First time on Ben Nevis (and that arete...)
by pacol » Thu Jul 08, 2010 12:42 pm
Route description: Ben Nevis by the Carn Mor Dearg Arete
Munros included on this walk: Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg
Date walked: 15/06/2010
Time taken: 10 hours
Distance: 22 km
Ascent: 1500mRegister or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Climbing Ben Nevis has been my target for the last couple of years after my previous passing through of Fort William at the end of the WHW when the need to return south meant there wasn't enough days to include it. I'd read a number of articles on the best route up and Carn Mor Dearg and arete was the one that was clearly the way to do it in everything I read from Poucher onwards...
Then came the doubts - would the weather be ok enough - not being overly good with heights would I be able to cope with the exposure (airy and exposed was the description of the arete that stuck in my mind) - being risk averse, when I got there should I just opt for the tourist track...
Anyway, jumping forward past my scenario planning during the year to my annual few days backpacking in Scotland in June of this year. On the day before this walk the weather had been excellent with sun and high cloud with the Ben out of cloud all day. On the evening before I sat outside my tent on the campsite able to look up and the next day's potential route and still wonder if I should opt for the tourist track...
At 3am, the sky was clear and I was very tempted to start out... but I left it until 8am.
By 8am some cloud was drifting in at about 1000m and just starting to gather in the head of the Coire Leis but I set out in the knowledge that once at the Allt a Mhuilinn I would make the decision whether to go CMD or Tourist.
It was a steady pull up the track alongside the Allt a Mhuilinn and as I went I was amazed to see that the cloud was not getting thicker, and actually disappearing. I don't normally have this sort of luck with the weather so, bear with me if I sound surprised by normal weather phenomena!
The weather - very high light cloud, a slight breeze and the words of Poucher et al settled it - I would take the Carn Mor Dearg route and see how I got on (notice, still, the expectation that I might still need to bail...)
When reading about the route, many of the ones I read suggest tackling from well up the glen near the CIC hut where it sounds to be a very steep and rough ascent. Looking at the map suggested that the shoulder of Carn Beag Dearg would prove to be a better route and as I rounded a corner on the track up the Allt a Mhuilinn there was a distinct, but not heavily used path. It was boggy in places and became very indistinct near the ridge where I think most people head direct for Carn Mor Dearg. I was aiming for Carn Beag Dearg first and so had to track across the boulder field. Being me, I needed a number of rest stops and was able to enjoy the views back towards Fort William.
and equally, the North face of the Ben.
Once onto Carn Beag Dearg and the ridge to Carn Dearg Meadhonach, I felt a real sense of achievement. The pull up doesn't prepare you for the tremendous views across the to Aonach Mor. I apologise that I wasn't able to do it justice with photographs but hopefully this gives an idea of the ridge from Carn Dearg Meadhonach to Carn Mor Dearg with the arete in the background.
It was on the top of Carn Mor Dearg that I had the greatest sense of exposure, oddly enough. I was expecting it to come on the arete but as I sat down on the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, because of the very convex nature of the slope, I became very aware that I could only see a few metres of ground and beyond that the next ground was many hundreds of metres below. With this playing on my senses I started to feel a sense of vertigo, but putting aside the vision of me crawling to safety back the way I had come, I found that the feeling was cured by standing up and being able to see further down the slope.
With that minor panic over, it was the descent down to the arete, which because it was a descent down a steep slope with steeper slopes away to the sides it made the arete look welcoming.
The arete itself, I took as a slow and steady walk with some slight scrambling, although having near perfect weather conditions I probably looked over cautious should anyone have been watching, but then that's me...
The following pictures are taken from the middle of the arete where it almost feels like a wide bridge - not something I was expecting from having read all the descriptions. The arete needs to be treated with care, but as a risk averse person with a reasonable problem with heights, it was a more readily achievable than I had imagined.
After the arete came the tough pull up the boulders to the top of Ben Nevis. Very hard work and not always easy to work out the best direction. Going upwards, the occasional paths were so loose (from people going down I imagine) I ended up rock hopping following an ever upwards route until the iron posts near the summit came into view and gave me a target.
After the stunning views and ridge walking of Carn Mor Dearg came and even greater feeling of achievement when the route I was following led me directly to the summit of the Ben. Once there, with the top well out of cloud the views were excellent. I spent most of my time looking back at where I had climbed...
The other great surprise was the number of people on the summit - it looked like a coach party had just been dropped off! On my route I had met one person going the same way and three going the other way. What with my direct route to the summit I wasn't prepared for the sheer number of people wandering around, and the need to queue to reach the Trig point...
As I set off down the Tourist path it all became clear. There was this almost continuous stream of people heading upwards with their interesting variations on what is appropriate gear and clothing for tackling the highest mountain in the British Isles. I guess the good weather was a factor. I hope they all made it and enjoyed their walks, but seeing the state of some of them and the 'that must be the top now' comments when they were half way up did make me worry.
I was impressed by the amount of work that has gone into the Tourist track, but it did make for a long trudge down until I could cut off past the Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe away from the crowds and follow the track towards the CIC hut. There, picking what seemed to be the best line I dropped down off the path and crossed the Allt a Mhuilinn before walking back down the glen and retracing my route to the start.
At the end of it all, rather drained from what had been a tough walk, but following all the agonising during the year about which route to take I was very satisfied - I wouldn't have done it any other way.
I was very lucky with the weather, but as a way to do the Ben, I do agree - it is the way!
by pacol » Thu Jul 29, 2010 1:44 pm
As usual it has taken me a while from when I first started writing the report to getting it ready to share so please forgive this follow up post.
by Paul Webster » Thu Jul 29, 2010 2:44 pm
by pacol » Thu Jul 29, 2010 8:39 pm
I joined the path just before it crosses the deer fence having walked up the track from the aluminium works. From there on it was a good well drained path. I think it has a lot of work done on it.
The day before I had crossed the Allt a'Mhuillin while walking on the old tramway and that bit of the path up to where I joined it looked decidely boggy, which was part of the reason I followed the track. As there also seems to be a purpose made path up from the North Face car park (not marked on the maps) that heads in from the other direction there doesn't seem much reason to battle up that first section. That and the need to cross the golf fairways to get to the road didn't seem to make it that attractive...
Having sat on the Glen Nevis campsite and watched the people battling up the long zig-zags, I think the Allt a'Mhuillin is going to be my preferred route in the next time I'm there.
by skuk007 » Thu Jul 29, 2010 9:42 pm
On the way back down, on reaching Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, was there a route down the ridge towards the path following the Allt Coire an Lochan so you don't have to double-back to the CIC hut?
by Milesy » Fri Jul 30, 2010 12:03 am
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by pacol » Fri Jul 30, 2010 6:33 am
skuk007 wrote:On the way back down, on reaching Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, was there a route down the ridge towards the path following the Allt Coire an Lochan so you don't have to double-back to the CIC hut?
Yes and no is the best answer - have a look at Barnety2000's report on the Ben - he takes the route you are thinking of and describes it in his last paragraph.
As I'd walked up that way I'd looked at it from the far bank and my thought was that I couldn't see any obvious crossing point and the burn did look reasonably deep at that point, although it looks as though as though it is quite a common route as the opposite hillside showed signs of people having walked that way.
Not wanting to risk floundering through bog and being faced with a difficult crossing at the end of a long day I opted for walking back uptowards the CIC hut (not all the way) and crossing once I could see a reasonable line down of the path and to where the Allt a'Mhuillin looked easily crossable. I did say I was risk averse didn't I...
Hope this helps.
by Barnety2000 » Fri Jul 30, 2010 10:48 pm
I think my report may have been a bit over the top actually, but I just like to describe what I see!
by goth_angel » Sun Aug 01, 2010 10:23 am