#201 – Quinag – a nice day for a dog walk

A nice day for a dog walk

A nice day for a dog walk

Visitors from abroad probably look at our modest mountains in the UK and wonder what all the fuss is about.    True, our mountains are lower in height than the peaks of Europe, North America, Africa and Asia, but our more northerly latitude often catches out visitors.  In addition, we tend not to waymark our paths as they do in, say, the European Alps, which sometimes causes problems for visitors.    It’s a fair generalisation though, that for a long mountain day in the UK you need to go to Scotland.

Quinag seen from the southeast, heading for Inchnadamph

Quinag seen from the southeast, heading for Inchnadamph

Quinag seen from the west on the road from Lochinver

Quinag seen from the west on the road from Lochinver

Critics of Scottish mountaineering will tell you about bad weather and the curse of the Scottish midge, but a visit in May or late September will often give perfect conditions.  Scots poet Robert Louis once said “…. to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”, and early in May we did that – our trip to the Northwest Highlands of Scotland did not disappoint, with a day out on Quinag being one of the highlights.

The route

The route

Quinag is the English form of the Gaelic A’ Chuineag, which translates as ‘little milk pail’, though in fact it’s more like a milking stool with three legs – The mountain is complex, and is more like a mini mountain range with three separate peaks and several smaller subsidiary peaks.    My route started up Spidean Coinich which translates as Mossy Peak (1 on the map) before dropping to a prominent Bealach (pass) at 2 then rising up to a col at 5.    From there it was up to Sail Gharbh (Rough Heel) at 3, the highest peak in the group, before backtracking to the col to collect a couple of minor summits, then on to the last of the major peaks, Sail Ghorm (Rough Heel) at 4.    To finish, it was back again to the col at 5 before dropping down to the small Lochan at 6.

The start, with Spidean Coinich (left) and Sail Gharbh (right)

The start, with Spidean Coinich (left) and Sail Gharbh (right)

The slabs leading to Spidean Coinich

The slabs leading to Spidean Coinich

Spidean Coinich ahead, seen from unnamed peak to the southeast

Spidean Coinich ahead, seen from unnamed peak to the southeast

Looking back down the slabs

Looking back down the slabs

The start was impressive enough – a broad ridge of rock slabs leading up towards an unnamed summit before continuing to Spidean Coinich.    Apparently these are as slippery as polished marble when wet, but blue skies suggested that this wouldn’t be a problem on this trip.    In fact, it was only the presence of a sharp, cold breeze that prevented the day from being a scorcher.

Panorama of the route ahead, seen from Spidean Coinich

Panorama of the route ahead, seen from Spidean Coinich

The next section of the route heading north from Spidean Coinich

The next section of the route heading north from Spidean Coinich

Looking back towards Spidean Coinich

Looking back towards Spidean Coinich

The view from the unnamed peak at spot height 713 metres

The view from the unnamed peak at spot height 713 metres

Looking back to Spidean Coinich (left) and the unnamed peak (713 metres)

Looking back to Spidean Coinich (left) and the unnamed peak (713 metres)

The unnamed peak (713 metres) in the centre

The unnamed peak (713 metres) in the centre

Spidean Coinich was interesting enough, with fierce, steep crags on the northern aspect being a total contrast to the gentle slabby approach.    The star of the show on this section, however, was an unnamed peak with a spot height of 713 metres.    To say it was exposed was an understatement – the very top was little larger than the size of a single bed, with the sides dropping off steeply on each side.    It was easy, non-technical walking, but a careless stumble would have been terminal!  (The photos above illustrate what I mean)

Heading out to Sail Gharbh

Heading out to Sail Gharbh

Red rock turns to grey

Red rock turns to grey

Border Collie ‘Mist’ heading to the summit of Sail Gharbh

Border Collie ‘Mist’ heading to the summit of Sail Gharbh

Looking back from Sail Gharbh (Spidean Coinich left and Sail Ghorm right)

Looking back from Sail Gharbh (Spidean Coinich left and Sail Ghorm right)

The path from spot height 713 dropped down to the pass of Bealach a’ Chornaid.    Ahead was another unnamed peak at spot height 745, from which the three ridges of Quinag radiate.    I didn’t take this directly, but instead I took a rising path to the col between spot height 745 and Sail Gharbh, taking a quick trip out to Sail Gharbh first before heading back to collect spot height 745 from the col.    The trip out would have delighted a geologist, with the red sandstone suddenly turning to grey quartzite – the summit was a delight for anyone, with the whole collection of summits laid out.

     Heading to the unnamed peak (spot height 745 metres) at the centre of Quinag ….


Heading to the unnamed peak (spot height 745 metres) at the centre of Quinag ….

…. with ‘Mist’ at the summit ….

…. with ‘Mist’ at the summit ….

…. before setting off for Sail Ghorm

…. before setting off for Sail Ghorm

Yet another unnamed peak - to the northwest of spot height 745 metres

Yet another unnamed peak – to the northwest of spot height 745 metres

The final slopes of Sail Ghorm ….

The final slopes of Sail Ghorm ….

…. with quite a way to go ….

…. with quite a way to go ….

…. but the Border Collie always gets there first!

…. but the Border Collie always gets there first!

Having returned to the col, it was now on to spot height 745 – from there the ridge to Sail Ghorm was ‘up and down like a fiddler’s elbow’, making a much greater total height gain than expected.    Another unnamed summit had a cheeky little traverse on its eastern side – from there it was onward and upward to Sail Ghorm, the last peak of the day.  The view out to sea from the summit was the cherry on top of the cake!

Sail Ghorm – the view northwest looking out to sea

Sail Ghorm – the view northwest looking out to sea

Heading back from Sail Ghorm

Heading back from Sail Ghorm

About to start the descent from the col

About to start the descent from the col

Having traversed the whole ridge system, it was time to return – that entailed reversing the route to the col, then heading down the path towards Bealach a’Chornaidh, before branching off to drop down to the small lake at Lochan Bealach Cornaidh.    From there a gradually descending path gave rapid progress back to the start point.  If only all our mountain days were as good!

On the way home via Lochan Bealach Cornaidh

On the way home via Lochan Bealach Cornaidh

Looking back from the return path

Looking back from the return path

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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10 Responses to #201 – Quinag – a nice day for a dog walk

  1. jimmykranke says:

    Possibly Scotland for this year summers travels. Having only seen bits of it over the years, I think now is the time to trundle the coastal route and maybe do some island hopping….Whilst paying attention to the midge forecast!

  2. I fancy that hill sometime but worry about the first drop to the pass (and possible the final drop back to it as well). No doubt I’ll be on my own as usual unless I can tempt Richard.

  3. Pingback: #202 – Over the sea to Skye (Part 1) – The Quiraing | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

  4. Pingback: #203 – Over the Sea to Skye (Part 2) – Storr Rocks | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

  5. Pingback: #215 – A dogs life! (in 2016) | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

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  7. Pingback: #229 – A walk up (or around!) Stac Pollaidh | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

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