The Mountain's Silhouette

Hiking and backpacking in the mountains of Scotland

Overnight in Inverlael

| Comments

An overnight backpacking trip around the Beinn Dearg group of four Munros and the remote Munro of Seana Bhraigh with a high wild camp

Loch a' Choire Ghranda

Sunday 9th November

Inverlael to Wild Camp on Creag an Lochain Sgeirich (NH 256 852)
Distance: 20.3km
Elevation: 1,654m
Hills: Beinn Dearg (Munro, 1,084m), Cona Mheall (Munro, 980m), Meall nan Ceapraichean (Munro, 977m), Eididh nan Clach Geala (Munro, 928m)
View my route on Social Hiking

It's not often that you read the words "almost dead calm on the summits" but those words, or something very like them, appeared on MWIS on Saturday afternoon and my plan for a backpack west-to-east through the Cairngorms was suddenly turned into a north western trip. I packed enough provisions for two nights but decided to see how I got on.

Leaving Aberdeen at just after 6am it was dark but mild as I made my way westward. A gloomy dawn happened somewhere near Keith but by the time I was climbing up to the moorland beyond Garve the sun was out and it was the most glorious morning in the North West Highlands - the calm made a mirror of Loch Glascarnoch and soon I was gazing up at the summits of the Inverlael Forest - my intended destination.

There were three cars at the walkers' car park by Inverlael House in Strath More but it looked as if everyone was already well on their way into the hills when I got going just after 9:30.

Loch Broom

Inverlael Forest - Hill Access

The route into the bealach to the north of Beinn Dearg is straight forward, a forestry road providing an easy way up lower Gleann na Sguiab above the river. It is all plantation here but there were pleasant views out across the river and up towards the higher slopes of the glen.

Gleann na Sguaib

After dropping down and crossing the River Lael by a very wet bridge the track followed the curve in the glen and just before I disappeared back into the woods I got my first view of the impressive western face of Beinn Dearg rising up at the head of the glen.

Beinn Dearg from Gleann na Sguaib

Through a more pleasant section of woodland and then out into the open glen, stopping to a look down at the upper catchment of the River Lael hydro scheme.

Upper weir, River Lael hydro scheme

The track now left the glen floor and narrowed to a delightful footpath, gaining height steadily with wonderful views up ahead. The uniform grey cloud was starting to break and low sunlight spilled over the southeastern flank of the glen.

Gleann na Sguaib

Path through Gleann na Sguaib

As I entered the upper glen I passed a number of grand waterfalls and was soon in the shadowy inner sanctum below Beinn Dearg's dark cliffs. There were a number of side streams to ford but this was accomplished without problem and then I was following the easy path higher up.

Falls on the River Lael

River crossings in Gleann na Sguaib

Falls below Beinn Dearg

Below Beinn Dearg

At about this point I set my pack down and as the hour of eleven ticked over, stood and observed two minutes of silence. It was Remembrance Sunday and I thought of my Grandpa who introduced me to the hills of the Yorkshire Moors and Dales.

Approaching the Bealach an Lochain Uaine

The path now followed a cunning line, winding its way up between flat grassy sections and rockier climbs as the land rose in a series of terraces towards the Bealach an Lochain Uaine. Golden light was catching the upper slopes of Meall nan Ceapraichean, the Munro opposite Beinn Dearg.

Meall nan Ceapraichean

The climb to the Bealach an Lochain Uaine

Cliffs of Beinn Dearg

The path went past a number of still pools, including the larger Lochan Lathail, but soon enough I was up the last section of ascent and rejoicing in the warm sunshine at the Bealach an Lochain Uaine.

Lochan Lathail below Beinn Dearg's crags

Looking back down Gleann na Sguaib towards Loch Broom

Lochain Uaine

The surface of the lochan had a layer of ice as I made my way across the bealach and up to the crest where the infamous "famine" dry stone wall was to be found. Here I decided that as I was doing two out-and-backs I would leave my pack. I don't like doing this, especially when I have all my camping gear in there, but given I was running against daylight anything that would ease the ascent/descent was to be embraced.

The famous Beinn Dearg dry stone wall

From here there was a fabulous view eastward down beyond Loch Choire Ghranda to a distant Loch Glascarnoch.

View down Coire Ghranda

With just a few things in my pockets I headed up the north side of Beinn Dearg, a steep flank following the line of the wall as it climbs upwards. In the deep shade the rocks were slippery with frost and I had to be careful about foot placement. There were two initial steep sections where there was careful clambering up greasy blocks, and then I crossed the wall and followed grassy patches up to the summit plateau. The views behind and below me were fabulous with the autumn sunshine bathing the land beyond the shadow of Beinn Dearg's bulk.

Cona Mheall from the ascent of Beinn Dearg

Bealach an Lochain Uaine

The summit cairn was soon attained and I stood in disbelief at the accuracy of MWIS's 'dead calm' promise - it was utterly, utterly still.

Summit of Beinn Dearg

I stood in awe, gazing off at the splendid views that had opened up all around. Mist and cloud lingered around the summits to the south but north and west it was perfectly clear, a background of mist hanging over the sea.

Mist over the Fannaichs

Loch Glascarnoch and the Fannaichs

Ullapool and Ben Mor Coigach

Loch a' Bhraoin and Torridon

The hills of Assynt and Coigach

Mist over An Teallach

Seana Bhraigh from Beinn Dearg

Eventually I tore myself away from the views and retraced my steps back off the plateau and down the north ridge, picking the best line and avoiding most of the worst of the slippery sections.

Freevater Forest from Beinn Dearg

Cona Mheall from Beinn Dearg

Soon enough I was back at my pack, enjoying the views down the coire again as the changing light cast fresh shadows. Looking at the time I decided I had enough time to make it up to the summit and back of Cona Mheall, the Munro which sits to the east of the bealach.

The north side of Beinn Dearg (with wall)

Meall nan Ceapraichean

Loch a' Choire Ghranda

I soon picked up a track and followed this over the minor top just above the bealach. This led me down to the start of the climb up Cona Mheall's scree covered slopes. Rather than take a direct route up through the rocks and boulders I followed a path which angled up on grass before cutting up through the boulders at their narrowest point. This got me easily up to the summit ridge where there were fabulous views east across the great gulf separating Cona Mheall from its neighbouring Munro of Am Faochagach.

Northwest from Cona Mheall

Am Faochagach

Cloud had drifted in from the south and now the sky was grey and gloomy overhead. I made my way along to the summit cairn and watched as cloud engulfed the summit of Beinn Dearg.

Light over the Fannaichs

Loch Prille from Cona Mheall

Summit of Cona Mheall

Cloud over Beinn Dearg

I sat by the summit and enjoyed the change in mood and tone that the clouds had brought about. It was still calm.

Seana Braigh from the south

Lochs Tuath and Prille

Am Faochagach from Cona Mheall

By the time I was leaving gthe summit the southern sky was clearing and it looked hopeful that the blue skies would reappear. I again retraced my steps and on a good path was soon dropping back down to the bealach, skirting the top and arriving back at my pack at around 1pm, ready for a late lunch.

The Fannaichs and Beinn Dearg

Beinn Dearg and the Bealach an Lochain Uaine

Lower slopes of Cona Mheall

Cona Mheall

Loch a' Choire Ghranda

Cona Mheall

After lunch I once again shouldered my backpack and recrossed the bealach, heading for the gently sloped eastern ridge of Meall nan Ceapraichean. After crossing some boggy ground I soon picked up a pretty distinct track that took me quickly up the hill.

Loch a' Choire Ghranda

East ridge of Meall nan Ceapraichean

The sunshine was well and truly back and there were fantastic views from the ridge across to An Teallach, down to Gleann na Sguaib and northeast into the wilds of the Freevater forest beyond Loch Tuath.

Meall nan Ceapraichean

Gleann na Sguaib

Loch Tuath from Meall nan Ceapraichean

The bealach receded into the distance behind me and soon I was at the summit of the day's third Munro. Meall nan Ceapraichean has a lofty summit and the views were superb, Ullapool and the Assynt hills visible once again.

Cona Mheall from Meall nan Ceapraichean

Summit of Meall nan Ceapraichean

Loch Tuath from Meall nan Ceapraichean

Loch Broom, Ullapool and Coigach from Meall nan Ceapraichean

West from Meall nan Ceapraichean

In the sunshine it was easy to follow the route ahead of me and I felt more confident of reaching my planned campsite in time to enjoy the sunset. After enjoying the summit views I followed the curve of the ridge around to the north and was soon looking across the next bealach to Eididh nan Clach Geala, the fourth and final Munro for the day. Further off Seana Bhraigh was now looking much closer, the final rise of a bleak moorland that stretched further off to the east.

Summit of Meall nan Ceapraichean

Eididh nan Clach Geala from Meall nan Ceapraichean

Seana Bhraigh from Ceann Garbh

The upper part of the descent was interesting. Once again I was on a cold northern slope and the frosty granite boulders were incredibly slippery. I picked my way down and was very glad when I eventually came on a clear path which ran down to the col at the head of the coire containing Loch a' Chnapaich.

Late afternoon light on the Freevater hills

Eididh nan Clach Geala

An Teallach beyond Loch a' Chnapaich

The bealach was easily negotiated and then I was picking my way up the rough slopes of Eididh nan Clach Geala's indistinct eastern ridge. Higher up the way became more defined and soon enough the summit came into view. The light and situation were spectacular.

East from Eididh nan Clach Geala

Beinn Dearg from Eididh nan Clach Geala

Summit of Eididh nan Clach Geala

Summit of Eididh nan Clach Geala

There are two cairned summits a short distance apart with the more northerly one being the true summit. After visiting the southern one I crossed a beautiful area of flat, drained turf (ideal wild camping) and then made my way up to the true summit cairn. From here the views were expansive and I could easily make out the hill's northern top where I planned to camp. Sunset wasn't far off now but I decided I could probably still make it.

Assynt from Eididh nan Clach Geala

Freevater hills from Eididh nan Clach Geala

Beinn Dearg from Eididh nan Clach Geala

Summit of Eididh nan Clach Geala

After a few minutes enjoying the wonderful views I continued north, picking my way down more slippery rocks and threaded my way down towards a promising looking stream. On the broad slopes further downhill a huge number of deer were idly grazing.

West from Eididh nan Clach Geala

Deer on the slopes of Eididh nan Clach Geala

Assynt and the North top of Eididh nan Clach Geala

At a clear tinkling stream I filled up my three litre reservoir and then carried this in my arms the final few minutes uphill to the spot where I intended to camp. On arrival I found it pretty perfect - flat, slightly damp moss, with amazing views from the Fannaichs in the south to Seana Bhriagh in the north. Sunset was not far off and already the Assynt hills were fading from ruddy red to sombre grey.

Sun setting beyond Fisherfield

Assynt hills at sunset

Eididh nan Clach Geala at sunset

I quickly got the tent up and my things sorted and packed away. There was just the lightest ruffle of a breeze which made the whole process very easy and soon enough I was able to relax and enjoy the last of the day's sunlight as it slipped away beyond the Fisherfield hills.

Wild camping with views to Assynt

Wild camping below Eididh nan Clach Geala

Scarp 1 tent at sunset

Seana Bhraigh was one of the last hills to hold onto the sunset. It glowed red in the north.

Last light on Seana Bhraigh

Wild camping with views of Assynt

Sunset scene from camp

Too quickly though it was gone and with the loss of sunshine any pretence of heat in the day vanished. I pulled on another insulating layer and enjoyed the quiet minutes as dusk fell across the land. Lights started to twinkle in Ullapool and the occasional spot of light picked out the main road in the distance.

Fisherfield after sunset

Tent after sunset

An Teallach and Loch Broom

By six it was pitch dark and the sky was awash with stars. The Milky Way arched directly over the tent and I sat back gazing at the night sky. A meteor flashed through the constellation Cygnus.

Stars over Seana Bhraigh

By the time I had had dinner (an extremely delicious spaghetti bolognese from Mountain Trails) a bright moon had risen, banishing the stars. In their place was the sight of an increasingly frosty world as the temperatures dipped.

Full moon light, frost and tent light

I was soon wrapped up in my cosy sleeping bag and after a couple of podcasts, and a few chapters of Hell Of A Journey by Mike Cawthorne, fell into a comfortable sleep.

Monday 10th November

Wild Camp on Creag an Lochain Sgeirich to Inverlael
Distance: 23.4km (total: 43.7km)
Elevation: 712m (total: 2,366m)
Hills: Seana Bhraigh (Munro, 927m)
View my route on Social Hiking

I slept well, though by the end of the night there was a distinctively chill feel even deep in my sleeping bag. At some point a breeze had gotten up and it wasn't until around 7am that I was awake enough to poke my head out for a look. The eastern sky was tinged with orange and a new day wasn't far off.

Pre-dawn sky

The breeze was coming from the east, side on to the tent, so I zipped open the other side where I found the moon hanging above An Teallach. The world was white with a thick frost and I was soon sitting there with a hot cup of coffee looking out at this cold, quiet vista.

First light on An Teallach

Dawn over An Teallach

Put The Kettle On

There was mist drifting in some of the lower straths to the north but otherwise it was a clear dawn. I pulled on a couple of layers of insulation, tugged on my hat and got out just in time to watch the sun rise above the hill in the northeast.

Fisherfield and An Teallach

P1120456

Sunrise on a frozen world

It was a fabulous morning with the slow creep of a golden dawn illuminating the hills near and far, until everything was bathed in sunshine.

Dawn light, An Teallach

Wild camping

Frosty tent and An Teallach

By the time I was packed up the sun had properly risen and the world shimmered and sparkled as the frost in the grass caught the beams of light. Leaving behind a patch of damp ground I was off into the sunrise, heading now for the back of Seana Bhraigh. It didn't appear far away but that belied the complex terrain that lay between myself and my destination.

Light on the Assynt Hills

Seana Bhraigh across Coire an Lochain Sgeirich

I skirted the edge of the steep drop down into Coire an Lochain Sgeirich, flanked by steep cliffs on this side, and then made my way down besides a series of rocky ledges. I crunched my way through frozen bog and across a few burns covered in ice crystals.

Crystals of ice

Craggy ground in Coire an Lochain Sgeirich

The head of the coire was rough and it was difficult to pick out the best course. I worked my way up past a series of frozen lochans. Looking back I could see above the cliffs the area where I had camped.

Head of Coire an Lochain Sgeirich

Frozen ground around Coire an Lochain Sgeirich

Lochan

Cairned track leading away from Coire an Lochain Sgeirich

After following a cairned track for a short way I diverted north up a rough hillock until I stood looking out over a deep gully and the Cadha Dearg beyond. This gully was the recommended route on Walk Highlands but from my position it would be almost impossible to descend safely into. Rather than backtrack I returned to the cairned track and followed the fall of the ground down until I could cross across to the bealach at the head of Cadha Dearg. This involved a final scramble down through a rock terrace but progress was easy across the frozen bogs.

The gully above Cada Dhearg

The head of Gleann Beag

Towards Seana Bhraigh

Bottom of the gully

Looking back towards the gully

I came to the lip of Cadha Dearg (cadha is narrow ravine in Gaelic), a vast chasm between the Inverlael hills and Seana Bhraigh. Far in the dark bottom the River Douchary starts its journey to the sea. There are steep crags on the south side whilst the more gentle slopes of Seana Bhraigh rise on the north beyond another wall of crags.

The cliffs of Cadha Dearg

Cadha Dearg

Rim of Cadha Dearg

This is a popular enough approach to Seana Bhraigh that I picked up a boggy path and followed this up besides a few tumbling streams, the views opening back behind me to Beinn Dearg and An Teallach in the distance.

View south from the lip of the Cadha Dearg

I soon picked up firmer ground and in the warm sunlight plodded steadily up to the cairn on the south top of Seana Bhraigh. Here the high rolling plateau suddenly ends and the views out to the north over moorland and straths opens out in an incredible vista. In the distance Ben Mor Assynt and Ben Klibreck were visible through the early haze. Near at hand the amazing spire of An Sgurr one arm of the mountain surrounding Loch Lochd Coire was dark against the morning light.

An Sgurr from the south top of Seana Bhraigh

The wind was blowing strongly here and so I found a sheltered hollow to stash my bag and went across to explore An Sgurr. The classic round of Seana Bhraigh involves an airy 600m scramble up to this peak. This is something I'll do in the future but for now I just wanted a look at this rock steeple. The ridge narrows to an exhilarating knife-edge arete dropping to the base of An Sgurr. It was just before the arete that I stopped. The granite was coated in hoar-frost and the wind was gusting enough to make me unsteady on my feet. It wasn't the right conditions, even for the fairly short scramble up to the summit of An Sgurr so I made do with admiring it from this close distance, dreaming of a return visit.

The ridge to An Sgurr

An Sgurr

An Sgurr

An Sgurr and the hills of Assynt

From this lofty perch there were fine views down to Loch Luchd Choire far below, across to the summit of Seana Bhraigh and further out to Assynt and An Teallach.

Loch Luchd Coire, Seana Bhraigh

Seana Bhraigh

Loch Luchd Coire, Seana Bhraigh

Coire Mor

I retraced my steps back down the ridge and along to my bag, shouldering it before continuing on towards the summit of Seana Bhraigh. The walking was easy on springy turf and moss with just the occasional scattered rock field to negotiate.

Loch Luchd Coire, Seana Bhraigh

An Sgurr

Heading to the summit of Seana Bhraigh

An Sgurr

Soon enough I emerged on the summit, a wind shelter the most obvious feature of this 927m high Munro. I was on my 182nd Munro summit meaning that I have just another 100 to climb now! I spent some time exploring the summit which drops steeply off to the north with iconic views out northward across Loch Luchd Coire and across to An Sgurr. I recognised the view from my favourite guidebook and set up the gorillapod in order to try and recreate the front cover photo.

On the summit of Seana Bhraigh

Summit of Seana Bhraigh

An Sgurr from the summit of Seana Bhraigh

The resulting shot gave Cicerone, the book's publisher, the opportunity to have a bit of fun on Twitter.

After that I was able to sit down and enjoy a bite to eat, sitting with my back to the wind and admiring the fabulous views all around.

Assynt from Seana Bhraigh

North from Seana Bhraigh

An Sgurr from Seana Bhraigh's summit

The cliffs of Seana Bhraigh

Mist in Strath Mulzie

An Teallach from Seana Bhraigh

As midday approached I had made up my mind. Rather than continuing on, possibly towards the Corbett of Carn Mor, I would instead finish the trip today and head back to the car. The forecast was for rising wind and lowering cloud and I didn't fancy the possibility of a bleak, viewless day the next day. I left the summit and contoured around the southwest of the South Top, eventually rejoining my ascent track which led me back down to the lip of Cadha Dearg where I refilled my water bottle.

Leaving Seana Bhraigh's summit

The Inverlael Hills beyond Cadha Dearg

A tumbling burn and the Cadha Dearg

The rim of Cadha Dearg

To get back I was intending to follow the gully back up to the bealach. This proved easier said than done as the terrain is very complex with misleading paths and gradients. Eventually though I dropped into the frosty gully and followed it up, eventually leaving it to seek out the sunshine on the minor top of Meall a'Choire Ghlais. Here I had my last good views back to Seana Bhraigh.

View back to Seana Bhraigh

Seana Bhraigh and the gully

Seana Bhraigh

There was a little cloud now obscuring the tops further south, including Beinn Dearg, but I was still in the sunshine as I took a last look across the high moors and then dropped down to find the clear track into Coire an Lochain Sgeirich.

Cloud over Beinn Dearg

Coire an Lochain Sgeirich

The path proved to be excellent, offering a good surface and excellent views. I worked my way down past a string of lochans and was soon rounding a corner back into sunshine and views ahead to An Teallach. At a point where I had a final view to the summit of Seana Bhraigh I paused for a second lunch, enjoying the warmth and the calmer conditions.

Track through Coire an Lochain Sgeirich

Assynt

Icy lochans in Coire an Lochain Sgeirich

Summit of Seana Bhraigh

An Teallach

The path now crossed the moorland, dropping eventually to the waters of the Allt a' Mhadaidh. The views to misty mountains were fabulous and the walking was easy. I had views back up to the hills of yesterday and could pick out my campsite.

Misty views of An Teallach

An Teallach

View back to Eididh nan Clach Geala

Allt Gleann a' Mhadaidh

As I lost height the path got a little boggier until I crossed the Allt a' Mhadaidh and the path turned into a very boggy vehicle track.

An Teallach

Allt Gleann a' Mhadaidh

Inverlael Hills

This made progress less fun but soon enough I was dropping back down towards the River Lael with views back up to Beinn Dearg which was once again largely cloud free.

An Teallach beyond Inverlael

View back to Beinn Dearg

I quickly wound my way down the zig-zags and reached the glen floor where I rejoined my outward route. It was now just a couple of kilometres back along to Inverlael and my car, now alone in the car park.

Loch Broom late afternoon

It was already feeling frosty in the glen and the sun had dipped beyond the hills. A gritter passed me as I was sorting my stuff out for the drive home. After a quick message home I was heading back, leaving behind the magic of the west coast. I stopped for a quick breather by Loch Glascarnoch but darkness fell quickly and by Inverness it was very misty. I took it steady, arriving in a dark, foggy Aberdeen a few hours later. It was hard to believe I'd been sitting in sunshine on the summit of Seana Bhraigh just 8 hours earlier.

Beinn Dearg from the end of Loch Glascarnoch

Comments