Meggy straddles Scotland’s east-west watershed, and has elements of both - cliffs second only to Ben Nevis for the scale and quality (if not reliability) of their winter ice climbs, backed by a sprawling central plateau that gives the Cairngorms a run for their money. This is a superb walker's hill too. Coire Ardair is the best approach, an easy trail through the birch woods of the thriving National Nature Reserve, with the crags of the upper corrie looming steadily larger ahead. Their monumental size is not fully apparent until you’re standing, ant-like, below them. Escape the corrie via the dramatic col of The Window, the only walker-friendly route, then head over the empty plateau to Meggy's domed summit. The return leg via the northern rim of Coire Ardair is an enjoyable ridge walk in its own right, with a couple of bonus Munros and great views of the cliffs.
metres / Distance
NN4831187275 At the car park a sign requests that you follow the footpath that parallels the nature reserve access track, rather than the track itself, to reach the NNR field centre at Aberarder. There's a toilet here, and the SAIS report is posted up daily in winter. Continue uphill on the well engineered Coire Ardair path, climbing steadily through pretty birch woods into the mouth of the corrie. Once the trees thin out the trail carries on across open ground, with the Coire Ardair cliffs ahead. These are among the biggest crags in Scotland, dank and disgusting in summer but offering stunning winter climbing when the ice is good.
NN4395488310 At the outflow of Lochan a' Choire the path becomes less well maintained, following the north shore of the loch briefly before cutting steeply right up beneath the cliffs into the sloping bowl of the Inner Corrie. Ahead is the obvious notch of The Window. Overlooked by cliffs and slopes that curve through many different aspects, it's no wonder that this is something of an avalanche black spot. The final steep climb up into The Window needs care in icy conditions. Pass through the gulch to emerge at its west side.
NN4254488547 Here bear left to climb the well-worn stony path onto Creag Meagaidh's plateau. This sprawling expanse is reminiscent of the high Cairngorms, and it can feel similarly serious in hostile weather, when careful navigation is a must. Bear right across the high ground above the corrie of Lochan Uaine to arrive at a huge cairn on a shoulder overlooking the northern cliffs. Local folklore has it that Mad Meg’s Cairn marks the grave of an 18th Century suicide victim, but its main job now is to mislead walkers. The actual summit of Creag Meagaidh is several hundred metres further west, where the plateau narrows into a ridge, and it's marked by a less monumental cairn.
NN4183987530 Return past Mad Meg’s Cairn and head back down to the west end of The Window. Another well-scuffed path climbs the far slope, trending roughly east-northeast on a fairly short ascent up to cairn on the broad summit of Stob Poite Coire Ardair, the day’s second Munro. The remainder of the route is now a very pleasant ridge walk over a series of tops, with some awesome angles on Meggy's huge cliffs.
NN4289388859 Follow the flat ridge top out to the mountain's slightly lower eastern summit, then downhill around the rim of Coire a' Chriochairein. A short narrower ridge (locate this carefully if it's snowy and misty) leads onto Sron Coire a' Chriochairean. There's now a short descent into a steep-sided little notch, which can be interesting if banked out with icy snow - it's easily outflanked to the east if necessary. Continue over two very minor tops to reach a broad col west of Carn Liath. From here the day's third Munro is a long but very gentle climb. There's not a lot to be said for the rounded top of Carn Liath, except for its amazing outlook down the length of Coire Ardair.
NN4718890304 Backtrack briefly west-southwest, then cut south to pick up a well-used path down Carn Liath’s southern shoulder. On the little knobbly top of Na Cnapanan it's easy to temporarily misplace the path, but from here onwards it's obvious, leading down rough ground into the young growth birch woods of the lower corrie. Rejoin the main Coire Ardair trail for a quick return to the car park.
Start/Finish: Car park at the entrance to Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve, NN482873
Nearest town: Newtonmore or Fort William
Terrain: A well-constructed trail gives quick access to Lochan a' Choire. From there it's a little steeper and rougher going, though the terrain is still fairly easy.
Seasonal variations: Its size and inland position tend to make Meggy a snowy place in winter. The mountain is infamous for avalanches, and though the slopes leading up to The Window can be a particular concern in this regard, large avalanches have been known to run over the path even in the lower corrie. Creag Meagaidh is one of the SAIS report areas. In season daily reports are posted online (http://www.sais.gov.uk/creag-meagaidh/ ) and pinned up at the NNR building. In addition to possible avalanches the cliff edges all around Coire Ardair can be very heavily corniced, and if so will need a wide berth. And to top it all Meggy's cairngorm-like summit plateau is encircled by steep treacherous ground, and very hard to navigate in poor visibility. It's fair to say that Meggy is one of the most serious winter mountains in Scotland.
Or, if you're keen on Munro Tops as well, and want to bag Sron a' Choire and Puist Coire Ardair, you can go all the way into the corrie to Lochan a' Choire and then head sharply up SE to the saddle between the two tops, and then proceed to the top of Creag Meagaidh after a wee detour up Sron a' Choire. This does mean you only get to go through the Window once, but it does make it a slightly more circular walk. Bloomin' good day out whichever way you do it.
I always thought the classic circuit was to follow your route in reverse and then from Creag Meagaidh to return East and over Puist Coire Ardair and Sron a Ghoire before following the Allt Bealach a Ghoire to the footbridge over the Allt Dubh just short of the farm. Makes for a much more satisfying circuit with little if any backtracking.
I've done it, and did briefly consider writing it like that. But then you miss out on by far the best bit of the hill, which is that walk-in close under the cliffs of Coire Ardair. It can't be the classic circuit without that.
I guess that'd bag you the full tally if you're counting. But, kind of like I said to Jack, the walk is really all about Coire Ardair for me. And going up from the corrie into The Window is too grand a stretch to miss out in favour of a couple of minor summits. Here's a compromise: From The Window you could bounce around up on the plateau, first to Puist Coire Ardair and then back over to Meggy itself. I've actually written it up like that in a book. But not because PCA is a Munro Top (that's not really my thing), but because you can nip out to the top of Pinnacle Buttress if you go that way, which is awesome (in summer I hasten to add: Too awesome for walkers in winter)