I set off from Blair Atholl station after travelling up from Edinburgh. On arriving at Blair at half three there was still about half an hour before sunset. I set off towards the car park at Old Blair, the usual starting point for the walk. This is well signposted. The walk proper starts in my mind as you pass the wee bungalow and head off the metalled road onto the forest track. I walk through the woods keeping to the track as the light fades, the track is easy to follow, but I ignore the coloured waymarkers as I believe these refer to other shorter trails around Glen Tilt. I reach the end of the wood and come up to the large deer fence and gate beyond which lies the open country. After about an hour of walking, the sun has completely set and the moon is now visible behind the thin clouds. I've walked in the dark before, but there is quite an eerie feeling stepping out onto the moorland and following the snow covered track. With the intermittent moonlight, and the light covering of snow, the track is easy to navigate without a torch, and my eyes have gradually adjusted with the long period of dusk.
I reach the cairn and the track dips down towards the burn, where it crosses an icy concrete bridge, then rises up again. Surprisingly, it isn't as cold as I expected, and I walk without a hat or gloves most of the way. The track eventually crosses another wooden bridge and climbs up to the featureless pass between Meall Dubh and Meall Tionail. There is a brief but quite heavy snow shower from here on, and although I know the route to the bothy is a simple one to follow, my mind plays tricks on me in the dark, and I start to wonder if I have wandered onto an unmapped track, as I am yet to see the bothy. Eventually though, I see the bothy down by Allt Scheicheachan, and to my surprise there is the glow of a fire coming from the window! It's just gone quarter past six and the bothy provides some unexpected warmth and welcome lively company to end the first part of the trip. As well as realisling that I can navigate in the dark, that evening I also discover that I actually do like whisky (if it's a good single malt).
I set off for Beinn Dearg the following morning, heading over the burn and up towards the head of the valley, following the same track. The snow is deeper here and it must have snowed overnight. I reach the point where the track crosses the burn to the right and take the path that climbs steeply up the hillside and then doubles back to continue the ascent. Despite the deep snow, the vague outline of the path is visible as it zigzags up the incline. There are brief patches of ice (neve) in places, but my boots are sufficiently stiff to kick in enough grip. I decide not to don any crampons, as the patches are quite intermittent and well away from any precipitous drops, with plenty of soft heather and snow providing alternate routes around. I reach the small plateau and see the summit in the distance, which (as always) looks closer than it turns out to be. There looks to be a very small lochan/bog that has completely frozen over. It appears completely solid with the axe, but needless to say I skirt around it over the heather. Having not tackled the hills before in the depths of winter, it is both an exciting and slightly intimidating experience at the same time, even on a relatively tame Munro as Beinn Dearg.
I stuck to the East side of the ridge as much as possible to avoid the winds which had picked up. Eventually I had no choice but to face the icy winds in the small drop before the final summit. I had underestimated the effort required to carry a full pack through deep snow, and stopped regularly on the way up what was a relatively gentle ascent by most standards. The last part around the rounded granite boulders near the top was taken very carefully to avoid slipping, although the snow here was still very soft and provided reasonable grip. The winds at the top were icy, but the stone shelter around the trig point provided a lovely shelter to eat lunch and enjoy the views. I had been lucky with the weather and visibility, which were excellent for early January.
Descended via the same route. (Time taken is for ascent only, broken by an overnight stay)
A thoroughly enjoyable first winter Munro!
Share your personal walking route experiences in Scotland, and comment on other peoples' reports.
Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.