Maol Chean-Dearg in high winds

Route: Maol Chean-dearg ascent, Coulags

Munros: Maol Chean-dearg

Date walked: 02/11/2019

Time taken: 8 hours

Distance: 17km

Ascent: 1067m

For most of October I'd been under attack from shingles in my thigh, recovering just before this nip to the Highlands. It felt good to be out. In the end, I was knackered before I started, though, because the car broke down, about 50 miles into my journey, so I'd had to go back to the garage, hire another one and start again. :roll: By the time I got to Torridon, the deer were down and all over the roads, so it was a long, slow, late night arrival.

It was about 10.30 before I set off the next morning in fairly low cloud, and the Coulags were in full autumn dress.

Image003a Meall nan Ceapairean with An Ruadh-Stac in cloud by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image005 Bridge across the Fionn-abhainn by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image006 Looking down hydro to Sgurr na Cloiche by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

I stopped to read the memorial plaques shortly after the wooden bridge, remembering Michel Canon and his son. Michel was 'a Breton' - is that 'from Brittany' as his name suggests, or 'from Cape Breton' (i.e. with family roots in pre-Clearance Highlands) I wonder? Struck me as odd, either way.

Image007 Memorial stone by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

At the bothy I had a look in. Very nice!

Image008 Coire Fionnaraich bothy ahead by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image009 Inside the bothy by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image010 View from the bothy by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Then on to Fingal's stone before turning up towards the bealach and maybe... maybe... a close-up view of An Ruadh Stac.

Image011 Clach nan Con-fionn ahead by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image012 Left - NW at the cairn by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image014 Loch Coire Fionnaraich below Sgorr Ruadh by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image015 Heading up into the cloud by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

It wasn't looking promising but over from the Torridon hills, there was the occasional patch of blue. They mostly dissolved before they could get overhead, but one tiny patch made it through.

Image016 Single patch of optimism by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Meanwhile, Maol Chean-dearg was cuddling its own cloud which was trying to escape. But it, and I, weren't going to.

Image017 Not fumaroles on Maol Chean-dearg by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

There was plenty of colour about though: bright red rowan berries and gold and purple lichens. It was a pleasant walk up to the bealach and I was still harbouring hope of views... maybe...?

Image018 North over rowan to Meall Dearg by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image019 Golden lichen by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image019a Purple lichen by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image022 Autumn colours in the cleft by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

By the time I'd risen up the zig-zag route to the bealach the wind was getting up, it was raining and the cloud was swirling in. I saw the briefest of fog-bows, too brief to capture on my waterproof jacketed camera. Now I wondered if there'd be any more meteorological rewards... (spoiler - No).

Image020 Looking for fog bows by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Not even MC-d's neighbour wanted to come out.

Image024 CLoud hiding An Ruadh-Stac at bealach by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

So it was just a matter of striking off north, up the quartz.

Image021 Lovely quartz layer on MCD by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image024 Jagged quartz mini-ridge by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image025 North up the quartz scree by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

At the first summit I was cloaked in cloud, so - hey ho - no break for the sun's rays to perform any surprises. Just the exhausted satisfaction that my unexercised legs had got me up the scree.

Image027 Icy ghost at 757 mono by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Maybe in clear weather it's possible to pick out a fairly good route up the red bald sandstone boulder field to the summit. But with high winds, heavy gusts, rain, hat and hood pulled down and clag occasionally revealing the odd reassuring cairn, not today. In fact, I drifted too far west without noticing it, and ran out of hill. :? Hm, that can't be right. Back on track, the steep, wobbly boulder field was brutal, and the wind wasn't helping.

Image029 Bald red head close-up blurgh by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

I checked the map. 20m of contour before it relented. A gust threw me against a rock and I stopped for a breather, letting time tick by and re-mustering some energy.

Image030 How I hate boulder fields by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Pressing on, eventually the shadowy lump of the huge shelter-cairn appeared.

Image031 MCD summit shelter cairn in cloud by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

At the top, I drank some water, ate some nuts, looked forlornly at the cloud all around me, with no hope of the beautiful Torridon views or of Loch an Eoin down below, and turned round to head back down. Today was not going to include An Ruadh Stac clearly and the descent was going to be as windblasted as the ascent.

On my way back down the boulder field, some of which I ended up doing in a backwards crab because of the strong gusty winds, (an interesting triceps workout), I was back on my feet picking my way round a cairn, when I saw two guys coming up. They looked as exhausted as I was. The guy in front said he wished they were coming down, and that he was surprised to see any other nutter on the hill today. He thought they were the only two. We swapped our route plans, all of us opting now for an out-and-back, and I said they'd probably catch me up.

Image032 On the descent by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

So far I'd seen ptarmigan and deer droppings but no wildlife. On my descent, though, I disturbed two bright white ptarmigan who flew up and out, before flying off northeast to settle out of sight on the steep slope.

Back on the quartz scree down to the bealach there was a bit of shelter from the wind. The ptarmigan pair - or perhaps another two - flew back way below me, turned and suddenly shot right past my face. Camera was away, so no pics, but a beautiful, memorable encounter.

Image033 Site of the ptarmigan fly-by by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image034 Loch Coire an Ruadh Stac by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Finally off the tops and back at the bealach, the view of An Ruadh Stac which had been totally obscured on the way up, appeared, though my eye was drawn at first to the lochans rather than the impressive cone.

Image035 First view of An Ruadh Stac at last by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image036 Beinn Damph under cloud and Applecross afar W by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Even taking in Meall nan Ceapairean was out of the question, I'd been so slow going. I didn't know what the descent would be like by head-torch and decided not to find out. I set off down the stalkers path again, the light beginning to fade now.

Image037 Too late for Meall nan Ceapairean by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

A little way down the stalkers path the torch went on and I marched without stopping, past the giant's rock, past the bothy and the 5km back to the gate. In the dark, the sounds of the hills were ringing - the river tumbling over rocks, the pipits, my creaking boots, odd hollow mountain sounds as water passes under a stone, an echo here, a boom there, and finally the road.

Behind me, I could see the guys' headtorches, in the distance and gradually speeding up. They, I thought, are looking forward to....aaaahhh.... boots off.

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User avatar
Location: West Sussex
Activity: Munro compleatist
Mountain: Ben Mor Coigach
Place: Assynt
Gear: Knee-strapping
Ideal day out: Epic ridge-walk with humbling history and a falcon, osprey or an eagle

Munros: 27
Corbetts: 17
Grahams: 9
Donalds: 4
Wainwrights: 41
Hewitts: 51
Sub 2000: 2
Islands: 12

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Trips: 13
Distance: 253.5 km
Ascent: 7161m
Munros: 7
Corbetts: 3
Grahams: 1
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Distance: 90 km
Ascent: 4648m
Munros: 1
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Trips: 8
Distance: 118.45 km
Ascent: 6818m
Munros: 9
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Grahams: 2
Donalds: 1

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Last visited: Aug 26, 2020
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