The Ben! Carn Mor Dearg!! The CMD Arete!!!

Route: Ben Nevis by the Càrn Mòr Dearg Arête

Munros: Ben Nevis, Càrn Mòr Dearg

Date walked: 30/05/2021

Time taken: 11 hours

Distance: 19km

Ascent: 1560m

Apologies for all the exclamation marks there, but this was real bucket-list stuff for me, and I did find it extremely exhilarating, particularly after the year that we've all just had :? :D !
I've probably hitherto been a bit of an anomaly (not a new experience for me :lol: ), in that I'd climbed over 200 Munros but never done Ben Nevis. Initially I'd just never gotten round to it; then once I'd clocked up the first sixty or seventy Munros, I'd decided that I wanted to do it the good way via the CMD arete, but I'd been a bit scared to tackle that on my own - and most of my walking pals had already done it. Then by the time I'd gotten to about the 150-Munros mark, I toyed for a while with the idea of saving it for my last one, should I ever be lucky enough to Compleat (or ever be brave enough to tackle Skye's Cuillin Munros, which to be honest still remains in question :shock: !).
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly concentrated one's mind on what matters. You never know the minute, and Bucket List stuff is not to be deferred. So, I had a free weekend day for a day-trip walk on the 30th May; the forecast was unexpectedly fantastic after a disappointing month's weather on the whole; and these two Munros were very obvious on the short list of Munros that were still realistically day-trippable for me. So, today would be the day :shock: :D !
I thought that I'd set off fairly early from Glasgow, but when I arrived at the big Glen Nevis car park that is the usual starting point for the ascent of Ben Nevis, there was nary a parking space left, and I ended up in a lay-by about 5 minutes' drive (and 15 minutes' walk) back down the Glen Nevis road in the direction of Fort William. Ho hum; it didn't seem a big deal on setting out, but those extra 15 minutes were going to be painful at the end of the day :lol: !
Anyway, I walked back up to the Ben Nevis car park and set off up the Mountain Track, Pony Track, Tourist Track or whatever one chooses to call it. It was absolutely mobbed on this fine day, with the hills of course only recently having been "re-opened" for walkers not lucky enough to stay in this council area. There must have been several hundred people making the ascent along with me as far as the Halfway Lochan, including several big charity groups - good luck to them all; for a lot of these teenagers it might have been their first hill and it's certainly a big one.
It did somewhat resemble Buchanan Street on a Saturday morning back in happier pre-COVID days, but it was all sociable enough, and the well-maintained track gave a straightforward enough ascent up to Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, also known of course as the Halfway Lochan (or as "Lochan Melon Tea"). At this point, it was something of a relief to turn left instead of right at the forking of the path, and to leave 99 per cent of the crowd behind.
WR1 - Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe.jpg

This view back down the Tourist Track from the path fork gives an idea of just how busy the hill was on this day:
WR2  - looking back to Buchanan Street.jpg

I set off happily down the still well-maintained but much quieter track making the traverse northwards into Coire Leis, with just one group of three lads a wee bit ahead of me. The mountain scenery quickly grew much more impressive...
WR3 - traversing round to the N Face.jpg

It took a wee while before the CIC Memorial Hut eventually came into view.
WR4 - the N Face and the CIC Hut.jpg
"CIC" was Charles Inglis Clark, who died in action as a young man in World War I: he had apparently loved these hills, and his parents erected the hut in his memory - a good way to be remembered, I'd say. It is actually quite a large building, but it is completely dwarfed by the rather terrifying North Face of Ben Nevis. In his classic big hardback Munros guide, Cameron McNeish describes this perfectly as a place of "loveless loveliness" - it's certainly beautiful to look at, but it cares nothing for all our puny human troubles. But in a way that's actually very refreshing, after this last year.
WR5 - passing below the Hut with the N face looking intimidating.jpg

Anyway, armchair philosophising aside, I had two Munros to climb - and the first one was not of course the Ben, but its somewhat under-rated sidekick, Carn Mor Dearg. My route today was the one described in the Walkhighlands Munros book, which is slightly different from the route described on the website in that it makes a directissima ascent of Carn Mor Dearg's steep, pathless and boulder-strewn southern slopes, pretty much straight up from the Hut, whereas the website route description uses a slightly easier route from the North Face car park (rather than the Ben Nevis car park) via Carn Beag Dearg which gives a somewhat easier initial way onto the ridge. Having started at the Ben Nevis car park though, I had the directissima ascent to tackle, and it looked a long way up:
WR6 - CMD somewhere a long way up there.jpg

It was a complete thigh-buster to be honest, and I had to stop for regular breathers, which was at least a good opportunity to enjoy the ever-improving views of the jaw-dropping North Face of the Ben.
WR7 - the N Face looking even more impressive on CMD ascent.jpg
WR8 - another scary view of the N Face on ascent.jpg

I also started to get a decent view of what I was really here for - the CMD Arete itself. The arete proper is a thing of beauty, with a spectacular curving line, but on the whole it didn't look too terrifying. However, I was increasingly worried about the amount of lingering snow that was clearly visible higher up, where it merges into the south-eastern shoulder of the Ben. I wasn't sure how feasible that was going to be, but I'd spotted several groups well ahead of me and no-one appeared to have fallen to a horrible death as yet, so I thought I might as well keep going and see what happened :roll: .
WR9 - what we are here for the Arete - but a lot of snow up there.jpg

Eventually - eventually - I did top out on the ridge just a short distance NW of Carn Mor Dearg's summit. From here, it was a straighforward toddle up a stony path to the summit cairn. Since Carn Mor Dearg means "Big Red Cairn", it was pleasing to find that its cairn is indeed notably red, although I've seen bigger ones.
WR10 - CMD cairn looking red but not particularly big.jpg

A Carn Mor Dearg summit selfie - D'Oh; at the time I was blissfully unaware that I hadn't rubbed my suncream in properly at the outset, and that I had big unattractive blobs of the stuff all over my chin, perhaps detracting somewhat from the rugged outdoorsy look that I'd been trying to cultivate.... :lol:
WR11 - me with suntan cream not rubbed in properly.jpg

Perhaps we'd better just have a shot of the Mamores from CMD's cairn instead now.
WR11B - some Mamores from CMD cairn.jpg

And the glorious sweep of the arete, as viewed from Carn Mor Dearg's cairn:
WR12 - the arete from CMD cairn.jpg

Before long I was on the arete itself, which proved to be a long and exhilarating traverse with quite a bit of boulder-hopping and some easy but fairly sustained scrambling in its mid-section. It isn't technically challenging, and the extraordinary views (accompanied by a degree of exposure) make it really exhilarating, but it is fairly knackering in terms of the physical effort involved - or it was for a lightweight like me, anyway :lol: . This definitely was Bucket List stuff, all the same!
WR13 - on the arete proper now.jpg

At the high point roughly halfway along, just after the scrambliest section:
WR14 - at the high point roughly midway.jpg

Aonach Beag's steep western flank looking unexpectedly impressive when viewed from the arete:
WR15 - Aonach Beag looking impressive from side-on.jpg

...And at the ensuing low point of the arete, just before the final ascent to join the slopes of the Ben:
WR16 - at pretty much the low point and ready to ascend.jpg

Another nice view of the Mamores, off to the south on the other side of Glen Nevis:
WR17 - nice view of Mamores etc.jpg

Just as the arete starts to merge into the Ben's southeastern slopes, there is an oddly well-built cairn on a wee flat area, that provides a good spot to catch one's breath and gird one's loins for the final ascent up the boulderfield to the Roof of Britain. From here, I was very relieved to see that nearly all of the snowfield looked avoidable, and that although there were a couple of short unavoidable sections of the White Stuff, they looked as though they should be manageable with care.
WR18 - the well built cairn at start of final ascent of the shoulder of the Ben.jpg

At the very top, just before the summit plateau, there was suddenly snow everywhere, but at least by this time the gradient had eased off considerably, and thankfully it was an easy enough Snow Plod. The sudden arrival at the Ben's cluttered summit environs, complete with various stone thingamajigs, a Trig Point and of course those Buchanan-Street-on-a-Saturday-morning crowds, was quite a shock to the system. Also shed-loads of snow!! Here is your actual High Point of the British Isles:
WR19 - on the Roof of Britain at trig point and looking towards gully.jpg

Me again, not allowing my not-rubbed-in suncream to detract from my enjoyment of my thirty seconds as the Highest Person in Britain:
WR20 - me with my not-rubbed-in suncream again.jpg

Some of the various summit structures, and a whole lot of snow:
WR21 - the various summit structures and a shedload of snow.jpg

Looking north-westwards, i.e. looking down the route that most people take up to the summit from the Tourist Track, it was very easy to see why the Ben is such a uniquely lethal hill in poor visibility. The last section leading to the summit crosses a narrow isthmus of pancake-flat land, flanked on each side by a vertical and corniced gully: Five Fingers Gully on the left looking downhill, and Gardyloo Gully (amongst others) on the right. In poor visibility, it would be terrifyingly easy to walk straight out onto a cornice and plunge down one of the gullies, if one's navigation was significantly off.
WR22 - a view of gully demonstrates why the Ben is so lethal in bad visibility.jpg

Thankfully there was no risk of anyone blundering down a gully in today's perfect conditions, however, and it didn't take me long to make my way across the snowfields to where the Tourist Track descends via a series of marker cairns, to make a looooong, zigzagging descent all the tortuous way back down to the path bifurcation at Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, and from there (eventually!) all the way back to the Ben Nevis car park.
I was knackered by now, and I made slow work of it, drawing pitying glances from various podgy English tourists in their early sixties ... I was sorely tempted to yell "I CAME UP THIS THE HARD WAY, YOU KNOW!", but thankfully I managed to restrain myself and thereby to avoid any regrettable International Incidents :lol: .
It was a real relief when Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe eventually came back into sight, with the whole of Fort William spread out away below it:
WR23 - Lochan M coming into sight at last with Fort William and Loch Linnhe down below.jpg

This outing was really pushing the limits of the day-trippable once again: the walk itself took me a full eleven hours, and I didn't get back to the house until half ten at night, knowing that I'd be fairly knackered at work the next day. It was SO worth it, though :D :D !

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Comments: 4

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Attachment(s) Munros: Beinn Sgulaird
Corbetts: Creach Bheinn (Loch Creran)
Sub 2000s: Beinn Mheadhonach
Date walked: 25/04/2021
Distance: 25.2km
Ascent: 2020m
Views: 338

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Attachment(s) Munros: Gulvain
Date walked: 20/09/2020
Distance: 21km
Ascent: 1230m
Comments: 4
Views: 736

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Attachment(s) Munros: Meall a' Chrasgaidh, Sgùrr nan Clach Geala, Sgùrr nan Each
Date walked: 20/08/2020
Distance: 18km
Ascent: 1100m
Comments: 1
Views: 418

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Attachment(s) Munros: An Coileachan, Beinn Liath Mhòr Fannaich, Meall Gorm, Sgùrr Mòr
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Distance: 25km
Ascent: 1440m
Comments: 2
Views: 723

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Attachment(s) Munros: Beinn a' Chaorainn (Cairngorms), Beinn Bhreac
Date walked: 06/08/2020
Distance: 29km
Ascent: 870m
Comments: 1
Views: 550

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Attachment(s) Munros: Ciste Dhubh
Corbetts: Am Bathach
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Ascent: 1040m
Comments: 2
Views: 615

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Attachment(s) Munros: Sgùrr a' Mhaoraich
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Ascent: 1025m
Comments: 2
Views: 709

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Attachment(s) Munros: Cairn of Claise, Càrn an Tuirc, Tolmount, Tom Buidhe
Date walked: 04/07/2020
Distance: 28km
Ascent: 1050m
Comments: 6
Views: 2293

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Attachment(s) Grahams: Cruinn a'Bheinn
Date walked: 01/12/2019
Distance: 15km
Ascent: 650m
Comments: 3
Views: 968


User avatar
Activity: Mountaineer
Pub: Kilchoan Hotel
Mountain: Cir Mhor
Place: Arran
Gear: walking poles
Member: none at present
Ideal day out: A multi-peak walk with good views.

Munros: 205
Corbetts: 37
Grahams: 39
Donalds: 19
Hewitts: 2
Sub 2000: 24

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