A beautiful day above Inchnadamph – [# 255 – 256]

Conival (987m) & Ben More Assynt (998m) 

  • Pronunciation:             Kon-eye-val; Ben More Assynt
  • Translation:                  Shoulder of the Big Hill; Big Hill of Assynt
  • Total distance:             18.8km
  • Total time:                    7hrs 09mins
  • Total ascent:                 1299m
  • Weather:                       Bright to begin with, then turning sunny and warm in the afternoon.
  • Start / end location:    Car park by the Inchnadamph Hotel on the A837. [OS Map Sheet 15 – Grid Ref: NC 252 216]
  • Map:                                A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

Conival in the afternoon sunlight from Gleann Dubh

After our ascent of Seana Bhraigh yesterday we travelled a bit further west last night to camp near Loch Assynt – just east of Lochinver (the northwest coastal fishing village) – ready for our assault today on Conival and Ben More Assynt. From our overnight camping spot we watched as an air-sea rescue helicopter buzzed about the misty summit of Quinag, a spectacular looking mountain to the NW of us – but not quite a Munro at 764m.

This morning was quite bright as we parked the car near the Inchnadamph Hotel at the SE end of Loch Assynt to begin our climb.

The amphitheatre of quartzite rock to the west of Conival

View west from Conival to Loch Assynt and Quinag (background R)

This area, called Assynt, has been recognised as the North West Highland Geopark (part of a prestigious European Geopark Network). It is also part of a global network of territories defined by their outstanding geological features, forward thinking local communities and unique natural and cultural heritage. With the exception of the two hills we climbed today, all of the other truly outstanding mountains locally have summits below the 3000ft (914.4m), the cut-off required to qualify them as Munros. However, these hills, along with the likes of The Cobbler near Loch Lomond, highlight the arbitrariness of the 3000ft threshold, especially when one compares the impact that these mountains have on their surrounding landscape. The many iconic peaks in Assynt that fall below the magic 3000ft line include the exquisitely picture-postcard hills of Suilven (731m), Canisp (846m), Stac Pollaidh (613m), Cul Mor (849m) and Ben Mor Coigach (743m). Each one of these mountains stands uprightly proud, like great rock monoliths rising vertically from their flat, watery landscape surroundings.

Unfortunately, our schedule does not afford us the time to tackle all of these beauties, but instead, today, we left the car park of the Inchnadamph Hotel and headed eastwards through Gleann Dubh bound for the region’s two Munros.

Elaine approaching the summit of Conival

The tiny hamlet of Inchnadamph and the self-named hotel are worth mentioning, as they are a Mecca for geologists (and also fishermen). The area is associated, perhaps more than any other, with the early development of the science of geology. In 1912, it played host to an excursion by the British Association for the Advancement of Science – included in the party were eminent geologists from Austria, Norway, Switzerland and Russia. The expedition was lead by the formidable pairing of Ben Peach and John Horne, recognised as leading lights in mountain mapping and geological fieldwork. A monument to Peach and Horne lies near Inchnadamph by Loch Assynt.

Ben More Assynt from the summit of Conival

We followed a rough access road from near the hotel to Glenbain (a small holiday cottage) before the track gave way to a well-constructed walkers’ path. The view ESE to Conival was fantastic – with its steep SW face grass-covered to about two-thirds height which was then topped with a glistening cap of shattered quartzite. Just under a kilometre further on the path divided in two with the right hand path leading to the famous Inchnadamph caves. The left hand fork, which we took, progressed up the north side of the River Traligill and kept following the river’s course as it arced to the NE climbing steeply into a small corrie. We were joined along this section by a dipper and a grey wagtail – both flitting between stones protruding from the fast flowing water.

The sweeping SE crag on Beinn an Fhurain from Ben More Assynt

Although a formidable amphitheatre of light grey-coloured crags wrapped itself around the corrie’s rim, as we got closer the path we were on made a straightforward breach of the crags. From the rim of the corrie we crossed a short shallow-angled slope before then climbing more steeply as we aimed to intersect the north ridge of Conival at its lowest point – at a col before the ridge ascended again to Beinn an Fhurain. Once on the ridge we turned south and climbed steeply up the boulder-covered slope to reach a fairly narrow crest with a couple of minor undulations in it. Immediately to the north of this crest, about 150m lower down, a flattish plateau of short grass sat amongst a sea of quartzite boulders. A small herd of deer (hinds) grazed quite contentedly in this little knoll as we walked along the crest-line above them.

We soon arrived at the summit of Conival, complete with a rocky cairn at 987m or 3,238ft. The views were simply stunning. To the north lay the precipitous corrie of Coire a’ Mhadaidh with the SE face of Beinn an Fhurain dominating the scene. To the NE the Munro peaks of Ben Hope and Ben Klibreck were clearly visible on the horizon, whilst to the west and SW the iconic hills of Assynt stood out – all except Suilven, which only just scrapped an appearance from over the shoulder of Canisp.

Our second Munro of the day, Ben More Assynt, lay only just over a kilometre away to our east and the route was very easy via a rocky connecting ridge. In no time at all we had made the crossing and arrived at the cairn at 998m or 3,274ft. From here the view to Beinn an Fhurain was even more spectacular with the craggy, curving eastern prow looking almost like “Half-dome” [famous mountain] in the Yosemite National Park.

WNW from the summit of Ben More Assynt to Beinn an Fhurain (foreground) and Quinag (background)

We returned via our outward route and so first crossed back to the summit of Conival before following the ridge north and dropping to the corrie amphitheatre below Beinn an Fhurain. Here we spotted a couple sitting having a bite to eat in the corrie below us. They were the only other people that we saw all day. As we approached we realised it was the same couple that we’d met a couple of days ago on Ben Hope. We commented to one another about how quiet the hills had been all summer – and that we could almost have been forgiven for thinking it was just the four of us “out and about”. We said our goodbyes as we continued our descent and the other couple with their ascent.

Cameron at the summit of Ben More Assynt with Breabag in the background

Towards the bottom end of Gleann Dubh we diverted off our path to view some of the Inchnadamph caves situated beside the river. The one that we investigated basically swallowed up the river, which then reappeared after 600m of subterranean travel further down the glen. Some of the other caves marked on the map, a little higher up than the river, have had their floors excavated and artefacts have been revealed dating to life around the time of the last ice-age. These artefacts survived the ravages of the shifting glacial ice as they were protected within the cave.

A short walk from the caves brought us to the holiday cottage of Glenbain and the track back to the car park beside the Inchnadamph Hotel. We really wanted to get some refreshments at the hotel and to see some of the geological and historical memorabilia housed there, but sadly it was closed for a few days – with no explanation why. May be next time.

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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