This may seem a stupid question to everyone. A friend and I have our eyes set on Ben Nevis, somewhere around January/February next year. I have looked at the possible routes and thinking the tourist track might be a bit dull for us, we would ideally like to do the Cmd Arete and come back down the tourist path.
Looking at the the climb on YouTube, I thought it wouldn’t be too hard for us to climb technically, and we have a head for heights, but I want to get my facts right before making a decision. We currently have no winter experience at all.
What’s the verdict?
Give it another winter to gain a good base of winter experience, or sign up to a winter skills course and possibly hire a guide. It’s a long day out and whilst CMD is not particularly technical there is a lot of it and the weather and snow conditions can make a big difference to your day.
you will need to be proficient in ice axe technique and confident walking in crampons over mixed terrain for long distances without tripping over them and obviously the broader skills of navigation, avalanche awareness and fitnesses.
sorry if I’m stating the obvious
No not at all! I’m very careful of the route I’ve picked in the past, usually it’s fairly clear if it would be suitable or not but I haven’t found much on the internet stating otherwise!
Any suggestions of interesting winter walks for this winter then?
As said above, you will need to be able to move on steepish snow and ice in crampons and know how to self arrest a slip using an ice axe. You can (and should) read all the books you like on this but hiring a professional guide even for one day to show you how to do these things properly will be about the best investment you will ever make.
I think the best option is to hire a guide for a winter skills course, pick their brains while on the course and they will be able to recommend some objectives based on your skills, fitness and experience.
The other option is to join a club
Please be aware any recommendations will be affected by the weather and conditions on the day and can vary from blue sky perfect days to extreme artic weather (sometimes on the same day)
I would recommend working on your mountain fitness now, nothing like wading through knee deep snow to show up any lack of endurance 😏
I think the CMD arete in winter is a perfectly reasonable target for a fit person with some scrambling experience in their first winter season. On the normal route from the north face car park, there's unlikely to be any avalanche risk if you stick to the paths. Navigating on the Ben Nevis summit plateau in a whiteout is a serious prospect, but I think that's unrelated to winter skills, so if you're ok navigating from a map and compass it should be ok.
The BMC Winter Skills series on YouTube will be very useful, especially the first season. Practice putting on your crampons at home, and then do some easier winter walks with an axe. Self arrest probably is worth practicing, but most of the CMD arete walk is either too steep or not steep enough for it to be useful, again, assuming you stick to the paths
Edit: conditions are also of course more serious in winter, with the ridge in particular not great for a windy day. The days are short in winter and it's a long day, so you should be happy walking in and out with headtorches
If you've never walked in crampons before walking off the Ben could easily be more risky than going up via the CMD arete. It's not like you need jedi skills or something but practicing moving on snow and ice is probably best done somewhere a bit less serious. If you walk up and down a rounded lump with no issues, try the arete the next day! Remember that you go up Ben Nevis from basically sea level from almost all sides and it is a big mountain day regardless of what you do. Get up early so you're not on the top as the sun goes down. I did it twice in two days last January, and it is noticeably a bigger day out than anything in Snowdonia or lake District for example.
FWIW I've done CMD in a bit of snow/ice with summer boots and cutting steps where necessary plus using Yaktrax for the walking on ice bits. It was awkward but doable however I wouldn't recommend doing it that way. If however you can get the correct boots and crampons and practice using them and the ice axe you won't have a problem.
Why not book into the CIC hut if there's room and do it in two chunks? Friday night up to the hut, Saturday up CMD and back down the tourist path then cut back across to the hut, Sunday down to the car park and home. It's quite a special place to stay, not expensive and means it's not so much of a long slog.
The first time I climbed CMD Arete was in winter. There was a whiteout on the top section and a powerful gale. The snow/ice climbing was never very steep, but involved a long rising traverse on which every time I heard an especially large gust of wind coming I whacked in both axes and hung on to make sure I didn't get blown off. The most difficult part was finding the summit in a whiteout (the summit plateau has quite a gentle slope). As you suggest, I descended via the tourist path. A fantastic day out, but not to be underestimated.
there are no paths in winter, even popular routes will be cleared of footprints quickly.
navigating off the Ben in darkness and a whiteout is very much a winter skill
From the Col up the slopes to the summit of the Ben has been the scene of winter slips and shouldn’t be treated lightly.
Getting out in winter is awesome, enjoy it but stay safe 😀
I think I'd agree with others here that you should get a few winter days in before you look at CMD - I've done it in summer and winter, and it's a big day out whatever the conditions. Again, as others have said, the Ben is a noticeably bigger day than any hill in England or Wales.
I'd also second getting someone more experienced (ideally a guide) to take you out and teach you the basics: self-arrest, walking with the axe, footwork in boots and in crampons, etc. However much summer experience you have, winter is a very different game, and that's part of the fun.
In terms of location, for a first few days out in winter I wouldn't expect to summit anything, just spend time on skills: Coire an Lochan in Glencoe is good for this, as is Coire a Mhusgain, on the NE side of Stob Ban.
I would get a few winter hills done before heading to the Ben, just to get some experience of walking in winter conditions, check your gear is suitable and practise the basics like finding a safe place to put on crampons. You'll be in a better position to gauge if you're ready.
As you say there’s not a high level of technicality to the route but you complete the ascent very high up and a long way from safety. There’s serious fall potential both ascending and descending if you get it just a bit wrong. I’d agree with others that a few good winter days beforehand would be the best way forward. Not enough chances before late January when “winter “ might not kick in properly til then.
Absolutely suitable for a beginner with rudimentary fitness who starts early and expects a long day. The approach slope and the slope from the ridge to the summit could be threatened by avalanche so check the conditions and warnings on SAIS. Read up on how to analyse this data and employ good decision making, err on the cautious side.
Take your time, the climbing is never difficult but if you feel uncomfortable don't feel a loss of pride in turning around, don't climb yourself into a corner where you can't retreat from safely.
The most dangerous bit IMO is navigation back down from the summit in bad weather but if you can follow bearings and pacing then this isn't a bad issue.
You can rope up and practice alpine ropework however in reality on this type of terrain you're probably only increasing the risk for both parties.
By all means learn ice axe arrest before you go but if you fall off the ridge it's not going to help as the ground is too steep. However it will help on the ascent and descent paths.
Ideal beginner route when the snow is consolidated, ie it doesn't crumble underfoot and isn't a wet mess.
It's a hill walk, no climbing involved.
> It's a hill walk, no climbing involved.
Finally somebody said it 👍
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