Saturday, 28 April 2012

Maol Chean-dearg. Take two.

To be truthful, I thought we were going to have a backlog of hillwalk blogging, because Maol Chean-dearg was last Sunday, and me and Andy were away up to Spean Bridge today to have a go at Stob Choire Claurigh and Stob Coire an Laoigh. However, having spent a couple of hours getting to the Munro Top of Stob Coire Gaibhre, a close inspection of the amount of ice and snow on the ridge that traverses the hills, and a closer inspection of the dearth of ice axes and proper crampons in our respective rucksacks led to a communal decision that today wasn't to be the day. I suspect that the ridge might be at the limit of my comfort zone anyway, even if there wasn't a slippery element to factor in, but it'd have been daft to press on given that we both had reservations.

On a positive note, it means I'm now up to date with my outdoorsy exploits...or at least this post gets me there.

So, last weekend was another of the "ach, it's hardly worth an overnight stay for that" expeditions. I'm not sure what the cutoff point for this approach actually is. It was a 450 mile round trip on Sunday. Maybe we'll settle on a nominal 500 mile upper limit. Or maybe I'll teach Andy how to work a tent. ;0)

There didn't seem to be much point in setting off stupidly early, given that it was going to take up the whole day anyway. If we'd left at 5am, we'd have been back about 9pm, but...what is there to do at 9 o'clock on a Sunday night when you've got your work in the morning? Aiming to get home at around 11 at least had the benefit of limiting my potential post-journey alcohol intake.

The satnav would try and take you to Coulags via Fort William, but experience in these daft journeys recently has taught us that you're better heading for Inverness and then going cross country. The last wee section on single track roads was enlivened enormously because there was some sort of Heilan' bound car convention going on, and although the classic minis had a certain charm, we weren't too disappointed that the MR2 owners club outing were rather stuck behind the Defender for a few miles. Those lads really need to nip into Kwikfit and get their exhausts repaired. I couldn't swear to it, but there's a possibility Andy might have been deliberately driving quite slowly.

Still. A mere four & a half hours after leaving the hoose, we arrived at the wee parking spot just west of the bridge at Coulags. The forecast was way oot - but in a good way for once. Here's the Walkhighlands route, with illustrative pictorial representations. And explanatory notes. 
Cross back over the bridge and go through the gate on the left signed for Glen Torridon. Follow the track until just before the house where you turn left down some steps to the river side. The well constructed path crosses open moorland as it follows the glen on the east side of the Fionn-abhainn.

Ooh - a helicopter!

The river is soon crossed on a wooden bridge...

...and the path continues on the other side passing a memorial on a stone a little further on.
Soon a building comes into view.

 This is Coire Fionnaraich, a bothy maintained by volunteers the Mountain Bothy Association.

(You're hardly an hour's walk from the car to the bothy. It's a particularly luxurious example of the genre, perhaps because it gets used for the stalking fraternity. Clean, swept out, proper windows, a modicum of useable furniture, and a separate sleeping area up a solid set of stairs. There's even a bothy dog bowl. A genuinely nice touch is that there are pictures and information on the wall about the first tenants of the place, back in the day. Highly recommended.)

 A little further on, a large stone, the Clach nan Con-fionn, is passed.

 Looking a bit like a Henry Moore sculpture, legend has it that the stone was used by the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill - or Finn McCool - or Fingal - or maybe just Finn - to tether his hunting dogs.

(Those are not actually his dogs, just for the avoidance of doubt.)

Jorja checks to see if Fingal's dugs had left any food

 Four hundred metres further on, a small cairn marks a path junction; turn left here to begin a zig-zag climb up a stalkers path.

The path is clear all the way up to the bealach, with the looming crags of Meall nan Ceapairnean on the left. 

Once at the bealach a Choire Garbh there is an impressive view of the Corbett An Ruadh-stac.

(We sat here for about twenty minutes, soaking up the view. It's a remarkable lump of a hill altogether. One of the better lunch spots I had that week.)

 Turn right up an indistinct path heading north west, initially over quartzite scree.


Onwards & upwards

The path splits into a number of routes but less scree is found by keeping slightly to the east of the ridge point. The scree section is short and followed by a grassy plateau with only a faint path.

Quite a good find - no' much water for dugs after the glen floor

 The final ascent is up smallish sandstone boulders...

...until the large summit cairn comes into view.


Spot the snowman

Just beyond the cairn, with its numerous shelters, is a fabulous view down the steep face to Loch an Eion below and across to the Torridon peaks. The descent is via the same outward route back to the bealach. From here the easiest route is to retrace your steps back down the stalkers path. Other alternatives include making a long circular walk all the way round Maol Chean-dearg (description here), or returning over Meall nan Ceapairnean as described in the An Ruadh Stac route. 

1. We came down the same way we'd gone up. 

2. They're not wrong about the views:


A very highly recommended day out, on what seems to be a remarkably unsung hill. Oh, and there seems to be a hotel & campsite affair at Achnasheen now, so it doesn't need to be a daytrip for the less "Nine Hours In A Landrover" inclined amongst youse.



  1. Hi Scott. A great walk through amazing scenery. I did Maol Chean-dearg from the Torridon side about ten years ago. It was okay but I think you chose the most impressive walk in of the two.
    Alen McF

  2. It's a surprisingly quick jaunt from roadend to bothy - you're sufficiently remote from civilisation to begin with of course that it feels...wildernessy.

    It's also sparked my interest in other Fingal paraphernalia (parafingalia?), so I'm awa' to do some research. It's not his only dug stone.