The walk: The poor cousins of Lawers, overlooked but worth a wander

Distance: 8 miles/13km

Time: 4-6 hours

MEALL Corranaich and its northern neighbour Meall a’ Choire Leith are the ‘poor cousins’ of the popular Ben Lawers group, the ugly sisters that are hitched on, like an unwanted addendum, to the round of the other more scenically attractive Breadalbane hills.

Straddling the watershed between Loch Tay and Glen Lyon, Meall Corranaich (3507ft/1069m) is often climbed along with Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers in a long horseshoe walk around Coire Odhar, the big open corrie that rises from the National Trust for Scotland car park on the Lochan na Lairige road. Meall a’ Choire Leith (3038ft/926m) on the other hand, is one of those rather awkward Munros, like Beinn Fhionnlaidh above Loch Mullardoch in the northern highlands, that sits out on an isolated limb, removed both geographically and in popularity from the busier summits.

While these have never been my favourite hills, I wanted to climb them again for a third tick in my Munros book and, as is so often the case, I had a curious, intuitive feeling that I might enjoy them more this time round. I had met my brother-in-law at the main car park and we drove along to a small parking spot at the north end of the Lochan na Lairige, just where the road begins to descend into Glen Lyon. As soon as we got out of the car we reckoned there was something in the cold air that suggested we were going to experience a rather special day.

The waters of Lochan na Lairige were mirror-smooth as we climbed over the ridge into the head of Gleann Da-Eig. The ground was rock hard below our feet, frozen by a succession of cold days, and as we climbed higher above the head of the glen towards Meall Corranaich’s south-west ridge we became aware that a slip on the icy surface could result in a long slide into the depths of the corrie below us.

The frozen ground cover on the ridge itself meant an easy walk round the head of Coire Gleann Da-Eig where a thin and delicate mist was shrouding the summit cone of Meall Corranaich. There are two cairns on the summit; the highest overlooks the hill’s north-east face and by the time we reached it the mist had become vapour-thin. The low winter sun was trying its hardest to pierce the thin, shifting vapours, creating a luminous glow all around us.

I had a real sense of expectancy, convinced that the sun would suddenly burst through and we’d be cast into a world of intense colour, warmth and wide-ranging views, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, clouds swept in from the north, the luminous glow was extinguished in a shroud of grey and by the time we reached the ridge that separates Coire Gorm and Coire Liath just below Meall a’ Coire Leith we were swaddled in waterproofs, caught up in an intense, albeit temporary, hailstorm. Such is the reality of early winter hillwalking in Scotland. Take care on the northern descent from Meall Corranaich for the main, wide ridge bisects and you should follow the eastern prong above Coire Liath. In poor visibility it’s very easy to continue innocently down the wrong ridge which misses the connection to the second Munro, Meall a’ Choire Leith.

We followed a well-worn path up the eastern slopes of the hill before crossing the summit plateau to the cairn.

By now the clouds had cleared again and although the sun was still well muffled somewhere above us, the views were wide-ranging – across the gulf of Glen Lyon to Stuchd an Lochain and Meall Bhuidhe and beyond to the hills of Rannoch, the Carn Mairg group and Schiehallion and closer at hand, the big, bluff summits of the Tarmachans.

As we descended the south-west slopes of Meall a’ Choire Leith, my recollections of how to get back to the car were dominated by memories of peat-bogs, swampy ground and endless burn crossings. Today, things couldn’t have been any easier. Winter had frozen the ground and solidified the peat and mud, and the only problems we encountered were in trying to avoid great areas of sheet ice. As a bonus the clouds cleared, the sun shone and by the time we reached the Lochan na Lairige road it was a fine day and the ugly sisters of the Ben Lawers range had been transformed into the belles of the ball.

Cameron McNeish

ROUTE PLANNER

Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 51 (Loch Tay & Glen Dochart)

Distance: 8 miles/13km

Approx Time: 4-6 hours

Start/Finish: Small car park at summit of Lochan na Lairige road (GR: NN583418)

Route: Leave the road just north of the Lochan na Lairige and cross a low ridge to the SE. Follow this ridge to the headwall of Gleann Da-Eig and climb to the SW ridge of Meall Corranaich. Follow the ridge NE to the summit. Leave the summit and head N down the easy angled ridge. Keep to the NNE ridge, drop to a col then follow ridge on to the flat topped summit plateau of Meall a’ Choire Leith. Descend in a SW direction, cross the Allt Coire Gorm and the Allt Gleann Da-Eig, and return to the road S of Meall nan Eun.

Due to restrictions, we are running our favourite previously published walks. Please see www.gov.scot for current travel rules

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992