GUIDE TO THE RIVER KIRKAIG
NAME OF RIVER: Kirkaig
WHERE IS IT?: The Kirkaig drains Fionn Loch, the last in a system of lochs below the iconic peak of Suilven.
An excellent loch fed run that can only be run either with a long hike in, or via a 2-day excursion across the loch system. With reliable water, excellent scenery and continuous rapids similar in character to the Leny, this run would be a classic if only it were more accessible. If you do the run via the loch system then it’s also a great way to climb suilven (one of Scotland’s most ridiculously shaped mountains) on your way along.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: The take-out is at the Suilven car park near Inverkirkaig bay (NC 08559 19335). To put in you have two options. You can shoulder your boat and follow the signs to the Falls of Kirkaig (NC 11167 17850) 3 km uphill (huff, puff). Obviously put in below the falls! Alternatively you can drive all the way to Elphin on the A835 and put in where the road crosses the ledmore river (NC 22912 12056). This put in gives you less walking and more white water, but does add in at least 12 km of flat on a loch and a possible portage or huck of the slightly sketchy looking Abhainn Mhor.
APPROX LENGTH: 3km from the Falls to the car park. There is nearly 1km of white water above the falls and the loch paddle from Elphin is another 13km of mostly flat water.
TIME NEEDED: ?
ACCESS HASSLES: We had none - in fact we didn’t see any other people the whole trip.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: This is a fairly large river and should be runnable at most levels except extreme spate and drought. Holds its water well after rain due to massive catchment in at least 3 large lochs. Look at the river under the bridge at the take out. If you can easily float the rapids you see then it’s good to go. If all rocks are covered then the river is high and awesome. If it’s churning brown and obviously in spate then the run will be much more serious. The online gauge for the nearby inver gives a good measure of the flow.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: The Falls of Kirkaig are very large and land directly onto pointy rocks. It’s like someone doesn’t want you to run them.
From the upper put in at Elphin the Ledmore river is flat until it runs into the Cam Loch – follow the shore south for about 1 km to the outflow, where a short river connects to Loch Veyatie. This section contains a major set of falls called Eas Dubh Uidh a’ Ghlaigeil (Grd 4+), described in the Abhainn Mhor guide. Take out left to inspect. The main event is a double drop totalling about 10 metres. The line is fairly straightforward but a ruined hydro workings makes the first main drop a bit chossy.
You now have about 6 km of flat ahead of you as you cross loch Veyatie. Suck it up and enjoy the views. The grade 1 river connecting to the Fionn Loch feels amazing when you finally reach it, and the outflow of this river is a good camping spot if you fancy stopping to climb the awesome slab of sandstone that is Suilven while you’re there (It’s a very long walk to do it any other way).
Now paddle along the south side of the Fionn Loch for approx. 3 km to the outflow of the Kirkaig. Fear not for the flatness is now over as the river greets you with a very photogenic grade 4 to start things off.
Jon Harwell runs the grade 4 at the top of the Kirkaig. Photos by Kirsten Rendle.
The river slowly gorges up and becomes continuous grade 3/4 for just under 1 km. Be careful here as the river plunges over the Falls of Kirkaig (an 18 m drop onto rocks) – if you ever can’t see round the next corner be sure to get out and take a peek.
Jon Harwell in the gorge above the falls. Picture by Kirsten Rendle.
Jon Harwell runs the slide above the falls. Not recommended if you don’t think you can make that eddy! Photo by Kirsten Rendle.
Portage is simple but arduous river right, but a much easier route is possible if you can get to the river left side and lower your boats down a gully into the plunge pool. The falls are an impressive sight at any level, and this is the put in if you took the hike option.
Jon Harwell and Kirsten Rendle in the pool below the Falls. Picture by Jen Hartnett.
From here the river is mostly continuous grade 3/3+ through a series of scenic gorges with one 500 m grade 4 section, signalled by a large rock pillar sticking out the middle of the river, which would get very powerful in high water.
OTHER NOTES: Here is a blog about the time we paddled the whole thing from Elphin.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Jon Harwell and Kirsten Rendle