Walk of the week: Carn Dearg and the Monadhliath

The Monadhliath is the vast area of rolling moorland, 400sq miles or more, that covers almost all of Landranger map 35. The only serious indentation is made by the River Findhorn and the minor Strathdearn road.

Although popular with birdwatchers, few hillwalkers visit Strathdearn, a lovely ten-mile drive from Tomatin and then a similar distance on track by the Findhorn.

A Findhorn/Newtonmore traverse via Carn Dearg had long been planned and a few weeks ago that plan came to fruition. Rhona, Peter and I spent the first day in pre-placing a car, then driving round to Strathdearn and backpacking for some ten miles before camping. The next day saw us climbing Carn Dearg, then descending to Newtonmore.

At one time there were six Monadhliath Munros, all lying to the south near the A86; an area with a number of craggy aspects that relieve the "monotony" of the moorland area that occupies the vast hinterland.

Those craggy aspects certainly apply to 945m/3100ft Carn Dearg, the second most westerly Munro, which has a two-mile-long eastern face.

There are also steep slopes around Loch Dubh, south-west of the summit.

Carn Dearg means red cairn, a name justified by small outcrops of reddish rock found near the top, but not apparent from afar. There are 15 other Munros with dearg included in their names, never mind a host of lower hills, but this Carn Dearg could be the least red of them all.

There are three subsidiary Tops; Carn Ban and Carn Ballach, both demoted Munros, while the third is simply known as South-east Top.

This week's walk uses our return route to Newtonmore as a recommended way to climb Carn Dearg, though perhaps one day you will consider a two-day traverse of the Monadhliath.

The route

The end of the minor road above Newtonmore, at map ref 693998, gives a starting height of 300m, with a track, then path, leading west into Glen Banchor and north-west into Gleann Lochain and Coire nan Laogh, ending at Loch Dubh – one of those must-visit spots – below the summit of Carn Dearg.

Take the track on the north side of the River Calder to Glenballoch. At this point, despite the many times I have been there, I still get momentarily confused on a semi-misty day, in deciding which distant ridge goes where. The puzzle is caused by Sron Mor na h-Uamhaidh, guarding the north side of Glen Banchor, with Srath an Eilich being taken as the upper part of the glen.

A charming path leads through a plantation, then follows the river bank to reach the Allt Ballach just south of the ruined cottage of Dalballoch. The ground nearer Dalballoch can be wet and the stream, with no bridge over, is oft in spate. A barefoot crossing may be called for. The path, a bit vague in the lower stages, follows the east bank of the Allt an Lochain Duibh and climbs easily into Coire nan Laogh. The corrie is a spectacular, rugged setting with steep slopes and crags all round, apart from an easing of the slope to the north-east.

Loch Dubh, the well-named dark loch, well hidden at first, discloses yet another grand setting – this surely cannot be part of the boring Monadhliath. The loch lies at 650m and there is a small rudimentary hut for shelter or rest.

A rough path goes by the water's edge and from the north end of the loch it is a surprisingly easy step NNE to the summit. Take care, as the cairn is perched close to the edge of the crags. Linger a while enjoying the views before returning the same way.

The path can be left before reaching the loch, climbing north-east on gentle slopes to the dip between the South-east Top and Carn Macoul and so to the summit. However, it would be a crime not to visit the loch, so use this route as an alternative descent.

Facts

MAPs: Ordnance Survey map 35, Kingussie & Monadhliath Mountains

Distance: 13 miles

Height: 650m

Terrain: Track and path to loch, then grassy slopes to summit

Start point: End of minor road above Newtonmore, map ref 693998

Time: 5 to 7 hours

Nearest town: Newtonmore

Nearest refreshment spot: A good choice in Newtonmore

&#149 This article was first published in The Scotsman on Saturday, May 29, 2010