ith a planned trip to the Lake District unfortunately cancelled and MWIS promising a greater than 90% chance of cloud free Munro’s, it seemed like a good day to head up into the hills. Not that I needed that kind of excuse anyway. The question was, where do I go? After my recent excursion to Glencoe to recce the Glencoe Round, I quite fancied something similar but on a smaller scale. A quick look on Memory Map and I struck upon Creag Meagaidh. Popular for ice climbing in the Coire Ardair it definitely justifies a visit in winter but its sprawling summit plateau and four subsidiary tops offers the potential for some decent running. Add on the two Munro’s Stob Poite Coire Ardair and Carn Liath with their tops (three more) and there was a circuit of about 20 miles taking three Munro’s and seven Munro tops. An epic Creag Meagaidh circuit – Game On!
Although mist was forecasted first thing, I still decided to head off early. There is something about hitting the hills first thing before anyone else so at 5am I was headed up the M90 towards Perth and then the A9. The journey was pretty uneventful and with a new playlist of some classic tunes from the 80’s on my iPod to keep my occupied the time passed pretty quick.
Two hours later I was parked up in the nature reserve car park and ready to set off. After consultation of some guide books and a couple of websites, I decided to hit the four Munro Tops south of Creag Meagaidh. My first peak would be Sron a’ Choire and I decided to hit it head on, straight up the hillside. This would involve fording the Allt Dubh though and as I wandered up the side of the river I realised this would be no simple feat. I had struggled to cross the Allt a’ Bhealaich Bheithe on a recent trip up Ben Alder and although this river was not flowing as fast, there was still no obvious place to get across. After a couple attempts of jumping on slippy rocks, I decided to just wade through it. At the end of the day, I was wearing fell shoes and not hiking boots so it was no big deal if they go wet; they would soon dry out.
I plunged into the water and whilst I did not have far to wade across, it was deeper than I estimated and I was immersed up to my waist. The sun may have been shining already but the water was freezing, especially on the nether region so I did not waste any time and quickly got across. Once safely on the other side, I took a compass bearing straight to the summit and headed across the tussocky grass and up the hillside. It was not that steep, just a bit of a slog but I made ground reasonably quick and soon I was at the Cairn that signifies the summit of Sron a’ Choire. The mist was coming in and out revealing amazing views momentarily, before disappearing again.
My next objective was Puist Coire Ardair and this would involve heading east and hugging the cliffside. I set off running slowly uphill, conscious of some the cornices still remaining from winter. By the time I reached the top I was totally engulfed in mist and actually locating the definitive summit point proved a little tricky. I did not want to wander to close to the cliff and eventually I opened memory map up on my iPhone and allowed the GPS to direct me. Interestingly when I examined my route downloaded from my Garmin Forerunner 310XT I seemed to be a little off course and there seemed to be the same issue with the data on the summit of Creag Meagaidh although in that instance, I was definitely on the summit. Maybe the sunny weather in Scotland confused the GPS ? 🙂
Two tops down and onto the third. If there had been no hill mist, I would have just hugged the cliffside around Coire Choille-rais but with poor visibility and a fall off the edge meaning game over, I decided to play it safe and instead took a compass bearing to the low point between Puist Coire Ardair and Creag Meagaidh with a view to taking another bearing southwards. That way I could stay well clear of the edge. I ran down the faint trod and as I arrived at the bealach the mist lifted and I could clearly see my route up to Meall Coire Choille-rais. Great stuff.
The running was excellent and fifteen minutes after leaving Puist Coire Ardair, I was on the top of Meall Coire Choille-rais. There were amazing views south to Loch Laggan, Geal Charn and beyond and to the west, my next destination, An Cearcallach. I stopped to take a couple of pictures of the precarious cornices hanging over the Coire then set off down the hillside towards the next peak. Eleven minutes later I had topped out. Four tops down in about 2 and a half hours, good stuff. Once again the Munro tops had not failed to disappoint.
It was about three kilometres to the top of Creag Meagaidh. The sun was now shining and I took my time running across the broad plateau then walked the final section to the top. Unfortunately by the time I reached the summit cairn, the mist had descended again and after waiting ten minutes for it to clear, I decided to push on. With ten peaks on my list today, it was no big deal if I did not get a decent view from all of them. I headed eastwards from the summit and arrived at “Mad Meg’s Cairn”. Apparently the cairn marks the grave of an 18th Century suicide who was denied burial in the local kirkyards. Whether a myth or not, the view north is pretty spectacular and with the cloud now lifting from the summit of Creag Meagaidh again, I was tempted to head back up. I pondered this for a moment before deciding to continue with my run and next objective, Stob Poite Coire Ardair. I dropped down the rocky path to ‘The Window’ (the usual approach up to the top) and then ran straight up the other side towards the top. It was only just over 100 metres to the summit but it was quite steep and although I was running, I reckon I could of made faster progress by just walking.
It was now getting close to midday and the sun had burnt most of the mist away. There was amazing views across Lochan a’ Choire to Coire Ardair and the tops I had climbed earlier in the day. What was even more impressive was the long ridge stretching about 8km to my final peak of the day Coire Dubh. Wow, It looked amazing! There was a fair breeze on the top but it did not affect the running and with the sun belting down it was keeping things nice and cool. The path was a little rocky in places but it offered fantastic running and in no time at all I was head over the two tops S ron Coire a Chriochairein and Meall an t-Snaim. I dropped down to the bealach and headed up to the summit of Cran Liath.
I ate the last of my Jam, peanut butter and banana sandwiches and then headed down towards my last peak of the day, Stob Coire Dubh. I suspect that a lot of people don’t bother with this peak and if your aim is to just tick off Munro’s then there is no need to. This is a shame because this hill has a lot of character and offers a great view back towards the bigger peaks. After a brief rest on the top and ten peaks under the belt there was just the small matter of getting back to the car. I could either head back up to Carn Liath and then head down the path or just take a direct line straight from the top of Stob Coire Dubh to the car park. I quite fancied taking a closer look at Coire nan Gall and even though the ground looked a little rough this seemed a better option than heading back uphill.
I dropped down and by the time I had got toe the Coire I was slowed to a snail’s pace. Rocky outcrops, tussocks and hidden ditches made for careful progress but the Coire looked amazing so this made up for the gruesome terrain. I spotted what looked like a four wheel drive track in the distance and headed straight for it and it was with some relief when I finally managed to run again. Fortunately, the track led straight to the car park and after a brief stop to cool my feet off, I was soon back to the car and on my way home.