Having successfully taken care of Am Faochagach the previous day, my attention turned today to my two remaining unclaimed Munros in the Beinn Dearg group. Seana Bhraigh, which lays claim to being one of the remotest of all the Munros, is really an outlier of the main group but many people do tag it on if circumstances allow. Last summer I had stood on the summit of Meall nan Ceapraichean towards the business end of a 15 hour walk that had taken me over Meall Doire Faid and Beinn Enaiglair and then on to Beinn Dearg, Cona Mheall and Meall nan Ceapraichean before making a long, weary trudge back. At that moment on that sultry July evening, Eididh nan Clach Geala, never mind Seana Bhraigh, might as well have been on another planet, let alone just a few kilometres away.
I decided to go in from Inverlael, as I was based for a few days in the Ullapool/Garve area and in any case, I wanted to combine Seana Bhraigh with Eididh nan Clach Geala as well as the Graham with an identity crisis to the north east of Inverlael. This site refers to it as Meall Dubh but the 1:50k OS sheet 20 gives that moniker to the 642m summit about 2km to the north west. The new SMC Grahams and Donalds book gives the 665m Graham summit the name Beinn Bhreac. Either way, I had it on my radar for the walk in. More adventurous was the notion of extending the walk as far east as the remote Corbett of Carn Ban in the heart of the Freevater Forest.
The Carn Ban plan looked unlikely from the start as I contrived to sleep through my alarm and was a couple of hours behind my planned departure time by the time I set off up the track behind the house at Inverlael and into the forestry. I turned left and crossed the River Lael by the bridge over the twin ravines and proceeded on the track up the northern bank, where the flies and midges were operating a crude system of mob rule.
Above the ruins of Glensquaib I found the "hidden track" that the new book refers to and zig-zagged my way up out of the forestry and onto the blessed relief of the open hillside. From here a good track climbs steadily above the Allt Badan Seasgach and begins to give good views over towards the Beinn Dearg hills to the south east.
Eididh nan Clach Geala, Meall nan Ceapraichean and Beinn Dearg across Druim na Saobhaidhe from high above Glensquaib
The gradient eventually eases as the track begins to run parallel to the allt, where it eventually ends in a rather boggy mess on the lower southern slopes of the Graham.
The same trio from the Allt Badan Seasgach below the southern slopes of the Graham
Meall Dubh/Beinn Bhreac from the Allt Badan Seasgach
By now the views over my left shoulder were offering up a vista of An Teallach and the eastern Fisherfield hills and by the time I flattened out onto the large flat summit area just west of the lochan, the promised views north into Assynt were staring me in the face - Stac Pollaidh, Suilven, Canisp, Cul More and Cul Beag, they and others were lined up before me, rising up in their weird and wonderful shapes from the flow country.
Beinn Dearg hills across the summit lochan
To the Assynt and Coigach hills
North east from Beinn Bhreac to Cnoc Daimh and Loch an Daimh
The Beinn Dearg hills from the Graham summit
Seana Bhraigh, Cadha Dearg, Meall Glac an Ruighe and Coire Lochain Sgeirich
Zooming into Cadha Dearg
After the traditional first lunch, I set off towards Carn Mor, still not entirely certain of which hill to tackle next. Once on the rather Cairngorm-like summit of Carn Mor, I decided to head up through Coire an Lochain Sgeirich, by-passing Eididh nan Clach Geala at this stage and making tracks for Seana Bhraigh. Given that I had to come back this way (more or less), Geala would get picked up at that point. If Carn Ban was to happen at all, I had to focus on getting to Seana Bhraigh first and foremost and then take it from there.
Beinn Bhreac and the Assynt/Coigach line up from Carn Mor
Seana Bhraigh and Meall Glac an Ruighe from Carn Mor
Coire an Lochain Sgeirich and the summit of Eididh nan Clach Geala peeking up in the background
Fisherfield and An Teallach
I had looked carefully at both conventional routes into Seana Braigh, both from Inverlael to the west and via Strath Mulzie from the east. Both clearly have their merits, and I will undoubtedly return to Sean Bhraigh one day via the eastern approach. But I was captivated by descriptions I had read of the Coire an Lochain Sgeirich and beyond that, the walk around the rim of the massive coire of Cadha Dearg and the so-called Gates of Cadha Dearg.
Allt na Creige Duibhe just downstream from the outflow of the coire lochain
Time for a second lunch by one of the lochain
I was not disappointed. This is wild, wild country with a tremendous sense of remoteness and just a hint of menace about it - in places perhaps more than a just a hint. The walk around the coire rim and the so-called Gates of Cadha Dearg is truly awe inspiring. This is an absolute chasm of a coire, and across the abyss, the south western face of Seanna Braigh plunges straight down, seemingly into the very depths of Hades itself.
Eididh nan Clach Geala across Coire an Lochain Sgeirich
Seana Bhraigh across Cadha Dearg from just beyond the head of Coire Lochain Sgeirich
The Gates of Hades!
The largest of the group of three lochain at the western end of the Gates of Cadha Dearg
Into the abyss
Cliffs of Seana Bhraigh plunging into Cadha Dearg
Down Cadha Dearg to those Coigach and Assynt beauties again
Once clear of the Gates of Cadha Dearg (or the Gates of Hades as I was now thinking of them as) and onto a more gentle gradient, I headed north east towards the prominent pointed summit of Creag an Duine rather than due north towards the summit, before contouring around the rim of the Loch Luchd Coire for the climb up to the precariously perched summit shelter cairn.
Loch Luchd Choire and the western cliffs of Creag an Duine, with Strath Mulzie distance
To the summit of Seana Bhraigh
Cona Mheall and Beinn Dearg
As I approached the summit the drizzle began to set in and once again I stood at the summit of one of this group of hills and decided that discretion would be the better part of valour. As good an opportunity as this was to nab Carn Ban and save myself the problem of how to tackle this remote little bugger from the real world at some future date, I still had a long walk back out and the small matter of Eididh nan Clach Geala to attend to. And of course, I still had the prospect of three more consecutive heavy days to come.
The Summer Isles away down Loch Broom and the Coigach and Assynt hills from the summit
Creag an Duine
Closer to the edge - Creag an Duine, Loch Luch Choire and the corner of Loch a'Choire Mhoir
Here comes the rain
So, time for another tactical retreat from a long OS sheet 20 route, with loose ends still to be dealt with. But then wasn't that what I was doing here today in a sense, tying up some loose ends. If they hadn't been left loose, I wouldn't be enjoying this walk now.
I headed back down to the Gates of Cadha Dearg with the drizzle now becoming more persistent, and made a bee line for the 863m point due east of Clach Geal which I skirted round on my way up onto the broad ridge that runs to the bealach between Clach Geala and the 872m point to the north above the Coire an Lochain Sgeirich.
Looking back to Seana Bhraigh on the ascent towards the 863m point
Eididh nan Clach Geala
The views from Clach Geala were pretty much non-existent. Had I soldiered on that evening a year ago rather than beating a retreat from Ceapraichean, I'd have got decent views from here, but then again I'd probably have died before I could have enjoyed them. Hey ho - one pays one's money and one takes one's choice!
Viewless from the top
North along the summit from one cairn to another - not too sure which of the two is the real summit
There then remained the mere matter of a dodgy down climb on tired legs towards Lochan a'Chnapaich before I found myself once again running on empty along a path towards Inverlael at the end of a long summer route in these hills. At least this time though it was a straight walk out to Inverlael, without the horrifying prospect that I had had to deal with last summer of yet more pathless ascent before being reunited with my car.
Meall nan Ceapraichean in cloud
Safely down onto the path home
Ceapraichean and Dearg from the meeting of the paths in Gleann na Squaib
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