The Creag Meagaidh Circuit [# 61 – 63]

Creag Meagaidh (1130m);
Stob Poite Coire Ardair (1053m);
Carn Liath (1006m)

  • Pronunciation:             Krayk Meggy; Stob Poytya Korrer Arder; Karn Leeya
  • Translation:                  Crag of the Bog; Peak of the Pot of the High Corrie; Grey-green Cairn
  • Total distance:              21.8km
  • Total time:                    7hrs 15mins
  • Total ascent:                 1388m
  • Weather:                       Started off misty but dry with light winds. Brightened up by late morning into an excellent clear day. Warm in the sunshine.
  • Start / end location:    The car-park on the A86 beside Aberardar Farm and visitor centre [OS Map Sheet 34 – Grid Ref: NN 483 873]
  • Map:                               A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

The cliffs of Coire Ardair below Creag Meagaidh

Looking through The Window with Creag Meagaidh (R) and Stob Poite Coire Ardair (L)

When we arrived at the car-park near Aberardar Farm the mist and cloud was covering everything but the lower few hundred metres of the surrounding hills. However, we had the feeling that the weather and hence visibility would improve as the day progressed.

Creag Meagaidh and the surrounding peaks and hill-side moorland are situated within the National Nature Reserve (NNR) of the same name. The reserve is focused on trying to exclude sheep grazing in order to promote indigenous tree and plant species growth: and it has certainly been working as the base of the glen was filling up with young alder and birch trees.

The vastness of the Creag Meagaidh summit plateau

There were a few other cars in the car-park when we started out so it certainly didn’t look like we’d have the Meagaidh to ourselves today. From the back of the car-park we followed the obvious path up and around the farm / visitor centre buildings before entering the glen that would shepherd us all the way to the mighty northeast cliffs of Creag Meagaidh. The shape of the glen arcs round in a westerly direction so the cliffs above Coire (corrie) Ardair remain hidden from road users about 6km to the east.

Cameron pearched on top of Mad Meg's Cairn on Creag Meagaidh

The NNR has done an excellent job of developing the path network along the glen: done so to encourage walkers to stick to the paths to minimise erosion. The path loosely follows the course of the Allt Coire Ardair starting off in a NW direction before arcing round to the SW to arrive, after 6km, below the Coire Ardair cliffs on Creag Meagaidh. At this point the path passes to the north of Lochan a’ Choire at a height of about 650m before continuing quite steeply to the obvious notch between the Meagaidh and Stob Poite Coire Ardair: this notch is known as “The Window”.

Elaine at the summit of Creag Meagaidh

By the time we had reached the Lochan the mist had risen and was now just covering the upper sections of the Coire Ardair cliffs and the route up to The Window was covered in thick snow. We could hear some voices of ice climbers on a route high above us – but there whereabouts was hidden in the mist. We donned our crampons to complete the climb up to The Window notch or col, and en route noticed two rucksacks lying against a boulder – presumably belonging to the climbers above. From The Window we turned SE to follow the ridge up to the gigantic summit plateau of Creag Meagaidh.

Looking west from The Window on Creag Meagaidh

The cliffs of Coire Ardair from Stob Poite Coire Ardair

This plateau extends for over 1.5km, with the summit cairn at the far side. The mist on the top was quite thick so a compass bearing was required to keep us progressing in the right direction. Above 1110m we made a slight deviation in our course to visit “Mad Meg’s Cairn”: a cairn that is a great deal larger than the actual summit cairn! The origin of Mad Meg’s Cairn isn’t too clear but it is thought that this mysterious cairn marks the grave of an 18th Century suicide victim, who was denied burial in the local churchyards: so, her family buried her high on Creag Meagaidh. It seems that the cairn originally comprised a huge cairn of boulders surrounding a sandy inner core. The sandy core has long since gone and the stone walls have collapsed inward leaving a large circumference but low height base. A smaller, more robust cairn now sits on top. [I’ve marked Mad Meg’s Cairn on the map with a red marker “pin”.]

Elaine leaving behind the summit of Stob Poite Coire Ardair

A little further on from Mad Meg’s Cairn we reached the true summit cairn of Creag Meagaidh at 1130m or 3,707’.

After a quick photograph at the summit we retraced our steps back to The Window, which we now crossed and followed a path northward to intersect with the ridge-line extending down WNW from the summit of our second Munro, Stob Poite Coire Ardair. By this stage in the walk the mist had just risen above the height of the summits and the Coire Ardair cliffs began to look really magnificent – and just a little intimidating.

Looking towards Carn Liath from near Stob Poite Coire Ardair

The climb from The Window to Stob Poite Coire Ardair was very short and we were soon standing on the summit at 1053m or 3,455’ admiring the steep buttress cliffs of Coire Ardair, which swept for over 1.5km high above Lochan a’ Choire. What followed was a 4.5km high-elevation walk to the third Munro of Carn Laith. The route mirrored the path along the glen below that we’d walked earlier in the day. No real obstacles were encountered, and with the snow cover being very firm, we were able to progress quickly to the reach the summit of Carn Liath at 1006m or 3,301’.

Cameron at the summit of Carn Liath

We retraced our steps for 300m and then turned 90° to the SSE and descended the broad indistinct ridge down as far as Na Cnapanan from where we veered SW to eventually meet the NNR path below. This last part of the descent followed a very indistinct path through heavy shrub and undergrowth: it proved to be quite taxing. Once on the path we met a couple of groups of other walkers and climbers and after exchanging details of our day’s exploits we quickly descended the path back to the car-park. It had proved to be a really rewarding day.

 

 

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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