Conival - 987m
Ben More Assynt - 998m

Sunday 9th August 2009

Weather/Conditions: Cloud down to approx. 700m with colder conditions higher up. The cloud lifted towards the end of the walk.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 15.3km / 1150m / 8h 30m
Accompanying: Michael C., Martin (MunroMagic.com forum)


Ben More Assynt and Conival were the mountains climbed on my third walk with Michael and Martin during our trip to the Northern Highlands. On the night of the 8th, the three of us left Inchnadamph with camping gear to spend the night in the valley beneath Conival. We left the car park, passing a Mountain Rescue Post where we realised that we weren't on the right side of the river. Passing through a private garden accidentally, we crossed the river with a little difficulty. We followed a track up to a spot near a chambered cairn where we pitched the tents for the night. The alarms were set for 4am.

On the 8th, we had climbed Ben Hope and Ben Klibreck. Those two walks left us shattered and ideally, we could have taken a rest day or at most an easy hillwalk on the ninth. It wasn't to be though, because climbing the four Northern Highland Munros was what we'd set out to do and with that goal in mind we were prepared to stretch ourselves.

Conival


We left the tents and got walking at 4.30am. It was still very dim, but light enough to see immediately ahead. At the head of the valley, Conival shifted in and out of the mist. There was a lot of thick cloud in the skies and we knew now that it would be an overcast day. We knew there would be no sun splitting skies and that we'd be in for day in the mist.

We followed a cart track up the glen. At some point, we'd have to turn off the track and onto a smaller path into a smaller, enclosed valley. The path we turned off to seemed awfully indistinct, although in the half-light I couldn't see much anyway. The path followed the left bank of the River Traligill and wound it's way through the glen before climbing onto the slopes of Conival above.

We felt completely knackered because we'd been exerting too much energy on too little sleep. We followed the path up onto the ever steeper slopes of Conival, still stopping all the time. I drunk a lot of water as well as giving myself some kind of decent breakfast. In one particular rest stop, I began to feel more awake and alert, feeling at that point that the tiredness was dissipating. It was easier to make progress after that, but there's a lot to be said for getting a good nights' sleep which we didn't have.



The steep slog up the corrie culminated in the the ascent up the headwall through which a rock band ran. Having been climbing grass previously, this one band of shattered rock offered the most exciting point of the whole ascent. The rock weathered off in angular chunks that allowed us to climb up in steps like a stair case and although we only had to use one or two hands every so often to keep balance, it was nice to put hand to rock for once and feel the excitement of a steep climb.

We arrived at the top of the corrie 700m up, where it was a damn sight colder than down below. We picked up the path again, arriving at the bealach beneath Conival's north ridge. From here, we'd simply have to follow the path up the ridge to the summit. The north ridge was rocky - essentially a boulder field, but we slogged up through the mist anyway. At points the ridge became sharper, at others there were bits of excitement or interest. We arrived at the top of Conival at 7.40am, 3 hours and 10 minutes after we left.

There was a large round wind breaker at the top. We got out of the mist and wind and had a rest. We didn't need to worry about time so spent 25 minutes on top. It was good to have a rest, but we had to move on of course.



Ben More Assynt


Michael had left first, so Martin and I caught him up. Following Conival's east ridge was when the fun really started and I had great joy following the ridge crest, even in mist. There were some steep slabs as well as sharper sections and one magnificent, near-vertical drop to our right down to Garbh Choire. By this point, any tiredness had been left behind and I was enjoying being among this magnificent landscape.

The clouds briefly parted during our descent. For a moment, we could see the enormous bulk of Ben More Assynt ahead. The ridges were sharp, the cloud was swirling in the wind and the sun shone into this gap in the clouds. Though we saw this only for a few fleeting seconds, I managed to get my camera out in time and the resulting image is perhaps my favourite picture of the walk:



Ben More Assynt offered more ridges, knife edges and steep rises. It was a memorable walk/scramble up the arĂȘte, walking the edge just for the fun of it. We arrived at a flatter patch of ground where we were met by a cairn, thinking that if it was a summit, it was an anti-climatic one at that. We all just assumed that this was top. I hadn't paid close attention to the map, but if I had, I might have known different. We sat for half an hour until the clouds briefly parted to the west. While there should have been a corrie far beneath us, there was another big mountain, above us. We knew at that moment that we weren't done yet, and most frustrating thing of all was that we'd spent half an hour sitting at nothing more than a subsidiary top. It pays to make close observation.

So we left to go to the true summit. Even if no one could be bothered doing it, the score had to be settled. It seemed like a longer climb than the 40-50 metres shown non the map but at least we could be comfortable in the knowledge that this was indeed the top. When we got there though, there were two summits; one north, one south, 50 metres apart. Both looked higher from the other, so the map was consulted to reveal that the north top was higher.

And that was it - we'd climbed the four Northern Highland Munros in 29 hours.



Return to Inchnadamph


To get back to Inchnadamph from Ben More Assynt, you've got to go over Conival again. There's no real way around this, but it didn't bother me because it meant returning over the ridge. We had very leisurely walk back to Conival, not thinking about time and talking all the while. The clouds had lifted en route to give us limited views from the ridge, revealing Coire na Mhadaidh to the north and Garbh Choire to the south. We were back into the cloud at Conival's summit, then headed down it's north ridge, appearing once again with widespread views in most directions.



Just beside the bealach was a large, out of place boulder. We took a break here, took the opportunity to do a bit of bouldering, but headed down the corrie soon after. Michael and Martin went ahead of me as I struggled to keep phone signal while sending a couple of texts that needed sent. Having done that, I headed down into the enclosed valley following the river. I picked up a fast pace got back to the land rover track having still not met with other guys. I was holding a solid 4 mph and only caught up with them before they arrived at the campsite. (1pm) With aching feet, I was glad to be back at the tents.





Post-walk


We didn't hang around at the campsite for long and packed up almost instantly. It was another fifteen minutes back to the car park that we'd left the day before. Afterwards we drove to Ullapool. Michael and I said goodbye to Martin who was heading home, then Michael and I booked ourselves into the Ceilidh Place Hotel. The sun was shining now, but I didn't mind too much. Considering we were on Stac Pollaidh later in the day in the grey and pissing rain, Sod's Law in action, making sure that we were off the hills during the best of the weather. Still, it had been a successful walk and a goal achieved.


Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 4.30am Campsite
(3.10) 7.40am Conival
(3.35) 8.05am Conival (left)
(4.05) 8.35am Ben More west summit
(4.35) 9.05am Ben More west summit (left)
(5.00) 9.30am Ben More Assynt
(6.05) 10.35am Conival (again)
(8.30) 1.00pm Campsite
Written: 2009-08-26, 2009-09-06