23rd October, 2018
A contender for the title of grandest ridge walk in the country, the Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) Arete straddles that fine line between rambling and scrambling. This graceful curving line connects two four-thousand-footers, its blocky crest offering airy positions and stunning views of the cliffs of Ben Nevis, but minimal hands-on stuff. It is unquestionably the most enjoyable non-climber’s route on Ben Nevis, leagues ahead of the crowded and frankly dull trudge up the Tourist Track.
From here the view of the north face of Ben Nevis is as good as it gets. Beyond this sharp summit the CMD (Carn Mor Dearg) Arete begins, and so does the real fun. The ridge forms a narrow arête of rounded blocks, sweeping around the head of the corrie in a grand arc to link CMD with Ben Nevis. There is always a well worn path weaving just below the rock steps, but it's generally more entertaining to stick to the true crest. The situations are spectacular and it's a little exposed at times, but the proper scrambling is minimal. Care is obviously needed in wet, icy or windy conditions though. After making a rightwards bend the ridge drops to a low point of 1058m before climbing to meet the main mass of Ben Nevis at a point marked by a large cairn (built 2012) which marks a possible escape right into Coire Leis (this is not a very pleasant way to descend in any season, especially in winter when it can be very icy). The final ascent onto Ben Nevis is a long, thankless trudge up a boulder-strewn slope. In poor visibility and particularly in winter it's worth being particularly aware of the lip of the Brenva Face, just off to your right. An intermittent line of metal posts marks a safe route. On reaching the stony summit plateau bear left to the summit trig point and nearby ruins of a Victorian meteorological station. If needs must there's a shelter here, often used by the anti social as the highest toilet in Britain.
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Distance: 11.62 miles (18.70 km)
Total ascent: 1,935m
Steepest Gradient: 65% (1 in 2)
Time: 8 hours (Walking)
Glen Nevis visitor centre car park, NN122731
Starting with the well made (and busy) Tourist Track, then a rougher path into the Allt a'Mhuillinn followed by some pathless ground and a steep ascent to Carn Dearg Meadhonach. The famous CMD Arete itself is an airy and slightly scrambly ridge – not quite scrambling grade 1. Bouldery slopes then lead to the summit of Ben Nevis, and a long descent back on the Tourist Track.
Bus or rail to Fort William, from where a local bus runs up Glen Nevis
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In winter conditions the CMD Arete is a grade I climb. Though fairly straightforward it is long and exposed, and deep snow or high wind are likely to make it feel pretty challenging. In winter the summit plateau of Ben Nevis is potentially a serious place, and safe descent may require care (see stage 4)
Weather and Hill Conditions: mwis: Northwest Highlands – Met Office: West Highlands
OS Explorer 392 (1:25,000), OS Explorer 399 (1:25,000), Harvey/BMC Ben Nevis (1:40,000), OS Landranger 41 (1:50,000)
Ben Nevis Inn bunkhouse tel 01397 701227; Glen Nevis Youth Hostel tel 0870 004 1120
by Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com