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The ultimate ridge route to Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis
by Barnety2000 » Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:00 pm
Route description: Ben Nevis by the Carn Mor Dearg Arete
Munros included on this walk: Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg
Date walked: 12/07/2010
Time taken: 8 hours
Distance: 11 km
Ascent: 1500m4 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Nevis Gorge to Steall Ruins
The walk starts in the Upper Glen Nevis Carpark, at the road end in Glen Nevis. On the previous day, I had also started from this same location with the intention of climbing the Aonachs, taking in Sgurr a’ Bhuic and Stob Coire Bhealaich, however relentless lashing rain and a gusting severe gale force northwesterly forced the walk to be abandoned near the entrance to Coire Giubhsachan. Now on the following day, I was sitting in the same car park at 9.45am, staring disappointedly outside as a persistent light rain fell from a leaden grey sky and dark menacing clouds swallowed the summit of Sgurr a’ Mhaim. I was seriously considering abandoning the walk without getting out of the car, fearing the same fate as that which had befallen me on the previous day. However by 10am, the rain had ceased and small holes of brightness were beginning to punch through the grey cloud. I made a snap decision to go for it. A decision I did not regret, as you will see.
A good path heads eastward away from the car park and soon starts to climb up the southern slopes of Meall Cumhann and into the narrow wooded Nevis Gorge, contouring along the steep hillside high above the torrent of the River Nevis. The river was in spate after the previous days rainfall and the roaring and booming of the foaming water echoed throughout the narrow gorge, as the water crashed over and around solid blocks of schist as big as houses. As the path climbs, it becomes increasingly rocky; the rocks becoming slippery when wet and requiring care. Numerous streams draining the stupendously steep southern slopes of Ben Nevis and Meall Cumhann are crossed on the path; these were also in spate and required a little more care than normal to negotiate.
After about 10 mins of walking, the gorge suddenly opens out into the grassy open Steall Meadows, a serene site when compared with the rugged claustrophobic nature of the gorge. Straight ahead, the magnificent white slash of the Steall Waterfall issues from the entrance to Coire a’ Mhail, with violent foaming water cascading over a smooth wall of solid schist. Directly above rise steep grassy slopes to the pointed summit of An Gearanach, a summit traversed on the Ring of Steall route. To the south, the steep wooded northern slopes of Sgurr a’ Mhaim form a barrier and blocked my view of the upcoming weather.
Head SE on the path towards the Steall Waterfall, but turn due east as the path hits the River Nevis before the waterfall is reached. A wire bridge crosses the River Nevis just before this point and can be crossed to reach the base of the Steall Waterfall, however the bridge was out of order on this day as the structure was apparently “unsafe and should not be used until further notice”.
Continue due east on the path along the northern bank of the River Nevis. Keep to the path, as the low ground around the path can be extremely boggy following heavy rainfall. After a few minutes the path leads to a bridge which crosses a tributary to the River Nevis, the Allt Coire Giubhsachan. Across the other side of the bridge can be seen the old ruins of some stone buidings, these are the Steall Ruins. Turning to the north, a faint rough path can be picked out running north up the steep slopes on the left (western) side of the Allt Coire Giubhsachan. Leave the main path through Glen Nevis just before the bridge and ascend to gain this path, which climbs the mountainside steeply to the north.
Coire Giubhsachan to the bealach between Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Mor (830m)
The path climbs steeply up the hillside in close proximity to the Allt Coire Giubhsachan; an impressive river that cascades down the steep hillside in a series of impressive waterfalls. Height is soon gained above Glen Nevis, and the panorama opens up taking in the central and eastern Mamores, from Binnein Beag to Sgurr a’ Mhaim. Keep to the path, as this hillside can be extremely boggy, confirmed by the abundance of cotton grass on the adjacent hillside. Even the path can turn into a mini torrent after heavy rain, so waterproof boots are essential for this section, as I found to my peril. The gradient temporarily slackens and the grey hump of Ben Nevis, the curving line of the Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) arête and the summit of Carn Mor Dearg come into view. A final steep slog ends at the entrance to Coire Giubhsachan and the path runs immediately adjacent to the Allt Coire Giubhsachan at this point.
Coire Giubhsachan is a splendid example of a hanging U-shaped valley, scoured by erosion from a mountain glacier during the Last Glacial Maximum some 10,000 years ago. The impenetrable walls of the CMD arête seal the valley in to the NW, a mixture of grassy and sheer faces of damp mossy granite, from which issue numerous foaming watery cascades, plummeting vertically down the hillside to the serenity of the Allt Coire Giubhsachan far below. To the east, the steep grassy, then higher up craggy, western slopes of Aonach Beag tower up. Turning around, the Mamores of An Gearanach and Binnein Mor stand bold on the opposite side of Glen Nevis. On this day, a thick blanket of venomous cloud hung low over the summits and the entire CMD arête, the steep walls of the arête abruptly disappearing upward into a dark grey void. However I was hopefully that the weather would improve as the day wore on…
Continue along the path, which becomes indistinct but leaves the Allt Coire Giubhsachan at this point and heads straight for the walls of the CMD arête across EXTREMELY boggy terrain. Alternatively one could follow the bank of the Allt Coire Giubhsachan, which meanders peacefully and serenely across the subhorizontal boggy terrain; quartz, micas and feldspars derived from erosion of the prevailing granites upstream sparkle like jewels beneath the crystal clear, ice-cold waters. Gradually the terrain steepens as you head further up Coire Giubhsachan, several streams draining from the CMD arête are forded and soon the path runs back adjacent to the Allt Coire Giubhsachan, which flows fast and efficiently over smooth, polished flags of red granite at this point. Granite will be the prevailing rock for a significant section of the walk until Ben Nevis is reached. The terrain becomes increasingly rough up the valley, and the walls of the arête loom closer and closer, looking slightly less impenetrable than before. By this time the cloud had lifted from the CMD arête, with strands just intermittently flirting with the summits of Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Beag. Ben Nevis is out of view throughout most of the walk up this hanging valley (except for the entrance), however this apparent rising of the cloud base offered great promise that just perhaps the cloud would lift off all of the summits by the middle of the afternoon. I couldn’t help notice an ominous darkening of the sky above An Gearanach behind me however…the sure sign of an approaching shower.
The final steep slog up the head of Coire Giubhsachan to the bealach at 830m is relentless and very tiring. The path climbs steeply in steps hewn out of peat and granite sand, adjacent and on the left bank of the Allt Coire Giubhsachan. It is worth noting that after the upper part of the Allt Coire Giubhsachan is passed, no more water is available until halfway down Ben Nevis when the Red Burn is forded on the Tourist Track. Therefore it is a good idea to fill water bottles here for the exciting high altitude ridge walk ahead. A fine profile of the east ridge of Carn Mor Dearg is observed throughout the climb up through Coire Giubhsachan- initially steep, followed by a slight slackening of the gradient through the middle section, before a steep final climb to the summit.
Finally the steep slope abruptly eases off and the boggy bealach between Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Mor is attained, complete with a small pond and scattered granite blocks set amongst lush grass. A good time for a break to admire the view northward down the bleak valley of the Allt Daim between the Carn Deargs and the immense gullied western slopes of Aonach Mor. To the south, the Allt Coire Giubhsachan descends steeply then meanders in its lower reaches as the gradient eases off, with the Mamores of An Gearanach, Stob Coire a’ Chairn and Am Bodach forming an impressive backdrop. Now the ridge-walking starts- to the west is the base of the east ridge of Carn Mor Dearg, and it is worthwhile locating the steep rough path that climbs in steps up the lower part of the ridge.
The east ridge of Carn Mor Dearg to the summit (1220m)
The lower part of the east ridge is wide but very steep, over a mixture of grass and scattered granite blocks. The faint path soon fizzles out, and gradually the crest of the ridge starts to narrow. To the north and west, the pointed summit of Carn Mor Dearg comes into view along with the summit and jagged east ridge of Carn Dearg Meadhonach (1179m), which forms an imposing feature against the skyline, high above the valley of the Allt Daim. The immense bulk of the Aonach Mor-Aonach Beag ridge fills the view to the east, whilst to the south the Allt Coire Giubhsachan meanders away towards the grassy levels of Glen Nevis, above which rise the summits of the central and eastern Mamores. Some like An Gearanach and Binnein Mor are pointed, some like Sgurr a’ Mhaim have remote delicately scalloped corries…and then there is the blunt scree-covered cone of Binnein Beag, the eastern outlier of the Mamore ridge. Cloud intermittently flirted then lifted away from the red triangular summit of Carn Mor Dearg, however a rain shower was drifting in across the Mamores, the peaks disappearing behind the fuzzy haze of a rainshaft.
Continue on up the crest of the ridge, which starts to become narrower as the slope gradient eases off, with a pleasant mixture of solid granite and patchy grass beneath the feet. A fine place to stop for a view, and also where unfortunately for me, a light rain started to fall from a darkening sky. The wind abruptly freshened and a swirling mass of cloud draped then lowered over the summits of Carn Mor Dearg and Carn Dearg Meadhonach. I spied a perfect moment to rest at my lower vantage point out of the cloud with a fine view, munching on a pineapple cupcake and sipping some refreshing Irn Bru.
The walk along the central section of the east ridge is a delight, hanging high above the Allt Coire Giubhsachan and gazing down on that singular group of walkers you overtook on the way up. No scrambling is required, but perhaps not so great if you suffer from vertigo. The light rain shower started to ease as I approached the final steep rocky climb to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, however the cloud base remained low, with thick cloud concealing the summit from view. I took another break below this final section, as I could see significantly brighter weather approaching from the south, as the sun glinted and twinkled from the pointed summit of Stob Ban. A break in the weather was on its way.
The final climb is steep and involves the first bit of scrambling on the walk up a fairly narrow and rocky granite ridge. The blocks were quite slippery where wet and mossy, so care should be taken. The first feel of exposure is evident but there should be no difficulty if time and care are taken. This would likely be a far different (and notably more dangerous) undertaking in winter conditions or high winds however. Suddenly the summit cairn appears at the top of the rocky ridge, the ridge is steep right up to the summit cairn.
In good weather, the summit of Carn Mor Dearg is a fine vantage point for the north face of Ben Nevis. Sheer cliffs 600 metres high, the biggest in Britain, tower high above the remote rugged hanging valley of Coire Leis. Vast wedges of snow are lodged in high intricately scoured and inaccessible corries, suspended far above crashing waterfalls feeding remote suspended lochans. To the south, you get the first real view of the CMD arête from above. The delicate line curves symmetrically and gracefully around the head of Coire Leis to adjoin a wide boulder field beneath the summit of the UK’s highest mountain, with an unequalled backdrop of the Mamores then the Glencoe mountains sprawling out towards the horizon, as far as the eye can see. From your superior location, you look down on them all. An unforgettable feeling, and a panorama that will undoubtedly take your breath away at first sight. To the east, the first sign of weakness in the Aonach Mor-Aonach Beag ridge is appreciated, as the twisting scree-covered line of the Grey Corries appears through the bealach between the two Munros- a notch in the high eastern barrier of the Nevis Range.
On this day, the cloud would intermittently lift, then swoop back onto the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, with sudden emergence then disappearance of the CMD arête. Now, following several more mouthfuls of Irn Bru and a packet of crisps, I was ready to tackle the 2nd ridge of the walk…
The Carn Mor Dearg Arete (>1000m) to Ben Nevis (1344m)
Descend south along the crest of the initially relatively wide granite ridge as it sharpens to form the CMD arête and the gradient slackens. Descending from Carn Mor Dearg soon brought me out beneath the cloud base and a clear view of the awesome ridge ahead. Cloud was still flirting with the summit of Ben Nevis, however hopes were optimistic of complete clearance by the time of my arrival. The crest of the arête becomes very rocky from the start, and keeping to the crest makes for a fine but relatively easy scramble in good weather conditions. I would strongly advise against attempting this ridge in high winds however. The solid blocks of granite along the crest offer good grip in the dry and exhibit innumerable scratch marks along the entire line of the ridge- perhaps throwbacks from winter conditions when ice axes and ropes are undoubtedly required in order to cling to the crest. Faint soil paths to the SE of the crest avoid much of the exposure on the more difficult sections for those that feel inclined. However loving the sense of exposure (and the views), keeping to the crest was essential for me.
The rugged crest heads due south then abruptly swings to the SW as it starts to turn majestically around the head of Coire Leis. As it does so, the scrambling along the crest becomes much easier with a more defined path and less frequent necessity for use of the hands. Now high above Coire Giubhsachan and the meandering Allt Coire Giubhsachan on one side, your eye turns to look down the perfect U-shaped Coire Leis between the steep scree-covered granite slopes of the Carn Dearg ridge on the right and the subvertical grey andesite cliffs and crags of the north face of Ben Nevis on the left. Coire Leis includes some beautifully wild and rugged terrain, becoming increasingly rocky in the upper reaches, complete with a small lochan nestling into the contours beneath the shear walls of the CMD arête. The lochan was still fed by a residual snow patch, even in July. Looking to the south, I spied a second shower stealing in across the Mamores and pressed on, now downhill at an easy gradient and easy walking towards the low point of the arête (still over 1000m altitude). Looking behind, I followed the rocky line of the arête back to the red pyramidal summit of Carn Mor Dearg, now standing starkly out of the clouds ahead of the approaching shower. As I reached the low point of the arête, a light rain once again started and the cloud lowered over Ben Nevis, which prior to the shower had almost completely emerged below the cloud base. The wind suddenly gusted up, signalling an ideal time to pause and take a break.
As the arête starts to rise again after the low point, the crest consists of a pile of upturned boulders involving some more committed scrambling to keep to the very top, again over solid blocks of granite. As before, a path contours across the SE side just below the crest, taking away the exposure for those that require it. A final section of more level scrambling is next, followed by the traverse of a granite bridge only ~1 metre wide, accompanied by a sub-vertical drop on both sides. Not a problem if there is no wind, but for the faint hearted, a passage across by sitting rather than on foot may be necessary.
Suddenly the thin line of the arête widens and a bizarre triangular shaped post appears, marking a line of abseil posts and a route of descent, sometimes used in bad weather. A sudden change in the rock beneath the feet is also noticed at this point, from the red granite to a dark grey andesite- a volcanic rock of different chemical composition that comprises the immense bulk of the Ben Nevis Massif. During my final section of the CMD arête, a thick fog had descended denying a final view.
The final climb westward up the andesite boulder field to the summit of the Ben is very steep and unrelenting on tired legs. However a subtle feeling of comfort propels you on- this is the final section of climbing for the day. From the Ben, it is all downhill and time for your knees to take the strain in addition to your tired muscles. A faint paler coloured path zigzags through the boulder field. Do not stray to the right of the path however, as steep cliffs line the northern side of this deceptively wide boulder slope. Care should be taken on this final section in snow or ice - a slip from here could propel you into the depths of Coire Leis far below.
Suddenly as I was climbing, the cloud lifted as abruptly as it had arrived, to reveal a spacious view of the Mamores, now twinkling in thin hazy shafts of warm afternoon sunshine, as small holes of blue sky skudded towards the Ben. Perfect timing, and out came the camera. The summit of the Ben is suddenly reached as the slope eases off. The huge cairn at the trig point appears, along with ruins of the observatory and probably about 10 times as many people as you have seen on the entire walk so far. Somehow this detracts from the feeling of being on a high mountaintop, and feels more like being at a popular tourist attraction rather than in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Essential photos at the trig point can be taken, then move over to the edges of what appears to be a deceptively vast plateau to admire the views in all directions.
The summit of Ben Nevis
The summit of Ben Nevis is reputedly shrouded in thick cloud 69% of the year; so to get a view with such clarity is a real bonus. I was lucky. Moving over to the eastern side of the plateau, the red Carn Dearg ridge appears in all it’s glory, the small pointed summits of Carn Beag Dearg (1010m), Carn Dearg Meadhonach (1179m) and Carn Mor Dearg (1220m) progressively rising towards the south; the steep scree-ridden western slopes looking impossibly steep from this aspect. Three ridges radiate from the pyramidal summit of Carn Mor Dearg: the easy north ridge connecting to the other Carn Deargs, the exciting east ridge, and the delicate CMD arête. The thin line of the CMD arête leaves the summit of Carn Mor Dearg then twists gracefully round the head of Coire Leis to disappear out of view far below. You can feel smug as you gaze out on your fantastic ridge route to the summit, compared with the vast majority of your companions at the top, who have made the relatively straightforward (yet still strenuous) trudge up the Tourist Track from Achintee.
Far below in the heart of upper Coire Leis can be seen the CIC hut, recently extended and renovated and used as a base for climbers on numerous tours up the ridges of the Ben’s North Face. Looking due east over the CMD arête, the vast Aonach Ridge rises up, steep grassy and heavily gullied lower slopes soaring up to a series of rocky crags on Aonach Beag. Through the notch in the otherwise impenetrable Aonach Ridge, the twisting line of the Grey Corries appears, a tangle of scree-ridden ridges, shining bright in the sunshine and winding away into the middle distance. In the far distance to the right of Aonach Beag, the distant summit of Schiehallion rises up on a clear day, appearing as a shapely pointed peak piercing up into the sky. What you cannot see from the east or west is the long ridge, which leads up from Braes of Foss to the summit.
Gazing southward, the entire Mamore Range is revealed in all its glory, each summit unique and offering a different exhilarating challenge to the mountain explorer. In the west, smooth grassy ridges rise to the rounded summit of Mullach nan Coirean, beyond which a ray of sunlight picks out the sparkling waters of Loch Linnhe. Stob Ban appears much wilder and rockier, steep cliffs, crags and buttresses hanging off the tiny pointed summit. To the east, the immense bulk of Binnein Mor contrasts sharply with the lower blunt scree-covered cone of Binnein Beag. Meanwhile, inbetween the most majestic mountain of all- Sgurr a’ Mhaim. The mountain’s majestic north-facing glacially sculpted corrie has been watching you during almost every part of this walk, always unblinking, as you first tackled the east ridge of Carn Mor Dearg, then traversed the CMD arête to the summit of the Ben. It saw you do both. And it was not missed. An Gearanach, Stob Coire a’ Mhail and Am Bodach stand tall, and collectively with Sgurr a’ Mhaim comprise the Ring of Steall. A fantastic ridge walk that I am yet to attempt…
Beyond, the fragile pinnacled ridge of the Aonach Eagach rises amongst a sea of other peaks, the most distinguishable being Bidean nam Bian, often holding snow well into summer in secluded north-facing corries, and the summits of Buachaille Etive Mor at the head of Rannoch Moor. A whole tangle of peaks spread out to the west and north, tailing away to the sea, twinkling under a clear blue summer sky. An unforgettable view, and certainly one to be savoured.
Descent from Ben Nevis on the Tourist Track
You will now be descending by the standard route up Ben Nevis, and on a nice day will be in the company of tens, even hundreds, of others. In good visibility with no snow cover, an obvious cairned path leads the way WNW across the summit plateau, gradually descending. It is nice to follow the north-facing rim over rocky ground and stare down into the glen of the Allt a’ Mhuillinn and across it to the Carn Dearg ridge in good weather, however this can be dangerous and is not advised under snow cover or during poor visibility. If visibility is poor or the terrain snow-covered, then a compass and map are required to steer clear of the dangerous gullies that cut quite far into the summit plateau. A persistent snow patch is often still covering the tourist path in a slightly steeper section a little lower down on the summit plateau in late June or early July.
Once off the summit plateau, the path starts to descend the steep grey western slopes of the mountain in a series of large zigzags. This is when you will really start to feel it in your knees after all of the climbing earlier in the day. Care must still be taken, as even though this is a well-worn route to the summit, the path is still very rocky and uneven in places at this high altitude. Path improvements were taking place however on my visit. Admire fine views to the west, down Loch Linnhe to the North Atlantic and to Mullach nan Coirean and Stob Ban.
Eventually the zigzags come to an end and the path heads straight towards Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, known to local walkers as the Halfway Lochan, even though it is not quite halfway in terms of altitude to the summit. The realisation of this fact seems to stop many walkers in their tracks, and only the hardcore walkers seem to make it past the Halfway Lochan. Thus the lochan tends to act as a “make or break” stage for walkers on the ascent. Before the Lochan is reached, the path passes under the waterfall of the Red Burn, a chance to fill water bottles after the thirsty walk.
A little more descent and the Halfway Lochan is reached. The main Tourist Track swings sharply to the left here to descend the steep western slopes of Meall an t-Suidhe in a series of tight zigzags. This is an option for the descent, arriving at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre or Youth Hostel, including the chance for a pint at the Ben Nevis Inn. This is probably the only route of descent after heavy rain and when the rivers are in spate.
However my route follows the path straight on ahead, due north and parallel to the Halfway Lochan. Bear left on the path up ahead when it splits and arrive at the northern end of the Halfway Lochan (and a chance for a swim or paddle if the weather is hot!). The path stops here, but continue north to descend rough heathery and bouldery slopes towards the Allt a’ Mhuillinn River. The terrain is boggy in places; it is possible to pick out bits and pieces of path but they tend to fizzle out. In time, the river is reached and the excitement begins trying to find a way across. Sometimes the granite blocks are suitably perched to act as stepping-stones, on other occasions a removal of the trousers and socks and a wade through the ice-cold water is necessary. A nice opportunity to freshen up anyhow.
Clamber up the opposite bank and head north for a short distance until a footpath is reached, which runs parallel to the Allt a’ Mhuillinn and which has descended from the upper reaches of Coire Leis. Follow this path back to a stile, cross this and continue on what is now a track heading NW towards a thick conifer forest. The path suddenly swings more to the north, marking a new improved path- the old rough path used to head down parallel with the Allt a’ Mhuillinn and this is the one still marked on the accompanying map.
Now follow the path, which has a series of steep descents through coniferous woodland of Leanachan Forest. Eventually the path joins another one, continue ahead N/NE for a short distance until a large stony track is reached. Turn left and in a short distance the North Face Car Park is reached, complete with hoards of midges on a warm still summer evening- the end of a fine mountain ridge walk.
by Stretch » Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:53 pm
- mountain coward
Great detailed report with pictures showing the amasing scenery and ridges perfectly. Great shots out to the Mamores. CMD arete looks excellent. Looking forward to doing something up there after reading this. Thanks
by Barnety2000 » Thu Jul 29, 2010 7:52 pm
Mountain Coward- how come you didn't finish the arete? Did the weather turn on you?
Stretch- by circular route do you mean starting and finishing at Glen Nevis Vistor Centre of North Face Park? I have done the CMD arete from North Face twice before and will be writing a report on that shortly...
Monty- great to here, just make sure you pick a spell of settled weather!
by Milesy » Fri Jul 30, 2010 12:02 am
- Posts: 1519
- Joined: Jun 12, 2009
- Location: Airdrieland.
by Hoolie69 » Wed Aug 03, 2011 8:40 pm
What a great read. I know I'm a year late, but that read was entertaining, informative (must be a geologist of some sort I imagine?) poetic at times, and superb photos! I really enjoyed that. (I only read it as I am planning a Wwalking trip from the Cairngorms to Fort William next year for charity and want to get a feel for how to tackle Aonach Mor, Aonach Beag, CDM, and Ben Nevis while suffering from vertigo in as efficient a way as possible.
Anyway, thanks again for a really great read, loads of effort went into that report and it shows!
by Barnety2000 » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:13 pm
I have recently come back from Scotland and this year did all 4 Munros in the Nevis Range (the Aonachs, CMD and Ben Nevis) that you mention in a day. Haven't got round to writing that up yet but hopefully will get some time this weekend. Should be up by sunday evening. That was probably the best hill walk I've ever done in Scotland but you need to be fit!
If you get a nice day in the Nevis Range then there is nowhere better to be...
by Barnety2000 » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:14 pm
by 147cjl » Wed Aug 03, 2011 11:05 pm
by ruairiross » Wed Aug 10, 2011 11:32 pm
- Posts: 1
- Joined: Jul 26, 2011
by Barnety2000 » Thu Aug 11, 2011 6:54 pm
However the best route of all time has got to be this: http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=14021
Also helps with the Munro bagging!!!