Ben Nevis and the CMD Arete

Ben Nevis, 1344m (Venomous/Cloudy Mountain)
Carn Mor Dearg, 1220m (Big Red Hill)
Carn Dearg Meadhonach, 1179m
Meall an t-Suidhe, 711m

Mountain area : Scottish Highlands
Nearest town : Ft. William
Map : OS 41
Primary Factor: Ben Nevis: 1344m
Primary Factor: Carn Mor Dearg: 160m+ (Ben Nevis)
Primary Factor: Carn Dearg Meadhonach: 34m+ (Carn Mor Dearg)
Primary Factor: Meall an t-Suidhe: 135m+ (Ben Nevis)
Hiked : July 2002
See also : Navigation on Nevis
Ben Nevis seen from A82

Ben Nevis seen from A82

Introduction

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British isles, and of course the highest of the munros in Scotland (a Munro is a mountain higher than 3000 feet). The mountain attracks large crowds of hikers every year and the erosion up the tourist trail is seen from a long distance.

Ben Nevis looks different depending on the angle it is viewed from. On the west side (where the tourist trail runs), the mountain looks like a big hill, while from the north/north-east, the steep and massive north-east walls are revealed. This is also a popular climbing area. The mountain is also steep towards the south, and is best viewed from the top of one of the Mamore peaks.

The summit offer great views all around, and the view is the great reward for anyone that makes it up all the way from sea level. Many will find comfort in the large number of hikers on the regular "tourist" trail, but others are looking for a more challenging hike. A traverse over the Carn Mor Dearg (Cmd) arÍte, and the summit of Carn Mor Dearg will satisfy most hikers. This is the hike described on this page.

Ben Nevis has a reputation of attracting clouds (over 300 days per year!), and the weather on top can often be severe. On the Visitor Center, information about the mountain is given, and should be studied well. The flat summit combined with fog can easily send you in the wrong direction when going down. A map and compass should be mandatory when hiking in challenging weather. Be aware of that the weather can change dramatically within a short period of time.

Trail Descriptions

Ben Nevis and the Cmd arete (summer/autumn)

Difficulty : Strenuous. Technically easy for experienced hikers
Risk : Show caution on the CMD arete
Distance : Approx. 9,5 miles (15km) round trip
Time : Approx. 8,5 hours round trip
Starting Elev.: For all practical reasons - sea level

Access:

From A82 in Fort William, exit towards the Glen Nevis valley and drive up to the visitor centre (approx. 3km). Find parking there and visit the visitor centre for pamplets and information about the mountain.

Buses run between Ft. William and the visitor centre.

The trail:

From the visitor centre, locate a bridge that takes you over River Nevis. Follow the path along the river and then over grassland by the Achintee Farm before it starts climbing up to lake Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe. The trail up to the lake is on a well kept/eroded trail with several small creeks crossing the trail, allowing your supplies of water to be refreshed. On the west side of the lake you will see the Meall an t-Suidhe hill (711m). This is an insignificant hill compared to Ben Nevis, and is not a Munro, but the hill has a primary factor of >135m, meeting the U.S. unofficial standards for a ranked mountain.

From the lake, the trail is still very obvious, but the ground is scree instead of soil or rocks put in place. In the beginning, the trail runs south on a long stretch, before it switchbacks eastbound all the way to the summit. The hiking time to the summit is estimated to 4 hours, but the time for hikers fit enough for the arete is approx. 3 hours (or less). The record to up and down the tourist trail is said to be 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Enjoy the mighty scenery from Ben Nevis and move over to the far eastern end to view the arete. From the eastern viewpoint, you will also have a good view of the Tower Ridge - an advanced scrambling route from the CIC hut to the summit (This is absolutely a route that requires rope, but the ridge is not considered to be a climbing route). From the viewpoint, head back in the direction of the summit, but turn a little south. You should see a warning sign (pole) that indicates the start of the ridge.

There is a partly visible trail down from Ben Nevis to the arete, but this is for all practical reasons a boulder/scree descent, and care must be taken here. Down on the arete the trail is more obvious. In the very beginning of the ridge there is also a (probably dangerous when heading down) trail that takes you straight down to the CIC hut (private) in the Coire Leis. Traverse the ridge either on the visible trail or on top of the ridge. When climbing high, absolute head for heights is required as you cross a small section of boulder less than 1 meter wide. The visible trail that runs slightly lower than the high ridge does not have any particular scary points. General head for heights is in general useful in order to fully enjoy this magnificent hike. When looking ahead on the ridge, and up to Carn Mor Dearg, do remember that ridges look sharp from distance, but in general, they offer the needed width on closer contact.

From Carn Mor Dearg, enjoy the massive east face of Ben Nevis before heading down towards Carn Dearg Meadhonach, an unranked point further down north. Pick a grass slope that will take you safely down to Coire Leis (there are several slopes showing signs of tourists). This is a 500m descent in steep terrain and will be a challenge to your knees. Down in the valley, cross Allt a Mhuilinn and head towards the quite visible trail that takes you to lake Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe. Your knees will probably enjoy the ascent up to the lake after the steep descent down into the valley. Follow the east side of the lake back to the tourist trail where you came up.

Trip report July 13 2002:

The four of us (Dag, Gro, Else and I) woke up in Ft. William to a beautiful day. We quickly decided to go for Ben Nevis as our first hike. Arriving the visitor centre, we saw the upper part of the mountain was wrapped in clouds. We knew that sunshine on the summit was hard to come by, but due to the lovely weather all around, we decided to go for it. Perhaps good things would happen as we reached the summit.

We just couldn't believe the "herds" of people on the way up the mountain. Even more mind-boggling was the large crowds of people coming down the mountain. Many of them were running, looking like they had met evil face to face. What the hell was up there? A little conversation with a mountain "watchman" revelead that it was a "three peaks in-a-day" race. Ben Nevis in the morning. Then onto Scaffel Pike in England before heading down to Wales for Snowdon. The highest peak in each country. All within 24 hours.

We witnessed in disbelief the entire spectre of people on this mountain. I really hope the lady in high heels 150m up the mountain weren't going for the summit. And the guy with two fully loaded plastic bags. What was his plan? Because of pink faces and hyperventilation here and there, I felt there should have been paramedic emergency stations along the trail. No wonder the Ben Nevis pamplet is packed with warnings. The pamplet would have met U.S. standards any time.

The four of us kept a steady rhythm to the summit with one break for food. The fog became all the more dense towards the summit, but through a small miracle, the fog lifted just as we entered the summit plateau, 3 hours after the start (lunch not included). Marvellous vistas in all directions. We noticed that no one had seeked to the eastern end of the summit, and we decided to take our summit break there. It was difficult to understand why everyone else gathered on the centre of the plateau instead of seeking out on the eastern side with the grand views down to Coire Leis and the ridge. As we enjoyed a good rest and a nice meal we watched the beautiful arÍte to Carn Mor Dearg, and decided to head back over the ridge. Before we left, we had the company of a rescue helicopter that came up Coire Leis and flew just above our heads. As the naive Norwegians we were, we waved our hands politely to the helicopter and the helicopter crew waved back. It only took a second before we realized that this was a silly thing to do. Fortunately, it looked as the helicopter only was on a training mission, and we avoided being rescued.

From distance it was hard to tell how narrow the ridge was. On our way down, we asked hikers coming up about the difficulties. An american couple was talking about hands and knees. We decided that a second opinion was called for, and picked out a senior male on the way up. "Where you from?" he yelled way before we were in talking distance. "Not Swedish! Not German! Not French!" he yelled, still way before the proper talking distance. "Norwegian", we yelled back and he was satisfied with his analytic abilities. We asked about the ridge and he promptly responded - "for Norwegians - it's a doddle!". It quite sounded as the opposite of hands and knees, and we didn't bother asking what "doddle" really meant.

The ridge was really enjoyable. Never spooky for those with some mountain hiking experience. I went into "goat gear" and chose to hike the ridge on its highest. I was a little concerned when I saw the girls followed the same way. I was about to suggest that they took the lower path, but changed my mind when I watched them climb the obstacles as it was the most natural thing to do. I reminded myself that they were from Sogn and Fjordane district. In those parts of Norway, you don't see the sky for mountains. The high ridge had only one point where I reminded myself not to stumble. A short section of narrow rocks, only 1 meter wide.

Across the ridge we spoke about the relieve of avoiding the crowds, but as we hiked up to Carn Mor Dearg, a large hiking party came up the eastern ridge and entered the summit just before us. We found our private spot further away and enjoyed the great eastern face of Ben Nevis. As the group left for the arÍte, we were only left with a sheep and her lamb. I was impressed about the horns on the mother and the black spot covering the lamb's face. They were obviously on the lookout for goodies, but never found the courage to ask.

We headed steep down towards the CIC hut in Coire Leis and up to lake Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe before joining the tourist track on the south side of the lake. We arrived the visitor center approx. 10 hours after the departure, but this included several long breaks. We felt really blessed with the weather change and was highly geared up for the rest of the stay, as we had "bagged the ben" on our first day.

Pictures from the July 13 2002 hike:

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Some of the thumbnails may have been cropped to fit the format

Ben Nevis trailhead parking (160KB) Crossing the River Nevis (180KB) The trailhead area seen from the trail (199KB) It is rare to be alone on this mountain (173KB) Meall an t-Suidhe seen from the Nevis trail (151KB) The trailhead area seen from higher on the trail (132KB) Dag leads into the fog (114KB) We assumed we would have very limited views on top (116KB) But miracles do happen... (154KB) The Ben Nevis summit (106KB) Mamore range seen from Nevis CMD arete (325KB) The group on the summit (196KB) View to central Mamore mountains (163KB) The Aonachs seen from Ben Nevis (220KB) Resque helicopter above Ben Nevis (84KB) Resque helicopter below Ben Nevis (234KB) Carn Mor Dearg seen from the arete (200KB) The girls enjoys the scenery from the arete (155KB) On the narrow point on the arete (213KB) Binnein Mor seen from the arete (185KB) The ridge up to Carn Mor Dearg (238KB) Avoiding the tourist track at all cost.. (181KB) Gro and Dag below Carn Mor Dearg (151KB) Else below Carn Mor Dearg (234KB) The CMD arete (174KB) The ridge down to Meadhonach (254KB) Company on Carn Mor Dearg (196KB) The east face of Nevis (261KB) Carn Mor Dearg seen from Meadhonach (196KB) Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis (237KB) Heading towards the CIC hut (223KB) Gro and the arete (205KB) The east face of Ben Nevis (244KB) Pause below the CIC hut (225KB) Company below Ben Nevis east face (253KB) The valley between Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg (172KB) The Mamores seen in the evening, back on the tourist trail (210KB)

Other pictures:

Ben Nevis and the Aonachs (187KB)

Trip report July 20 2002:

One day left of our wonderful stay in Scotland, and I decided to hike Ben Nevis once more. This time I would do it alone, and I was curious about how fast I could hike it. In addition, I wanted to get the Meall an t-Suidhe hill, on the way down.

For the second weekend in a row, it was a "three peaks in-a-day" race, and the hillside crawled with people. As we had been blessed with nice weather most of the week, I didn't mind the rain too much. It would actually be refreshing, as I was up for a tough hike. After 45 minutes, I was up at the lake, passing at least 50 people. I tried to keep the same pace up the scree, but was slowed down by the loose scree and a strong wind against. Closer to the summit, I had passed another 50 people, and worked hard with a guy in jeans. I was barely able to close in on the distance, and had to gather hidden strengths to catch up with him. I passed him just before entering the summit plateau, 1 hour, 45 minutes after I started. It was cold as hell up there, and both of us turned around immediately.

I asked him - considering his casual jacket and jeans - "did you drive by and just noticed a mountain?" He was an experienced hiker from Holland, and I got the feeling that this mountain was hardly worth dressing for. We kept each other company down to the lake before we split up. I did the 711m hill while the dutchman was scouting around for trails to Coire Leis. We met each other again on the way down. Down at the visitor centre, we met this guy shouting "Say chaps! How far to the mountain?" We felt the ugly smell of beer and as we watched his city outfit and the cigar in his hand, we just shook our heads in disbelief.

An enjoyable hike alltogether.

Pictures from the July 20 2002 hike:

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Some of the thumbnails may have been cropped to fit the format

Ben Nevis seen from Meall an t-Suidhe (146KB) View from Meall an t-Suidhe (327KB)


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