Character Building on Beinn Dearg (Ullapool)
Area: Loch Broom to Strath Oykel
Munro’s: Beinn Dearg (Ullapool), Cona’ Mheall, Eididh nan Clach Geala, Meall nan Ceapraichean, Seana Bhraigh
Date walked: 07/04/2012
Time taken: 11.7 hours
Distance: 39.5 km
Having had a great time at Kintail last weekend it seemed like such a short time at work before the Easter Weekend was upon us. I was looking forward to a good walk and the Beinn Dearg group near Ullapool was my chosen target. It would be a big round but doable if the conditions were not against me. However with the changeable Scottish weather nothing is guaranteed. With the weather conditions in mind and the Snow falling last week I decided to take Ice axe, crampons and micro spikes with me. I also packed a bivvy bag, sleeping bag and three litres of water with an appropriate amount of provisions for the walk ahead. Having prepared my brain for another solo effort, a message appeared on my phone from Andrew. He quite fancied the same walk and his friend Tim would come along for the ride. However they had decided that they would walk in on the Friday night and camp below Beinn Dearg. I would walk in on the Saturday to their high camp join them for the rest of the walk. I drove up on Friday night, collecting milk and coffee for Andrew on the way, and got my head down around 2300.
I was up before 0540 and on my way by 0620. There is a good car park at Inverlail with a good Landrover track into and through the forest. There are a few signs on the way clearly indicating the route to Beinn Dearg. There is also a small hydro project in a weir across the river Lael. There has been a fair bit of logging and piles of logs were stacked along the route with some sparse patches on the hillside where the logs trees have been felled. After just under 3kms, just after crossing the river via the bridge, there is another sign for Beinn Dearg indicating the path continuing West into the valley and at this point you could head North West up the Landrover track if you were heading for Seana Bhraigh, and in fact is the path we all descended on. The path follows the north bank of the river Lael climbing gently as it meanders up the valley for a further 4.5km crossing some burns in spate on the way. The river Lael is a torrent in places with some spectacular waterfalls cascading down the river. The path now gets a bit steeper for the 2km up to the beallach below Beinn Dearg crossing some small snow paths, Lochan lathail and Lochan Uaine on the way. As I ascend into the mist and clag I am hoping the sun will come out at some point and burn the clag away but it was not to be and 30m of visibility was about as much as we had for the rest of the journey. I keep my eyes peeled for the campsite of the wild campers but see nothing until I emerge at the tiny Lochan on the beallach. And I see the tents. You couldn’t miss them. Not some blended Kahki or dark green but bright red. This was color pollution at it most extreme however a good choice if you need air sea rescue hahaha. So a good morning to the guys and of course Victoria who was sharing Andrew’s tent and was doing the walk with the rest of us.
Andrew told me that they had already walked Beinn Dearg and Cona’ Mheall so after a quick coffee I was to bag the two Munros (which would take a couple of hours) and return to the wild campers, decamped and ready for the third Munro. That sounded like a good plan so onwards and upwards into the clag following the famine wall upwards over the boulder terrain. There were some snowfields to cross and this was pretty nasty as I could not see the boulders and invariably put my foot into deep holes on occasion. This was strength sapping. In addition as I ascended the boulders accrued a covering of ice and became extremely slippery. My new gloves from Aldi, My skiing gloves have given up the ghost after three years of use, were no use either as they were just sliding across the ice. It was better to use my fingers even though it was cold. Crampons would have been leg breaking in this scenario so I put on my micro spikes and they were excellent, griping the ice rocks and soon, after climbing over the wall and heading south I was at the summit of Beinn dearg.
Now I retraced my steps, still wearing the micro spikes, back down to the Lochan and up over the spot height at 884m. I was using my phone gps in the thick clag and as I took it out to check my route one of my microspikes came off the boot without me seeing it. I had probably walked 10 paces when I realized so I back tracked but couldn’t find it initially. I now decided that It was lost and out the corner of my eye I spotted it. Yee ha. Such a small incident but it cheered me up no end. They had become like a friend to me on the ascent/descent of Beinn Dearg that I would have been sad to leave it. I took the other one off and hung them both on my belt ready for the ascent to Cona’ Mheall but in the event they were not required for two reasons. The rain was persisting it down and the hours were passing so the ambient air temperature was increasing, melting any ice that may have formed. So after a bouldery ascent up to Cona’ Mheall summit I returned to the small Lochan at the Beallach.
The troops had decamped but still had one tent up probably sheltering awaiting my return. However, I needed fuel. So I stopped on the rocks to eat and drink. I had been on the go for 4.5 hours and ascended maybe 1400m to this point. Andrew shouted over that they would continue and I would catch up. So after a rushed snack and on my way. I catch the troops on the summit of Meall nan Ceapraichean. I am soaked through to the skin now. I don’t mind being wet but when we stopped it was cold so keep moving was the answer. My windproof/waterproof turned out to be not actually waterproof in the persistent drizzle and clag. It has taped seams etc. but the benefit of it being super breathable in normal conditions came back to haunt me in the constant wet allowing the drizzle to seep through. I never usually wear waterproofs over my trousers unless in a downpour but knew I would have to put my overtrousers on at some point just to keep the heat in but that could wait until my next food stop.
Eididh nan Clach Geala is approximately 1.7km Due North with a walk of 3km in a horseshow around the Corrie, which we could not see, down to the Lochan and then up to the summit. As we ascend to the summit we meet our first walkers of the day, Smudger 71 and his son Daniel. I first met The Smiths on Beinn Dearg Blair Athol. Young Daniel had done more than 125 munros at the time and in fact in February 2013 at the age of Nine Daniel became the youngest person to complete a round of the Munro’s. Awesome. We soon arrive on the summit of Eididh nan Clach Geala. There is a second cairn on the summit so we visit both just to be sure hahaha. We don’t hang around here and we head again into the clag.
We now head North East for 2km descending to the Cairn on the track in the plain below Meall a Choire Ghlais. It’s now time for lunch. I have a good meal but on reflection it’s too little too late. I also put my overtrousers on. It’s cold and the troops want to crack on. We still have a long way to go. It’s a 4km walk to Seana Bhraigh. The route goes past the lochan below Meall a Choire Ghlais, then descend 100m East down the valley past Loch a Chadha Dheirg before ascending North for 2km to the summit. The route is extremely boggy and contours around the amazing Cadha Dearg Corrie which was somewhere in the depths of the clag. We bypass the spot height at 905m heading for the Summit and pass a group of 10 walkers 20 meters or so below us heading back down the hillside. It’s at about this point where I run out of energy. It’s like someone switched a light of hahaha. I struggle to ascend the final 80m and to add insult to injury Victoria runs past me to the summit of Seana Bhraigh hahaha, Socongratulations all round. I am so happy but need more food. The guys want to head off because it is cold. Andrew asks Tim to stay but I tell them all to head off and I will see them at the finish. I intend stopping for 20 minutes at least and consuming more rations and fluid before I go anywhere. The troops head off and leave me to the strangely peaceful summit in the cold wet clag. I consume the rest of my pasta and trail mix. Drink the rest of my energy drink and close my eyes for 10 minutes. I am getting cold but nothing to serious and I know I can afford to rest before heading back down the claggy hillside.
So after a well earned rest I head of back down the hillside. I descend a bit below our ascent path and find a well worn track that meanders up and down around the head of the Corrie. I have to keep checking my phone to ensure I am on route because the clag is very debilitating and I don’t trust hill tracks implicitly. I get my compass out and take a bearing to loch a Chadha Dheirg. It’s great to see the Loch and it confirms I am on route. I peer into the mist to see the towering summit of Meall a Choire Ghlais. It’s only a climb of 130m but it looks more. I take another bearing which is more or less West West South for the 1.5km to the small Cairn on the path. So head down and I ascend directly up the valley just south of the summit. I get to the Beallach and check my phone. I didn’t close the plastic bag it was in and itsnow full of water. Carrying paper weights was not in my plans but that’s about as much use as the phone is now. Luckily enough it’s a short walk to the Northern side of the small lochan and 300m or so on my bearing to the path. I backtracked on the path to the cairn to check my position on the map. To tell you the truth It’s a relief to get here. The path should now take me all the way back to the car. ( I am trusting this path implicitly hahaha)
It’s now the long and winding road down the hillside. It’s approximately 7km of small track and then 3km of Landrover track back to the car. The path is fairly good and every so often I can see a group of footprints, hopefully from my compatriots, on the track or in the small snowfields confirming in my mind at least that this is the correct path. On route the path goes very close to the Allt Gleann a Mhadaidh which is a raging torrent with spectacular waterfalls as it cascades down the hillside and as luck wouldn’t have it 1km down river I have to cross it. Its wild and I wade across but at one point the water dislodges one foot and I nearly end up with my head in the water. Luckily enough I only got a good soaking and a few bruises. Not recommended I can tell you but at this late stage, barring injury, the cold and wet does not bother me. 2km later I am descending the hillside to the path. My right knee is hell and has been for a while but I am soon on the Landrover track heading back to the car.
Andrew, Victoria and Tim are still in the car park, suitably changed from there wet clothes and happy that I made it off the hillside in one piece, I think hahaha.