A day of fine hillwalking seemed a remote prospect when I parked the car in Glen Carron, and hail-stones lashed the windows. The forecast suggested an improvement into the afternoon, and so I decided a short walk was in order - I hadn't travelled all this way in order to sit in the car. I parked at the little hamlet of Coulags, and took the 'right of way' Northwards alongside the beautiful and rapidly flowing Fionn-abhainn, towards the distant peak of Maol Chean-dearg.
A fine path heads all the way up this glen, so covering huge amounts of ground in a relatively short space of time is facilitated. To my dual-surprise, and great delight, and soon found myself passing a footbridge, a bothy, and arriving at a small cairn marking the division of the paths - from which I struck Westwards to wards the mountain. The surprise was 'dual' because the sun was beginning to shine, and tremendous views were opening up on every side as I gained height.
The challenge to hillwalking this May isn't just the appalling weather, it is also the amount of snow lying on the hills in what should now be Spring. For a solitary walker without winter equipment this is a serious consideration in a year when (I believe) fifteen people have lost their lives in avalanches in the Highlands. The reason I was on this mountain was that of all the peaks visible from the road this one appeared to have the least snow on it, and the clearest ridges. Appearances can be deceptive, but enough to make ascents of several other mountains in the area out of the question for the day.
As the path gained height, and climbed between Maol Chean-dearg and the adjacent summit of An Ruadh Stac (above), there was little sign of snow, just good walking up the steeply sided hill.
To the East the view is dominated by the two Munro's Beinn Liath Mhor and Sgorr Ruadh, a great round I completed a couple of years ago in near-tropical conditions.
I finally hit the snow line on the very steep section running towards the summit, and stopped to consider my options. After a long drink, and a huge slab of chocolate, a photo or two, and a pleasant rest I was pretty resigned to the fact that my day was done and that it was time to turn for home. A quick look at the map, and the altimeter on my GPS revealed that I was only 120m from the summit.
The snow wasn't deep, there were rocks protruding through it all over the place, there wasn't enough to present any avalanche risk whatsoever, and so I decided to give it a go.
Happily I managed to pick my way up the last section, onto the great snow-capped, bald summit from which the views out over Torridon were breathtaking. Several photos, and another slab of Dairy Milk later, I packed up my rucksack and returned to Coulags and the car, by the same route, stopping to chat to the only people I set eyes on all day.
From the car, the summit of Maol-Chearn-dearg is just visible, poking its distant snowy head just above the foreground hills.
(All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them)