Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Sutherland Adventure Part 3: All roads lead to Quinag

When I began this adventure, I had originally planned to follow the rough route of Cameron McNeish's Sutherland Trail, traveling on foot and carrying all my gear. This plan was quickly ditched at Tongue when my bus failed to arrive, for an easier and lazier one that began in Lochinver, and gently working my way north by car.  Driving south from Tongue to my start point of Lochinver took me through some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen.  New to the country, I hadn't a clue what I was looking at, but one view made me screech to a halt in admiration.  My picture above doesn't do it justice, And I could only cram two of the three summits into my viewfinder, but it is the only one I have from the northern perspective.

Later on the trip, I was to see this mini mountain range from more angles, and each time it would intrigue me further. It seemed to change its nature depending on where I was. The view on the left is from the hills behind Suileag Bothy, and the mountain forms a long undulating ridge on the skyline. 

From Inchnadamph, Quinag (meaning milk pail) towers over Loch Assynt (right), and the horn like peak of Spidean Coinich makes the mountain seem a different shape again.

But it is from close up that this mountain really gets interesting.  And even though I had never heard of it before I came to Sutherland, it turned out to be one of the best days out I have ever had.

I began my approach from a carpark at the top of the hill between Loch Assynt and Kylesku. From here it was an easy walk up the shoulder of Spidean Coineach (Mossy Peak, 764m). This is the first of three summits, and many minor tops, that form the mini mountain range of Quinag.  As I climbed,  the bog soon gave way to gorgeous slabs of  Torridonian Sandstone and little blue lochans.

From the summit of Spidean Coineach there were stunning views south to Suilven. I disturbed a ring ouzel from the rocks near the summit, which was an exciting first for me- in all my years of walking the hills I have never seen one of these special upland birds.

From this first summit, it was a rollercoaster ride along a series of humps, bumps and switchbacks along the main spine of the ridge to reach my second objective of the day, Sail Ghorm (Blue Heel, 776m) which lay at the other end of the ridge.

Looking back along the ridge Spidean Coinich was showing its dramatic side!

Looking back along the ridge from Sail Ghorm towards Spidean Coineach:

The ridge itself is shaped like a giant capital E, with the two smaller summits along the spine of the letter, but the main summit of Sail Garbh (Rough Heel 808m) forming a great whaleback along the central ridge and jutting out between two dramatic corries. The picture below shows the Corrie between Sail Garbh and Spidean Coinich.

After reaching the summit of Sail Ghorm, I returned back along the ridge to the centre of the "E", to go to the final summit, Sail Garbh. I have just noticed that Suilven is in the background to this picture taken from the summit... That mountain gets everywhere!

From here it was possibe to retrace my steps a short way and then descend in to the corrie below Spidean Coineach and walk out on a good stalkers path to the carpark.

Before I got to the car however, I stopped to relax by the lochan below the bealach for a while.  It was a warm day and I was soon fast asleep on the flat top of a rough sandstone boulder. I woke up to find that the wind had dropped and the midges feasting.  I'm still paying for this decadence in midge bites!
This pretty much rounds up what was a fantastic trip.  I had never been to Sutherland before, but I'm sure that this the start of a long love affair with a landscape that is full of wonders.

No comments: