Beinn Dearg via the Northwest Ridge Walking

Perhaps as often used as a descent for winter climbers as a route up for walkers, this ridge is a grand way to tackle an imposing hill. The highest thing this far north in Scotland, Beinn Dearg's domed summit and spectacular corries make it an obvious target. But it's a long way in from any angle, and while a summer visit might include other nearby Munros (the classic being a four-peak round), even the route covered here on Beinn Dearg alone can seem a big day in winter. The ridge is notable for the drystane wall running its length. Built as a destitution-relief project in the cash-strapped 19th Century, its original purpose may have been nothing more than the provision of hard labour in a time that didn't much go for 'idle' charity, but the wall has since gained a useful role as a navigational aid - something you may welcome if the ming descends on Beinn Dearg's bald pate. In season, the long return down Gleann na Sguaib gives you a chance to check out how the winter climbing on the hill's northern crags might (or might not) be shaping up.

Brief weather window on Beinn Dearg's northwest ridge  © Dan Bailey -
Brief weather window on Beinn Dearg's northwest ridge
Fetching Map

Detailed description

NH1820185270 Follow the track east (cows may be grazing) to enter Inverlael Forest. Go straight on at the first three junctions, shadowing the course of the nearby (but largely unseen) River Lael. At a confluence of tracks turn right (southeast) on an uphill track and continue for a further 1km or so to another junction at a tight bend. Here go straight on (downhill, not marked on OS maps) to the forest edge by a small hydro scheme on the River Lael.

NH2140784879 Turning right, unearth a sketchy path climbing steep heather slopes just east of a burn. As the angle relents the path fizzles but the going becomes much easier underfoot. Heading roughly southeast, a long gentle ascent over open ground brings you to the steeper slope marking the start of the more defined northwest ridge proper. Climb to the big cairn marking the west end of the Beinn Dearg wall.
An Teallach and Beinn Dearg Mhor from Beinn Dearg  © Dan Bailey -
An Teallach and Beinn Dearg Mhor from Beinn Dearg
© Dan Bailey -

NH2294982846 With long range views of An Teallach and the Assynt hills, it's a delightful grassy stride beside the wall along the broad lower ridge, Diollaid a' Mhill Bhric. With a large crag below on the left flank, it may be wise in icy winter conditions to stay largely right of the wall. Pass around the head of a dramatic gully, Cadh' an Amadain, then climb quite steeply onto an almost-level shoulder at the top of the ridge. Stay with the wall as it curves south-east, then at a sharp corner where it cuts east, leave it behind and follow much the same bearing over featureless ground to the big cairn on the domed summit. In poor visibility this section will need care.
The Destitution Wall is a handy handrail  © Dan Bailey -
The Destitution Wall is a handy handrail
© Dan Bailey -

NH2592481188 Head for another sharp angle in the wall, a point that marks the top of Beinn Dearg's northeast ridge. If there's any doubt about navigation it would be worth aiming off just west of this point, then using the wall as a handrail. Once reunited with the wall descend the steep ridge towards the saddle of the Bealach an Lochain Uaine. Just before the low point of this complex, knobbly col, peel off left and descend to meet a stalker's path just west of Lochan Uaine.
Descending Beinn Dearg's northeast ridge  © Dan Bailey -
Descending Beinn Dearg's northeast ridge
© Dan Bailey -

NH2615981946 This clear trail winds down the upper corrie to Lochan Lathail, a secluded spot tucked between Beinn Dearg and Meall nan Ceapraichean. First on the south side of the River Lael, soon crossing to its north, it's now a long but straightforward march down-glen. Back at the woods a forest track leads to a bridge over the river, after which you'll be retracing your steps to the road.

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Further Routes

by Dan Bailey UKH

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