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A Childhood Remembered: An Ascent of Ben Nevis by CMD

A Childhood Remembered: An Ascent of Ben Nevis by CMD

Postby Jeremiah Johnson » Thu Apr 27, 2017 10:25 pm

Route description: Ben Nevis by the Carn Mor Dearg Arete

Munros included on this walk: Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg

Date walked: 22/04/2017

Time taken: 8 hours

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Learning that Callander Girl and The Rodmeister planned to climb Ben Nevis via the Carn Mor Dearg arete at Jaxters Spring Walkhighlands meet based at Kinlochleven was the push I needed to sign up for my second Walkhighlands meet.

Ben Nevis has always had a special place in my heart, like many walkers it was the first hill I climbed and it was climbed with my Dad as an eight-year-old nearly 50 years ago. To revisit would be especially poignant as my Dad sadly passed away earlier this year. Although a long time ago I still fondly recall that first ascent. I remember camping with my Dad in Glen Nevis. I remember dreaming of snow caves and Yeti and climbing impossibly steep, glass smooth ice slopes. I remember waking early from a fractured sleep and lying in a bright tent lit by the morning sun listening to the call of a wood pigeon perched on the branch of a nearby tree. Of the climb, I remember little, but I do recall the thrill of standing on a snowfield below the top in high summer and bursting with pride as I stood a short time later at the snow covered summit.

As the weekend approached, I looked forward to the meet and the chance to revisit a special mountain. A leg stretcher on Friday along with The Rodmeister, GillC, Jelena, Irena and Anniekans to the summit of Corbett Beinn Mhic-Mhonaidh from Glen Orchy had me in fine fettle for climbing the Ben.

The Rodmeister, GillC, Jelena, Irena and Anniekans on the summit of Beinn Mhic-Mhonaidh

The Rodmeister, unfortunately, had been seduced by the prospect of a round of hills in Glenfinnan which would bag three Corbett’s – for Rod, hot on the trail of Mountain Thyme in their quest to finish the Corbett's, this was too great a temptation. Sheepishly, Rod gave us the news on Friday night amidst the mayem of the Kinlochleven Bunkhouse, thankfully Borderhugh was up for the challenge and would join Callander Girl and me on Saturday for our climb of Ben Nevis. Unlike my trip with my Dad all those years ago when we trudged up the “tourist path” we planned to start at Torlundy, to the north, and climb Carn Mor Dearg first and traverse the arete to Ben Nevis – a route my Dad told me "was reserved for big people". As a bonus the climb of Carn Mor Dearg would provide a new blue balloon and so I went to bed on Friday night looking forward to a great day on the Ben.
Keen to get moving we rose early on Saturday and were booted and ready for action at the still quiet North Face car park just before 9 am.

Lynne and Hugh at the North Face car park

Leaving the car, we joined a well-maintained path which climbed steeply through a forest of spruce which envelope the north-west ridge of Carn Beag Dearg. Calves, not yet warmed up, burned as we briskly climbed the path but we did gain height quickly and enjoyed fine views north to the urban spread of Caol, Inverlochy and Corpach.

Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil

Climbing higher, we were treated to glimpses of Ben Nevis through the branches of native firs which, along with spruce and birch,now formed the forest.

First view of Ben Nevis

At the tree line we negotiated a large style and took to a well-worn path gently climbing south east across open hillside alongside a noisy allt a’ mhuilinn rushing past our feet, with the grey cliffs of Ben Nevis and the hazy curve of the arête linking the Ben wtih the Carn Mor Dearg coming into view.

Lynne and Hugh climb path alongside allt a’ mhuilinn.

Every step along the path took us closer to the magnificent northern cliffs and buttresses of Ben Nevis and opposite, the steep, though less imposing slopes rising to the ridge containing Carn Beag Dearg, Carn Dearg Mheadhonach and further east, the highest point, the Munro Carn Mor Dearg. Behind, a hill runner chased us down, eventually catching us and passing us just before a noticeable rise on the path. As we followed the runner up the rise, ahead, we saw a large group walking slowly towards the CIC hut, nestling unobtrusively below the Ben’s great cliffs as though it had been there for ever. Climbing into the glen we had to decide when to leave the path. Continuing east up the glen past the Charles Ingles Clark (CIC) hut gives a shorter but very steep climb to the ridge near Carn Mor Dearg. We turned off the path before reaching the hut, a fitting memorial for a son, one of the many lovers of the hills, who perished in the First World War and took to boggy grass which rose to the ridge, high above, looking to gain the ridge between Carn Beag Dearg and Carn Dearg Mheadhonach. This would give a longer but less brutal effort. It was a slog and we made slow progress but we had great views across to the cliffs of Ben Nevis. To my non-climber’s eyes, impossibly steep but clearly there were routes, as climbers could be seen slowly ascending the grey cliffs.

As we gained height cloud began to creep across the Ben slowly dropping and engulfing the upper slopes of the mountain. A sore reminder of how fickle the weather in the Scottish mountains is. On Saturday, we had left a grey, dreary and rainy Tyndrum at lunchtime to climb Beinn Mhic-Mhonaidh with a 20% chance of a clear summit. As the walk progressed cloud rose and we reached the summit well below cloud with extensive views of all the west highland hills and north beyond the Glencoe hills to a host of peaks stretching to a snow-covered Ben Nevis, on the far horizon. Today, which promised a 70% chance of a cloud free summit, we climbed towards the ridge as cloud slowly dropped. In a matter of seconds the Ben opposite us, which had seemed only a stone’s throw away, was invisible in the gloom of dark grey cloud which engulfed the mountain to the valley floor.

The Ben consumed in cloud

Further up, the cloud showed no inclination to retreat and flurries of fine snow had developed into large wet snow flakes which fell from the slate sky. At that moment, our prospect of crossing the arete to reach Ben Nevis seemed slim and we were resigned to limiting the climb to an ascent of Carn Dearg Mor. We stopped for a rest seated among rocks and took on food and drink. Thankfully, while we rested, the snow eased and the cloud rose revealing again the magnificence of the northern cliffs, below thin broken cloud and patches of blue sky. The crossing of the arête was back on!

The Ben revealed.

Before resuming the relentless climb, we scanned the cliffs above the hut and saw a tiny red jacket stark against the mass of the grey mountain and were impressed with the progress the climbers had made up the near vertical cliffs, while hidden by cloud. We continued our less severe, though still steep climb, and met a path which traversed the southern slopes of the ridge rising at an angle which provided a much more enjoyable walking experience than the southern slopes had provided. We were soon on the ridge, between Carn Beag Dearg and Carn Mor Mheadhoin, looking across to Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag as we went.

Hugh approaching the summit of Carn Mor Dearg.

Traversing Carn Mor Mheadhoin we continued along the stony ridge and reached the modest cairn which marks the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, lowest of the 4000 feet mountains and for me munro 141, only 141 to compleat.

Carn Mor Dearg arête from summit of Carn Mor Dearg.

From the summit, I looked down to the narrow, rocky arete curving around the head of Coire Leis before climbing steeply to the summit of Ben Nevis, directly across from us. For a moment, the inner child deep in my subconscious fretted. Will I be ok on the narrow crest? Will vertigo which can plague me on exposed slopes cripple me as I attempt to cross? Will my nerve hold on the steep icy slopes climbing from the arete to the Ben?

Reassuringly, a thin red sandy path led from the rocky summit down onto the ridge. Followed by Hugh and Lynne, I descended from the summit on large granite blocks ready to begin the airy journey. The ridge, dropping away steeply to Coire Leis to our right and to Coire Giubhsada to our left, was wider than I expected. Dry rocks provided good grip and I began to relax and to my relief actually enjoy the scramble unaffected by the exposure. Feeling comfortable I ignored the path options below the more exposed sections, happy to play on the crest and made good progress. Further along the ridge I looked back to Lynne and Hugh and their grins evidenced how much they too were enjoying the scramble along the arête.

Lynne on the arete

Hugh on the arete

Martin on the arête.

To our left, we had fine views of the Eastern and Central Mamores, busy today with Walkhighlanders enjoying what had turned into a spectacular early spring day. In the distance, the dark unmistakeable shape of Schiehallion, dominated the horizon. Behind, a solo walker, silhouetted against the sky, descended from the summit of Carn Mor Dearg onto the arête and walked towards us. At the low point on the ridge we stopped for food and a hot drink before the continuing the walk on narrow granite blocks which climbed to a col which separates the arête from Ben Nevis, towering above us.

At the cairn which marks the end of the arete and the beginning of the climb to Ben Nevis, we took time to rest and savour the view back along the length of the arete to Carn Mor Dearg. Steve, the solo walker, a Scot now living in Bristol,had caught us and obliged with a group photograph.

Hugh, Lynne and Martin at end of arête.

Looking back at the ridge, I considered how it compared against other great ridge walks in Scotland. Not nearly as exposed as the Aonach Eagach or Forcan ridge of the Saddle and not close to as scary as the traverse of Corrag Bhuidhe and Lord Berkley’s seat on An Teallach, which I did many years before, and, I imagine not as technical as Skye’s Black Cuillin, which I have yet to experience. However, for me, what the arete lacks in steepness, exposure and raw drama found on other ridges is more than compensated by the sheer beauty of the ridge arcing gracefully from the Ben to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg. Seen at close hand and even from distant hills the view is unique and iconic and worthy of the country’s highest peak.

After a rest and photos, along with Steve, we began the steep climb towards summit of Ben Nevis above us, admiring the sun starved black buttresses streaked with snow and ice which fell steeply to Coire Leis to our right. Stopping higher up, I looked to my left, beyond Mullach nan Coirean, most westerly of the great Mamore range and Beinn a’ Bheithir, above Ballachulish, to the still grey waters of Loch Linnhe stretching away west to the hazy Moidart hills and the distant ocean. Tiring slightly after a long day, we continued our climb utilising generous steps in the steep, frozen snow, kindly cut by a walker on an earlier journey which greatly eased the effort.

Lynne and Hugh ascend to Ben Nevis.

Suddenly, the steep snow slopes eased and we walked across gently sloping crisp and firm snow towards the summit bustling with people congregating around the summit trig point and shelter close by, in such contrast to the quiet of the walk we had so far enjoyed. Finding quiet amidst the noise was difficult, but, we walked to the cliff edge, away from the crowds, and looked out, beyond the space falling to Coire Leis, to the empty red stoned ridge of Carn Mor Dearg and to the narrow ridge which curved gracefully to meet the east ridge of Ben Nevis.

Hugh, Lynne and Martin at summit of Ben Nevis.

Hugh admires the Northern Cliffs

After summit photos, we travelled west across the wide snowy summit plateau to pick up the tourist path for our descent. As we walked, close to cliffs dropping on our right, we were startled by a figure suddenly and unexpectedly emerging from the depths of the northern cliffs onto the summit plateau, just beside us. The climber had completed “shot in the dark” and as he set up his belay we stood with a growing group of interested spectators peering down the steep ice keen to watch his partner climb the route.

Climber belays above "Shot in the dark"

From summit plateau to "shot in the dark" climb.

Unfortunately, it was too chilly to linger so we left the climber and continued our descent. Descending west, we passed numerous walkers slowly making their way to the summit. Among them guys wearing sambas and green flash trainers and girls wearing skinny jeans and sketchers slid and slipped and fell on the icy snow slopes. Below the snow on tiring scree slopes we passed parents comforting tired and leg weary young children, cajoling and encouraging them to continue the long journey back to Glen Nevis. And, well into afternoon, the crowds continued to pass us on their weary way to the top.

On the path, high above Lochan Meall an t- Suidhe, we stopped to watch a snow bunting feed on crumbs blown into cracks on the well-maintained path. Just above the lochan we turned right away from the tourists path and followed a well made path to the end of the lochan where it abruptly ended. From there we took to rough, boggy ground which sloped to the Allt a' Mhuillin, which we were able to cross without getting wet and re-joined the path back to the North Face car park. Before dropping into the forest, I had one last look across to Ben Nevis before the last journey down through the forest to the car.

Thankfully, none of the many that climbed the Ben that day came to any harm and, hopefully, some may have been inspired by their efforts or by the magnificence of the expansive views they experienced, on this cool, clear spring day to go on and climb other mountains.
Jeremiah Johnson
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Re: A Childhood Remembered: An Ascent of Ben Nevis by CMD

Postby Borderhugh » Fri Apr 28, 2017 1:00 pm

A great report Martin. :clap: An enjoyable day was had with you and Lynne and I'm glad we got the weather and those awesome views. I didn't see any yeti's on the way up, but can testify I saw plenty of morons whist going down. :lol:
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Re: A Childhood Remembered: An Ascent of Ben Nevis by CMD

Postby Coop » Fri Apr 28, 2017 5:15 pm

Good report as I plan on taking the lad up The Ben in June ( via CMD).

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Re: A Childhood Remembered: An Ascent of Ben Nevis by CMD

Postby The Rodmiester » Fri Apr 28, 2017 9:30 pm

Nice one Martin, yes the temptation was just too great Three Corbetts yes Three Corbetts were on offer I just not resist not only that it gave Nigel some company, you guys did well and I should of been there but unfortunately the temptation to close in on Mountain thyme was just too great :D
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