Munros in Assynt and the Far North, 29-30 August 2020

A blog post from one of our mountain adventures in the Scottish hills and mountains. Up in the far north of Scotland bagging Ben More Assynt, Conival, Ben Hope and Ben Klibreck. John King was leading.

Munros in Assynt and the Far North

Day 1 - Ben Klibreck and Ben Hope

The vast landscape of northwest Sutherland is defined by well-spaced, individual mountains rising straight from the moors, all with their own unique character. Amongst these peaks there are only four Munros, outliers separated by many open miles from the big ranges of peaks further south. Our plan for the weekend was to try and visit these hills, starting on Saturday with Ben Klibreck and Ben Hope, both of which conform to the norms of the area. Ben Klibreck in particular stands all by itself, a big pyramid surrounded by the blanket bog of the Flow Country. As such it is a fantastic viewpoint.

We met on Saturday morning at the small bridge over the River Vagastie, a few kilometres north of the Crask Inn. The weather wasn't looking too promising. It was an unseasonably cool 6C, a biting northerly breeze was carrying a fine drizzle and the cloud was down below 500m. We set off well wrapped up and climbed the flanks of the outlying top Cnoc Sgriodain. Even before reaching the summit of this 540m hill we had stopped to pull on full waterproofs and just as well we did as we were soon bearing the brunt of a heavy shower of icy rain. However, as we reached the bealach before joining the ridge proper, there was a sudden opening in the cloud through which Ben Hope and Ben Loyal could be seen basking in the sunshine away to the north. Literally within two minutes, the cloud and rain was a distant memory, we were enjoying superb views and could see our target summit ahead!

As we ascended the ridge towards the summit the weather continued to improve and at the bealach on the ridge before A' Chioch we were able to take a break in a nice sheltered spot from where we could enjoy views over the moors of central Sutherland all the way to the peaks of Assynt. Continuing our climb we made short work of the final summit cone, reaching the top exactly 3 hours from the cars. Unfortunately, as we climbed the cloud came back in, and it was looking like the summit view would prove elusive. However, as we ate a snack on the summit, the cloud began to clear. Initially we could only see as far as the ruins of the ‘Colby Camp' about 50m below the summit. Then Loch Naver appeared, then Ben Loyal. By the time we were on our descent, the sun had made an appearance once more!

It was a nice steady descent and although Ben Klibreck is notoriously boggy, the going was relatively good on the day. We were back at the cars around 2.15pm, 5¾ hours after setting off. Now was decision time. To go to Ben Hope or not? With some of the group having either done the hill before or having big drives ahead, in the end it was only myself and Anne-Marie that made the drive north to Altnaharra then off down the adventurous wee road that leads into lonely Strath More.

After a late lunch in the car park we started walking around 3.15pm and climbed steadily uphill. It was now much warmer than in the morning and we were soon down to t-shirts for the steady pull to the summit. It was a busy place and we were passed by a fairly continuous stream of people on their descent. As we climbed the views got better and better all around, and an advantage of our late start was that we got the top to ourselves! From the summit the visibility was incredible. Orkney could be easily seen to the northeast, with the white dome of the reactor at Dounreay clearly visible. The Fannichs could be seen in the south and even the remote islands of North Rona and Sula Sgeir were visible away to the northwest. A golden eagle gliding past over Coir a' Ghallaich completed the scene. We sat for a while and drank in the amazing scenery until the cold northerly breeze and thoughts of well-earned dinner prompted us to move downhill.

The descent off the hill was a joy with all the peaks of the north arrayed ahead of us and a fine low light cast across the landscape which gave a more autumnal than summer feel. We were back at the cars at 7.30pm, making for an exactly 11 hour day. Unfortunately by the time we'd reached the car park, the breeze had all but vanished and the midges reminded us that it was still very much summer. It was a speedy change of boots and then an escape back up Strath More to head on toward Assynt.

Day 2 - Convial and Ben More Assynt

Prior to the weekend Sunday looked like the better of the two days weather-wise, but once again things weren't looking too promising from the car park with the hills shrouded in mist. It was much warmer than the day before though and it was hot work as we made our way up the scenic Gleann Dubh then on uphill towards Conival. We moved along efficiently as a lack of breeze meant that the midges were ready to pounce on us at any stop! Soon we were on the steady climb towards Conival. It is rough going low down, but as height is gained the ground becomes rockier and by the time the ridge of the hill is reached, the going underfoot is much better.

We took a break at the bealach where the ridge is joined, enjoying picking up our first breeze of the day to keep the midges away. From here we ascended into the mist and by the time we were on the final summit ridge a keen northerly wind was blowing across our path carrying a steady drizzle that had us pulling on full waterproofs once again. With the conditions on the top best described as minging we didn't hang around and almost immediately set off eastwards for Ben More Assynt.

Initially, a bit of care was required descending over some wet quartzite blocks but soon we were established on easier walking along the ridge. Just above the low point of the ridge, we started to get a hint of a view of some remote lochans far below us. Then, within a matter of a few moments, we had a repeat of the day before and cloud just blew off the ridge. Reaching the summit of Ben More one hour after leaving Conival we were able to sit and enjoy views looking down into the remote Glen Cassley and across Loch Shin while we ate our lunch.

The Southeast Ridge of Ben More Assynt is a real hidden gem, but after yesterday's exertions we decided it was best to leave it for another day and head back to Inchnadamph by the route we had come. Returning along the ridge we passed quite a big group going the other way, but otherwise it felt relatively quiet on the hills. The weather continued to improve and we enjoyed a nice break once we were back on the summit of Conival – such a contrast to when we were there in the morning – with stunning views over the neighbouring Corbett of Breabag and out over Loch Assynt to the iconic peaks of Suilven, Stac Pollaidh and Quinag.

As with Ben Hope on Saturday evening, the descent was a joy with warm sunshine and fine views, especially of Na Tuadhan with it's impressive cliffs showing off some of the folding of the strata that went on in deep history in this turbulent geological area of the Moine Thrust Zone. Back down in Gleann Dubh a nice breeze had picked up saving us from the midges we had experienced in the morning and we were able to stop and admire some of the flora abundant in the valley including a few gentians right beside the path. We were back at Inchnadamph around 5pm, making for a good 8½ hour day on the hills and satisfied after a good weekend of Munros in the Far North. Thanks to all in the group for a really enjoyable couple of days in the hills and for persevering through some less than ideal conditions to enjoy some great weather on the tops!

More photos by John King are here on Flickr.

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