The snow had consolidated to hard neve which crunched satisfactorily beneath my crampons as they bit greedily into the cold surface. Ahead the ridge narrowed and sharpened to a thin crest, the wind having scoured and carved the snow into a series of curves and waves through which a single line of foot prints weaved.
My eyes followed the line of footmarks until they vanished, blended in with the ridge line as it wound its way towards my destination, the summit of Ben More Assynt lying about about a kilometre away. The panorama on all sides was glorious, heartwarming in that way spectacularly beautiful places cab be, that joy of being there in the landscape and experiencing its grandeur. The cold snowy early spring had left the hills in alpine condition, a series of snow capped peaks stretching on all sides below a blue sky dappled with bright white clouds.
Thoughts of yesterdays ten hour drive, half the length of the UK, instantly felt validated; worthwhile just to be here now in this landscape, looking down on the peaks of Assynt, its lochs, lochans, and rivers. Although distance makes my visits here rare this area, and the whole of the north west highlands has always been special for me, possessing a sense of wilderness, and space I don’t find anywhere else in the UK.
Although my objectives, Assynt’s munros Conival and Ben More Assent are spectacular hills in their own right they are somewhat overshadowed by their smaller neighbours like Suilven and Quinag which rank among the finest mountains in the country. Todays snow level at about 700m had however, made them the obvious target of someone seeking some a last chance to step on the crampons this winter.
I had parked at Inchnadamph, and followed the access track and then the path along the northern bank of the River Traligill. Through much of the walk-in the summit of Conival loomed ahead, lost in cloud which was slowly beginning to break up under the morning sun to reveal its snow plastered western face broken by bands of black cliffs.
Where the river turns north east and dwindles to little more than a stream what had been a pretty good path became ill defined as it climbs steeply up the hillside towards a narrow band of cliffs. A dusting of light snow overnight had made the grass and rocks here slippy; and later when I was descending the thaw turned them potentially treacherous.
The cliffs, little more than steep broken rocks were easily breached bringing me out onto a broad flat alp and into a bitter northerly wind. Here the snow was well consolidated and I stopped to strap on my crampons before pretty much doubling back on myself to join the northern ridge of Conival which rose steeply up towards the summit.
As I climbed the panorama of the surrounding peaks began to reveal themselves, to the west Cansip and Quinag either site of Loch Assynt, with a thin blue line of the sea in the background. Further south Cul More and Cul Beag also rose out of the crumpled landscape of billion year old Lewisian Gneiss, their northern faces dusted with a covering of snow. Climbing higher I’m pretty sure I picked out Foinhaven and Arkle to the north and possibly An Teallach to the south, a fine collection of hills in any book.
In summer the ridge between Conival and Ben More Assynt can apparently be a boulder strewn chore, the winter blends these away under a covering of snow leaving it as a joy of airy exposure that was over far too soon. As I sat on the summit enjoying a warming coffee from my flask I could at least comfort myself in the knowledge at least I needed to cross it again to get home.