Monday, 21 March 2016

Maol Chean-dearg

Beinn Alligin from Maol Chean-dearg
Friday, 18 March 2016
Ascent:        991 metres
Distance:     16 kilometres
Time:           5 hours 18 minutes

m     Maol Chean-dearg       933m    2hrs 45mins

John and I had arranged to leave the cottage near Loch Carron before 8am to climb Maol Chean-dearg, one of my favourite munros mainly because of its position providing a balcony view to the Torridonian triptych of Beinn Alligin, Liathach and Beinn Eighe. Unlike the last four days we did not wake to blue skies and an overnight frost. There was low hanging cloud. More in hope than anticipation I speculated that there might be a temperature inversion as we made the 20 minute journey to Coulags. This was to be a lazy day on the hill. I had twice climbed Maol Chean-dearg along with the adjacent Coire Lair munros, on another occasion I had combined it with Beinn Sgriol and once with the two nearby corbetts of Beinn Damph and An Ruadh Stac, both of which are mightily impressive hills.

The walk up the glen, Fionn-abhainn, provided an easy start although the mist restricted visibility. We stopped briefly at the Coire Fionnaraich bothy, which was relatively clean and looked as if it had not seen much use recently. Another kilometre up the track there is a small cairn and the path turns to the left before climbing steadily on a good stone stalker's path through a series of zig zags. The rocks changed from sandstone to quartzite at about 450metres and the path continues until the bealach Coire Gharbh at 630 metres. I kept a good pace feeling that I had regained my hill fitness after walking every day this week.

Just above the bealach we emerged from the cloud and entered the magical world of spectacular Torridon peaks punching through the bed of white cloud. An Ruadh Stac stood out from the cloud like a primeval monster, its quartzite slopes in shadow. The climb from here is both steep and loose over quartzite that has been badly eroded. The surrounding hills appeared to be growing gracefully as the cloud level dropped and we ascended.  There is a 400 metre flatter section before the final pull up over blocks of old red sandstone. It then flattens again before the summit where the cairn provides the perfect position to gawp at the panorama of views. Is there any better a summit on the Scottish munros? Unlike on a couple of previous visits there were no wild goats grazing on the summit today.

This was an exceptional experience, not only blue skies on a perfect still day but we were also enveloped by a temperature inversion with the cloud top level at about 650 metres. We spent 40 minutes in shirt sleeves, walking round the summit checking out every vista and inhaling the clear cool dry air with the sun warming our bodies. Beinn Alligin and Beinn Damph were particularly impressive but the more distant views to the Applecross hills and Skye to the west, the Coire Lair munros and the Coulin forest corbetts of Wednesday to the east were also magnificent. Needless to say Liathach displayed its snow capped white teeth to the north. We didn't even bother to look south for Ben Nevis. The north west is always best.

It was just after noon before we decided to head down. The sandstone blocks are not difficult to negotiate. We passed a lone woman and then two walkers on the flatter section, they were as gushing about the day as ourselves and they had yet to experience the summit. The quartzite scree below was very loose and I made the mistake of following a path to the right. The loose scree was mingled with sharp unyielding outcrops and the descent needed a level of concentration that meant I could not fully absorb the views. Once at the bealach, the clouds lifted and we scurried down the stalkers path passing another 7 walkers and a dog on their ascent. It is not often we are on the way down a hill at lunch time. The long walk out down the glen was accompanied by the singing burn, it felt like a summer's day. We were back at the cottage having a beer and some lunch by 3pm

The ascent was shrouded in cloud until reaching 650 metres
An Ruadh Stac as we climbed out of the cloud
 Looking east towards Sgorr Ruadh 
The final slopes to the summit of Maol Chean-dearg
Looking east over Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor
The saw edge of Liathach
Beinn Bhan and the Skye Ridge in the far distance
Beinn Damph
Looking north east to Liathach and Beinn Eighe
Sgurr Dubh and Sgurr nan Lochan Uaine with Fannaich beyond
Bothy on the descent down Fionn-abhainn

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