Sunday 9 March 2014

Meal Chuaich.

With our usual optimism, we set off from Layby 94 on the A9, hoping that the cloud would lift and the day brighten.

Aqueduct south of Allt Cuaich

We were feeling confident that, should any white stuff appear in our path, we were equipped with the kit and the basic knowledge to deal with it, after our winter skills course a couple of weeks before.

Considering how much snow there had been in these hills at that time, we were surprised that we weren't setting off in snow.

Cuaich Power Station with Stac Meall Chuaich beyond

A couple of hundred yards north along the A9, traffic whistling by (and a couple of funny looks), we took a right turn and very soon a left along good tracks. A couple of k's walk beside an aqueduct carrying water for the hydro electric system in the area, full and fast flowing. We passed the Cuaich Hydro Power Station and continued along good tracks into the beginnings of Coire Chuaich.

Creag Liath and Carn na Caim from NN681868

There was snow on many of the tops, but none nearby - much to Rafe's disappointment - he had to make do with a plodge in the burns flowing down towards Allt Cuiach.

Loch Cuaich and Stac Meall Chuaich

We could see Stac Meall Chuaich ahead, beyond Loch Cuaich - our route up today's Munro - no snow - no snow at all....

Crossing Allt Coire Chuaich at NN692868

After crossing Allt Coire Chuaich, in weak sunshine, we passed a wooden bothy - locked, but through the window, we spied one big room, lined with many union flag beach chairs...

Jim and Stac Meall Chuaich from NN692868

The path up was obvious - no navigation issues at all. We set off, up.

South east from the ascent of Stac Meall Chuaich

Loch Chuaich from ascent of Stac Meall Chuaich

It was never very steep, but it was really rather boggy at times. Squelch...

North from NN710880 - ascent of Meall Chuiach

The tops were snowy, but they were in cloud from about 850m ish - the views were moody.

Over Coire Choich to Bogha-cloiche

There seemed to be snow on every hill but ours...

North from the ascent of Meall Chuiach

But as we reached the wide bealach between Stac Meall Chuaich and Meal Chuaich, we could see that the north side of the Munro had a really respctable amount of snow - enough for there to be an off piste skier sliding towards us at speed. His fun was soon over though, as he reached the bealach.

Rafe and Jim - ascent of Meall Chuaich

We crossed the snow field, but it was never steep enough for us to even think of getting the crampons out.

Rafe on Meal Chuaich

Rafe was like a puppy, louping about, kicking up snow and trying to catch it.

Mountain Hare on Meal Chuaich

As we made our way towards the summit, Rafe alerted us to a mountain hare, in winter white, then another and another - a whole drove of hares.

Views south to Carn na Caim from between the cloud from near the summit of Meal Chuaich

It was good fun to try out cutting steps in the snow - although there wasn't really any need to - it wasn't that steep.

Jim approaches the summit - Meal Chuaich (Munro 214, 951m)

As we approached the summit, via a few rocky patches, the snow decreased - blown off, no doubt, and the summit cairn sat in an icy puddle. No views, I'm afraid, just grey mist, swirling in the blustery wind. Then the snow started..

It seemed logical to use our bothy emergency shelter for a spot of lunch (it's been in the rucksack for several years and never been used !), but Rafie decided that he didn't like the orange flapping contraption and wouldn't come in - so we scranned a quick sarnie, feeling guilty, whilst we watched Rafie sitting in the wind and the swirling snow flakes. So, despite our relative comfort, this was one of the quickest summit lunches ever. I also managed to put my ice axe spike through the bothy - not an auspicious first use !!

Descent from Meall Chuaich, coming out of the cloud

A quick descent from the summit plateau and the falling snow was left behind and the mist soon started to thin.

Jim - Views (only just) to Glen Truim from the decent of Meal Chuaich

This morning's weak sunshine had gone, but being high is always good.

Rafe - views west - Coire Chuaich

We returned by the obvious path, we had left it on the way up to take to the snow fields, but there was no snow at all on our descent route - we made good time.

North west into Coire Chuaich from Bothy (NN671870)

We had a second lunch by the locked wooden bothy and then sauntered back to the car. 

Coffee in Aviemore - as always...

Route: Layby 94 on A9 (NN654867), N along A9 for 200m, E along track turning left onto a larger track beside aqueduct, past Cuaich Power Station, track above Allt Cauich to NN693868, rough path ENE ascending Stac Meall Chuaich, continue on path bypassing the summit, Meall Chuaich (Munro 214, 951m), retrace route to start.

Statistics:  Distance: 14km  Ascent: 615m  Time: 4.45 hours

Meall Chuaich

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