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Creag Meaghaidh Circuit

Creag Meaghaidh Circuit

Postby Doginabog » Tue Aug 30, 2016 7:38 pm

Route description: Creag Meagaidh circuit

Munros included on this walk: Carn Liath (Creag Meagaidh), Creag Meagaidh, Stob Poite Coire Ardair

Date walked: 21/08/2016

Time taken: 9 hours

Distance: 21 km

Ascent: 1080m

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[u]Creag Meagaidh Circuit[/u]

Sometimes things going wrong make a walk go entirely right. I’d eagerly anticipated the views and the grandeur of this weekend’s escape – a ridge walk to Creag Meagaidh taking in two other Munros and the Coire Ardair. We’d planned with the weather in mind and headed over to Loch Laggan for some promised sun. We’d even driven over the night before to get an early start and bask in the solitude.

Alas, the morning brought ridiculously low cloud. The visitor centre carpark at the Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve on the A86 was almost the only thing we could see. Trusting in the BBC forecasters we headed up the well- built visitor route to Coire Ardair anyway, peeling off right at a wee cairn to begin the incessant climb up our first Munro – Carn Liath.

Maybe the mist focuses the mind on small pleasures, but the narrow scrambly path, which headed up through young birch woods and over rocks and roots, was a delight. Clambering higher the mist would occasionally clear for an instant, revealing dramatic and eerie slopes to our left.

Sron a' Choire slopes from Aberader

The path stumbles its way up to Na Cnapanan, a hummocky respite from the 750m climb. It’s a haunted place in mist. At one point I thought I’d glimpsed a stag on the slope ahead, only to find it was a very convincing bush with two strategically placed branches! These tricks of the light make judging distance and scale difficult – another unexpected experience of the day.

Up the glen from Na Cnapanan

Gaining the first summit, Carn Liath (1006m), we realised we’d done almost all the days climbing within the first two hours – but without the promised views as payment. We were cold and glad of two extra layers.

The ridge now headed west for our second summit, Stob Poite Coire Ardair. For the most part the path hugs the left hand side of the narrowing plateau, we assumed to give maximum enjoyment of the non-existent views. Instead we practised compass work across the deserted tops, sometimes hitting the path but mostly following a bearing – good practise for a novice navigator! I’m afraid the second Munro was unremarkable in cloud except for the plunging abyss that occasionally opened up to the left. The mist, swirling up these bottomless gullies, was strangely hypnotic.

Meall an t-Snaim from Carn Liath ridge

From Stob Poite Coire Ardair ,at 1053m, the path again becomes an enjoyable ride down to the cleft between the 2nd and 3rd Munros known as The Window. It was – you guessed it – somewhat steamed up for a view, but the climbing itself was loose and fun. The final ascent to Creag Meagaidh starts steep and stony but soon reaches another huge plateau. Again the path hugs the edge, this time the right hand side after the steep ascent eases. Once again, no view for us, but more compass practise to reach the impressive “Mad Meg’s Cairn”. This looks like some kind of ancient earthwork with a handbuilt stone cylinder atop. Unfortunately for the mist-bound, it doesn’t feature on the map except as a wee dot. Bearing off west we found a final slope and the true summit at 1130m. But no view ….and then….

Up until now, the whole walk had taken place in a bubble – just us two in the clouds for almost 5 hours. One solitary female walker had passed us by. But the strengthening sun began to burn holes and swirls into the grey roof over our heads. Snatches of fantastic views appeared – amplified by their suddenness. As we descended back to The Window the whole scene opened up – vast rocky slopes and meandering lochlets below. Two climbers met us on the steep section and said they’d just seen otters playing in the loch below the Coire Ardair. We congratulated each other on the improving weather and headed down full of hope.

Finally a bit of a view - looking north from Mad Meg's cairn

Talk about saving the best for last! I will not forget the rest of this walk for many a moon. We took the rocky scramble down from The Window, mainly hugging the left hand slopes, into almost Pyrenean scenery. The first cliffs to our right looked impressive enough, until we descended further on an improving gritty path to the Coire Ardair proper. I was blown away. The fantastic cliffs angled and gullied around the loch. Snow – yes snow in August – huddled in the deep right hand gully and I could see why this is ice climbing heaven for winter adventurers. The sun hit the rock face full on, making photos glare, but glittering the loch below. And even more special – we were the only souls there. Magnificent.

Descending from the Window

Looking back up to the Window

First views of Coire Ardair

Coire Ardair

The walk guide we often use gave a rough timing of 8-10 hours for our circuit. Now I can see why. We idled away another half hour just marvelling at this special place. Alas, no otters – but a very good tomato soup!

Tomato soup time

The walk back to the nature reserve car park (5km), with many a glance back, was hot and sunny. Coire Ardair had been like a surprise parcel – unwrapped at the very last minute and all the better for it. In good weather I guess you cannot help but to see those magnificent cliffs ahead from the ridge. But to have it revealed like that was unforgettable. Go there. Now.

One last look back up the glen
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Re: Creag Meaghaidh Circuit

Postby SecretSquirrel » Thu Sep 01, 2016 9:12 am

I'm hoping to to do this round soon, nice to see some of it beforehand! It's amazing how breaking clag emphasises the landscape being revealed.
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