It was a very early start thismorning to get ready to leave by 6:30 so Scott could drop me off and get home in time for work. He did get back in time, but only just . . . not helped by me feeling car sick on the way there and the fact that I had glossed over the fact that I wanted to go to Inverkirkaig, rather than Lochinver . . . . not realising that the extra 5km to Inverkirkaig would take so long due to the incredibly narrow, incredibly windy, incredibly hilly road!
I set off along the track to the Falls of Kirkaig just before 8am. It was a lovely walk along the rushing River Kirkaig, through pretty forest, only marred by the fact that the midges were out and about. A little way along the track I passed a fisherman coming back the other way. I was quite surprised – it was still very early in the morning and he’d already been out, done his fishing and was coming home.
The walk to the falls was very nice. It was a good track, only a little bit muddy in sections, and the forest opened up into heather and bracken moors, getting rid of the midges and giving good views of the river and countryside.The ground was quite rocky, typical gneiss countryside, with the river cutting a very steep valley through it. I also had some good views of Stac Pollaidh, and my first glimpses of Suilven.
The final bit of path down to the falls was very steep (as the guide book I’d picked up in Inverness said) but not too difficult. I stopped on a ledge a couple of metres above the base of the falls and was very surprised to see a fishing rod poking over the top! I thought it must’ve washed down the river during a flood and somehow got stuck here. Then I heard voices! I very quietly peered over the edge and saw two guys there, eating sandwiches! I didn’t want to interrupt them so crept back away from the edge, took some photos then quietly climbed back up the path away from the falls.
I continued along the path which goes to the southern side of Suilven. It got progressively more boggy as it went along. I went almost to the neck on Fionn Loch, despite my guidebook suggesting I cut across the top. I think that would’ve been better, but it was nice to see a bit more of the loch and this let me check out the start of the River Kirkaig, where I’d considered trying to cross. It probably wouldn’t have been a good idea!
Walking along the northern side of the loch, the path just got worse. There were whole sections that were completely impassable that I had to detour around. This is also where I sunk (see here). New lesson in bogs: black mud with gravel on top is NOT sound.
I could see Suilven quite clearly at this point. It looked huge and unassailable, but I thought I could just see a path up.
I wanted to walk a bit further up Fionn Loch to the end where I’d planned to cross the Uidh Fhearna (coming from Stac Pollaidh) to see if it would’ve been possible. It was about 1km further, difficult walking with an almost non-existent path (I couldn’t see it anyway). Plus, it was almost midday, I still had a long way to go and I was getting a bit tired already. (I had also decided by this point that starting a long walk after a late night and lots of beers is NOT a great idea!)
So, I turned north and started up what might’ve been a track to the base of Suilven. It was quite an overcast day – great for walking, but not so good for hill climbing. The top of Suilven was only just free of cloud at this point. Up I went, stopping before the really steep bit for a rest and half of my lunch.
From here there was no path. Or 10 paths, depending on which way you look at it. It was basically a scree slope with a number of stream run-offs that you could clamber up, but it was all very loose and slippery. Suilven (like most hills in this area) is sandstone so is being eroded quite rapidly into loose dirt. In a few (hundred) years it will probably lose its lovely smooth rounded top and look a lot like Stac Pollaidh.
Eventually I reached the col and walked up to the wall that very strangely straddles the top of the ridge. I propped my pack up against the wall and headed up to the summit without it. I didn’t take a photo of the wall, but I’ve found a couple from other people (they don’t count as part of my picture allowance!). I also didn’t take my GPS logger out of my pack, so it only shows my track going to the wall. Clearly I wasn’t thinking very well at this point!
Another sign that I wasn’t thinking too clearly was that I headed off to the summit with only my camera. No food, water, jacket, map or compass! The wind had picked up (being so high) and the cloud was now all over the summit and all the way down to the col. Even though there would be no views I had decided to go to the summit anyway. It seemed stupid to ‘almost go to the top of the hill’!
There were some very narrow bits along the walk to the summit. It was a bit windy, but not too bad in most parts, and visibility was OK (in the immediate vicinity – it was completely white beyond that). The summit was a long way off, with 3 or 4 minor ups and downs on the way. I was getting a bit worried about not bringing anything with me! In the end it was all OK . . . I just couldn’t stop too long or I’d get cold!
Coming back towards the wall I heard voices and came across a young American couple who’d come up from the north side and were going back down the south side. They looked like they did this sort of thing a lot. They were staying in Lochinver (I think) and said that on previous days they had actually been able to see people on top of Suilven from there (as tiny moving dots). Obviously they were a bit disappointed in the cloud cover today! I warned them about the scree, and the bog at the bottom, and they said the north side was much the same. I felt pretty sorry for them after descending because if they thought the north side was bad, they were in for a rude awakening on the southern trip! The descent of the north side was actually not too bad, but still pretty tough just because it was long. The tracks at the bottom were also quite good. Still a bit boggy but nothing like what I’d already been through.
I saw another lady (European) heading up towards the hill and had a quick chat to her. She may’ve been lucky because when I looked back about half an hour later the cloud had cleared from the summit. I was back onto proper tracks now, roads even for the first part, along a series of lochs.
It was all pretty good walking except where I lost the track at the end of Loch na Gainimh and ended up cross country through some boggy grass and heather for a while.
My navigation was all good (with lots of checking to make sure I was going the right way). The river crossing at the start of Lochan Fada was a long series of small stepping stones which I managed with dry feet. I also filled my water bottles here. I didn’t bother filtering it – clearly hadn’t learnt my lesson from my previous walks!
I had a short section of cross country navigation to finish the day and did a really good job of it. The track I was on continued south to near Elphin, whereas I wanted to go east to the top of little Loch Awe (I say little because there is a much bigger Loch Awe elsewhere in Scotland). I had chosen to come a little way south then cut between the two Cnoc an Leathaid hills (Bhuide and Bhig). This kept me on a track as long as possible and offered very easy navigation (easy to aim for the saddle between two peaks then follow a fence line up to Loch Awe). I was very happy with both my route selection and my navigation on this section. That said, navigation in Scotland is quite easy in this countryside and clear weather. You can see everything, for quite a distance and hills/lochs are often quite distinctive. It’s a big change from trying to navigate in dense forest on rolling hills in Western Australia!
I was also very impressed with my bog traverse here. The Cnoc an Leathaids were quite boggy (not just wet and squelchy but the big black hole type boggy) and I picked my way around them reasonably efficiently and effectively. That’s my opinion as a novice outsider anyway!!
The slope down to Loch Awe was a bit tough – covered in thick, long grass. I had picked this route to utilise the footbridges across the rivers (Allt Mhic Mhurchaidh Gheir and River Loanan). Sadly the first footbridge had been washed aside! I tried to cross on some rocks, which went quite well until the biggest, stable-est looking rock tipped, dumping that foot in the water! At least I didn’t have too far to go with a wet foot.
The second bridge was fine.
I walked up to the road, to a Parking place, and decided to camp near here so I could tackle the 2.5km of roadwalk to the start of the next walk in the morning when there would be less traffic. I was also a bit tired so didn’t want to be wandering along the road trying to find a campsite. I went down a path to a ford across the River Loanan and found a good enough spot to camp nearby. It was reasonably close to the road (and in sight) but was down a hill so not too obvious. The ground was lumpy and tussocky so not great for pegs, or the tent floor. I found when I was setting up that I’d lost one of my carbon stakes, either here, or probably at my last pitch, before Stac Pollaidh. Not a problem as I had spares, but a bit disappointing still as I’d managed to not lose anything so far.
I also discovered at this point that I’d been particularly lazy (or scatterbrained) when I got to Durness after bailing out of my walk. I had just dumped all my gear in the corner of the room so everything was still wet! I should’ve unpacked and dried everything. Silly, bad me.
As it was, I pitched the inner and lay the fly out on the ground to give them a chance to dry, then mixed my dinner and rinsed off my gaiters, pants and shoes (still filthy from the bog incident thismorning). I finished pitching the tent (definitely tail into the wind this time in case the weather turned again!), hung my gear out to dry and retired into my tent.
My dinner (pasta this time) had rehydrated properly (45 minutes, with cold water but in my pocket to warm it a little) and was surprisingly good. I settled in and read my book for a while – I had brought my Rock Trails book on this one since it was a shorter walk so less weight critical, and felt a bit like a tourist!
All in all, today had been a good day. I was reasonably happy and very much enjoying being in my tent again. Hopefully the clouds would lift tomorrow as Breabag was apparently a very featureless summit and difficult to navigate with cloud cover. Also, obviously the views are much better without clouds too!
And, I’ve exceeded my photo allowance for today, but I don’t care! I cut out everything I could but these all seemed essential to tell you the story.