A high camp on Suilven has been on my wish list for some time now. Kevin expressed an interest in visiting Assynt during our trip in the Cairngorms and with the imminent release of the film, Edie, bringing the Suilven high camp plan to fruition seemed like a good opportunity before Suilven’s popularity soars even more!
Kevin met me in town after work and we set off around 2pm for the long drive up to Assynt. We stopped in Aviemore for chips. I had some local inside knowledge that the chip shop in Dalfaber is better than the other two on the High Street. After sampling their fine fish and chips I would agree.
We arrived at the walker’s car park near Glencanisp Lodge just before 9pm. With quite a few cars in the car park we debated on how many people would be staying in Suileag bothy, we agreed on at least 4 inhabitants. Some last-minute pack adjustments; waterproofs were left behind; high pressure was firmly in charge this time! We set off enjoying the evening sunshine on our backs, Canisp and Suilven were lit up red with the fading sunlight. We cracked open a can of beer each, listening to the local bird population as we walked passed Loch Druim Suardalain and the Lodge.
It took just over an hour to arrive at Suileag. I walked in and spotted one sleeping bag in the main room. I entered the left-hand room and woke up one inhabitant, Gemma. She looked a bit surprised to see late arrivals. The other occupant arrived, Dave. Kev and I carried in some fire logs, so we lit a fire, it wasn’t exactly cold, but a bothy fire makes a fine focal point as we put the world to rights on various subjects.
We dosed off with the last of the fire still burning away, there is something quite therapeutic about falling asleep to the sound and glow from a fire. A good night’s sleep was had despite the wind outside.
We awoke at around 8am, we got our gear together and prepared breakfast before saying our goodbyes. We set off for 9am and continued our journey east along the track, ignoring the path for Suilven for now, we crossed two bridges, the last bridge being the outflow from Loch na Gainimh. Another couple hundred metres or so and we branched off the main track and headed up towards Canisp. As the track petered out we decided to remove our camping gear from our packs to make the ascent of Canisp easier. We stashed our gear behind a rock and continued. A faint path leads up towards the small lochan at the bottom of Canisp’s west ridge.
The distinct call of Golden Plovers could be heard, we were in their territory, so we hastily collected some water for the ascent and continued up the ridge. Canisp isn’t the most celebrated hill in Assynt, however to add more interest the approach from the west is recommended. The lower slopes are littered with sandstone rock, but the summit itself is covered in quartzite rock with a summit that drops away abruptly to the west. The vista from the summit is fine, with Suilven dominating. The summit is rocky, but I spotted pitching opportunities just a few metres to the east below the top.
There is a fine summit shelter that we took cover in and prepared some mackerel and Primula cheese wraps. With the fresh easterly winds, we retreated off the summit after lunch and retraced our steps off Canisp.
Shortly after, we retrieved the rest of our gear and dropped down to the track back west for a short distance to pick up the Suilven path. The John Muir Trust secured funding last year to improve the path. Lots of materials have been dropped in by helicopter and the path so far is excellent, removing any ‘boggy approach stigma’ that Suilven once had.
It didn’t take long to reach the two lochs, Loch na Barrack and Loch a’Choire Dhuibh. Here was our last opportunity to collect water for camp. I collected two and half litres, which in hindsight was probably a bit much, particularly when there was a trickle of water flowing down by the path up.
The 350m ascent to Bealach Mor is a steep one, but there is no difficulty and path repairs include this section too. Sheltered from the wind and with the sun at its strongest, it made for a hot, sweaty climb, we met walkers coming down and others going up with camping packs too.
I knew exactly where I wanted to camp before even setting off for this trip, around 60 metres below the summit lies a flat grassy pitch with a tiny lochan. It offers the best vantage point for that famous view of the east top Meall Meadhonach, also known as the Sugar loaf mountain. The pitch is also very photogenic if you ascend slightly higher for your photo, making it one of the most impressive wild camp pitches
I reached the exact spot and dumped my pack on the ground. Kevin arrived shortly after and thankfully he was just as keen to pitch here too. We set up camp then wandered up to the summit. We met Dave and Rob who passed us earlier, they had pitched a bit further west off the summit. Their pitch wasn’t any more sheltered from the wind than ours but would be bathed in sunlight until the sun dipped below the horizon.
We chatted for a bit, but hunger got the better of me. I dropped back down and got my Bla Band tomato and garlic pasta on the go followed by some rice pudding. Kevin had his usual strange but filling concoction of cous-cous, pasta, chocolate and other stuff. Okay maybe not the chocolate.
After dinner we popped back up to the summit and for a blether with the lads again. Rob was rustling up a steak. I mean a proper steak from a local butcher with sausages, mushrooms and peppercorn sauce. I had food envy and was beginning to question my lightweight pack ethos. To rub salt in the wound we met two girls who came up for an evening ascent and were returning to their motorhome for… you guessed it, steak! Fair play girls, but you won’t get the stunning sunset in your motorhome. 😉
As the sun slunk towards the ocean I made off for the east top. I reckoned the summit silhouetted against the backdrop of the sunset would be more dramatic. On the way down a further three tents had appeared, pitched just above the bealach. I chatted briefly with one of the lads, but no sign of his friends.
I went about half way up the east top just before the scrambling begins and watched the sunset. It did not disappoint. Afterwards I returned to the Trailstar where I spotted another tent that had been pitched, taking the tally to 8 tents. I took a few more photos and retired for the night. Earlier Kevin and I spoke about bailing off and heading back to the bothy as the wind was becoming a bit unbearable. We decided against as we’d miss the sunrise.
The gusts were probably reaching 30mph at times, one side of the Trailstar was getting battered with the silnylon touching the side of my body. I couldn’t lie on my back as I’d get the side of the Trailstar in my face! It was a restless night, getting very little sleep. Not sure why I didn’t sleep on the other side of the Trailstar that wasn’t being buffeted by the wind. I was aware that the sun was beginning to rise as the entrance was facing the correct direction. I managed to briefly get some sleep when Kevin shouted “you’re missing the sunrise”!
Both of us sleep deprived and hungry and with the wind showing no signs of abating, we hastily broke camp and headed back down to the bothy. We reached the bothy and met Dave outside (the chap we met on Friday night), Gemma popped out for a chat too, mentioning that she thought she might have seen us before now due to the wind. We rustled up breakfast and a cuppa on the bench outside the bothy and blethered away. Conscious of the long drive home to Edinburgh we said goodbye and walked back to Glencanisp. We stopped in Ullapool for a cooked breakfast at the Frigate café. Great food, but the manager had a shockingly bad attitude with customers and her staff! It was a nice drive home in the sunshine. I picked up a hitchhiker and all the usual walker’s car parks were full, probably lots of people enjoying the bank holiday sunshine.