Maol Chean-Dearg – not as nice as it looked!

24 04 2011

Tue 19 Apr 2011

By now, I’d been peering at Maol Chean-Dearg from all angles… and thought it looked nice. I was to find that, once again, appearances can be deceptive!

I’d contemplated bothying at Coire Fionnaraidh but think I’d got used to the hotel life during my lovely stay at the Strathcarron Hotel and decided not to… So, once again, I set off from the car in lovely sunshine at around 10am. I’d heard great things about the Coulags track from a local late last year but have to say I didn’t like it anything like as much as Coire Lair! Maybe I was tired after so much activity every day and so didn’t have the enthusiasm for it?

The stony and quite rough path headed off on the flat for quite a while then started to head gradually uphill to Coire Fionnaraidh – I was looking forward to seeing the bothy. I’d only become aware of this particular bothy about the night before my trip when I saw a picture of it with an old green YHA sign on the door – I googled it and it was indeed once a hostel – would have been a very small one.

Coire Fionnaraidh Bothy with Sgor Ruadh behind

Not long after crossing the burn, the bothy appeared with a group of people outside it – I wondered whether they’d been there for the night. As I approached, I saw it was a group of girls. They asked me where my bike was but at first I didn’t cotton on that we’d met before… We chatted for a while and I asked if they’d stayed overnight but they hadn’t – they were just having a look in – I was going to do that on the walk out. Suddenly I realised I recognised one of the girls…

“Weren’t you at Bendronaig on Sunday?” I asked

She confirmed they were the four girls who were biking in to do the Munros and then stay at the bothy. I asked if they’d got a fire going despite not taking any burnables – they said they’d had a good one. It was a bit of a week for bumping into the same folks as, later in the day I met the nice man who’d been giving me encouragement about Beinn Liath Mhor the day before. Also, I’ve just found out tonight when I rang my mountain rescue friend who’s based in the Lakes that he was stomping round the same hills that week – just we picked different hills on different days – shame!

I then headed off to continue past Clach nan Con-Fionn – apparently the stone where Fionn was supposed to tether his hunting hounds. It looked pretty phallic to me – I’m surprised it didn’t get a more racy name! But what a weird stone – it really looked out of place in the area as it was much whiter than the local stone and had settled at an amusing angle. It’s visible for quite some distance, especially on your descent from the mountain.

Clach nan Con-Fionn

Shortly after this, there is a cairned track junction, and the very white quartzite path (which I’d clearly seen from the Sgor Ruadh col) started off up to the Bealach a’ Choire Ghairbh. As I got higher up the track, the ‘nose’ which is the key to the ascent of Maol Chean-Dearg hove into view – it looked awful! It was much higher than I’d anticipated and very loose, steep and nasty. I could see an awful looking scree gully with broken crag at the top and what looked like a path to its left – I was really hoping neither of those were the route. Luckily my path ignored those two options and continued for the bealach. This took me to just around the corner of the nose… I looked up again – still looked ‘ugh’ but there was at least a zig-zag path up it. Oh well – it had to be done so I set off up it.

The Nose

The scree was pretty loose and the route was pretty steep. I didn’t really mind going up but kept looking back down and wondering how I’d feel coming back down it as loose, steep scree is a real pet hate of mine! But there is no other route really so it had to be done. I put it out of my mind. Eventually I reached the top of the nose and there was a pleasant route across rough quartzite ground to a more grassy area of ascent. The grassy ascent had a lovely path and was quick and a doddle. But then you are faced with the boulders!

The rest of the route up to the summit is a long boulderfield. Not too bad going up, although fairly strenuous, but I knew it wouldn’t be as much fun to descend again in a short while. The boulderfield flattened out and I the summit cairn hove into view, just on the northern edge of the plateau. It was a pleasant enough spot and was lovely and warm and sunny so I stayed a while. In fact, I stayed quite a while as I was hoping the four girls (who I’d chatted with at the bothy and were following me) would appear and then I could follow them down the horrible steep scree nose. I don’t mind things like that so much if I have someone in front to cannon into if I slip! 😉 Unfortunately, they were obviously taking it easy and didn’t appear. Having said that, I’d made the summit in just over 2 and a half hours and the book had said something like 3 hours 15 so I was well early.

After sitting about 20 minutes sunbathing, drinking coffee and eating my chocolate bar (an inordinate length of time for me to spend on a summit), I decided I’d best set off and tackle the descent. Going down the boulders was awkward as always but not in any way scary – I used one hand quite a lot for balance though as it would be very easy to turn an ankle or suchlike on such a surface. As I neared the bottom of the boulders, the girls turned up. I decided they’d probably spend quite a while on the summit though so I wouldn’t wait.

I was soon back at the inevitable scree slide. Actually, it wasn’t so bad in the initial stages as the top section was quite rocky and so a bit firmer. But the final section was down the very loose zig-zag – the folks coming up were probably surprised to see my very tentative descent clutching the edges for all I was worth!

Never mind, I eventually reached the col with a sigh of relief. Now to explore the wonderful area around the bealach. Firstly I went up Meal nan Ceapairean – it looked a nice walk and it was – very easy and a superb viewpoint.

Super-Easy Ascent to Meal nan Ceapairean

Cue for another stop in the sun at the cairn and more coffee. I took quite a few photos of Maol Chean-Dearg from here as it looked quite spectacular – here’s just one of them:

After lazing there awhile, I decided to go and explore the lochans below the bealach and on the way to An Ruadh-Stac – one of the meanest looking beasts I’ve ever set eyes on! I took a couple of photos of it but they’ll probably be awful as they were into the sun more or less. But most of the mountain reared up steeply and was solid rock and this was topped by steep scree – ugh! I’ve never seen anything quite like it, but it was fascinating and I’ll be interested to see if I pluck up courage to attempt it one day.

The lochans beneath the bealach though were really lovely – an oasis of calm in quite savage surroundings. I walked past them on their north side on a nice path through slightly boggy grass. Then I climbed a short scree path up onto the small rocky ridge on the south side back to the bealach. This had its own little lochans and was a nice photo spot. However, the views in the direction of the likes of Beinn Damh, which were across a lovely loch and should have been great, were far too hazy to even bother trying to photograph.

I then headed back down, having a little look around the bothy on the walk back out. It looked a lovely bothy and I was very sorry I hadn’t humped my big pack in and stayed the night. However, it had just had a work party and did smell rather of paint so that could have been a problem.

Sgor Ruadh from River by bothy

Stats: 12.5 miles, 3686 feet of ascent, 6 hours 30 minutes
Tick count: 1




4 responses

20 06 2011
Dan (aka icemandan)

Did this one last week. Nice walk – considered An Ruadh Stac and thought better of it. Boulder field at the top is a bit of a pain but has one of the most luxurious summit cairns I’ve ever seen with a choice of niches equiped with bench like stones. Had very good glowering chiaroscuro light over the Torridons. Only problem – the name – The Bald Red Head – makes me think of that bloke from Bad Manners.


26 06 2011

Was just up at Strathcarron again on the train on one of my days off from Munroing last week and was looking at An Ruadh Stac some more – I think it’s got to be done – it has a kind of compulsion to it somehow 🙂 I can see me attempting sometime soon…


1 05 2011

Hi, Best hill blog I’ve seen in ages. Cheers, Gerry


1 05 2011

Thanks 🙂 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it – praise indeed as there are some great ones out there!


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