It’s easy to forget quite how wild northern Scotland is and without the various hunting tracks and stalking paths most of Sutherland and
Wester Ross would be pretty inaccessible. On top of the wilderness, the further north you go the more the mountain drama ramps up and if you push that bit further north again it gets flat and boring but before that, lies Sulven. A ridge of a mountain that appears to have risen straight out of the flat earth around it. Totally isolated like an impenetrable fortress it’s hard to see how to climb it and the nearest road is quite a few miles away making it a good challenge. Below is a picture of Sulven from Cul Mor which we climbed the day before. Canisp is visible to the right/east as well.
Like many of Scotland’s mountains the long approach to Sulven is well suited to mountain biking in to gain access before the steeper slopes start. Munro baggers are familiar with this tactic, but mostly on old tracks not sweet singletrack like we hoped to ride.
We found a nice looking path on the map starting near Elphin then heading North West past Loch na Gainimh, bisecting Canisp and Sulven before ending on estate tracks at Inverewe. At about 15km of singletrack path it was a gamble to see what lay in store.
At the start of the path a ribbon of singletrack snaked in front of us alongside the loch as the sun shone down on. After riding quite a few sections the path turned into a mix of slabby rock and loose rocks and for MTB’ing it was sadly a fail: little was rideable. In fact we walked well over half the trail. Riding this in reverse would maybe be more rideable downhill but even so it’s not a classic, what was classic was the views!
After more frustrating carrying of bikes we reached a nice section of path down to Loch na Gainimh. In front stretched up the steep flanks of Sulven’s north side. At the loch a track started and we could ride around easily while admiring the view on a perfectly sunny and warm day. Then due to my leg injury being aggravated by hiking, I left Marion to hide her bike and attempt to scale the mountain on foot herself.
Sulven looks like a sketchy rock climb from most aspects but the easiest ascent is up to the lowest point in the saddle between the high points at each end. The path zig-zags steeply through loose scree before reaching the narrow but easily hiked central ridge. The west summit is a walk while the rocky exposed ridge to the east poses more of a scramble. The weather was outstanding to be on the summit and the views in Marion’s pictures made me jealous, it was a huge shame not to be at the top, but we will be back to explore one of the scrambling routes up.
The ride back down the track to Inverewe was actually a lot of fun on a bike and there was a certain smugness riding past the handful of other hikers! It definitely was the best way to climb the peak of Sulven. While Marion was scrambling up to the top I had ridden down and then along the 25km road ride back to Elphin where the car was. However on the way out I turned right before the Inverewe estate lodge and after a steep climb I followed ‘path’ signs along some sublime riding beside the river for 2km. It was fast, flowy and a fantastic way to finish a frustrating at times route!