Friday, 12 May 2017

Exploring Creag Meagaidh

Moonlit camp

The great plateau of Creag Meagaidh in the heart of the Highlands is a massive complex mountain worthy of much exploration. I’ve climbed it many times in both summer and winter, on foot and on skis, and I still have much to see. With that in mind I headed there just a few days ago intent on a night out high on the mountain and a visit to one of the huge corries that bite into the mountain’s flanks that I’d never entered before.

Coill a'Choire

Spring is a favourite time for Creag Meagaidh as the birch woods that grace its southern flanks and are now advancing fast up the slopes of Coill a’Choire, their regeneration a great success story since the Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve was set up, are bright and fresh with new leaves. It’s a long but always lovely walk up through the woods and then out of the trees and past moraine hummocks towards the sombre cliffs of Coire Ardair, which were still spattered with snow. Below the rock walls the dark waters of Lochan a’Choire rippled in a gentle breeze. I climbed past the cliffs up the broad stony gully leading to the prominent cleft known as The Window. Here there were big snow patches but ones easily avoided. Looking across the broken crags of the long north face of the mountain I could see many more.

The Creag Meagaidh plateau
 
A short steep pull led up to the vast summit plateau and then it was over the short grassy ground, boggy from recent snowmelt, to the summit. The views were extensive, sharp and clear to the north and west, haze to the south and east. The sun shone down, as it had all day, but up here there was also a cold east wind. Near the summit cairn three dotterel skittered across the stones, lovely birds that speak of the high places.

The summit
 
Heading south from the summit I descended the gently sloping plateau to the headwaters of the long Moy Burn, its shallow gully packed with snow. A patch of grass had enough soil for tent pegs and my camp was soon set up with a view west over many hills to distant Ben Nevis. 

Moonset
 
An almost-full moon rose into the sky, giving enough light to wander around without need of a headlamp. The cold air soon had me in my sleeping bag though. Before I fell asleep there was frost on the tent and ice in my water bottles. In the morning my Kestrel weather tracker said the overnight low was -3.7°C. A stronger colder wind, now from the west, and a temperature a touch below zero made me glad of my down jacket. Out to the west the moon sank below the hills as the sun began to light the hills.

A chilly morning

A short stroll from camp led to the cliff top rim of Coire Choille-rais. Out to the east hills faded into greyness. Below, the lochan that fills the corrie was a dark lozenge. The craggy slopes above glowed gold in the early sun. A waterfall below a snowfield caught the sun and sparkled brightly. A scene both wild and peaceful.

Coire Choille-rais
 
My way led down beside the Moy Burn into long curving Moy Corrie. Crags rose above on one side, very steep scree and grass slopes on the other. After the space of the plateau there was a closed-in feel here. The burn bubbled and splashed, tumbling over little cascades, sliding down smooth slabs, slowing in deep, rich brown pools. A typical Highland hill stream. The glen was typical too, a mix of boulder-strewn coarse grasses and rushes, mostly brown and grey, summer colour still to come. The ground was boggy in places, with much trampling by deer visible. I saw none of these but their presence was shown by the lack of trees as well as the tracks. The glen felt empty and lacking in life after Coill a’Choire.

The first trees didn’t appear until I was in the mouth of the corrie and beginning to follow the southern edge of the mountain back to my start point. At first there were just a few high on crags and deep in gullies then birches began to appear on gentler slopes and soon there was an old wood of widely scattered trees. At first I saw no new growth but then patches of dense small birches were visible. The wood was renewing itself. The trees brought bird song as well. Chaffinch, blackbird, wren and more. 

View over Loch Laggan to the Cairngorms
 
Further new woodland with a view over the surprisingly bright blue of Loch Laggan to the distant Cairngorms led down to the finish. I knew Creag Meagaidh a little more. And knew there was far more. I’ll be back.

No comments:

Post a comment