Friday 29th April 2011
Weather/Conditions: Beautiful clear weather and a kind of sunset. A fine temperature, except colder in the wind. Completely dry and cloudless mountains to the horizon. The only limit to visibility was in the haze which limited distant westward views but cast brilliant tones across the mountains.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 8.7km / 750m / 2h 55m
Accompanying: Colin (and Faye to the bothy)
Colin, Faye and I had climbed Moruisg and Sgurr nan Ceannaichean earlier in the day, and we were walking into the Coulin forest to reach our nights accommodation, Coulags bothy. Colin told me that coulags (anglicised from something approximating cuileag) is Gaelic for midge. If it is the midge bothy, we saw none even though the evening turned out cool and still.
We left the car at Coulags Bridge on the A890 and headed up the glen on a good path. Although the high precipices of Fuar Tholl had been impressive from the road, I thought these hills didn't reveal much initially, just a slightly angular skyline on Sgorr Ruadh's west face. By the pictures I've seen, Sgorr Ruadh looks the much greater mountain from the north.
Coulags bothy is well maintained, and we shared it with a bunch of guys who were up for four or five days picking off hills. Seemingly, they were having a great time. Our rucksacks had been heavy on the approach, although here we could dump all our gear and 'reserve' our room (leave all our gear in it).
The decision to climb Maol Chean-dearg was (I think) in part for Colin to see his 200th Munro the next day on Beinn Alligin. But asides the list-ticking, we had an opportunity to be up on the Munros for sunset with a great view across to Torridon. So without rucksacks Colin and I left Coulags - I was tired but there was still energy in the tank. It always feels good to walk up hills with minimum gear and this was no exception.
We made good progress beneath the huge prow of Meall nan Ceapairean and turned up into the corrie. On a dark, heather covered hillside, the path is striking for it's bright white rocks. It doesn't quite look natural. We followed the path to the bealach south of Maol Chean-dearg, which is near the saddle to An Ruadh-stac.
Now here is a mountain. If you climb anything from this bealach without Munro-bagging ambitions, let it be An Ruadh-stac. It is phenomenal! Our eyes just about popped out their sockets when we saw it's pyramid and the massive bare flanks of quartzite. The sun highlighted the edges, giving a feel of unreality. Sadly, the photos don't quite do it justice.
We continued toward Maol Chean-dearg in higher winds. It helped to keep moving to avoid getting cold. In view southward were the great distant ridges that flanked Druim Albyn (if you like) coast to coast. All in view. An Riabhachan stood out on the horizon greatest with it's enormous rooftop and late-spring snow patch.
These remote mountains of Affric, Mullardoch and Monar usually intimidate me in idle thought. I've hardly set foot on them but it doesn't stop the mind contemplating the vast size of the region Shield to Strath Carron. Much larger, though marginally more accessible, than the Fisherfield region. From incredible enormity, the mountains were so suddenly laid out there. These great mountains are remote, but they also became tangible - grass-covered and trodden, from intimidating to inviting. It's no wonder people want to walk these high rooftop ridges, they look brilliant.
But back to our hill. Maol Chean-dearg has a sting in the tail. It's summit pap is capped with a layer of Torridonian Sandstone, which can't be seen from the bealach. So we rounded a top, only to see a lot more hill in view, which we kept battling up. Quite drained from the previous hills, it was harder work than it would have been on a normal day.
But the ascent goes out on a high. The mountains of Torridon aren't visible from the southern side but all clearly visible from the summit. As I arrived at the enormous summit cairn, I kept my eyes low, got to the top then digested the Torridonian scene in one go. At first it was all funny shapes and pinnacles and then the mountains took form. The Torridonian mountains are twice as visual when you don't know the mountains in 3-dimensional form, even if only for a brief second! What a place to be. It was my first ever close-up view and one to remember.
Colin called home (or I think that home called Colin) and I took my panoramas. We took a little longer on the summit, and then started descending.
We went down by way of a scree gully cutting out the sharp bend at the bealach. All in all, it's probably a quicker way to come down although I doubt it's better as an ascent route. It would have been nice to go onto An Ruadh-stac although time was against us. And we were tired, and a bit hungry too. And we got back to the bothy to a chilli con carne - too hot for my taste, although a good meal nonetheless. There's a story. Or maybe just the inward-sucking sound of trying to keep my mouth cool. Ouch!
The following day, we climbed Beinn Dearg and Beinn Alligin.
Maol Chean-dearg 360° - North
Maol Chean-dearg 90° SW - Knoydart, Skye, Loch Kishorn and Applecross
Maol Chean-dearg 90° NW - Beinn Damh, Loch Torridon, Beinn Alligin and Liathach
Maol Chean-dearg 90° NE - Liathach, Beinn Eighe, Fisherfield, Fannaichs, Coulin
Maol Chean-dearg 90° SE - Monar, Mullardoch, Affric, Killilan and Glen Shiel
(-0.50) 4.35pm Coulags Bridge layby
(0.00) 5.25pm Coulags bothy (arrived)
(0.00) 5.45pm Coulags bothy (left)
(1.30) 7.15pm Maol Chean-dearg
(1.55) 7.40pm Maol Chean-dearg (left)
(2.55) 8.40pm Coulags bothy