My mate Andy Belshaw and I always wanted to undertake a photography trip to Suilven. The forecast for Tuesday 11 and Wednesday 12 October said clear blue skies, light winds (5mph) and temperatures of 5C. My ‘suncalc app’ told me the morning sun would rise directly over Meall Meadhonach, Suilven’s secondary peak.
We set off from the car park near Glencanisp Lodge for the long walk in carrying 55lb/25kg packs of camping and photography gear. Very quickly my torn Achilles was giving me a lot of pain, but no pain, no gain. It’s a long trudge (very long) to the little stone cairn, then turned right and trudged (trudge was my favourite word on this trip) across the peat bogs and around the lochans to the foot of the Bealach Mòr.
Nothing prepares you for your first sight of the route up Suilven, if I had thought the going tough until then, as you crest the final ridge and gain sight of the start of the climb up Suilven, across Loch a’ Choire Dhuibh, it takes your breath away. “Bloomin heck” was my mate Andy’s outburst (this is the polite version).
After a break we gathered our strength and began the climb. There is a lot of loose scree and awkward bits, it’s also incredibly steep. It’s the steepest climb I’ve ever done, without actually being a rock climb. Carrying 25kg packs is awkward and we had to pay careful attention to our balance. Suffice to say, it was hellish. However, when I finally crested the ridge, the sun hit me full in the face and the view was simply breathtaking.
This is where things went a wee bit sideways. The Met Office and normally reliable MWIS forecast was wrong, the winds were not 5mph but 30 to 40 mph, later gusting to 50mph, cloud and mist rolled in during the night and temperatures dropped to freezing. We began to climb Caisteal Liath but the wind was blowing us off our feet and losing your balance on the rock climb with the weight of our packs was a bad idea, so we dropped down to the bealach and set up camp. Pitching a tent in high winds is fun in its own right.
With the tents pitched, time for photography - the views and sights were superb. After the sun set, time for coffee, rehydrated pasta and chocolate biscuits. The mist and cloud then rolled in and you couldn’t see more than 10 metres. When it did clear, we had great views of the moon and stars over Cul Mòr, Cul Beag, Sgorr Tuath and Stac Pollaidh. Time for more photography and a hip flask with some Talisker Storm malt whisky (I always take an appropriate malt on an overnight camp. As I could see Skye in the distance, then Talisker was appropriate. I take Jura for Buachaille Etive Beag as I can see the Paps of Jura from Stob Coire Raineach, etc.). Time for bed. The wind picked up during the night and it was a wee bit of a rough night.
Up at 6 o’clock for the dawn and a climb up Caisteal Liath with the photography gear for the views over Meall Meadhonach. With the mist rolling up and over the mountain and a temperature inversion down below - simply superb. Breakfast of beans and sausage, coffee and KitKat.
We began the descent at 11AM. The descent for Andy and I was worse than the ascent. If you lose your balance on the way up you fall inwards, on the way down it’s different. Whose stupid idea was it to do this. Mine. The long trudge back was a real pain, literally.
Arriving back at the car after the 4-hour trudge, Andy and I ‘pigged out’ on all sorts of ‘unhealthy options’, which mostly consisted of sweets, crisps, cakes and Red Bull. Then the 5-hour drive home. It was a great trip, one of the best. One of these days I’m going to climb a mountain not carrying a huge weight on my back – it might feel different, but where’s the joy in that?