Monday 4 July 2016

Creag Meagaidh Circuit

Rafe - setting off from the Creag Meagaidh NNR

The forecast was for a getting better sort of day - so despite the rain and shrouded summits, we set off from the Creag Meagaidh NNR car park with high hopes of improving weather and good views - after all, the Creag Meagaidh Circuit is vaunted as being one of the greatest hill walks in Scotland - three Munro's surrounded by magnificent cliffs and passing through one of the most lovely of corries - Coire Ardair.

Regenerating woodlands - Creag Meagaidh NNR

We set off in drizzly rain, with occasional heavier bursts - the hills to the south were making fitful appearances between the cloud, but the Creag Meagaidh massif remained stubbornly veiled.

The path's were good and we were soon at the Ranger building, taking the Coire Ardair path to the right and on through the woods, watching out for the cairn marking the hill path.

The overgrown hill path at the start of the ascent of Na Cnapanan

It's a good job we were watching out for it! - it wasn't very conspicuous and with the summer vegetation being at it's height, it would have been easy to miss - plus the path was much less established than we had expected.

We headed off up this rough path, climbing quite steeply through the woods and getting very wet - more from the undergrowth, rather than the rain.

New woodlands on Creag Meagaidh NNR - path to Na Cnapanan

The regenerating woods were really rather captivating - luxurious and wild. As they become more established, they will be a sight to see.

Jim - boggy ascent of Na Cnapanan

We soon came out above the trees and onto the open, rather boggy, hillside (although there were seedlings and patches of low scrub much further up). The cloud seemed to be rising as we climbed and hazy views were opening across Glen Spean - and the rain was easing off.

Views south over Loch Laggan from ascent of Na Cnapanan

Loch Laggan from ascent of Na Cnapanan

We were soon on the bealach between Na Cnapanan and Carn Liath's south ridge - the rough path continued on up - and so did we.

Rafe and Jim - at the start of the ascent of Carn Liath
from bealach  NW of Na Cnapanan

Ardverikie Castle was visible, across the other side of Loch Laggan - famous for being Glenbogle in the TV series, Monarch of the Glen - definitely have to paddle across with the canoe sometime...

Ardverikie Castle from the ascent of Carn Liath

Coire Ardair from ascent of Carn Liath

Loch Laggan from ascent of Carn Liath

Loch Laggan from ascent of Carn Liath

The cloud seemed to have settled at around 950m, as we passed from the grassy slopes onto rockier terrain, we also moved up into the cloud - it was damp and chilly.

Jim - nearing Carn Liath summit

But the ascent had eased and it was an easy stroll to the summit of our first Munro of the Day - Carn Liath (Munro 127, 1006m).

Carn Liath summit (Munro 127, 1006m)

The views were not quite as good as we could have hoped - we didn't hang about, we headed off again, west along the broad ridge through the swirling mists.

Looking back across Carn Liath summit plateau

There was an intermittent path, there on the grassy bits, missing in the rocks - we undulated over several minor tops, and across a couple of narrow bealachs (Uinneag Coire a'Chaorainn and Uinneag Min Choire).

The wide plateau between Carn Liath and Meall an t-Snaim

Every now and then the cloud thinned and flowed away, giving us tantalising views - it never lasted very long.

Rafe - Meall an t-Snaim summit (970m)

Jim and Rafe - west of Meall an t-Snaim (sh 963m)

Uinneag Min Choire

Jim - ascent of Sron Coire a'Chriochairein (Munro Top 93, 993m)

But as we traversed the final undulation, the cloud decided to rise just a little bit higher - just enough to give us some moody views.

Rafe and Jim - views towards Stob Poite Coire Ardair East Top (Crom Lethad) from Sron Coire a'Chriochairein

Jim - ascent of Stob Poite Ardair East Top (Crom Lethad)

It gave us a chance to take in the enormousness of our surroundings...

Coire Ardair from ascent of Stob Poite Ardair

Looking back along the Carn Liath - Stob Poite Ardair ridge 

Coire Ardair and Loch Laggan from near Stob Poite Ardair

Lochan a'Choire and Coire Ardair from near Stob Poite Ardair

Creag Meagaidh and Stob Poite Ardair from the east

The new views spurred us on and we were soon at our second Munro - Stob Poite Coire Ardair (Munro 76, 1054m), hanging above Coire Ardair, with the massively impressive Creag Meagaidh cliffs above the lochan.

Jim and Rafe - Stob Poite Coire Ardair (Munro 76, 1054m)

We were ready for some lunch - we found a good spot on our descent, out of the breeze and with a pretty good view across the hills (although Creag Meagaidh was still hidden in the mists).

Descent from Stob Poite Coire Ardair - views to Creag Meagaidh and Lochan Uaine

We descended to The Window (Uinneag Coire Ardair) the deep notch between the hills, visible for many miles - and Rafe made a bee line for a big patch of old snow in the depths of the bealach. A few minutes were spent chucking snowballs for him to chase.

Rafe - snow patch above
The Window (Uinneag Coire Ardair)

Onward and upward - we ascended steeply on the rough path, south, onto the Creag Meagaidh plateau - the crags to our left were precipitous and dramatic.

Rafe and Jim - at the start of the ascent of Creag Meagaidh, above The Window

Lochan 'Choire and Coire Ardair from ascent of Ctreag Meagaidh

There was an good path through the rocks and grass - with Mad Meg's Cairn obvious on the skyline.

Mad Megs' Cairn and Creag Meagaidh from the east

Jim and Rafe - Creag Meagaidh's northern crags, east of the summit

The path wound it's way along the edge of the escarpment, past a few more patches of snow and onto the Cairn...

Jim and Rafe, nearing Mad Meg's Cairn on Creag Meagaidh

Lochan Uaine and the coire of Uisge nam Fichead from ascent to Creag Meagaidh

Legend has it that during the 18th century, a local lassie committed suicide and so burial in the local churchyard wasn't allowed. The grieving family chose to bury her here on the hill...

Mad Meg's Cairn, Creag Meagaidh

It was a melancholy view from here today - the cloud continued to roil across the tops and mist the glen.

Creag Meagaidh from Mad Meg's Cairn

We crossed the minor undulation that was Creag Meagaidh North Top (1115m) and ambled on towards Creag Meagaidh - it was further than it looked.

Jim - ascent of Creag Meagaidh

The summit was clear, but the views very hazy - Creag Meagaidh (Munro 29, 1128m) - we took some photographs and headed back across the wide plateau - I don't think that we got the most out of this big hill today...

Creag Meagaidh summit (Munro 29, 1128m)

We saluted Mad Meg on the way and were soon dropping down to The Window again.

Returning east along Creag Meagaidh plateau

The Window, from the descent from Creag Meagaidh

The views from the exit from The Window into Coire Ardair were stunning - still grey and misty, but full of drama and atmosphere.

Jim - The Window

Jim - The Window

Rafe and Jim - descent into Coire Ardair from The Window

It was steep and bouldery - and there was some avalanche debris - but the way was clear - the massive cliffs above Coire Adair rose above us as we descended - cloud boiling and roiling through the pinnacles.

Looking back to The Window (over avalanche debris) from descent into Coire Ardair

Descent towards Lochan a'Choire and Coire Ardair

Coire Ardair is massive - the impressive surroundings are apparently the best winter ice climbing to be found in Scotland.

Creag Meagaidh's cliffs above Coire Ardair

Jim - Lochan a'Choire, Coire Ardair

Coire Ardair - Creag Meagaidh's cliffs

The weather was brightening and it almost felt warm - we were ready for a second lunch - we made for Lochan a'Choire, looking for a likely picnic place.

Jim and Rafe - Lochan a'Choire in Coire Ardair

The Window, above Lochan a'Choire, Coire Ardair

And we found one, just at the head of Allt Coire Ardair - the water's of Lochan a'Choire were a mirror to the hills - the mist flowing between the cliffs didn't look quite real.

Very lovely - plus we had the place to ourselves... And Rafe, of course, was straight into the water!

Ceag Meagaidh's cliffs above Lochan a'Choire, Coire Ardair

Walking out of Coire Ardair

Soon on our way again, we followed the excellent path out of the corie and down the glen.

It was quite a walk out - about 5km back to the car park - but the views were glorious, especially now that the sun was breaking through.

Views south east from descent out of Coire Ardair

Looking back towards The Window from descent out of Coire Ardair

The colours were bright and the heather and grass full of butterflies, the trees full of birds.

The burn bubbled down the glen, initially beside us, later far below us, as our path contoured around the eastern side of the glen.

Creag Meagaidh NNR - descent from Coire Ardair

It was the best part of the day... We had clear views ahead, across the lovely woodland and over Loch Laggan. We could now see Carn Liath and our ascent route to our left - but Creag Meagaidh was still invisible amongst the seething clouds behind us.

Loch Laggan from Creag Meagaidh NNR

We were a bit disappointed with this walk. Expectations were high due to the excited hype in all the guide books and online. This disappointment was mainly down to the weather. I think we'll have to be back, possibly ascend via The Window and explore the Creag Meagaidh plateau and surrounding crags a bit more. And we'll pick a good day!

Views to Na Cnapanan

Route:  Creag Meagaidh car park at Aberarder (NN482872), follow path to Scottish National Heritage building (NN479875) and pass this to the right, continue NW taking right turn at sp Coire Ardair, at NN473883 approx (when main path goes into more established woodlands) look for small cairn on the right, take the poor boggy path through vegetation, path improves once on open hillside, continue on path ascending to bealach NE of minor hillock, Na Cnapanan, head NW up baggers path (poor and intermittent) to ridge 100m W of Carn Laith, E to Carn Laith summit (Munro 127, 1006m), W along summit ridge, Uinneag Coire a'Chaorainn, Meall an t-Snainn (970m), Uinneag Min Choire, Sron Choire a'Chriochairein (Munro Top 93, 993m), Stob Poite Coire Ardair East Top (Crom Leathad 1050m), Stob Poite Coire Ardair (Munro 76, 1054m), descend to The Window (Uinneag Coire Ardair), S up rough baggers path over scree slope, then SW to Mad Meg's Cairn (NN425878), Creag Meagaidh North Top (1115m), W to Creag Meagaidh (Munro 29, 1128m), return to The Window, descend E into Coire Ardair on steep rough path through scree to Lochan a'Choire, continue down the glen (easterly) on excellent path to start.

Statistics:  Distance: 21km  Ascent: 1100m  Time: 8 hours 30 mins

Map:  OS Explorer 401 Loch Laggan & Creag Meagaidh

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