walkhighlands

Sensational Suilven by a watery route

Fionas: Suilven

Date walked: 30/03/2024

Sensational Suilven by a watery route

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A month after my last visit to Assynt, where mate Nige and I had an excellent few days climbing Canisp whilst staying under the remarkable shadow of Suilven at Suileag bothy, it was time to return.

For the last decade, Easter canoeing trips have been a highlight of my yearly diary, and a group of friends, mostly with their young families have returned to the lochs of the Northwest Highlands every time. Assynt and Inverpolly have become almost a regular feature of these trips, and we’ve paddled and portaged across and between many of the lovely lochs of this unique region. As the kids have grown, the trips have morphed slightly and in recent years we’ve often tried to get in a mountain or two.
This year, at the last minute we were down to just four of us for various reasons; Lynne and son Tobey, one of the original “Pirates”, Nige and myself. A smaller group meant some rethinking and new challenges; we like to travel in style, and a big group makes lighter work of the silly portages we tend to do whilst allowing us to bring on the “luxuries” that make living in the landscape so much a part of the trip. These extra items tend to weigh a lot: steel griddles, big pans, fireboxes, bags of logs, my guitar and, of course, plenty of wine and whisky. Though we’d need less of the latter for just four of us, we still wanted to take the same basic communal stuff, but shared amongst fewer boats and sherpas. Stubbornly, we decided to go in our usual style anyway, time in camp is one of the most important parts of our trips.
Our plan was to start near Elphin, paddle along Loch Veyatie and down the shallow river of the Uidh Fhearna to Fionn Loch. Here we would camp and as long as the weather played ball, climb Suilven from the south side.

It was lunchtime on Good Friday when we arrived from the south. We obtained permission from the Ledmore estate to access and park at the loch side (small fee) and were soon loading canoes with far too much stuff. The weather was great, though a strong breeze always makes canoeists a little wary.


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Paddling along a wild northern loch, beneath the outlines of my favourite mountain shapes, is my happy place. Despite some effort into the wind, the worries of the world fell away as we left “civilisation” behind, not to return for a week. The peaks were still touched with winter, but the sun had a little warmth to it, and the sky was a glorious blue. Suilven beckoned us onwards.


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Canisp

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Cul Mor

After a couple of wonderful hours of paddling, Loch Veyatie narrows and becomes a shallow flowing river, the Uidh Fhearna. A little concentration and boat moving skill is needed to find enough water to get a laden canoe down, but this is a joy to paddle for any lover of a wilderness river, though all too brief.


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We emerged out onto the meandering calm waters of Fionn Loch, and made our way to our planned camp spot. This is a wonderful bit of flat ground with the magnificent backdrop of Suilven. Time was pressing on, and the clocks had yet to go forward, so camp was hastily made and dinner of chicken fajitas wolfed down. A lovely start to our trip.


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Suilven from the south

I awoke with a sense of excitement, knowing from the light on the tent and the lack of the sound of wind that our weather window had stayed true to forecast. I opened the door of my tent to drink my first coffee of the day, with the most wonderful view in front of me. Breakfast was soon underway, and what a location for a bacon cheese and haggis wrap!


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Fuelled for the day ahead, we jumped into two of the canoes and paddled a kilometre along the shore of Fionn Loch, to the point closest to the little path that climbs Suilven from the Inverkirkaig route.


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The path is not huge, but only mildly boggy on this trip, and makes for a quick approach via a shallow glen. Always, the huge wall of Suilven lies ahead, with the landscape opening up behind.


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A prominent and handy rock makes for a good snack and drink stop, below the suddenly steeping flank of the hill, yet with a grand view outwards.


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Stac Pollaidh

Now the work began, steep, quite loose and quite warm. To be frank, this is an unpleasant route up a hill, made up for only by the sheer magnificence of the surroundings. At first it goes straight up, rough zig-zags taking one directly up, before a long diagonal line of eroded path heads towards the low point of the ridge at Bealach Mor. The final section below the bealach is loose and unpleasant, grip difficult and care is needed. With poles and a steady approach though, we could still enjoy our surroundings.

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Bealach Mor brought respite for the legs, but exposure to the breeze and suddenly revealed dark clouds and wintery showers on the hills immediately to the north.


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We made our way to the gap in the amazing wall. 9 years before, on a similar trip, Tobey had reached this point aged 7, but we’d not headed onto the true summit. Now he was keen to do so.


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2024

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2015


For myself, I hadn’t been beyond this point since the early nineties, and was very much looking forward to the ascent. I’d completely forgotten how enjoyable it is, and how much of an interesting ridge it is, with a few easy rocky steps to add interesting, an intense feeling of space and being on the top of this enormous wedge of a hill, but no feeling of real exposure or danger.


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The view back, is simply fabulous, dominated by Canisp and the blade of Meall Mheadhonach.


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As we approached the top, the steep sides fall away, the cairn sitting on the high point of a gently angled dome. Tobey arrived first, before wandering to gaze out over the seas, declaring it his favourite summit.


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We paused for a while, but the cold wind meant we chose not to stop for lunch here. Instead, we gazed at the views, pretended to ignore the obvious incoming showers, and simply enjoyed being on top of one of the most iconic peaks anywhere.


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We dropped quickly back to shelter above the bealach, and hastily stuffed some food down our necks. In front of us was the landscape we’d be crossing in the next days, but for now we thought mostly about getting down before the weather changed.


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Clouds boiled and tumbled around the hills of Coigach, and from behind a few light, chilly, showers arrived. Yet rather than detract from the day, the amazing atmospheric conditions were almost hypnotic to watch, the light on the landscape ever changing. We made our way cautiously down the way we had come.


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As we reached the lower slopes, the clouds broke and sunlight danced once more over Coigach, Inverpolly and the sea.


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Once down, we paddled back to camp, rewarded by a stunning rainbow as we drank gin and tonic in the sun, the light glistening magically off the water droplets on our tarp shelter.


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And so ends the hillwalking section of our adventure, though the rest of the trip would involve plenty of walking with canoes, and the story of that will follow, more briefly below. For now, we were sat happily beneath the mighty crags of Suilven, as the light turned them red. A fitting end to a fabulous day.


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Comments: 10



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Mal Grey


User avatar
Location: Surrey, probably in a canoe! www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk
Occupation: Account Exec in the outdoor and publishing trade, amateur writer, photographer and blogger https://www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk/
Interests: Grew up going to the hills but only get to the hills occasionally, particularly for a week each winter. Big love is open canoeing, and particularly canoe camping. So I paddle the Highlands more than I walk them.
Activity: Wanderer
Pub: ODG or Clachaig
Mountain: Clach Glas
Place: Inverpolly
Gear: Bell Prospector Canoe!
Member: John Muir Trust Mountain Bothies Association Wildlife Trusts British Canoe Union
Camera: Canon EOS 700D
Ideal day out: Perfect crisp winter conditions in the NW Highlands where the snow is firm, the sky is blue and the views across hills, loch, isles and sea are endless. An early morning canoe paddle on a glassy calm loch with the hills reflected in it like a mirror isn't bad either!

Munros: 113
Tops: 62
Corbetts: 23
Fionas: 12
Wainwrights: 71
Hewitts: 116
Sub 2000: 9
Islands: 6



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Statistics

2024

Trips: 5
Distance: 49.8 km
Ascent: 2560m
Corbetts: 1
Fionas: 1
Sub2000s: 2

2023

Trips: 7
Distance: 76 km
Ascent: 4306m
Munros: 1
Corbetts: 3
Fionas: 1

2022

Trips: 5
Distance: 58.6 km
Ascent: 2687m
Munros: 1
Fionas: 1

2021

Trips: 1
Munros: 2

2020

Trips: 2
Distance: 64 km
Ascent: 300m
Munros: 3
Corbetts: 2
Fionas: 1
Donalds: 1
Sub2000s: 1

2019

Trips: 2
Fionas: 1

2018

Trips: 4
Distance: 33 km
Ascent: 3020m
Corbetts: 2
Hewitts: 1

2017

Trips: 7
Distance: 92.2 km
Ascent: 4075m
Munros: 4
Corbetts: 1

2016

Trips: 2
Distance: 26.1 km
Ascent: 1706m
Munros: 1

2015

Trips: 4
Distance: 30.4 km
Ascent: 1580m

2014

Trips: 3
Distance: 39.7 km
Ascent: 2804m
Munros: 4

2012

Trips: 1
Distance: 11 km
Ascent: 750m
Hewitts: 1

2011

Trips: 2
Munros: 10


Joined: Dec 01, 2011
Last visited: Jun 13, 2024
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