Filed under:Features, Peak Profiles, Creag Meagaidh, Steve Fallon, UKClimbing, WalkHighlands
Will Harris profiles a rugged and complex mountain that boasts some of Scotland’s best ice climbs…
Located on the A86 between the climbing hotspots of Fort William and Aviemore, Creag Meagaidh, pronounced ‘Craig Meggie’, is an impressively rugged peak popular with hill walkers on their way to completing a round of the Munros. It’s in winter that it really comes into its own, with a collection of some of Scotland’s very best ice climbs, making it a must visit for anyone ticking the classics. In fine weather the view south over Loch Laggan is breathtakingly beautiful, yet in poor visibility the summit plateau is notoriously tricky to navigate, with the safest way down threading a route through the col known as The Window which is surrounded by steep ground. Conditions for winter walking and climbing can be fickle, meaning that it’s well worth trying to track down up-to-date reports before making the 1.5–2 hour approach to the main corrie. The mountain also has a reputation for avalanche danger. Always check the avalanche forecast found on the Scottish Avalanche Information Service website before heading out in winter, with the attached blog kept by avalanche assessors also a good indicator of winter climbing conditions.
Easy Gully, I, 450m
The big snow gully that cuts up directly from the small lake in the base of Coire Ardair, separating the two big buttresses of Pinnacle Buttress on the left and the Post Face on the right, might lack technical interest,
but as a spectacular easy mountaineering route to access the plateau above is well worth climbing.
The Crab Crawl, IV, 4, 2400m!
One of the longest winter climbing outings in the British mountains, as its name suggests, the Crawl scuttles sideways across the entire cliff, threading it’s way through some seriously impressive terrain. Amazingly, the first ascent was made solo by the doctor and influential winter climbing pioneer Tom Patey back in 1969, a feat that is rarely repeated.
The Pumpkin, V, 4, 300m
When well-formed, The Pumpkin gives one of the best ice routes in Scotland. Like many of the routes on the mountain, the level of protection available depends on the thickness of the ice and its ability to take ice screws. The rock across the cliffs is a type of schist that does allow for the placement of the occasional wire or peg, but these can be hard to find. Luckily they can be supplemented by hammering turf hooks into frozen vegetation, a Scottish winter speciality!
Smith’s Gully, VI, 5, 180m
Featured in the classic coffee table book ‘Cold Climbs’, the fact that it was first climbed at the end of the 1950s should in no way lead to complacency, with this stellar ice climb maintaining a reputation for tricky climbing that can at times be hard to protect.
The Fly Direct, VII, 6, 240m
An intimidating, difficult and potentially dangerous steep and thin ice route that is not often in condition, and one of Creag Meagaidh’s classic harder routes. As with all of the routes here, a confident approach and a calm mind are as necessary as crisp ice technique and strong arms and legs.
How to get there
The parking area at the Creag Meagaidh nature reserve is best reached by car. Unfortunately, there is no regular public transport that would work well with a climbing day out. Whilst the mountain is closer to Fort William than Aviemoire, either work as a base, allowing a trip to ‘Meggie’ to be combined with days out on Ben Nevis or in the Cairngorms.
Local companies and independent guides offer guided walks and climbs on Creag Meagaidh. If looking to climb technical routes in winter a suitably qualified instructor would hold the Winter Mountaineering and Climbing instructor (WMCI) qualification or would be a British Mountain Guide (BMG). Fort William and Aviemore both have outdoor shops well stocked with the latest climbing gear.
UKClimbing – https://www.ukclimbing.com/logbook/crags/creag_meagaidh-178/
Walk Highlands – https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/fortwilliam/creagmeagaidh.shtml
Steve Fallon – https://www.stevenfallon.co.uk/meagaidh-circuit.html