On the countdown of the Munros still to climb, I am filling in the gaps in mountain ranges. One of these was Cona Mheall in the Deargs. This is memorable as we completed the descent in the dark, the first time I have had to navigate in the darkness. It was in late August when the nights are drawing in with day light until about nine pm.
The Deargs are a group of mountains lying to the east of Ullapool in the north west of the highlands. This is my third visit to them but it could be argued that both Seana Bhraigh and Am Faochagach are also part of the group. I last wrote about them in July 2001 when I spent a very snowy Easter climbing there and then a further visit to Beinn Dearg some years later in good weather. My most outstanding memory of that trip was the dry stone wall that ran most of the way down the mountain. They certainly don?t build walls like that anymore! This time the weather was warm and surprisingly clear.
Anyway, back to Cona Mheall. Most guide books suggest climbing Beinn Dearg and Cona Mheall together from Inverlael Forest but this misses the airy ridge of Cona Mheall where the mountain drops precipitously away from the interesting scrambles. We started rather late in the day from near Loch Droma where we parked the car just over the river on the Ullapool road. This was to be important to us later in finding the car in the dark. We could not find the path as suggested by various Munro books and walked on rough boggy ground alongside Loch a?Gharbhrain and past an old shieling to cross the Allt a?Ghharbrain. The river was fairly low in the dry weather but still required the wearing of sandals to keep boots dry on the crossing.
We walked on in trackless peat to Loch Coire Lair and alongside the loch until we came to the burns running down from Choire Ghranda. We crossed these and were faced with a steep wall of grass and rocks up to the south east ridge of Cona Mheall. We found an easy steep grassy way onto the ridge between the rocks. Coire Ghranda is well named and looked spectacular with the high lochan and the steep cliffs of Beinn Dearg rising from the lochan.
We scrambled along the ridge and it is only thanks to Floris that I made it to the top. I came across some difficult scrambling on the rocks to find a way up. Floris descended on it and then I followed the holds she had used on the rocks. On our descent from the ridge we did not follow the same route as we had on the ascent and constantly had to change direction to avoid the rocky outcrops so delaying us even more. Time was going on and it was dark by the time we returned towards the river and Loch a?Gharbhrain. This time we walked across the river with boots on resulting in very wet feet for the rest of the walk over the bog. Although it was a warm and clear night, there was little light from the moon but the LED head torch lit up the ground to see the bog.
The important thing was to find the car on the unlit road so we turned on the GPS to find out our exact location then took a bearing on the compass and followed it towards the road where we came to a river, turned to the right and there we were at the car! The only problem with using a head torch is that the midges are attracted to the light and I walked with a swarm of them around my head!
I remember thinking when we stopped in the dark, sinking in the bog, I felt like a plant as I looked up to the clear sky with the Milky Way and the outline of the Plough. The only other times that I have descended mountains in the dark were from An Teallach and Mayar, both in wintertime and scary. This time I was confident in my navigation skills and the weather was good. It was a great experience being in darkness but not necessarily one I would wish to repeat.
Coming attractions; Mullardochs, Glen Affric completed and Beinn Fhionnlaidh on a boat.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Tom Addie for the photos