Monday 5 October 2015

Wild Camp and Hill Walk on Quinag

Sail Gharbh & a distant Spidean Coinich from Sail Ghorm

Following my retreat from the midges after my visit to Ben More Coigach (see this post) I drove to Quinag, another huge massif and one of the great mountains of the Northwest Highlands. Quinag is a steep Y-shaped mountain with three long rocky ridges, each with a summit that qualifies as a Corbett (Scottish hill between 2,500 and 3000 feet/762 and 914 metres with a drop of at least 500 feet/152.4 metres between it and the next hill). With a huge long rock wall to the west, two big corries on the east side, and many minor tops (some of them quite dramatic) Quinag is complex. The traverse of the summits is an exceptional hill walk for both the interesting and entertaining rocky terrain and the superb views of mountains, lochs and sea. Quinag is looked after by the John Muir Trust.

Looking South-east to Ben More Assynt & Loch Assynt
After stopping at the Elphin Tea Rooms for soup and a roll and coffee I started late up the path to Lochan Bealach Cornaidh, a gentle route that leads gradually through boggy terrain into the heart of Quinag. The lochan  lies in a wonderful situation between two of the Corbetts – Spidean Coinich and Sail Garbh, the highest summit – with spacious views east to another Corbett, Glas Bheinn. I pitched my shelter above the lochan but spent little time looking at the views due to the midges.

Sail Gorm & Sail Gharbh from Spidean Coinich
Dawn came with a pink sky and a welcome breeze – no midges! I spent the day on Quinag, climbing all three Corbetts. The light was sharp and visibility superb. This landscape is truly spectacular, a tremendous mix of rock and water, mountain and loch. Steep slopes and narrow rocky ridges make for interesting walking. The rough narrow paths thread complex ways through rock bands and round rock towers. Hand are useful in places, (especially if your legs are quite short like mine!), but there’s nothing that could be called scrambling. 

Lochan Bealach Cornaidh - my shelter is the pale spot just right of centre near the bottom of the picture
Early in the day the sun was hot and the air still with only an occasional touch of a breeze. Sticky with sunscreen and sweat I laboured up the great rock block of Spidean Coinich, the southernmost Corbett. Back at the Bealach a’ Cornaidh – there’s no way to climb all three Corbetts without backtracking several times – I climbed the unnamed 745 metre top to the north that is actually the key summit as the three Corbetts lie to the north, south and east. As I continued on to the northernmost Corbett, Sail Ghorm, the wind began to strengthen rapidly. On the summit I donned a windshirt as I turned and headed back to the 745 metre top and then out east to Sail Garbh, blown about by the wind. 

View over Loch Assynt to Suilven
Back at the col with the 745 metre top I took the path that cuts across the slope towards the Bealach a’ Cornaidh, soon dropping out of the buffeting wind. The sun was hot again and I stopped by a stream for a drink and to sit in the sunshine before returning to my tent, which I could see below, already in the shade. High above a golden eagle circled and I watched it for a while before it drifted away and vanished into the distance. 

After sunset, Lochan Bealach Cornaidh
Down at camp I could hear stags roaring not far away. Across the lochan I picked out a herd of fifteen or so hinds with a big stag close by and a smaller one trailing them some distance behind. Both stags roared but I didn’t see them venture towards each other.

Moonrise, Lochan Bealach Cornaidh
Wandering down to the sandy shore of the lochan, pockmarked with the hoof prints of deer, I watched the soft, subtle, pink dusk light reflected in the water. After a while a waning moon rose into the eastern sky, shining through bands of thin cloud. Stars appeared and the hills faded to silhouettes. There was an intense feeling of peace and quiet. I sat and watched the wild, content.

Quinag camp