It’s as well we decided to leave the hostel early, the forecasters had promised a fair day and for once it seemed they’d got it right!
As we drove along the loch-side lane, we were party to wonderful views over Loch Torridon, shimmering like burnished silver in the slanted rays of the early morning sun; through the pines we were tantalised by intermittent glimpses of Ben Alligin, a real ‘Jewel’ today, golden in the sunlight. The day held much promise; it didn’t let us down.
Over the years Munros have been demoted to lesser status whilst one or two Tops and Corbetts have been promoted, such are the whimsies of those with the measuring gear, (it’s all done by supposedly infallible satellites now).
Beinn Dearg, at 914 metres, or 2998 feet, has persistently slipped through the net; and thankful for that we should be too!
For to be classed as a lowly Corbett, even though you are a fabulous mountain, ensures you’ll not have quite so many visitors scouring your back with their boots. Beinn Eighe, Liathach and Beinn Alligin are sure to have their hoards on any weekend day; we met but two other walkers as we tramped across Beinn Dearg.
Our route began as for Beinn Alligin, its close and more popular neighbour. Walking north from Loch Torridon we passed through shady pines on a good path which takes many low level walkers on a terrific romp into the wilderness trench of Coire Mhic Nobuil. The first few hundred yards the crisp morning air was laced with pine fragrance; countless years of fallen needles formed a carpet plush enough to deaden the sounds of our footfall.
For a while we had the company of the sparkling, waterfall punctuated, Abhainn Coire Mhic Nobuil; a wooden bridge eventually took us across it to join its tributary, and now our guide, the Allt a’ Bhealaich.
Although Beinn Dearg loomed prominently ahead and mighty Liathach breathed down on us from the near east, it was Alligin who stole the show during this first leg of our journey. With the impressive gash of The Eag Duhb, black and menacing even on this peaceful morning, and the three fearsome looking ‘Horns’, looming above, no one could be blamed for being somewhat distracted by the giant.
We crossed another bridge and, at a cairn, took the rough path onto the Bealach Chomhla. The slopes we were soon to climb bore down on us from across the flat grassy glen whilst over us, seemingly from the corrie floor itself, reared Beinn Alligin’s monolithic ‘Horns’.
Near the Bealach (top of the pass), we moved towards our mountain. Unhealthily steep it looked-and was-and with the only easier ascents around to the north side of the hill and miles of un-tracked rough lands away, we gritted our teeth and climbed.
We soon found ourselves in places where a slip would not be funny! Pulses thudded in ears and hearts boomed with the exertion, not to mention the adrenalin of mild anxiety. As the crow might fly, It wasn’t a long climb, yet it took us fully fifty minutes to reach the aimed for col above.
We needed a rest! Even if we didn’t we would have been unable to sally further until we’d soaked up the wonderful view of Flowerdale-that great loch and mountain painting to the north. The photography took some time. From the dark blue waters of Loch a’ Bhealaich, rose the triple humped camel of Baosbheinn, a Corbett worth a dozen higher Munros. Loch nah-Oidhchac (Loch of the evening), mirrored the slopes of Baosbheinn’s partner, Beinn an Eoinn. Both these splendid mountains involve a long and arduous expedition.
But now, Beinn Dearg. Our first objective was the mountain’s north-west top, Stac Loch na Cabhaig. Locked tight in the crutch of the long and knobbly horseshoe that stretched before us, the loch of the name glinted peacefully a thousand or so feet below.
Cabhaig’s tower loomed ahead, rock guarded and awkward looking. In the event the unavoidable scrambling was short lived and easy. Before we knew it we were gazing across at the reigning peak; now that looked even harder!
There was plenty of scrambling along the way, none difficult apart from one short pull up on vegetated rock (wet), above a precipice where the standard advice applies-don’t look down!
At the spacious summit, which offered amazing views of Liathach and Beinn Eighe, we heard the voices of the other climbers who we knew to be following us up.
Also in the frame was our next objective, the so called ‘Castle’, a seriously jutting piece of ground, benign looking from this side, but with a big rocky wall on the other.
We tip toed along the ‘Castle’s’ rocky spine. There is a bypass path, though, as I’d discovered on a previous visit, it’s not much better, in fact more precipitous; it’s actually best to stick with the crest.
The path came to an abrupt end…at the top of the wall I’ve previously mentioned. To get down to healthier ground we had to worm our way down two narrow chimneys. It proved easier than the guide books had predicted; it was also lots of fun!
Safely down we sat back and waited for our unseen followers to appear at the top of the drop. The first chap popped up and stood awhile, scratching his chin. “Jump!” I shouted playfully. The red coated mountaineer waved his arms as if they were a pair of wings. His pal appeared next to him and quickly they came down to join us. Up from Dundee, they told us, they were the only folk we met on the hill that day.
We were on a big mountain surrounded by bigger mountains still. Across the vast trench of Coire Mhic Nobuil reared our old friend Liathach; it’s high, sun missed gullies streaked with remnants of lingering snow, looked Alpine.
The final nail in this splendid horseshoe is Carn na Feola, a big flat topped mound of grass and the reddest Torridonian sandstone, great slabs of which protruded from the ground to make us zigzag our way cairnwards.
At first glance the whole of the southern face of Dearg looks ferociously steep and crag girt, yet en route this morning we’d spied out one or two plausible looking escape routes. From the cairn we back tracked a little and then dived down on initial steep grass and heather. After a while we made ourselves more comfortable in a shallow gully; it appeared to head straight down to the glen floor and the trade route path in Coire Mhic Nobuil.
There is no ‘standard’ route off the hill but here and there we found traces of minor boot erosion which confirmed that others had had the same idea as us. Surprisingly quickly, we found ourselves on the corrie’s welcoming path.
This final section of our walk was spectacular enough in its own right; no wonder it’s such a popular thoroughfare with hikers. The sparkling allt was a delight to walk beside, whilst the fearsome dark walls of Liathach rose nearby in awesome splendour. Many a backward glance revealed Beinn Eighe’s Sail Mor as the formidable bastion it is against the rest of the Torridon world.
Quietly, fully awed and reverent, and at last with entrancing views over Loch Torridon and the mountains across its waters, we retraced the morning’s riverside path.