Quinag The Three Corbetts

Spidean Coinich

This is a stunning ridge walk along the roof of the entire Quinag mountain massif in the far north west of Scotland. This undulating strenuous walk takes in no less than three Corbett summits. The Quinag massif and its three Corbett summits Spidean Coinich, Sail Gharbh and Sail Ghorm sit within the North West Scotland Geopark. They are a geoligists dream with a mix of Torridonian sandstone, Lewisian gneiss and Cambrian quartzite including the dip slope you climb to reach the first top. From the entire ridge and each summit the views are some of the most incredible in the nation. The mountain sits among many others in Assynt, in my opinion the most beautiful and wildest area in the Britain. This route can be made shorter by just walking over Spidean Coinich and back, or by missing out the outlying Sail Ghorm, however you'd be mad on a clear day not to do the entire ridge as it really is stunning. The initial ascent of Spidean Coinich's eastern slope, the quartzite dip slope, can be dangerously slippery when wet.

Route Directions

  1. This walk starts from a layby on the A894 road pass between Loch Assynt and Kylesku. The layby is on the eastern side of the road at the highest point on the pass at grid reference NC 232 273. You will know when you are near it as you will see the clear path that leads off towards the mountain.
  2. From the layby cross the road and on the other side of the road you will see the clear path, wooden bridge and information board erected by the John Muir Trust who now own and look after the Quinag.
  3. After reading the information board and crossing the wooden bridge continue along the obvious path. Around four hundred metres further on, the path will reaches some large flat rocks. Here the path splits, take the path to the left which is clear at first but gets less so as it heads south over the flat rocks.
  4. The path heads south toward the foot of Spidean Coinich's eastern slope. The path passes a lily pond then bends to the right and starts to ascend the steep quartzite dip slope. As the path crosses the flat rocks and heather be on the lookout for Common Lizard, Slow Worms and even Adder snakes basking in the sun during warm summer afternoons.
  5. The quartzite slope can be extremely slippery when wet. I can only describe it as being like walking on a shopping centres marble floor if it was wet and at a thirty degree sloped angle. I would highly recommend keeping to the right so you can enjoy the views across Lochan Bealach Cornaidh to Sail Ghorm over the corrie.
  6. After one and a half kilometres of ascent the path crosses a false summit with a stone shelter then drops to a bealach with a small lochan. The path ascends from the bealach with the small lochan for another half kilometre to reach the summit of Spidean Coinich.
  7. As you approach the summit you will start to see the fascinating weathered Torridonian sandstone walls. They are a little like limestone pavements turned on their sides. The first time I came to this summit I was completely in awe of them, they are huge on all sides of the mountain and it is so hard to believe they are natural and not man made.
  8. The summit gives great views north towards the mountains of the very far north west such as Foinaven, Ben Stack and Arkle. Looking east and south east you will see the other pale mountains covered by Cambrian quartzite such as Glas Bheinn, Beinn Uidhe, Conival and the highest Ben More Assynt. To the south the eye catching unique profile of Suilven and the sleeping giants of Assynt.
  9. The other view to catch your eye is the continuation of the ridge. The path descends to the lovely Lochan Ruadh on the bealach between Spidean Coinich and the pointy nameless peak, that is your next objective.
  10. Ascend the path from Lochan Ruadh to quickly reach the surprisingly grassy summit of the pointy nameless peak. This airy summit is extremely exposed and really does deserve a name of its own.
  11. From the summit of the pointy nameless peak descend the drop to Bealach a Chornaidh. The descent path is fairly steep and seems to go off left at one point but does switch back right and head down to Bealach a Chornaidh.
  12. When you reach Bealach a Chornaidh you will meet the path you left earlier which took the easier route across the corrie floor. If you do not wish to climb Sail Gharbh or Sail Ghorm then you can turn right at the path and walk back to the start of the walk via Lochan Bealach Cornaidh.
  13. If however you wish to climb the other two Corbett's and continue the full walk then turn left and ascend a very muddy path to get to the top of the ridge out to Sail Gharbh. This path is unfortunately very muddy and slippery. I hope that eventually a proper stone path will be created here as the erosion is ruining the ascent.
  14. The path tops out on the ridge by a few small navigational stone cairns that help people find the top of this descent path. Here turn right and head up the obvious descent of Sail Gharbh heading north east.
  15. There are several rather annoying false summits and the summit seems a lot further away than you expect. There are a few hands on sections but nothing technical.
  16. Once you reach the summit you should see a circular stone shelter surrounding the os trig point pillar. The views are similar to those on Spidean Coinich but with the added value of a great view across to Spidean Coinich itself.
  17. Looking north west and seaward from Sail Gharbh's summit you will see your next objective, the third Corbett of the day, Sail Ghorm. You can also see the swooping ridge you need to navigate to reach it.
  18. Once you have enjoyed the views from Sail Gharbh, follow your footsteps back down the way you came up it. Eventually reaching the small stone cairns again marking the top of the descent path to Bealach a Chornaidh.
  19. From the stone cairns do not descend to the bealach, unless of course you don't plan on doing Sail Ghorm. Instead head west and ascend the nameless peak which sits at the centre of the Y shaped Quinag mountain massif. The view point from this central position is fantastic with all three Corbett mountains and their attaching ridges leading off in three different directions. 
  20. Descend the nameless peak heading north down to another bealach on the ridge path. You will then have to ascend again over another nameless peak before once again dropping to another bealach. I did warn you this walk is undulating!
  21. This bealach has a scary rocky out crop of rock on its west side that you can walk out on for a great photo opportunity, if you dare. It is like walking the plank over the hundreds of wild Assynt lochans below. Take care is it is very narrow and a fall could be fatal.
  22. The views from the eastern side of this bealach are impressive too with Sail Ghorm left and Sail Gharbh right, framing a view down Bathaich Cuinneige to the majestic Kylesku Bridge.
  23. From this bealach you now have to ascend another nameless peak, though you can skirt round this one to the right. The path after the small peak is clear and starts the long steady ascent up the whale back shaped bulk of Sail Ghorm.
  24. Sail Ghorm is surprisingly flat, inviting and grassy. The summit has a small stone shelter to protect walkers from the prevailing cold north west winds. The views over to Sail Gharbh are impressive and show it to be a huge bulk of a mountain. Sail Ghorm's biggest advantage is its close proximity to the coast and the sea scape from the summit is beautiful, something you don't really get from the other two Corbett's.
  25. To descend from Sail Ghorm head down the mountain the way you came up it. The path is obvious and makes its way down the grassy whale back profile to reach the ridge again. The path heads round the first peak then down to the bealach with the rocky outcrop.
  26. From the bealach ascend heading south up a fairly straight forward scramble to reach the next peak then cross another flat bealach and head up towards the central peak again. Before you reach the central peak you will find the path skirts it to the left missing out the climb to the summit. The path passes through a small sandstone boulder field and eventually reaches the stone cairns again marking the top of the descent path to Bealach a Chornaidh.
  27. Descend the muddy path back down to Bealach a Chornaidh. Once you reach the bealach stay on the path as it bends sharp left back on itself and starts the steady descent towards Lochan Bealach Cornaidh with Spidean Coinich above to the right.
  28. There is now a three and a half kilometre walk along an often disappearing path back to the start of the walk. As long as you keep the Lochan Bealach Cornaidh and Spidean Coinich to the right at all times you should be okay.
  29. The path is boggy at times and there is one river crossing on stones over the the Allt na Bradhan. The slow streams and water holes as you near the road are home to a thriving population of the usually struggling Water Voles, so sit down after your walk by the streams and pools and you may be lucky. Take care crossing the main road at the end of the walk to reach the parking layby.
  30. If heading south after your walk you could head down to Lochinver to check out the Lochinver Pie Shop or the fabulous Caberfeidh seafood restaurant. If you drive back out of Lochinver towards Loch Assynt you will see the wide profile of the Quinag and can look up at it with pride knowing you've walked its entire length.
  31. If heading north stop by at Kylesku and visit the Kylesku Hotel for refreshing ale and fresh seafood meals. After your meal watch the Seals in the loch and take a glimpse up to Sail Gharbh and Sail Ghorm.
  32. From Kylesku you will see the shape of Quinag's outlying bulks, often referred to as milking pails which gives the mountain its name. Quinag being the Gaelic word for a milking pail. Sail Gharbh seems to have a mountain on top of another mountain affect from the north which I am convinced is the reasoning for this similarity to a milking pail.

Maps for this walk

Paper maps for this walk

Click to buy OS Explorer 442 Map Click to buy OS Landranger 15 Map Click to buy OS Travel Map Scotland Click to buy Lonely Planet's Scotlands Highlands & Islands

GPS files for this walk

Route map of this walk

Photos & Trip Reports

Planning for a walk

Check the weather

The weather is a very important part of hill walking. Weather conditions and daylight hours will dictate where you walk, what gear you will need to carry, how far you walk, and may even decide if you go at all. The following links will help you gather information on weather conditions for areas of Britain...

Plan your journey

Planning your journey before you set off for your walk can save you vital hours on the day. You need to make sure you know the area surrounding your starting point as many factors can influence or change the place you park. Don't forget change for parking meters and fees.

Maintenance of your vehicle and being ready for breakdown situations when driving to remote areas is also vital. Pack a full spare petrol can in your boot, and take de-icing tools in winter, including a shovel. The Transport Direct website below is a great resource for anyone wanting to get to the start of their walk using public transport...

Pack the right gear

Carrying and wearing the right gear is essential for walkers to remain comfortable and safe while hill walking in Britain. However, the best gear in the world is of no use to anyone who doesn't know how to use and care for it. Knowing how to use your gear will give you a much more enjoyable experience. The following items are, in my opinion, the essential items to wear and carry for a hill walk in Britain. It would be foolish to head into the hills and mountains of Britain without these essential items and the knowledge of how to use them. Check out the gear section of this site for techniques and gear lists...

  • Footwear
  • Clothing
  • Rucksack
  • Warm Clothes
  • Waterproofs
  • Map & Compass
  • Emergency Kit
  • First Aid Kit
  • Food & Drink
  • Seasonal Gear

Know what to do in emergencies

It is good practise to tell someone where you are going, and when you expect to return. If you don't get in contact when you said you would on your return, and those you told can't get hold of you, at least they will be able to provide the search party with your general location.

Emergency equipment in the check list above means items such as a survival bag, whistle, and emergency food rations. This isn't anything special; any whistle will do, the orange emergency bags only costs a few pounds, and basic food rations can consist of a couple of chocolate bars. Carrying a head lamp is also an important component and a vital piece of kit used for signalling when you require rescuing.

You should always try and get out of a difficult or emergency situation using your own gear, knowledge and energy. If you cannot do this, then you should dial 999 and ask for the police. Use all the gear you have to keep any unwell or injured members of your party or yourself safe and warm, and use your signalling devices to let the rescuers know your whereabouts. To do this blow six good long blasts on your whistle, or flash six flashes of your torch. Stop for one minute. Repeat. Carry on with the whistle blasts until someone reaches you, and don't stop because you've heard a reply.

Never contact mountain rescue unless absolutely necessary, but on the other hand don't ever feel guilty for having to do so, especially if you are a prepared walker. The Mountain Rescue teams are full of fantastic like-minded souls who love nothing more than people who are prepared for being safe in the mountains.