Everest legend backs Suilven bid in £18k online poll

Everest legend Sir Chris Bonington has backed the Trust's campaign to win funding to repair the Suilven path

Chris bonington and his dogs bella  bodie and alfie  suilven behind in 1986   photo chris bonington picture library detail

The UK’s most famous mountaineer, Sir Chris Bonington, has added his support to a joint project by the Assynt Foundation and John Muir Trust to win £18,000 of funding in a European-wide online poll organised by a Switzerland-based conservation charity. 

The Suilven path restoration project in Sutherland was nominated by Berghaus for the latest round of European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA) funding.  Out of 92 applications from 58 different countries, it was the only UK project shortlisted for the online public vote.

Bonington, Berghaus’ non-executive chairman, has fond memories of his own adventures on Suilven and has backed the project.

Now 81, Sir Chris has been climbing and exploring in countless locations around the world for over 60 years.  Amidst all of those adventures, his recollections of visits to Suilven remain very vivid.  He first walked and climbed on the now community-owned mountain in Assynt in the north west of Scotland in 1952, while still at school. Over the years, he has traversed Suilven four times, and has put up two new climbing routes on the mountain, but his strongest memory is still of his first visit.

He said: “The most magical walk I have ever known was on Suilven in 1952. I was still at school and I was climbing with a young undergraduate, staying in bothies, and we did this walk and climb humping all our gear with us.  

“We walked in from Lochinver, dumped our rucksacks at the foot of the west buttress of the mountain, started up the only route, rather inadequately described, and quickly lost it to make one of our own to the top.

“I will never forget that view looking south over Loch Sionascaig.  We then returned to our sacks, picked them up and headed south on the east side of the loch, all the way, pathless, to the eastern end of Stac Pollaidh. There we found a bothy at about 3.00am, grabbed a few hours’ sleep and then climbed Stac Pollaidh - total magic which I shall never forget.”

The path restoration work on Suilven, which is expected to cost in the region of £200,000, will be carried out by the John Muir Trust and the Assynt Foundation, under the umbrella of the Coigach-Assynt Living Landscape (CALL) Partnership.  It will set out to restore an eroded 2.5km section of the route to conserve the mountain’s unique geological heritage, while maintaining public access to a remote mountain whose steady stream of visitors helps support tourism businesses in the local communities scattered across Assynt. Find out more about the project here.

Along with words of support, Sir Chris Bonington has shared a series of images from his library from visits to Suilven in 1986 and 1990, including photos of him making the first ascent of a route called The Bloom on the mountain’s west buttress. Bonington hopes that circulating the images will help highlight the enduring beauty and drama of Suilven and the surrounding area, encouraging more people to vote for the path restoration project. 

Sir Chris Bonington adds: “There are so many amazing wild places that it is almost impossible to favour one over another, but Suilven does mean an awful lot to me.  It is magnificent from any aspect, rising up dramatically from the bedrock, and it is not easy to get to, with any trip there involving a good long walk in. Suilven is a very special place, in a wonderful setting, and I urge the public to back the John Muir Trust’s important path restoration project there.”

EOCA is a not-for-profit environmental outdoor charity with over 120 national affiliates across the continent.  Berghaus is a member and supporter of the association and nominated the Suilven path restoration project in the Alpine category (for projects located at high altitude).  The online poll will stay open until noon on Monday 19 October and Suilven faces competition from four other nominees in Italy, Spain, France and Rwanda.

UPDATE 21/10/15Assynt peak Suilven tops world-wide poll to win £18k

Make a donation towards our Suilven Path appeal here.

Picture from the Chris Bonnigton Picture Library shows Sir Chris Bonington near Suilven: ‘the most magical walk I have ever known’.