Saturday, 16 May 2015

Creag Meaghaid - A little bit of Arctic in my life

For a sliver of a moment I could have imagined I was in the Arctic. Looking south across the snow-covered plateau all I could see was pancake-flat snow and a cloud-clogged sky. Behind me was a trail of fresh footprints in powder snow and ahead a fin of wind-sculpted snow led to the summit. In the distance was a range of rocky, snow-streaked peaks.  For a fleeting moment the landscape was bathed in a magical northern light as sun burst through the clouds, illuminating the plateau and creating shadows and contrasts on the glistening snow.

Of course, this place wasn't the Arctic. It was Creag Meaghaid in May, still clutching onto its winter snows. Bart and I had climbed up from Aberarder. A long trail through springtime birch woods had gradually been enclosed by steepening mountain walls until it entered the spectacular amphitheatre of Coire Ardair. Cliffs of broken black rock gashed by snow-filled gullies plunged to the sparkling waters of the lochan below. The only exit from the coire was a steep, snow-filled notch called the Window. We climbed up, kicking steps into the snow, and gazed through to a winter world of snow-covered high moors and overhanging cornices the size of big surf waves. A short pull up from here had taken as onto the Arctic-like plateau of Creag Meaghaid.

After we'd soaked up the views and atmosphere, we returned to the Window and walked east along a high ridge, happily adding another two peaks to the day's tally. As we approached the last peak of the day, a tiny piece of Creag Meagaidh's Arctic chased us to the top as the west wind blew in the lightest flurry of snowflakes.

Fact File
Start/finish: Aberarder at the nature reserve car park.
Map: OS Landranger 34
Route: Follow the main trail from the car park towards the park buildings where it passes to the right. Stay on the obvious trail for 5km to the lochan in Coire Ardair which is a fine day walk in itself. From the lochan the Window is an obvious notch to the northwest. It's a steep climb on snow at this time of year. From the Window head south and then west across the plateau to the summit which sits a little higher at the far west. We returned to the Window and continued east along the ridge taking in another two Munros, Stob Poite Coire Ardair and Carn Liath. We descended the south ridge of Carn Liath, eventually picking up a rough path that rejoined the main trail about 1km above the park buildings.

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