This walk report is a tale of two different days as Sam, Naomi and Cara did this walk on the 2nd of May 2015 and Jen did it on the 7th of September 2019. Whilst Jen enjoyed summer conditions, Cara, Naomi and Sam tackled the mountains in snow meaning different challenges were faced on each day.
Date: 2nd of May 2015 and 7th of September 2019
Munro Count to Date:
Time: Cara, Naomi and Sam: 7 hrs 59 min. Jen: 6 hrs 30 min.
Setting the Scene
These two munros stood out to me on our Munros spreadsheet for two reasons:
1) I was the only one left to bag them and
2) they were very far north and would entail a long journey to reach them.
Year after year I couldn't quite get the right weekend to head north, until the beginning of September this year. When the MWIS forecast for Saturday 7th was published on the Wednesday beforehand I knew I had to book accommodation and just go for it. The weather was to be light winds and very little rain, some clouds expected but otherwise a brilliant day for walking. I had searched for accommodation earlier in the week so knew what my options were. I booked the last room at the Inchnadamph Lodge and B&B.
Cara, Naomi and Sam:
We tackled these hills pretty early on in our Munro-bagging adventures (May 2015), when we had each climbed fewer than 20 munros. We had decided early on that we were going to try and mix up hills that were difficult or remote with more accessible ones so we weren't leaving all the tricky ones to the end. With that in mind, we planned a long weekend up north, where the first task was climbing the Conival/Ben More Assynt route. We drove up to Inchnadamph on the Friday evening getting there at about 6pm.
The scenery was very different up there and we were all very impressed, most of us silently but Sam couldn't stop remarking on everything in sight. We went to the Caberfeidh Restaurant in Lochinver for dinner that night where I couldn't resist the scallops on the menu so we ended up having starter and main. We returned home to Inchnadamph and got all our stuff ready for the next day. We had a bunk room which slept 6 and still our stuff was everywhere and there wasn't an inch of space. We got into our illegal sleeping bags (apparently you're not allowed to sleep in your own sleeping bag there and have to use the sheets provided - weird) and went to sleep.
Solo Safety on the Hills
This wasn't my first solo munro climb by any means but it was certainly the furthest one I'd conducted away from home.
The Lassies usually know when I'm going to head out to the hills alone. With the Trusted Contacts app showing my location to them I don't send a message when I'm heading out in the morning so as not to wake them unnecessarily. Usually I do start to send updates of my progress around lunch time though, with a description of how good my walk is, of course, just to make sure they don't feel left out.
The Inchnadamph Lodge asks you to fill out a route card to leave at the reception when you go out for these kinds of walks. This is a great idea and I made sure to complete one especially as a solo-er, but you must make sure to pick it up on your return or Mountain Rescue could be called to find you!
The Walk in along River Traligill
I set off in the morning of Saturday 7th September 2019 at 8:40 am, just after a group of six walkers had also left the Lodge to head for Conival and Ben More Assynt. It was dry, as forecasted, and clouds prevented the sun from streaming down on top of me. I was expecting the cloud to be covering the tops as I approached the mountains but whilst some wisps passed by I could see Conival clearly during my walk in.
I passed two walkers and then the group of six as they stopped to de-layer at the turn off to the Traligill Caves. If I'd had time to properly plan my weekend I would have visited the caves at this point or the following morning but for now I wanted to get up to the hills when they were still relatively quiet. The boggy path narrowed as it followed the river and I hesitated a few times while I found the driest route possible over the water and bog.
Cara, Naomi and Sam:
We set off about 8am and started walk up the track. We couldn't yet quite be sure which mountain it was we would be climbing but it was a cold, clear day and we could what looked like the obvious candidate ahead of us.
The path started to narrow from a car-accessible track to a single file path. This path followed the river and was relatively flat and so we managed this part relatively quickly. We were slightly concerned about the amount of snow that there looked to be at the top. We had no crampons or ice axe, or any experience using them. As the mountain came more and more into view this became more of a worry.
Approach to the Hill
After a few kilometres the path opened up and the climb up to Conival was revealed. The route headed to the left of Conival and from roughly 300m elevation to 700m it was even boggier than the walk in; water seemed to be travelling over every available path up until the brief scramble up to 700m of elevation on the south west face of Beinn an Fhurain. I was not looking forward to returning along this same path but my worries were easily wiped away with the stunning views.
Cara, Naomi and Sam:
Meanwhile... back in 2015 and in May the views did not look like the ones above.
We followed the path up until the gradient got steeper, and we realised we would have to cross the river in its gully. Not being able to see the path ahead, we crossed a bit too early and found that the climb was steeper than expected, but the route looked to stay with the river so easily navigable. This started off fairly doable.
The gradient did get a lot steeper and it was hard work because the ground was quite soft and bouncy but we were managing and it was nothing we hadn't done before. Suddenly one of us slipped on a bit of icy ground and we realised just how cold it was. The ground became more and more covered in snow/ice, and as it got rockier, the combination of ice and rock made it treacherous. This was not dangerous as if we slipped we just fell to the ground: there were no steep drops and it wasn't steep enough for us to fall down the hill, but it made going forward so difficult. There was only a little bit of snow, but the surface was unbelievably slippery and so we were trying to avoid stepping on it. The problem was that there was very little ground to use instead. We were eventually lying on the ground star-shaped, ensuring that two of our limbs were in contact with something unslippy. We were climbing but horizontally. This 200m was very difficult and we suddenly thought that coming down would be even more difficult. We hoped that the sun would warm and soften the ice by the time we were due to come and looked towards Conival, the first mountain we would be attempting that morning. We were now at the top of a ridge and needed to start climbing the shoulder in order to even be able to glimpse the top.
I'm sure we've all had the problem of trying to capture in a photo how steep or scary an epic ascent is. The photo above is the exact opposite of that: it looks far more adventurous than it was. I am trying to cross almost flat ground, covered in nice soft grass but I'm struggling because a) it's so slippery, and b) I'm laughing so hard at the ridiculousness of it all.
Having said that, we realised that the day would be harder than we'd initially planned. We had a regroup and an assessment of the situation and the weather forecast and decided we felt confident carrying on.
Approach to Conival
This final climb towards Conival up the rough quartzite ground was dry and much more manageable. If it was meant to be difficult I was not aware of it as the stunning views were revealed around me. The ridge across to Ben More Assynt was unmistakeable from afar and I stopped repeatedly to take photos of it and the landscape around me. The Atlantic Ocean could be seen from this point and I felt like I was seeing it for this first time.
I reached the summit of Conival just after 11am, approximately 2 hours 25 minutes after leaving the Lodge. By this time my fellow Lassies were beginning to message on the Whatsapp group, so I sent them a panorama of my current view.
We started climbing the shoulder with very little snow and by the time we reached the top is was at least a few inches. We could now see the top of Conival. We started walking but before long we were knee deep in snow. This was hard work but actually felt very secure as every step you took, your leg was held in place. I had to stop every 10m or so to allow the burning muscles to restore themselves. At the top the snow was a lot less deep but it was windy. We hid inside the cairn to grab some lunch.
We looked across to see Ben More Assynt looking back at us. It didn't look that far away and the ridge between looked fairly flat with just a few bumps in between but it was covered in snow and at points rather narrow. I was nervous that there might not be any mountain underneath some of the snow. None the less it was an absolutely beautiful day and there were loads of people up here. You couldn't go more than 20 minutes without bumping into some more walkers. Because of this there were footprints that clearly showed where people had walked before that day. We also ensured that we stuck to, where possible, a route where you could see bits of ground sticking out from below the snow.
This ridge to Ben More Assynt was great fun! It's nothing compared to the Skye Cuillin ridge but plenty of places to scramble up to look at the view. I was certainly glad the rain stayed off so I could bound over the boulders easily without much worry. There were a few parts where I wasn't sure if the route I was taking would lead me to a drop over the side or not, but it all went well and, as on my ascent to Conival, I stopped repeatedly to take photos.
For us though, this was hard work as the snow was still making it exhausting and there were many stops to collapse in the soft snow.
The snow was reasonably solid most of the way, but there were times when it had piled up and it came over your knees. We were gratefully stepping into the footprints left by other walkers, but it was hard work.
Ben More Assynt
I reached the summit at midday, having had to double check which rocky outcrop it was as there was another close by. One man left the summit before I arrived and another was just getting ready to leave himself so we had a short blether; he too was from Edinburgh and talked of heading to Dundonnell afterwards. We shared a few walking stories before he began his return to Conival and I sat down to have my sandwich.
The trip from the top of Conival to the top of Ben More Assynt took us 49 minutes in total. By this time the wind had got up a bit and the trig point of Ben More Assynt was relatively steep. There was very little at the other side of this summit and so I was feeling slightly nervous about going up the last 5m but I'd come this far. I climbed up for a minute and clung on/ hugged the trig point to feel safe. Sam got a quick picture as the designated photographer on the trip and I came back down quickly.
Although it had been windy all day, it was running along the ridge so it was just cold and hard to hear over but easy enough to walk in. Once at the top of Ben More Assynt, the full power of the wind suddenly hit us and it was incredible. We somehow got everyone in the photo but we couldn't hear each other speak! After touching the top and taking the photo we rapidly backed down off the summit back onto the ridge.
Return to Conival and Descent
Before leaving the summit I jogged over to the second rocky outcrop to take the above photo. I was still revelling in the views to be annoyed at the fact I would have to summit Conival again. The return took about 45 minutes as before and I reached this cairn again before 1 pm.
Once there I met with the duo that I'd passed first thing in the morning. "Have you been out there and back!?" the older man exclaimed, which I'm not sure whether to take as a compliment or not ha! The larger group of six people were just reaching the summit as well, now 2 hours after me.
I took some more time to take my last photos from the summit before beginning my descent.
Not long after I began, though, I felt my left calf muscle tugging a bit, as though it was slightly twisted. I stopped to stretch it - perhaps it was just tight? - but it appeared to be an injury that I had picked up at some unknown point. Later, after scrolling through all my panoramic photos, I wondered if perhaps it was my photo taking that was to blame...
The loose, small rocks on the path meant I had to be ready for my foot to slip from under me at any point. The terrain worsened when I descended below 700 m, down the short scramble to the wet, boggy and rocky path down to the River Traligill. I slipped backwards a couple of times onto my backside, once on a rock that could've given me quite a bad injury if I wasn't wearing a rucksack.
It was treacherous ground and very warm, with beasties making their appearance around me and my calf muscle continued to niggle at me until I reached flat ground. All-in-all an unenjoyable descent to the path along the river. Once this path was reached, though, the walk back to the Lodge was straightforward. I reached the Lodge at about 3:10 pm, at roughly the 6 hours 30 minutes mark.
Back in 2015, the trudge back along the ridge to Conival in the snow was hard work. This was effectively our third munro of the day as there was no way to bypass the summit of Conival and I certainly wasn't prepared to experiment on a day where you couldn't see the ground. This time it took us 56 minutes to walk the ridge between summits and I have to admit that my mood was not great during this time.
I would have been in the same boat, except that just as we were starting the trip back, Sam had produced a bag of Percy Pigs out of some secret pocket and they brightened my day significantly. Not only are they a great energy booster, but they actually taste pretty good almost frozen. Just as well, because the haul back up Conival was a serious effort.
Cara, Naomi and Sam:
Once we reached the summit of Conival again the rest was fairly smooth sailing. We were right that the ice in the gully had softened and going down was so straightforward that we couldn't believe the difficulty we'd had that morning. We headed back along the path beside the river which was long but it wasn't too long before we saw the cars and were taking off all our wet clothes. We were back in Spring/Summer after spending all day in Winter.
We got in the car and made the 2 hour drive up the west coast. It was an absolutely beautiful drive. We kept remarking on the colour of the water and the beauty of the beaches. The roads were fantastic and so much fun to drive. They were mostly single track roads but they were so straight and due to the vegetation being so low, mainly heather, and no hills in sight you could see for miles. This drive really brought our spirits back up after an exhausting day.
We arrived at the Poorhouse, the hostel we were staying in. We almost don't want to tell anyone about this place to keep it all to ourselves, but it is fantastic and the owners are so lovely. The place has 6 beds but we decided to pay extra and take the whole place for ourselves. It had a lovely little living room with a fire and a fantastic shower. It was perfect for us and we'd been left freshly baked scones and jam and cream which we devoured and appreciated so much.
I was staying another night at the Inchnadamph Lodge after my walk, so I showered and headed out in the car to Lochinver. I wanted to get dinner either there or at Achmelvich Beach (which a work mate had recommended for fish and chips). I ate some Rocky Road cake at the Lochinver Larder, which was selling take-away pies that evening until 5 pm. This was a bit early for dinner to me, so I decided to hedge my bets with the chippy, that wasn't appearing in my Google Map searches for it...
I made it to the beach and the conditions were beautiful. It's a small beach and I approached it with no chippy in sight. Thankfully a large banner was draped in front of the Achmelvich campsite advertising it! I sat down in the wonderfully sunny conditions to eat a battered haddock supper and heard the sound of bagpipes. I looked up to the cliff's edge and saw a lone piper playing across the beach. It was a wonderful end to my day.
It's interesting to see the issues faced in the different conditions, especially on the descents. If this summer had been a dry one - like in 2018 - then Jen wouldn't have slipped and struggled up and down from the river to the 700m mark. That was the only difficulty she faced all day. Cara, Naomi and Sam certainly had a tougher time with the hills but can take consolation with the fact that after all the toil their descent was relatively straight forward.
Overall, whatever time of the year that others want to climb here we would all suggest going when you would get the views from the tops; they were really incredible and are so special to that part of Scotland.
Hanging Out in Tongue and Durness
Cara, Naomi and Sam:
Although not technically a munro day, we felt we should talk about our day off on this trip. We were going to climb Ben Hope on Sunday. This might have been quite ambitious in hindsight after such a long Saturday. On Saturday night we had a lovely dinner comprised of a variety of microwave M &S dishes which we'd brought with us, we had some wine and played some board games which we found at the Poorhouse.
During the night we heard the rain on the corrugated iron roof and in the morning when our alarms went off we agreed that we would take a day off without even getting out of bed. When we did get up we decided to be tourists. We went to Durness and played on the beach and went to Smoo Cave. We even went to a craft village which had a great chocolate shop.
Our plan for that evening had been to get some food and cook something simple like pasta but we had forgotten where we were and that it was Sunday. Absolutely nothing was open and when we asked the locals, their recommendation was Inverness, over 100miles away! After some googling we eventually found that some of the local hotels did take-away pizzas. We went to the Ben Loyal Hotel and they kindly agreed to do this for us. While they were making the pizzas we sat in the bar and had a drink. All the locals were very chatty and knew the owners of the Poorhouse. They were telling us about some walkers who had attempted to climb Ben Hope that day and had had to turn back about halfway up due to the bad weather and poor visibility. This made us feel better about our laziness and allowed us to all pretend that this was the reason we had made our decision.
We got our pizzas and said our goodbyes and headed back to the Poorhouse. Although we had food for dinner, we were concerned that we didn't have any food for the morning and we were going to be climbing a munro and needed food. We had snacks and a sandwich for lunch but we needed something to have beforehand. Fortunately when we got back to the poorhouse we'd had a new bakery delivery, this time pancakes. We were all so happy and, as difficult as it was, decided to leave these for the morning.
We had a lovely dinner of pizza and wine, which we'd also got from the hotel. We warmed the wine by the fire and played some more board games.
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