wilds of Assynt to the mountains beyond were stunning.


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By now we were down to 6 of us, Tobey, Alex and young Ben, with an adult each. Close supervision was the order of the day. Tobey supervised me, as he’d done it before! Near the top, it becomes quite loose, and we took great care to move carefully, each pair separated by a safe distance. I must admit to slight nerves, as I’m not used to looking after kids in the hills, and none of them were my own kids, but with the right care we felt well in control.


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After a last tricky section, we arrived at the col. What a place this is, suddenly the views open out northwards as well, whereas behind you the view is frankly stupendous. The clarity was amazing, we could clearly see Clisham on the outer isles, and the Cuillin Ridge to the south, 70 miles away.


Canisp and the eastern end of the ridge
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Quinag
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Stac Polaidh – the Cuilin of Skye behind and to the right.
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Cul Beag, with An Teallach beyond
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Clisham viewed over the famous wall
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We paused at the wall. A bank of cloud had formed over the sea, and we weren’t sure if it was headed our way or not. With young kids in tow, we decide that was far enough. In the end, the cloud stayed away, but we were still happy it was the right decision. Below us we could just make out our wonderful wild camp site on its little spit of land between sparking waters.


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An extra lunch stop was had just before we descended, as Tobey was disappointed we hadn’t got to the top where an Easter Egg hunt had been promised.


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The descent started off slowly and carefully, with very close supervision. The kids were brilliant, Tobey was telling me how best to place my feet to get the best grip, and that sometimes it was better to descend backwards on the little steeper steps, all stuff he’d learnt last time from his dad. Once past the looser top section, all went very well, and we were down much more quickly than we’d feared. At a nice rocky table below the steeper slopes, our friends had waited for us in the sunshine, and here the Easter Bunny had obviously been at work.


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As it was my turn to do the group cooking that night, two of us left them to it, and headed on back to camp.
It had been a wonderful day, in quite magical conditions, but the icing on the cake was seeing how much the kids had enjoyed it. I hope it’s a memory that stays with them.


That night, as we relaxed after dinner, the mountain above us turned to gold, before the sun dipped behind the outer isles and the stars came out, wheeling above us in clear deep-blue skies.


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That’s it for the tale of hill walking, but the next few days were a remarkable journey through this unique landscape, so bear with me if I give you a hint of the rest of the adventure we had.

The following day we paddled down Fionn Loch, and walked over to look at Kirkaig Falls.


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Part of the reason for this diversion was to reccy the terrain for the next day, as we wanted to move onto Loch Sionasgaig. This meant a portage of the canoes and all the gear of over a mile. By linking a couple of lochs together, we found a reasonable route, mostly slightly down hill, and the next day we duly started our big move. Portaging is a funny thing, hard work obviously, especially as everybody made at least 3 trips each time due to the amount of gear, firewood, food and wine we had with us, but somehow the lunacy of being in the middle of a boggy wilderness with a pile of bags and a canoe makes the whole thing so ridiculous that its quite enjoyable!


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After a number of hours, we were back on the water, with just a short, but bumpy, crossing to our chosen campsite on Eilean Mor, the Big Island. Also known, from previous visits, as Tick Island.


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On arrival, Eilean Mor was wild and windswept, so we found ourselves a sheltered little hollow in the scrubby birch trees and set up camp again. The next morning, though, was utterly amazing. Waking again to the sound of silence, I wandered down to the end of the island and a magical scene of mist clad hills reflected in the glassy waters of the loch. To top if all, the calls of red throated divers echoed off the massive slopes of Cul Mor, a magical moment that genuinely made the hairs on my arms stand up.


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Most of us went for a solo paddle, its impossible to resist on a morning like this.


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The kids loved it here too.


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Treasure hunt with maps amazingly found by the kids in camp, one for each child! Who knows who left them there.

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After an afternoon paddle, the sun set on our wonderful day on Loch Sionasgaig, a day in paradise.


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Our final day dawned a bit greyer, but more worryingly for canoeists, a bit windier. Today we’d lug everything back, uphill, to Loch Veyatie, via an arduous mile and a half portage. First we crossed over from the island, then started the task.


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Five hours it took us, despite having eaten most of the food, burnt all the wood on the fireboxes, and drunk all the wine. Again though, it was such a daft thing to do, that most of us actually enjoyed it. Finally we crested the top and at last we could see water once again!


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At this point, I deployed my secret weapon – a sail – as amazingly, for once, the wind was behind us. Using a couple of canoe poles (used for “punting” the canoe in shallow water) as mast and boom, my little sail was put to task pulling all four canoes along the loch, rafted together.


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For two hours we glided along, albeit slightly sideways at times as jammed paddles don’t really make a perfect keel substitute. At the end of Loch Veyatie, with the wind getting stronger and stronger, we decided to quit whilst we were ahead, rather than camp another day on the loch. After a bit of a walk to fetch the cars, and a bit of gear lugging we were done. It had been an amazing adventure. Time for fish and chips in Ullapool.

The canoeing part of the route: http://www.paddlepoints.net?R=471&A=6914
Last edited by Mal Grey on Mon Jan 11, 2016 5:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby malky_c » Mon Jan 11, 2016 1:47 pm

That certainly brightened up my Monday lunchtime :D . Great report, lovely photos.
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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby jacob » Mon Jan 11, 2016 1:53 pm

Wow......

This indeed is something else......

Very impressed with this report to say the least.
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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby Avocetboy » Mon Jan 11, 2016 3:56 pm

Incredible, Mal. An amazing experience for the Kids and the Adults. What a difference the weather can make. When we climbed Suilven a couple of years ago, there were no views whatsoever, but at least it gives Me the perfect excuse to go back!
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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby Tomsie » Mon Jan 11, 2016 4:49 pm

Great report and what a way to spend a few days away. :)
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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby Borderhugh » Mon Jan 11, 2016 5:24 pm

Great report and photos Mal. I have always fancied the row in. I cycled and scrambled Suilven from the North in winter clag. Suilven/Assynt is a really special area and without doubt my favourite part of Scotland. :clap:
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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby BlackPanther » Mon Jan 11, 2016 5:41 pm

Don't call it a failed trip. Even without touching the summit cairn... with views like that it's certainly NOT a fail! :D :D :D

We climbed Suilven from the Kirkaig side, too, and it was one of the best days out in my hillwalking career.
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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby BobMcBob » Mon Jan 11, 2016 5:44 pm

Cracking stuff, and some great photos too. :clap:
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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby arjh » Mon Jan 11, 2016 6:48 pm

A wonderful place for the kids to experience and some superb photos to boot, great report. :clap:
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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby wilkiemurray » Mon Jan 11, 2016 7:31 pm

cracking - weather looked amazing - hope o take the kayak into Suilven one of these days - its on the bucket list :)

Love the photos some great shots :)

ATB

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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby Walkscot » Tue Jan 12, 2016 1:39 pm

Totally amazing - a fantastic report with fantastic photographs.
Well done one and all. :wink:
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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby Mal Grey » Tue Jan 12, 2016 9:51 pm

Thanks for the kind comments folks.

These trips have become a special part of my calendar over the last few years, and as all the kids get older, the more they want to walk up things instead of just sitting in canoes all day. Which can't be a bad thing...

I was lucky to be introduced to the outdoors by my parents at a similar age, and have strong memories of playing in streams and woods in various parts of the country, and in Iceland and Norway, at not much older. So its a real pleasure to help take my friends' kids to such places, and help the next generation to see, and hopefully love, the outdoors.

By coincidence, I was quite moved this morning when one of my friends posted a picture of something Alex had drawn for homework. He'd been asked to draw something that made him laugh. What he drew was a picture of me playing the guitar by the campfire with him and his brother and best friend, singing "the poo song", a daft thing I did on this trip where I substitute the word "poo" into any song in place of the word "you". In this case, Mumford and Sons "I will wait (for poo)". Boys (of all ages) seem to find this remarkably amusing. The fact he remembers this so strongly made my day. And yes, I did portage a guitar all the way round Assynt! A "travel" Baby Taylor one, bought especially for the trip, after lugging a full size into Camasunary a month earlier.


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BP - oh, I know it wasn't a failure, just my excuse for not getting round to writing it up (though I did do it for a canoeing forum previously, with more paddling and less walking described).

Murray - its a great way to approach Suilven, and if you don't do our daft portage loop into Sionasgaig, its pretty much a "there and back", from the old fish farm at the end of Veyatie (gated track to there, sometimes open, sometime not). And that camp spot is simply fabulous - as long as the weather is OK as there's no cover!
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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby Silverhill » Tue Jan 12, 2016 11:19 pm

Just brilliant! :D
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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby Mal Grey » Thu Jan 14, 2016 9:38 pm

Silverhill wrote:Just brilliant! :D


Thank you! It was great fun, and conditions, whilst grim at the start and briefly a few days in, the weather was very kind, and superb for photos at just the right moments! Doesn't happen like that very often....
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Re: Suilven the "easy" way

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Sun Jan 17, 2016 7:20 pm

That was just stunning - Oh I envy the wisdom of the kids who were with you - brilliant :clap: :clap:
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