Creag Meagaidh

Creag Meagaidh and neighbouring Munros, 23-24 February 2019

A blog post from one of our mountain adventures in the Scottish hills and mountains. Two days hiking up several Munros in the Central Highlands, including mighty Creag Meagaidh. John King was leading.

Creag Meagaidh and neighbouring Munros




Day 1 - BEINN TEALLACH AND BEINN A' CHAORAINN

With the weather forecast set for high winds gusting to 50mph and above on Saturday, then much lower wind speeds on Sunday, I decided to switch the days around for this weekend, starting with the rounded Beinn Teallach during the period of strongest winds. It has also been tropical in the Highlands of late, so ice axe, crampons and even snow goggles were left behind. A fully summer rucksack in mid-February!

Although it felt bold to not pack winter kit, when we met at 8.30 on Saturday morning, the roadside temperature was a balmy plus 10! We headed off up through the commercial forestry at a good pace and were soon crossing the Allt a' Chaorainn. It was a nice, easy crossing and, after dispensing with any extra layers, we set off up onto the hill. The views were fairly extensive around the peaks of Lochaber and the forecast wind was non-existent. Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag were still holding onto big fields of snow, but otherwise there was very little and none to speak of on our hill. We reached the summit in a very respectable 2 hours and 10 minutes. Ducking down to the north side of the hill we found a bit of shelter and stopped for a well-earned break. Till this point it had been a fine walk in early summer conditions!

There is a fair amount of descent from Beinn Teallach down to the bealach of Tom Mor at 615m. From there it is a mighty ascent of 430m to our second summit of the day, Beinn a' Chaorainn. The light was dropping by now and you could sense a change in the weather coming, so we stopped and pulled on waterproof jackets, before setting off up the broad, grassy slopes. By the time we reached the ridge we had stopped again to pull on the waterproof trousers as well, which was good as the cloud had rolled in along with fairly heavy rain and stronger winds. There had been a complete transformation of the weather in the space of about thirty minutes – a good reminder of how fast things can change in the Scottish hills!

Beinn a' Chaorainn's summit ridge consists of three tops running north to south, with the middle one being the highest on some maps, the southern one on others. We visited them all to be sure, but didn't see much other than a few cornices hanging in over the precipitous eastern face of the mountain. By the southern top we were definitely getting the full Scottish experience, so we didn't hang around! Following a bearing we headed off southwest, picking a line to minimise the amount of time spent on the slippery boulder fields. We didn't drop below the clouds again until about 550m.

With a view at last we stopped for a late lunch, then headed back down to the river and into the forestry. In the shelter of the trees it was very pleasant once again, although some insects were out and about – midgies in February!? We were down at the cars in a little over 7 hours. All in all it was a very enjoyable walk in the hills and we even had a nice early finish to allow a good nights rest ahead of the weekend's bigger day on Sunday.


Day 2 - CREAG MEAGAIDH, STOB POITE COIRE ARDAIR & CARN LIATH

Surprisingly, given the recent warm weather, it was -1C at the Creag Meagaidh car park on Sunday morning. A nice, crisp morning and all the hills were well clear. Exactly what you want for a walk! We set off bang on time again and headed off up the excellent path into Coire Ardair. This path gives the legs a good chance to warm up as it climbs gradually up through regenerating birch woods and then turns a corner, round a shoulder of the hill, to head into Coire Ardair itself. As you turn the corner, the massive cliffs of Creag Meagaidh come into view and become increasingly impressive as they draw nearer.

We made good time into the coire and stopped by Lochan a' Choire, a textbook glacial tarn that stays out of view till the last moment. With a thin sheet of ice on the surface and a bit of sun catching the towering cliffs overhead, it was a stunning place to be! It was surprising to see how much snow had disappeared in recent days and many of Creag Meagaidh's classic ice falls that would normally be well frozen at this time of year were quite impressive waterfalls. While we took in the scene we were caught up by a group of four and, undeterred by the ice, two of them stripped off and went in for a swim! We didn't fancy it though, so headed off uphill towards The Window.

It was warm with the sun on our backs as we climbed, but a fairly quick, steady pull up bare slopes lead us to The Window and we emerged to a extensive vista of peaks in the northwest, looking beyond the Great Glen to Knoydart and Kintail. The wind was a bit stronger here so we pulled on an extra layer and headed on up to the plateau of Creag Meagaidh. Last week this had been a very serious, arctic feeling environment, with whiteout conditions and large cornices calling for careful navigation. Today though, it was a pleasure to wander over the tundra to the summit with views stretching from Ben Lui in the south, to the Cuillin in the west and Beinn Dearg up by Ullapool in the north.

It was pretty blustery at the top, so after a few photos and a visit to 'Mad Meg's Cairn', we made our way back to The Window for lunch. We sat in the sun and enjoyed a well-earned break, no need for the added warmth of belay jackets today. I estimated that we would reach our next Munro, Stob Poite Coire Ardair in 15 minutes. We took 10! By now the winds over the tops had really strengthened and we were blown eastwards along the ridge. The walking was a delight, especially out of the wind and we made fast progress, with only a couple of patches of snow to cross, and even these were optional!

Six hours into our walk we were at our final Munro of the weekend, Carn Liath. We took a brief break here to admire the views one last time and take the obligatory summit photos, but once again the wind drove us on. It is a steady descent down open slopes and we picked up a path that got clearer as we went. It is rough lower down though, especially over boggy ground through the birch woods, but we soon regained the Coire Ardair path we'd used in the morning. By now, low down and out the wind, it felt roasting, so we stopped to cut back layers then headed off down the path for a nice relaxed finish to a fantastic day on the hills. Back at the car park in 7 ½ hours was impressive. Cheers to all in the group for a great weekend's walking!

More photos by John King and a few of the participants are here on Flickr.



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