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A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road


Postby Mal Grey » Tue Mar 14, 2017 11:41 pm

Munros included on this walk: Beinn Dearg (Ullapool), Meall nan Ceapraichean

Date walked: 03/03/2017

Time taken: 9 hours

Distance: 21 km

Ascent: 1400m

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Part 3 of our winter walking adventure.

The week so far had been cracking, great hill days and bothy nights in Fisherfield ([url]viewtopic.php?f=9&t=70502[/url]) , and a good short day in mixed conditions on Sail Mhor ([url]viewtopic.php?f=9&t=70534[/url]).

Friday, our last day before starting the long journey south, was forecast to be clear and sunny. Really. In Scotland, in early March, whilst we were actually there. Sunny! Originally we’d planned to move slightly south, but with that forecast why waste time in a car. Instead, Nigel and I opted to head for closer hills.

The Ullapool Road. The very name makes me tingle slightly, bringing with it memories of past trips, and the anticipation of future ones. As you drop from the chasm of Corrieshalloch, the hills to the right tower above you. This was hill country I had never entered, promising plenty of high summits, and even the chance of a multiple Munro day. Glen na Squaib provides access into a magnificent amphitheatre beneath the massive walls of Beinn Dearg, and its companions Meall nan Ceapraichean and Eididh nan Clach Geala. Tucked just behind is another Munro, Cona’ Mheall. We were hoping for two, or maybe even three, of these hills, but much would depend on whether the snow had firmed up with a couple of freeze-thaw cycles or not.

Parking at the handy Inverlael car park, we deployed our secret weapon. Mountain bikes. For ahead of us was a day of up to 16 miles over multiple summits. We hoped to shorten that day slightly with a few miles of biking – steady uphill on the way in, but lovely free-wheeling on the way out! An easy forest track led us onward and upwards to the end of the trees after just over 2 miles, where a gate gave access to the hillside, and a stunning view of the hills ahead. We hid the bikes in the trees, and swapped cycle shoes for winter boots.


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Our plan was a circular route. First, we’d head uphill a mile or so, drop down to cross the River Lael, then climb up to the long, broad, northwest ridge of Beinn Dearg. After that we would see how much time we had left to attempt Cona’ Mheall, Meall nan Ceapraichean or even maybe both. The slope ahead looked like a reasonable way onto the ridge.


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And so it proved, though it was still hard work, the snow still soft and slippery. The views, though, more than made up for the effort, there was even a little crescent moon floating high in the sky above the hills.


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We reached the ridge and, for the second time that week, had a real “wow” moment. Ahead of us, the hills of An Teallach, the Fisherfields and the Fannaichs lay, shimmering white flanks under an azure blue sky streaked with fluffy clouds.


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A place to stop and stare, but we were already slower than we’d hoped for, and were still only at just over 500m. Ahead a modest hill gave access to the higher ridge.


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We zig-zagged up the slopes, the snow slowing us down. The slope was longer than it looked, and steep enough to shorten the breath as we ploughed through ankle deep drifts.


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A remarkable wall straddles the ridges of Beinn Dearg. This is a relic of the dreadful potato famine of the 1840s, built by those affected by the famine as employment in return for food. It goes from half way up the outlying summit of Meall Breac, over the main Beinn Dearg Massif, and down to the col to the north. Mostly, its made up of rocks on their ends, with great upright rocks every few metres to support the structure. We would follow it to the final summit slopes.


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Cresting Meall Breac, the views got even better. A perfect flat rock made for a superb “first lunch” spot, for it was already midday. From here, as we down tomato soup and pork pies, we could drink in the landscape all around us.


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Image Northern Fannaichs


Image Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, where we’d been 3 days ago.


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(Click for panorama)


Image Ahead to Beinn Dearg



Our route ahead looked quite long, the summit still a couple of miles away. Snow clad the ridge all the way, and we knew we were in for some tough wading. Who cares, though, the day was utterly fantastic, a cap of cloud adding atmosphere to the view of Beinn Dearg, but everywhere else the sun was shining, the hills were glistening, and the snow pristine and untouched.


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The route ahead looked steep. The wall meant the snow collected nearby and drifted, meaning wading would be required. The alternative, heading right onto the rocks, was even worse, as the unconsolidated snow just meant you were stumbling around on hidden blocks. We alternated lead and just pressed onwards roughly on the line between snow drift and boulder field. Luckily, staring at the stunning scenery gave us an excuse to stop often to catch our breath.


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At last, the slopes relented, and we came out on the rounded windswept summit plateau. Here much of the snow had been scoured away, so the going was easier.


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Leaving the wall behind, where it crossed the shoulder of the hills, we headed onwards towards the lonely summit cairn, which was clad in icy garb.


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Here, second lunch was declared. It was 2pm. I’d hoped to be here by 12 or 12.30. In the distance, showers threatened, but never really came our way. We would drop down to the bealach, before deciding if we could manage to get in another hill or not. I’d given ourselves a deadline of 3.30 at the bealach to allow time in these slow going conditions to nip up one more summit but still get down before dark. The summit views were simply stunning, words don’t really capture it at all.


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A compass bearing took us back to the wall, which turned 90 degrees left to drop down a steep spur of the hill. Ahead, Meall nan Ceapraichean looked simple enough. Cona’ Mheall looked rougher, but had some great cliffs above the huge Coire Ghranda. In the distance to the south, Ben Wyvis poked its broad shoulders over the intervening hills.


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Down here, the snow was deeper and softer as we worked our way across the bealach. To our left, the head of Coire Mathar Lathail was magnificent.


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(Click for panorama)
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Wind sculpture gave a hint of how wild the bealach must be in a howling winter gale.


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The ascent of Meall nan Ceapraichean was simple, even though we were tiring now.


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We didn’t linger for more than a few minutes, but turned back to the bealach, glad to have reached a second Munro. Cona’ Mheall would wait for another day, though, it was approaching 4pm now and we still had a long way to walk out. The drop to the col was simple, cushioned by snow, though with the inevitable plummet into a hole every now and then to keep us entertained.


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Image(Click for panorama)


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The coire was a cold hole. The sun had barely been here all day, so high are the cliffs above it, and it was full of snow. It looked like a lot of wading ahead before we could escape. Still, those views…


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The path follows the stream at the bottom of the coire, into the glen. As this was where the snow was deepest, we chose to contour the hill to our right instead, hoping to avoid the worst of the drifts, and dropping down later.
It wasn’t much easier, we were either stumbling over hidden boulders, or wading through thigh deep drifts which had us both muttering and swearing under our breath at times. The location, though, more than made up for it.


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Eventually, we reached shallow snow, softened with a hint of gold as the sun dropped towards the horizon. The coire was behind us, and soon we would pick up the path. One last look over to the magnificent outline of An Teallach, and we dropped down into the shadow of the glen.


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It was still a couple of miles to the bikes, and we were frankly pretty knackered, but the going was now much easier and we pushed on at a decent pace. Finally we reached the trees, and recovered the bikes. The relief of removing heavy boots, putting on light cycling shoes, and pushing off to freewheel downhill all the way to the cars made for a wonderful end to a truly memorable day.

That was it for this year’s trip, after a 9 hour day, nearly 8 of which was spent on or in snow, under blue skies.
Saturday’s weather was poor, so we drove southwards after a few hours biking up by the Gruinard River to Loch na Sealga, breaking our journey home to the southeast at Pitlochry. There were no regrets, though, this was one of the best weeks we’d ever had, and the memory of the two best days on Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair and Beinn Dearg will remain with me forever. What a truly amazing part of the world this is.
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Mal Grey
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby katyhills » Wed Mar 15, 2017 8:50 pm

Just stunning Mal. Don't really know what else to say.

It's quite humbling somehow, when you read this kind of report. I felt a lump in my throat reading the last couple of lines. No feeling like it - standing on top of a great hill and getting those views. How lucky we are (those who live a bit nearer to it than you!) to have this kind of landscape within a few hours of our homes. We should never take it for granted. :)

People ask why we do it - go up these hills - especially in winter. They just need to look at your photos. They're beautiful. Especially love that last one and the ones of the sculptured snow.

Thank you so much for sharing that day :)
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby Walkscot » Wed Mar 15, 2017 9:21 pm

Wow! Totally amazing winter pictures. Stunning.
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby Jaxter » Wed Mar 15, 2017 9:24 pm

Just wonderful :clap: :clap: Some truly fantastic photos there, well worth the effort (easy to say from my couch :lol: ) but that last one has to be the best of the lot :clap: :clap:
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby Cairngorm creeper » Wed Mar 15, 2017 9:33 pm

Such a wonderful day, and so lucky to be out in all that sunshine and snow despite the hard work. We were there in similar conditions last April and have lasting memories of the tiered coires going up to the bealach :D . I know what you mean about the Ullapool road, just reading the name brings on a tingle .
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby weaselmaster » Wed Mar 15, 2017 11:08 pm

I'm not green with envy at your weather/views in the slightest. Nope. :wink: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby rockhopper » Thu Mar 16, 2017 2:21 pm

weaselmaster wrote:I'm not green with envy at your weather/views in the slightest. Nope. :wink: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

:lol: :lol: Neither am I :wink: :wink: :mrgreen: ..........stunning - cheers :)
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby Mal Grey » Thu Mar 16, 2017 2:44 pm

katyhills wrote:
People ask why we do it - go up these hills - especially in winter. They just need to look at your photos. They're beautiful. Especially love that last one and the ones of the sculptured snow.
Thank you so much for sharing that day :)


Thank you!


Walkscot wrote:Wow! Totally amazing winter pictures. Stunning.


Thanks!


Jaxter wrote:Just wonderful :clap: :clap: Some truly fantastic photos there, well worth the effort (easy to say from my couch :lol: ) but that last one has to be the best of the lot :clap: :clap:


Can’t make up my mind which is my favourite! Couldn’t go far wrong with the camera when its like that.


Cairngorm creeper wrote:Such a wonderful day, and so lucky to be out in all that sunshine and snow despite the hard work. We were there in similar conditions last April and have lasting memories of the tiered coires going up to the bealach :D . I know what you mean about the Ullapool road, just reading the name brings on a tingle .


I remember reading as a teenager from one of my books, quite likely Irvine Butterfield’s wonderful “High Mountains”, the term “The Fannichs and the Ullapool Road” or similar, and it’s never left me.


weaselmaster wrote:I'm not green with envy at your weather/views in the slightest. Nope. :wink: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:


Console yourself with the fact that it’ll probably be 20 years before we get those conditions again!


:lol: :lol: Neither am I :wink: :wink: :mrgreen: ..........stunning - cheers :)


Chuckle. Thanks.
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby Cairngorm creeper » Thu Mar 16, 2017 8:04 pm

Mal Grey wrote:I remember reading as a teenager from one of my books, quite likely Irvine Butterfield’s wonderful “High Mountains”, the term “The Fannichs and the Ullapool Road” or similar, and it’s never left me.


You are right, it is a section in Irvine Butterfield but his brief descriptions of the walks in that area are anything but inspiring. :lol: :lol:
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby jmarkb » Thu Mar 16, 2017 9:15 pm

Fabulous set of photos from a great day out! :D

Those hills have given me two unforgettable outings (albeit more than 20 years apart) and it's a joy to see someone else getting one too!
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby litljortindan » Thu Mar 16, 2017 11:01 pm

Splendid. But hard going. I think you're right in what you say in one of your earlier reports about a bit of cloud making a big difference and enhancing the winter views.
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby litljortindan » Thu Mar 16, 2017 11:10 pm

Your mention of the famine wall made me wonder if there's a link to the road of destitution across the way. Slight discussion here: viewtopic.php?f=9&t=20421&start=15 and here http://scottishhills.com/html/modules.p ... pic&t=9408
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby Alteknacker » Fri Mar 17, 2017 1:06 am

I just realised that I was so bereft of words on reading this WR when you published it that I didn't even acknowledge it :roll: .

It was probably down to it taking a week or so to banish the wee green devil....

Previous folk have said it all - just wonderful! Katyhills has it spot on: those who are fortunate enough to live within easy striking distance of this magnificence are fortunate indeed.

That pic of An Teallach at the end sums it all up.... :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:

Thanks for sharing :thumbup: . Got a lot of vicarious pleasure from this one.
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby Mal Grey » Fri Mar 17, 2017 12:16 pm

Cairngorm creeper]
You are right, it is a section in Irvine Butterfield but his brief descriptions of the walks in that area are anything but inspiring. :lol: :lol:[/quote]
Hah. Some of the “brief descriptions” of hills at the start of chapters are indeed somewhat derogatory, thing like “uninspiring hills that can at least be covered quickly”.


[quote="jmarkb wrote:
Fabulous set of photos from a great day out! :D
Those hills have given me two unforgettable outings (albeit more than 20 years apart) and it's a joy to see someone else getting one too!

Thank you!

litljortindan wrote:Splendid. But hard going. I think you're right in what you say in one of your earlier reports about a bit of cloud making a big difference and enhancing the winter views.

Yeah, plain azure blue skies are boring :D Thanks.

litljortindan wrote:Your mention of the famine wall made me wonder if there's a link to the road of destitution across the way. Slight discussion here: viewtopic.php?f=9&t=20421&start=15 and here http://scottishhills.com/html/modules.p ... pic&t=9408

I really should research it properly. Thanks for the link – amazing how different it looks without snow!

Alteknacker wrote:I just realised that I was so bereft of words on reading this WR when you published it that I didn't even acknowledge it :roll: .

It was probably down to it taking a week or so to banish the wee green devil....

Previous folk have said it all - just wonderful! Katyhills has it spot on: those who are fortunate enough to live within easy striking distance of this magnificence are fortunate indeed.

That pic of An Teallach at the end sums it all up.... :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:

Thanks for sharing :thumbup: . Got a lot of vicarious pleasure from this one.


Thank you, most kind.
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Re: A Winter Wonderland – Beinn Dearg from the Ullapool Road

Postby BlackPanther » Fri Mar 17, 2017 1:03 pm

Wow, lucky you! You had the best possible weather for such an adventure... How do you know when to book holidays, heh?... We're off on spring hols now and conditions are cr**p. Rain, cloud, winds 40-50 mph, melting snow, rivers in spate. :( Some of our planned trips fell through because of dubious river crossings. We were reduced to bagging Grahams to get any views at all.

We climbed Beinn Dearg and friends last spring, but with much less snow, just some on the summits. Managed all four somehow. Eididh nan Clach Geala always looked like a good one to repeat in full winter conditions, with paths most of the way. But it seems we have to wait for next year for large amounts of snow.
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