Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion
Scotland 2, Tavs Tours 0
It seems like a perfectly sensible plan. Fly up to Inverness and head to the far North West (Assynt) and climb the iconic Suilven and the Ben More. However, it didn’t quite go according to plan……
Assynt is remote. I mean really desolate. Look, here’s the town centre:
After a glorious drive up along a single track A road (told you it was desolate) we arrived at the unpronounceable village of Inchnadamph and the imaginatively named Inchnadamph hotel. Unbeknownst to us we had turned up on the last weekend of the season - but more of that later. The welcome was warm as was the pub grub and the fire. We had the place to ourselves other than a couple who were up fly fishing and a lady from France - all with canine companions. With us, our hosts and their young but exceedingly mobile son, we settled down for an evening of beer, food and daft games. Tomorrow Suilven awaited.
Now Suilven isn’t large, but it is iconic. The area is renowned for its geology and Suilven pops out of a flat landscape like some alien ship has just landed. It is also famous for the long walk in. You walk in from the west, walk some more, carry on, Suilven eventually appears, walk some more, turn right, walk straight up the side to the bealach (gap) between its two tops and then head for the westerly top (the easterly is possible if you are comfortable with scrambling/climbing and have good weather).
We awoke to a windy forecast. And I mean very windy. The sort of wind that means they start suggesting you board up your windows and hide. However we had come to climb Suilven so we did.
We walked in from the west without too much in the way of difficulty - the path is in good condition. As Suilven appeared, it did have a bit of the ‘Close Encounters’ about it - and without any obvious routes up it.
However as we passed it on the left, the bealach came into view as did a vaguely obvious path (albeit steep).
From the path we turned right and followed and increasingly less clear route through a boggy area until we reached the bottom of the ascent. Some minor stream crossings but no-one fell in - not even Cookie - so it looked like being an uneventful day.
We slogged up the slope. Whilst steep (or lung busting as one review had it), it wasn’t too bad but as we neared the gap, a strange sound was heard. It was as if someone had parked a Harrier jump jet on the top and was seeing how hard they could rev the engine. The wind was in full force and we had been protected from it by the mass of Suilven. First person up walked up on to the bealach and promptly appeared back down again as the wind simply ushered them off the top. Next attempt was slightly more crab like and eventually we all stood on a narrowish ridge holding on to each other and various rocks.
About 50 feet away was the infamous Suilven wall - a perfectly built dry stone wall built on top of a mountain and going nowhere.
We decided to take shelter from the wind there and, doing our best impression of a series of very drunk people all pursued our own methods of motion to get there without being blown off the ridge. The ‘run very fast in the hope the wind misses’ approach (didn’t work and had the real risk of simply finding yourself running in mid-air cartoon style), The ‘two feet, two poles’ approach (slow but largely effective), the ‘all fours’ approach (slower and both effective and amusing) and finally the ‘lurch, stand, lurch, crouch, lurch’ approach which most people adopted. Huddled in the shelter of the wall, a council of war was held. Given the wind chill, the fact we couldn’t stand up and the fact that the normally easy route to the top took us up the exposed side we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and decided to head back down. Pete summed it up best as ‘we got the gist of it’. Another group who appeared on the bealach as we descended took the same decision as us. After that it was simply a matter of retracing our long path back to the car. Whilst we didn’t reach the top, the scenery and remoteness was stunning. 21km, 8.5 hours.
Back at the hotel Richard and Jamie welcomed us back and we worked our way through their beer and food accompanied by the sound of the red deer bellowing outside. Now the following night was the last night of the season but due to the increasingly poor weather forecast they had decided to bring forward their last night celebration. And so we headed off down to the loch with a landrover full of beer. Some fairly amateurish wood gathering took place until Richard turned up with a proper Crocodile Dundee knife and a chain saw and proceeded to create lumber mayhem. Nothing nicer than standing round a roaring bonfire with a bottle of beer in hand in a beautifully remote corner of Scotland. Heaven.
The following day the forecast was even worse in terms of wind speed and, as the route to Ben More crossed a narrow, higher and more exposed ridge than on Suilven, we took Richard’s advice and decided to try another peak that would be slightly more sheltered - Cul Mor just a few miles to the south.
Having parked at the geological tourist centre (this is where they proved the first thrust fault as part of the Moine thrust belt - see this blog is educational as well) we headed north and then west on a stalkers path before climbing up to a plateau where we could see the bowl of Cul Mor before us. Heading up the north side turned increasingly scrambly as we hopped from boulder to boulder before popping out on another windy top which provided fine views across to Suilven.
The mist and low cloud was starting to come in at high speed so we dropped down to the col between that and a secondary top. Here, yet again, we were thrown back and forth by the wind. However as this was a large sandy plateau, it simply proved amusing rather than life threatening. We head directly down and spent some time navigating bogs until we could regain our route in and we retraced our footsteps. About 15km, 5 and half hours.
Back to the hotel for our final night, we attempted (but failed) to drink them out of beer before the end of season.
So we failed in both our objectives but this was a wonderful tour - stunning scenery, great walking, wonderful hospitality and a glorious remoteness. Assynt is a special place and is already on the list for a return visit. There is talk of doing Suilven via boat….