Summit Camping in the Central Highlands: Creag Meagaidh

A wonderful summit camp to mark the end of the summer in what has been a very strange year indeed! This circuit of 3 Munros can easily be completed in a matter of hours, but breaking the journey and enjoying a summit camp at over 1100m is definitely worth it for the panoramic views and some peace and quiet!

[Aug ’20]

With some half decent weather approaching and a hankering for some camping, I was keen to try and organise a trip to tick off some new Munros and enjoy a night under canvas. I had seen photos and videos online of a couple of people camping on the grassy summit plateau of Creag Meagaidh, so we decided to break up the circuit of Coire Ardair with a summit camp.

Getting to the start point on the shores of Loch Laggan from the south can be done via the A82 or the A9 and we opted for the longer (but hopefully slightly more relaxing) journey up the A9 via Dalwhinnie. The journey north took a little over 3 hours and the weather wasn’t looking hugely promising as we drove through showers and dark clouds north of Perth and over the Drumochter pass, but the forecast had promised a fair chance of cloud-free summits so we remained optimistic. We arrived at the Creag Meagaidh nature reserve car park just before midday and kitted up ready to go after enjoying a quick spot of lunch.

A very pleasant start to the day

We had a gentle warm up along the well-made path towards Coire Ardair, turning off the main track after around 2km to follow an extremely boggy path through the trees towards Na Cnapanan. Thankfully the bog and mud eased after a couple of hundred metres of ascent and we picked up a feint grassy path towards Carn Liath, slowly trundling our way towards the first Munro of the day. The views behind us towards Loch Laggan and beyond were also excellent.

Loch Laggan and beyond

The views improved further as we climbed higher, with the biggest of the tops in the Cairngorms becoming easy to pick out in the distance. The hardest part of the ascent was the heavy pack and it had been well over a year since we’d used the big rucksacks on the East Highland Way – a shock to the system indeed!

Loch Laggan’s eastern shore and the distant Cairngorms

With no real difficulties, we made it to the summit of Carn Liath around 1430, 2hrs 15mins after leaving the car park. The 360 views were absolutely superb and we took plenty of photos before setting off once more for the second Munro of the day.

Carn Liath’s summit cairn

The going was pretty simple on the grassy plateau (perhaps a different story in Winter or in bad weather) and the gentle breeze and overcast afternoon meant we were a comfortable temperature for wandering about in the hills with a heavy pack.

Looking into Coire Ardair

The most difficult section of an otherwise easy traverse between tops was the down-and-up at Uinneag Min Choire, but after gaining the height we had lost it was another gentle grassy climb all the way to the summit of our second Munro, Stob Poite Coire Ardair.

On the way to Stob Poite Coire Ardair

As we approached the summit cairn, the views below into Coire Ardair were absolutely spectacular and I was quite surprised to see the chunks of snow that had survived into late August!

Lochain a’Choire

By the time we reached the summit of Carn Liath at around 1640, it was starting to get a little colder. We knew we’d be in for a chilly night, so we were thankful that we’d lugged the extra kit along for a more comfortable night’s sleep! Although, it didn’t seem quite so worth it when we stopped to fill up with water (and carry a little extra for the night) just below The Window, because it meant carrying it to the summit of Creag Meagaidh! The good path helped us make quick progess up the reasonably steep slopes and on to the summit plateau.

View from Stob Poite Coire Ardair
The final push

We reached the summit of our third and final Munro – Creag Meagaidh – just after 1800, almost 6 hours after setting off from the car. With hindsight, this was reasonable progress given the heavy packs and the stops for food and water along the way. On the way to the summit we had scoped out a couple of potential spots for the Wild Country Trisar 2D (only its second outing, but worth carrying the extra weight for peace of mind in any weather), so we headed back from the summit to the 1100m contour and set up home for the night. There were certainly no shortage of places to pitch up for the night, so it’s a good candidate for a summit camp, but it’s very exposed and you’d have nowhere to hide in high winds with a lightweight tent or tarp.

After pitching the tent the cloud started to move in across the summits surrounding us, so it didn’t look particularly promising for a sunset of any kind. That was still a wee while away though, so the first priority was dinner!

Cloud capping the summits

Much to our surprise, the clouds started to lift and clear a little as sunset approached – not enough for a proper sunset, but enough to give us some breathtaking views of some of Scotland’s pointer peaks in the ‘Rough Bounds of Knoydart.’

The Rough Bounds of Knoydart at sunset

Any remaining light soon disappeared and we headed back to the tent and off to bed, layering up in preparation for a chilly night.

The temperature didn’t drop too dramatically, but it couldn’t have been much more than 1 or 2 degrees, so it was a relatively comfortable night with a 3 season sleeping bag and some extra layers.

I had taken the gamble and set my alarm for just before sunrise, but I wasn’t particularly optimistic that I’d get much. I got dressed and headed out for a look anyway and there were similar colours and clouds to the previous night’s sunset, but it was still a pretty morning and the high Cairngorms were once again very obvious in the distance. There was a bit of a cold wind this morning, but the breeze meant that the tent went away almost bone dry – much better for packing up than my Terra Nova Laser Comp with its distinct lack of vents!

Not a bad place to spend the night

We were breakfasted and packed around 0900 (late for me!) and retraced our steps from our campsite towards The Window.

The Window

From here we had a prolonged rough descent for a few hundred metres, where a better path is reached just above Lochan a’Choire. We stopped at the lochan for a few minutes to take some photos and met a couple coming up from the car park who were heading for Creag Meagaidh and after a good gab about previous adventures and upcoming plans, we headed off again on the final push back to the car.

Coire Ardair
The grand cliffs behind Lochan a’Choire

The going was simple and the path was excellent all the way back to the car, with a gentle ascent and great views behind us back towards the corrie, so we stopped often to take it all in before the end of our wee adventure.

Looking back on another excellent adventure

We reached the car and the end of our journey at around 1215, 3hrs 15mins after leaving our campsite. A combined 9hrs 15mins of walking meant that we could have easily tackled the circuit in a day, but it would be safe to assume that a good 2 hours or so could come off due to the extra kit we were carrying. I’d highly recommend breaking the journey up with a summit camp though on a mountain with some of the best panoramic views I’ve seen – everything from Glen Coe to the Cairngorms and so much more!

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