60 Years to Activate Suilven

Activation of Suilven GM/NS-060 and Canisp GM/NS-030

My late father, G6ZZA had been a handicraft teacher for most of his working life. In 1958 he built a PBK20, two-man canvas-hulled canoe. Then in July 1959 we went on a camping holiday to Achiltibuie 30 miles North of Ullapool, the canoe came with us on the roof of the Ford Popular.

I used the canoe very successfully for sea fishing, but my father had another use. He wished to climb the iconic Suilven that is 7 miles from the nearest road, lying like a beached whale and visible many miles distant. He, and a long-time climbing friend planned to climb Suilven by first padding the 7 miles from Elphin, making the ascent and then paddling back all in one day.

Suliven in 1959

I remember the day very well, both of them looked pretty “knackered” when they returned to Elphin some 13 hours later!

Time passed, but the opportunity for me to climb Suilven in father’s footsteps never materialise. Then, 60 years later in 2019, I arranged with a walking friend to do the ascent, but the window closed because of other commitments, then Covid struck……This year I reviewed the opportunity to make the climb and I discovered that there is a mountain bike track from Lochinver, East to the flank of the hill. A plan 60 years in the making was beginning to take shape.

At 73 years of age this expedition felt to be too much to be undertaken as a solo ascent with a Sota activation, then Roy, M0TKF, a fellow Sota Activator showed interest in taking part in the ascent.

So it was that we set off 350 miles North on Thursday the 8th of September with a 4-day pass and a 3 night booking at the Lochinver bunkhouse.

The cunning plan was to climb and activate Suilven’s near neighbour, Canisp, on the Friday for an equipment shakedown and photo shoot, then climb and activate Suilven on the Saturday.

We both had HF equipment, Roy had the FT891 and I, my battered FT857. Roy is an SSB man whereas I tend towards CW. He had a loaded whip for 40m whilst I had an inverted Vee link dipole covering 20/30/40/60m supported on a mast at 20ft.The plan was for Roy to operate on 40 and 20m whilst I would operate on 30 and possibly 60m both at 50W. We realised that on small summits operating at the same time might not be possible, so we budgeted 2hrs summit time, about 50 minutes each. We also carried 2, 2m handhelds that enabled us to work the summits from outside the Activation Zone, to gain a Complete for each hill. I was last to “top out” and last to leave the two summits.

We spent some time on Thursday evening re-checking the weather forecast, both on the BBC and also the Mountain Weather Information Service. The consensus was that Friday would be misty on the summits and 25mph, about the maximum safe wind speed. Saturday’s weather was much better, blue sky, no wind from dawn to dusk. (Perhaps Dad had had a word somewhere?)

On Friday morning we woke at 05:58, dressed and breakfasted. We drove to the road head (NC250158) to the East of Canisp on the side of Loch Awe, boots on the ground at 0710.

It was then a bog trot across the glen and up the East flank of Canisp. The mist was down on the upper slopes, but good progress was made.

The upper slopes are strewn with ankle-wrecking boulders so care was needed.

Following a compass bearing we proceeded to the summit where we set up the two stations at 1010BST.

We each worked about 15 stations and in my case, until there were no further 30m Chasers. The wind had picked up by this time which made taking the mast down difficult. Then a quick photo call for Suilven and we set off down the hill, getting back to the car at 1510.

After a substantial meal, couple of beers and a repack of rucksacks we retired early to bed ready for an 0458 alarm call and the main event. The call came all too soon but feeling refreshed we both dressed and had breakfast. Then, while still in darkness, the short drive to the Canisp Lodge carpark. By the time we had the mountain bikes and rucksacks ready it was 0610BST, the sky was a fabulous aqua marine colour and the air was absolutely still. This was going to be a perfect day.

After 1 ½ km we reached Canisp Lodge and the end of the metalled road. This was the start of the mountain bike trail.

The trail is in poor condition and my mountain bike skills and balance were compromise several times, but by 0740 we arrived at the point (NC168201) where the hill path takes off south without any gravity incidents.

The bikes had saved us over 30 minutes. With the early morning sun on the flank of Suilven the hill looked very impressive and magnificent.

The path has recently been rebuilt by the John Muir Trust, they have done a fabulous job which will prevent further soil erosion and twisted ankles. Having passed between 2 Lochans the path enters the wide gully that leads to the bealach (NC157181) halfway between Meall Meadhonach, the Eastern peak and Caisteal Liath, the summit and our destination. The path up the gully is steep but without dramas. There is only one high step to negotiate before the bealach is reached.

A fellow walker with better balance than me!

Here there are 3 options, the serious Eastern peak, the path South down to Fionn Loch and the path to the summit. Infront is a well-constructed wall that descends down 200ft to the South. This was built during the Potato Famine in the 1840’s. It’s a story of tragedy and man’s inhumanity to man. Too proud to beg for charity, which the rich landowners had refused anyway, the people were forced to work with little or no purpose, building roads and walls in the middle of nowhere in exchange for food.

To the West, the Summit was coming into view, but first there was one last tower to climb.

There are a couple of big steps that need care due to the exposure. Over the top of the tower the path goes to the North side where again there is an exposed step, then a narrow bridge at the top of two gullies. We were fortunate that there was no wind, on a gusty day this will be challenging.

All that remains are 3 big steps with exposure that lead to the summit slope. The summit has a large cairn and beyond is a flat peat, grassy area, large enough for an 80m dipole. We arrived on summit at 1015BST, after 4hrs 5minutes of ascent.

It was here that Roy and I set up our aerials, mine an inverted Vee set for 30m and Roy a 4m loaded whip on 40m. Because of the proximity we found that we had to operate one at a time, so we used all of our summit time budget of 2hrs.

We left the summit at 1220 BST

As I was dismantling my dipole a man and a woman approached and asked me the usual summit question, “What are you doing?”

I explained in full, it then transpired that they had canoed from Elphin and completed the ascent, just like my father 63 years previously! Small world.

On completion of the Activation we celebrated with a small shot of “Sheep Dip” whiskey and descended the way we had come, arriving back at the car at 1615BST, the only unexpected delay being a “gorse thorn induced puncture” whilst 1km from the car.

As always, my deepest thanks to all of the steadfast Chasers who worked us, the RBN network and Roy M0TKF without whose help these Activations would not have been possible for me.

Detailed route maps on:



That is an impressive looking summit! Thanks for the fine report and backstory.

73 de Jonathan “JB”

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What a great day and achievement. Congratulations. I loved the pictures of Suilven up close, I have only seen it from a distance. I used to do a bit of hill-walking when I was younger and am hoping to start again soon. I plan on starting with either Sgorr na Ciche (GM/WS-200) or Stac Pollaidh (GM/NS-086). Hopefully do one of those in the next six months. I’ll take my 2m Handie and a slim jim and see if I can activate one of them. Lochaber is my first love, but Assynt is a close second.

Becky 2E0XEB

I first saw Sgorr na Ciche about 50 years ago and it has left a lasting impression on me which has survived all this time. I was walking towards Mallaig from Loch Arkaig and the summit dominates the head of Loch Nevis.

I would try and take HF gear if you can, you may struggle with 2m in such a remote spot. If you do decide to try 2m make sure you advertise the attempt on here so you will have the best chance of having people listening out for you.

Brilliant David! Absolutely brilliant. Thanks for sharing this lovely tale spanning generations. Well done on the activations and capturing some lovely images.

I haven’t seen Sheep Dip whisky for such a long time. It’s a nice dram.

Fraser MM0EFI


YOU DID IT! You said you wanted to. Great achievement and report. You got great WX too. I did wish I had taken a bike instead of trudging all that way but that track is rough. I love the mountains up in the far NW and Suilven is very special. GM/NS was the regular target for a few years but such a long way to drive.
73, John

What an amazing achievement. I’m really pleased you fulfilled your wish. Well done and well thought out I must say, in terms of beverages to celebrate the ascent!

Austin M0MNE

That’s a great story - and well told along with some grand photographs.

If hills were awarded SOTA points for their grandeur or shape this would be a 10 pointer!!

Fantastic story and trip David, well done!

73 Gavin

I think I might have got the name wrong (Unless there is more than one). I was meaning the hill also known as “The Pap of Glencoe” on the shores of Loch Leven. I don’t have any HF gear yet, still a complete newbie in the hobby. I only got licenced last year.

Thanks, David,
Nice report! As my activator XYL says, after not getting a peak for one reason or another: "Don’t worry, the mountain will still be there!"
All Best, Ken

No, you had it correctly. The other summit is one letter different, Sgurr na Ciche, 1040m, GM/WS_034 and harder to reach and summit!


Thanks, I thought the peak I had in mind was spelt “Sgurr” but when I checked the list of SOTA summits I found a different spelling so I assumed my memory was faulty after 50 years.

But the names have the same origin which delicacy precludes me mentioning. :slight_smile:

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Congratulations David. What an interesting contrast the two ascent methods present. You must be remarkably fit to carry an 857 and suitable battery on that terrain. I think doing Rhinog Fach, GW/NW-078, to complete GW/NW will be quite enough for me. And that’s just the drive there :smiley:

Thanks David for the lovely write-up and photos, an inspirating story and I’m glad you managed to finally get up there.

73 Jonathan

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Hi David,
I’m impressed that you managed the trip as a senior cit. Fantastic to complete a long held dream. Nice story and alluring pics.


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Hi David, congratulations in achieving this goal of walking in your fathers footsteps 60 years later. :smiley: I really enjoyed reading your report, one to tick off your bucket list. Great photos too.

Geoff vk3sq

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Great story David. Delighted to have worked you from home and as S2S!
73 Fabio

Hello David,

very nice report and stunning pictures … thanks for that. The funny thing is that just a few hours ago I watched this movie on ARTE television:

73 Martin, OE5REO


I looked respektfully up to the Suilven in 2019.
We have been 2 days in Lochinver on our trip from the Orkneys back to Glasgow.

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