Suilven – a dropped rope and an epic day.

We had some great summers of climbing way back in the 80’s and were at Lochinver for the weekend, whilst a few went to the Old Man of Stoer myself and Joe Mo had decided to climb on Suiliven. We were a bit cocky, Joe was a bold climber heading of to attempt the North Face of the Eiger next year with another young guy in the team Paul Ayres. I was enjoying climbing with them and hopefully instilling the sense to keep things safe. Suiliven in one of the most impressive mountains in Scotland its a bold peak. It is also one of the most beautiful peaks in the North West yet it only has a few rock and ice climbs on it.

In these days there were only 3 rock climbs on the Caisteal Liath Face on the North West of the mountain. On looking at the guide ( it was basic them) we had planned to climb Rose route a 600 foot Severe at the time. The guide book was vague, mentioning it was sandstone with vegetation, greasy in the wet, with bits of vegetation with superb views of the open moorland towards the sea. It is a place to be and few climb here. Joe was keen and so off we went.

Teallach and the missing rope, still missing nearly 40 years on it was the Purple one.

We left fairly early with the usual gear, two ropes etc, we also took my dog Teallach who would wait as we climbed and then we would abseil back down to him well that was the plan. The walk in along the track is on the normal way into the mountain. You pass Glencanisp Lodge where we spoke to the keeper, he said few climbed on these cliffs. Then it was head down across the moor heavy going with a myriad of lochans but always with the bulk of Suilven in view. We were fit but it was hard going Teallach was in ever lochan as it was a hot morning. As we neared the cliff we worked out the route (always worth doing ) then headed up the steep ground to gear up.

It was then we noticed that Joe had dropped one of the ropes. We had stopped once to take some clothes off as the sun went off. Joe said he knew where it would be and then headed back to try and find it. Teallach went with him and I sat and fell asleep. It was a good three hour walk in but we had stopped about half way. Joe was fit and sure he would locate it. When I awoke Joe and Teallach were back but with no rope the moor merged into one and every lochan looks the same. I was fed up and ready to go back but Joe wanted to climb the route. So with one 45 metre rope we set off. Teallach was fine sitting out of the way and was soon asleep. There was no diagram of the route but there was supposed to be a cairn at the bottom but we never saw it. Anyway that is what I was there for as my route finding was needed. Joe just climbed what was in front of him?

The crux if I remember right was early on and the route finding tricky, we got the odd bit of gear and had to work at the belays. Few had climbed here we saw little signs of traffic. the climb was first put up in 1957 by A. Smart and A. Mitchell. The climb description was not as good as today guides but in the end we got up the 600 feet. The wind had picked up and it started to rain on the last two pitches. It was here we dropped the camera and watched it crash down the cliff and the dog running after it.

The plan was to abseil off the route but only having one rope we headed up to the summit and I was worried about the dog? I should have known better as we came down the ridge we met Teallach coming up. He had followed the ridge round and then up the normal way. I was glad I did not have an epic to find him but I knew he was clever dog. We wandered off and had to explain to the Team Leader about the rope. I wonder if it was ever found by some wandering climber or walker but its so far out of the normal route I doubt it.


Suiliven by the normal walking route is a great day out the last time I climbed it was just after New Years Day. We stayed the night in the wee bothy Suileag.

The Bothy

It was a bitter night but we had a wonderful day on Suiliven the main summit is a great walk in winter you pass through the gap in the famine wall after the steep climb to the bealach then along the ridge to the summit. There are three summits in total on the mountain Caisteal Liath 2399 ft the main one, Meal Mheadhonach 2300 ft and Meal Bheag 2000 ft. Care is needed on the ascent of Meal Bheag where an exposed corner is turned on the North side by a series of ledges. The situation is slightly exposed but affords no difficulty in winter it can be interesting.

Nowadays a few kayak in from Elphin via the Loch Veyatie I have not done this but met pals on the beleach who set out from Elphin as we left, its a wonderful way in to the mountain. Maybe one day?

You cannot have a bad day on this mountain its not to be rushed and though only 2300ft it is a mountain of majesty.

This is my special place
My retreat from a mad world.
From the bothy Suilven stands Castle like
Summit guarded by loch and bog.
The mighty West buttress,
Steep, sandstone, scary.
Moving fast,Not savouring,
The peace and beauty, I came for.
I race to the top,
Summit reached,
Time to think,
Why all the haste? 

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Bothies, Corbetts and other hills, Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Gear, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Other hills Grahams & Donalds, People, Rock Climbing, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Suilven – a dropped rope and an epic day.

  1. Dougie says:

    just before the Eiger trip, got called into the boss’s office at Kinloss & asked ‘are you meeting up with Paul (Pam Ayers) & Jo Mo.?’ who had both gone out 5 days early to sort out the route finding on the lower slopes. ‘when you see Paul, tell him he’s going to be charged with being AWOL, as he’s not gotten permission to take leave’. Eiger was then bombed out with avalanches, & on return, Paul played up & told the boss ‘he was suffering from anxiety with nervous breakdowns’ & ‘could he see the padre..’. The Air Force didn’t know what to do with him.


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