Sandstone cap on quartzite base – [# 222]

Maol Chean-dearg (933m)

  • Pronunciation:             Merle Hyaan Jerrack
  • Translation:                  the Bald Red Head
  • Total distance:             16.9km
  • Total time:                    5hrs 11mins
  • Total ascent:                 1011m
  • Weather:                       Bright and fresher than of late with high cloud mainly above the tops. A few spots of rain as we approached the summit.
  • Start / end location:    Roadside parking by Coulags on the A890. [OS Map Sheet 25 – Grid Ref: NG 957 451]
  • Map:                                A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

East from the summit of Maol Chean-dearg to the three tops of Beinn Liath Mhor and Sgorr Ruadh (foreground right)

At last the weather was less humid than of late and with a slight strengthening of a breeze it held the midges at bay too.

Elaine crossing a footbridge over the Fionn-abhainn river en route to Maol Chean-dearg

The well-maintained Coire Fionnaraich Bothy and Stalkers Hut in the glen between Maol Chean-dearg and Sgorr Ruadh

We drove a few miles from our overnight wild camping spot and parked just to the west of the bridge over the Fionn-abhainn river by the tiny hamlet of Coulags, 3km to the north of Strathcarron.  We walked back across the bridge and then immediately turned left to follow the footpath north along the course of the Fionn-abhainn river, which flowed down the glen between Maol Chean-dearg and Sgorr Ruadh.

The path continued on the east bank of the river for 2km before it crossed to the other side via an excellent footbridge. After another 750m we came to the very well maintained Coire Fionnaraich Bothy and Stalkers Hut. The bothy is maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association but belongs to the Ben Damph Estate, with the latter having exclusive use of the bothy during the stag stalking season from 1 September to 20 October. Another 750m on from the bothy we passed a rather unusual looking upright rock – known as the Clach nan Con-fionn. As with several landscape features in the Highlands, this rock has been associated through folk-tales as the place where the mythical Celtic folk hero Fionn MacCumhail, the father of Ossian, was supposed to have tethered his hunting dogs.

The Coire Fionnaraich Bothy gets shared between estate workers and hillwalkers

Half a kilometre further on the path divided in two and we took the left hand option (west), climbing slowly up between the flanks of Maol Chean-dearg and Meall nan Ceapairean. As we reached the col at the top of this climb we were rewarded with a magnificent view along the craggy east ridge of An Ruadh Stac with its precipitous north face displayed in perfect profile. We both noted that the east ridge looked to offer exceptional scrambling potential which we agreed should be added to our “yet to do list” – after completion of our Munro challenge!

The Clach nan Con-fionn stone with Sgorr Ruadh in the background

At the col the terrain was composed of a bed of quartzite that gave the ground a look reminiscent of the limestone mountain trails in the Dolomites. From the col we turned NW and began the steep ascent of the ridge leading up the side of Maol Chean-dearg. The path was always obvious with loose quartzite scree and dust. At 750m we reached a small top on the ridge before a slight drop brought us to an expansive quartzite plateau. At the opposite end of this plateau the ridge continued, but was now much broader, and now composed of sandstone, which sat like a cap on top of the quartzite base layer.

Looking SW to An Ruadh Stac from the SE ridge of Maol Chean-dearg

A jumble of large sandstone boulders was strewn across the slope of the broad ridge and it was simply a case of us pursuing our own lines to the summit plateau. Once on the plateau an almost level walk brought us to the large summit cairn at 933m, where little walls like radial arms protruded from the cairn to form wind breaks (or bays) in all directions. We sat in one of these bays in the lee of the cairn and ate our lunch whilst we enjoyed spectacular views towards the Torridonian giants not far away to the north as well as the dramatic geological features including lines of strata that formed physical contour bands around Beinn na h-Eaglaise in the foreground.

We returned by our route of ascent and passed one or two parties climbing their way to the summit.

Cameron at the summit of Maol Chean-dearg

Beinn na h-Eaglaise to the NNW of Maol Chean-dearg

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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