Suilven

3 April 2013

Emboldened by our half day on Stac Pollaidh, we decided to “go for it”, and climb Suilven the following day, in case the weather gave out later in the week.  Previously, back in 1997, I had a glorious day on Suilven, starting at Glencanisp Lodge, and had hoped we could repeat that route.  However, we had seen that the north side of the hill was plastered with snow and ice, and so we had to revise our plans, and climb from the south.

The advantage was that the southern route started at Inverkirkaig car park, about a mile from our log cabin.  The disdvantage was that it was a longer router on a rougher path.  Undaunted, we set off at 9.30am up the track below Achin’s bookshop (highly recommended!)

Suilven from Lochinver

Suilven from Lochinver

After yesterday’s clear, blue skies, the day was disappointingly grey and overcast.  We made steady progress up the path alongside the River Kirkaig, passing the Kirkaig Falls, which we had visited on a previous holiday, so by-passed them this time, continuing straight on at the path junction.

first glimpse of Suilven from the path above the River Kirkaig

first glimpse of Suilven from the path above the River Kirkaig

Half a mile further, we cut off to the left across some bumpy ground, and had our first clear view of Suilven, only 2 miles away.

Suilven across the Fionn Loch

Suilven across the Fionn Loch

Unfortunately, Fionn Loch barred any direct approach, and we had to follow the tortuous path looping first north west around the end of the loch, then south east, up over two low bealachs to regain the north shore of the loch.

along the shore of Fionn Loch - Cul Mor ahead

along the shore of Fionn Loch - Cul Mor ahead

Unfortunately, what looked like a good path ahead was just a raised beach of dry grass, so although level, the walk along the lochside was hard work.  Just before the second major burn crossing, the path turned uphill toward the mountain.  It had taken us about an hour longer than we had expected to get this far, so we pushed on up the wee valley towards the foot of the hill, before pausing to take stock of where we were.

We stopped for a quick lunch at 12.30, having covered around 10km, and now at 200m, just below the steep climb up to Suilven’s Bealach Mor.  The climb ahead looked daunting!

approaching Suilven from the Fionn Loch

approaching Suilven from the Fionn Loch

The loose scree-covered path strikes straight up the steep slope, then slants right across below the bealach, before a final very steep haul up to the bealach:  350m ascent in 1 km – hard going!

Anne high on the north side of Suilven

Anne high on the south side of Suilven

We reached the bealach at 2pm.

Peering down the north side, we could see that it would have been very unsafe to come up that way, as we were looking down a 300m ice-filled gully.

the snow-filled gully on the north side - best ascent route in summer!

the snow-filled gully on the north side - best ascent route in summer!

Heading along the ridge to the west, we made good progress, following the path through the “gate” in the dry-stane dyke, and up a series of rocky outcrops.  Looking back, Meall Mheadhonach looked extremely impressive.

looking back along the ridge to Meall Meadhonach, Suilven's lower summit

looking back along the ridge to Meall Meadhonach, Suilven's lower summit

Just before the last climb to the main summit (Caisteal Liath – the grey castle), the ridge narrows to a neck between gullies on the north and south side.  Here, the path was iced up, and required care.  Anne decided she didn’t fancy it, so returned to the bealach.  I picked my way carefully along the icy path, and was soon climbing more easily on to the snow-covered summit dome, with grand views down to Lochinver and out to sea.

on the summit of Suilven, looking towards Lochinver

on the summit, looking towards Lochinver

Meall Mheadhonach, from Caisteal Liath - an exciting scramble in summer - looking pretty impregnable in winter coat

Meall Mheadhonach, from Caisteal Liath - an exciting scramble in summer - looking pretty impregnable in winter coat

No time to linger, though, as it was now 2.30pm, and we still had a long way home.  I returned to the bealach, where Anne was waiting patiently, then together we headed back down the loose path, where we met another group still heading upwards.

late afternoon light at the west end of Fionn Loch - still 4 miles to go!

late afternoon light at the west end of Fionn Loch - still 4 miles to go!

It was along weary trek back along the shore, round the west end of the Fionn Loch, then down past the Falls to Kirkaig, reaching the car, tired, at 7.15pm, and glad we didn’t have to walk the final mile back to our cosy cabin.

Strength restored with Lochinver pies for tea!

Summary:
22 km walk
750 m climb
9 hours 45 mins

Log:

Inverkirkaig Bridge 09:30
Bealach Mor (550m) 14:00
Suilven – Caisteal Liath (731m) 14:30
Bealach Mor (550m) 15:00
Inverkirkaig Bridge 19:15

(written and uploaded 14/12/13)

 

 

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