A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !

Assynt & Coigach

19-21 August 2016
Three days hiking up some classic peaks in the far north-west of Scotland. John was leading...

photo 2 A temporary closure of the A82 meant that two folks struggled to make the first morning meeting time for this trip, and indeed, one person didn't make it all, and had to miss the day. A shame, as although blustery, it was a fine day for doing an anti-clockwise traverse of Cul Mor and Cul Beag from Knockan Crag.

Myself and a group of five set out around 9am, and make quick progress up the excellent stalker's path towards Meallan Diomhain. There was plenty of time en route to take copious pictures of the photogenic Suilven as it rose over the horizon, backed by Quinag, and we even interrogated an App on Declan's phone to identify a bird we saw, which we think was a grey plover.

photo 2 The ascent is on a good path until it hits the boulders 100m short of the top, and we were a little disappointed after the good views on the climb to have no visibility, as a cloud hovered over the summit. As we descended, it cleared. Typical! We even took in Creag nan Calman, cooing over the views of Stac Pollaidh and the Summer Isles. The descent is not on a path at all however, and picks its way through sandstone crags and down steep heathery ground to reach Lochan Dearg a'Chuil Mhoir, a high lochan with a surprising beach. It then drops again most dishearteningly, down to 110m, before presenting the daunting direct heather-bashing ascent of the East flank of the North ridge of Cul Beag.

It wasn't as steep as it looked, but it certainly was as testing. As Sally said as we toiled upwards, you have got to respect those deer traipsing up and down this all day! Eventually we got to the shoulder at 550m, where we met a couple who had come up the more used path from road to the NW. They incredulously surveyed our ascent route once we departed, much to our satisfaction. It was then just a plod up the feint path to the summit of Cul Beag and more excellent, if hazy, views.

photo 2 The descent off Cul Beag has no redeeming features I am afraid, and I will just do it the honour of saying that we got down safely and in good spirits.

Saturday had a reasonable forecast, but in reality it was a perfect hill day for doing the wonderful Suilven - Sunshine all day, a lessening Easterly wind to keep the midges off, and views to die for. The long tramp in and out of Glen Canisp is a killer whatever the weather though, and this was no exception, though it must be said the normally boggy section to the foot of the climb proper was exceptionally dry. The group did excellently, and all made the main summit for a lunch stop that is simply unrivalled when you have the views we had.

photo 2 Two of the group decided they had had enough excitement, and joined another group basking in the sun at the bealach whilst the rest of us continued for the exciting scramble onto Meall Meadhonach. This is exposed if fairly straightforward scrambling, with one quite challenging move to make the summit plateau, (which is surprisingly large and spacious), and the guys dispatched it with aplomb. After some photos, it was down steadily to rejoin the rest of the group exactly when we said we would, and then for the descent on tired legs.

photo 2 An absolute treat was the new Assynt Foundation Honesty Shop at Glen Canisp lodge, where we filled our water bottles, and bought lollies, cold drinks and choccy bars. Most welcome after the hot tramp. Even the drive back was special, with the kind of hill and sea type views that this part of Scotland does so well. A grand day out.

Our final day was to be Quinag, but after reviewing some tired legs, it was decided that a nice relaxed ascent of Stac Pollaidh would better fit the bill, so we met bright and early for the drive around Ardmair to the car park. The alarm bells started to ring as we surveyed the leaden skies, and more importantly, the dead calm lochs. No wind. At all. No sun. Oh dear.

When we arrived at the small car park, normally very busy, we were the only ones, and the reason became immediately apparent. The midges were simply horrendous. After flapping and waving our way through putting on boots etc, we headed sweatily up through the bushes and black swarm towards what we hoped would be salvation higher up. But no, they just kept coming. True, if you all but trotted, you could almost outrun them, but they were so thick, you were choking on them and gagging, and they were getting in your eyes. The Smidge was doing its job, so despite being caked in a midge paste, we were suffering few bites comparatively, but the eyes, nostrils and throat were faring less well.

photo 2 Once we got to the shoulder and it became apparent that it wasn't going to change, a rapid group decision was made for a tactical retreat. They had beaten us. Hail, gales and tempest, bring 'em on. Midges out in force? We'll high-tail it for the valley and safe cafe! Sometimes, you just have to admit it's too unpleasant.

As one of the group said on the drive back to Ullapool (with the windows down to blast the wee varmints away), 'it's been a weekend to remember'. It certainly had. Challenging off-piste effort on the Culs on day one. Utterly breathtaking Assynt views on day two, and finally the scourge of the Highlands on day three. A great time in good company.

More photos are here on Flickr.

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