Stay at home
Scotland is under national lockdown. People are asked to stay at home except for essential purposes.
Click for details
A rotten route off Conival & Ben More Assynt!
by Delice » Sun Jun 19, 2016 12:26 pm
Munros included on this walk: Ben More Assynt, Conival
Date walked: 13/05/2016
Time taken: 7.5 hours
Distance: 19 km1 person thinks this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
This is one of my favourite parts of the world, and I’d been wanting to get up these mountains for a while, but descriptions of ‘harsh, empty northlands’ and ‘a view of total desolation’ were not exactly filling me with joy at the prospect of going there on my own! Anyway, the weather has always been against me in the passing. But this year! Boom – a weather window had appeared, and Mr T was in Scotland on one of his munro sprees, so this was my opportunity. It had been windy in the night at Ardmair Point [north of Ullapool], and the cloud was low the following morning, but MWIS assured us that it would break up later that morning, so – like the Believers that we are – we duly packed up the van and set off. Patches of blue sky were fading in and out, but it was looking more hopeful as we pitched up at Inchnadamph.
Bikes off the back, and soon we were heading up the valley. George, the hotel’s resident stag was out on the lawn with his pals, and the human visitors were also on the move – groups of geologists or speleologists heading into the clouds ahead? We used the bikes to get the first couple of kilometres up the valley, and left them behind the trackside hut. The cloud was still down on Conival and there was a slight drizzle, but it slowly started to lift as we walked along Gleann Dubh. By the time we swung round and started to rise up beside the mossy waterfalls of the River Traligill we were getting suberb distant views out to the coast – to Stac Pollaidh, Canisp etc. The wind was stronger though, so we stopped to put on more layers below the crags off the col between Beinn an Fhurain and Conival. This being May, I was quite surprised to note that I was wearing 4 layers of hat on my head - don’t think I’ve ever had to do that before! A long stoney pull up onto Conival, with fantastic views in every direction of all sorts of rock formations that made you wish you’d studied geology more attentively! After our bursts of sunshine, we had some snow showers, but they didn’t amount to anything. A short plateau at the summit, where we stopped for an early lunch, then a superb ridge swinging away, down and across to Ben More Assynt – a huge pile of shattered rock indeed but not as foreboding in real life as in the pictures! When we got there, there seemed to be 3 different options for the summit [the book suggested 2], so I touched all of them just to make sure! Way too cold to stop at any of them though!
All the guides seem to advise it is best to re-trace your steps at this point and return the way you have come. But Mr T and I never like that option, so we took the alternative ‘more interesting continuation’, which is first to go on to the South Top. Again looking at the guide books, they suggest there is a rocky narrow section that has been compared with the Aonach Eagach…..it’s several years since I did the AE but I wouldn’t have made that comparison. There were a couple of short sections where you had to do a bit of scrambling, involving thinking and make some careful placements of hands and feet, but these were neither as tricky or prolonged as I recall the AE, and the drops to either side didn’t seem so severe. Granted, we were doing it in good visibility and no wind, but it was a short and sweet exhilaration which ended too soon in my opinion, followed by a grassy section to the South Top. Mr T had done BMA in cloud last year; couldn’t find the top of the way down, and ended up going right to the end of the ridge, which had added a bit of distance to the walk. We were looking for a grassy opening to a gully ½ km beyond the southern summit; we found one and headed down it. Mr T was muttering that he never trusted a gully and would have preferred an alternative route. I said, well if 2 respected guide books included it as a route it must be fine, but it wasn’t long before I was whole heartedly agreeing with him! The gully quickly narrowed down and was steep, with wet material that was really loose and the slightest movement sent large rocks falling down – hazardous for the person in front. There were at least 2 sections with drops where we had to do some fairly serious rock climbing, with ‘hand holds’ that came away in your hand; there was no scope to get up onto the slopes above, and we couldn’t avoid having to going straight over small waterfalls, getting quite wet in the process. It was slow-going, felt pretty hairy, and it was relentless – at least 300m vertical descent down the gully before it opened out towards the bottom. So I was pretty glad to get to the waters edge in one piece! At least the sun was shining while we undertook the gruesome descent, and we took a well-earned rest, sunbathing by Dubh Loch Mor and surveying the hateful gully, trying to work out if we’d even come down in the right place. We came to the conclusion we had and it was just that there had been 30 years of erosion since the guides had been written!
We had a much more pleasant walk back across the shoulder below Conival, enjoying great views of the wide sweep of mountainside, tracing our route stretching back to Ben More Assynt. Then, with the impressive rocky crags of Breabag to our left, we were funnelled into the steep sided valley of the Allt a’ Bhealaich and an interesting series of wet and dry sections of river bed. Rounding a corner we stumbled across the Traligill caves, the entrance dotted with primroses, and some dark circular openings with light beyond enticed us to explore further in. Unfortunately our curiosity had been recently shared by a now dead sheep that must have fallen into the collapsed cave section from above. We could see a section of corrugated iron that presumably protected the opening to the lower depths, but the sunshine outside turned out to be more appealing on this occasion! Following the river a little further down the valley brought us just short of the field where our bikes were parked, from where a short but sweet bomb down the hill took us back to the van in fairly quick time.
An epic day out altogether – a wide range of weather, great views, some challenging walking, interesting geology, features to explore - and none of the feeling of desolation the guide books had hinted at, I’m glad to say!. It was A HATEFULL GULLY but I'd probably still say to do it - because the route to the South Top and the views from the south of the whole mountain range makes it worth it - provided it's taken slowly and carefully, and in the knowledge there's a couple of bad steps that can't be avoided....And if anyone else has ever taken that route I’d be interested to know what they made of it!
by jmarkb » Sun Jun 19, 2016 1:33 pm
by malky_c » Sun Jun 19, 2016 7:35 pm
by Delice » Sun Jun 19, 2016 8:11 pm
jmarkb wrote:I have no idea how that gully made it into any guidebook - unpleasant and potentially dangerous. The slopes just south of the gully are a viable alternative on steep grass, but still not ideal in the wet. I would definitely recommend continuing to Carn nan Conbhairean and taking a line that skirts all the steep ground to the south - it's not much longer, probably no slower, and a whole lot less traumatic!
I'm sure you're right. It would have probably been quicker and a lot safer! Trouble is you assume a guide book's route is straightforward - because they tend to tell you if there are difficult sections to watch out for. That is also why Walk Highlands is so useful because you hear of other people's experiences and tips. Hopefully this report will be valuable for someone else who's going to attempt the southern descent off Ben More Assynt. It was definitely worth it in every other respect!
by Delice » Sun Jun 19, 2016 8:20 pm
malky_c wrote:Started up that way once, but moved out onto the steep grass to the right (would've been on your left as you came down). Steep but reasonable enough. However I'd much rather go up it than down as the best line through the bands of crag is hard to spot from above.
A nice bit of steep grass is always preferable - and we would have gone for that if we could have seen some! We were probably too hasty.....Looking at the photo from the Lochan it does look as though we could have picked a way down. Next time?
by Sunset tripper » Tue Jun 21, 2016 1:20 am
Great report and pics
- Posts: 2262
- Joined: Nov 3, 2013
- Location: Inverness
Walkhighlands community forum is advert free
Can you help support Walkhighlands and the online community by donating by direct debit?