Total distance 25km | Total ascent 1000m | Scramble rating Grade 2 | Go there when there’s no wind to knock your balance, no rain to spoil your grip, and no cloud to hide the views
An admission before we go any further: the actual scrambling only forms a fraction of the journey on this particular mountain. In fact, it’s possible to come away from it with the mountain’s summit in the bag having undertaken no scrambling whatsoever. But this isn’t any old mountain, this is Suilven. When you’re on a peak that’s as revered as this and, more practically, have travelled as far and long as it takes to reach it, both you and the mountain deserve to spend a little more time together.
Standing on the 731m top of Caisteal Liath – Suilven’s western peak and true summit – the view is incredible. The cnoch and lochan landscape that surrounds it is remarkable; the other Assynt hills sit in perfect formation as if expertly placed by some fastidious curator of this geological exhibition. And to the east, so close you could almost touch it, is another peak that adds drama and focus to this exquisite panorama. This is Meall Meadhonach, Suilven’s lower, but far more rugged, eastern peak. And you can touch it. It’ll take concentration, determination, and more than a little bit of courage, but it’s within reach. Here’s how…
The first objective is the saddle between Suilven’s two peaks, Bealach Mòr. Depending where you start, you’ve got a walk of around 10-13km. If you can get one of the few parking spots near Glencanisp Lodge, the walk to the north side of Suilven is the shortest with least ascent. If there are no spaces, the trek from Lochinver adds a couple of km of tarmac bashing. Alternatively, the path from Inverkirkaig (where there is a decent sized car park) to Suilven’s south side gives you the opportunity to take in the Falls of Kirkaig en route. Whichever side you end up on, the final pull up to the bealach is a workout for the thighs.
From the saddle, head west and follow the obvious path through a gap in a wall and up a few easy rock steps to the cairn marking the summit of Caisteal Liath. With the highest point of Suilven bagged, return to the bealach to take on its second and more thrilling summit.
Head east towards the unmissable (unless it’s really clagged in) rise of Meall Meadhonach. After leaving the bealach the ridge puts several rises and notches in your way before you begin the ascent proper. After the first notch a steep wall presents an optional obstacle. It’s scramble-able at around Grade 2, but can be bypassed if you want to save your energy and nerve. After this rise, the ridge drops on rock steps (which is a down-scramble of Grade 1 in its own right) to the second deeper and darker notch below the climb to Meall Meadhonach’s summit. It’s not a bad idea to drop your pack at this point for easier movement beyond.
Directly ahead is a steep blocky wall that looks just about climbable. It is, but at Grade 3, and very exposed. Instead, take the track that turns towards the southern side of Meall Meadhonach – note that the exposure suddenly ramps up considerably from here.
Now it’s time to get stuck into the rock! Bear in mind that anything you do now will need to be reversed on the way down. Climb up to a large detached block on the right, before moving left along a terrace towards the skyline to scramble up more steps to a large ledge below the final wall blocking the way to the summit.
The exposure is dialled up to the max now. Clamber onto the top of a balanced block tower (don’t think of Jenga), move carefully right along an airy ledge, then head directly up – pulling yourself over the rock on your belly if required – to reach the flat, grassy, cairn-marked top of Meall Meadhonach.
Take a breather, enjoy the views, and gird your loins for reversing the route. It’s arguably harder in descent, the initial climb down from the summit being the trickiest manoeuvre, so don’t lose your concentration now. Once you’re back in the notch below with your packs back on you can start to relax a little – although there’s still that big walk-out to complete. Unless you’re staying at Suileag bothy, of course. Now there’s an idea…