Sam and I climbed Ben Nevis a few years ago via the Pony track – and ever since then we’ve wanted to do it by the ‘other’ route – the CMD Arete! This is a challenging day out and not for the faint hearted – but you wouldn’t be reading this unless you were made of sterner stuff! Ben Nevis is not the objective here, even though that’s where you end up. This route is all about the journey – and what a journey it is.
Sam and I started at the car park at Torlundy, walking up through the woods and along the Allt a Muillinn burn. A mile or so along the burn, you begin to see why Ben Nevis is not the pussycat it’s sometimes made out to be. First the buttreses of Carn Dearg come into view, quickly followed by the sheer precipices of the North Face as you approach the CIC climbers hut. Take some time to drink in the views (the banner picture for Highland Scrambler was taken from here too). Tried to spot a scrambling ascent route of the North Face … Maybe next time …
Today though we turned up to our left and dug in for the climb up Carn Mor Dearg’s steep slope. Unrelenting, you climb from 2,100′ up to 3,800′ on a slope that averages about 40%. Apparently, this is made easier by the ever developing views across to the North Face – however, today we entered a thick band of mist and the views over the next few hours were a litle ‘limited’!
Eventually you emerge onto the CMD ridge and head South towards the narrow Arete which links Carn Mor Dearg to Ben Nevis. For anyone who has done aretes (think Striding Edge in the Lake District) – think again. This is seriouly narrow, a little technical, but definitely exposed.
And that’s part of what makes this such a fantastic day out. The other part is the fantastic views and sense of wilderness which you cannot help but feel – in spite of the fact that ben Nevis is such a popular destination.
The other aspect which makes this ridge so different is it’s sheer length. I was expecting 15 minutes of narrow ridge walking – what I got was well over an hour (about 1 mile) of very focused scrambling – with huge drops on each side of quite a technical and very narrow ‘fin’ of rock and several ‘chimneys’ to negotiate. There are easier routes : you can drop off the ridge and take the track down (mostly on the left hand side) – but the real fun is to keep exactly to the ridge line. In some cases, this means a single rock wide (which is where I broke my camera, pressing myself close against a rock face!).
Eventually though, you reach the end of the arete, but not the end of the climbing! The final section involves a 900′ climb up the steep boulder field of Ben Nevis’s South East face, arriving on the summit plateaux with the feeling of absolute achievement.
Although we did this in July, you never know what to expect. It might have been sunny in the valley, but there was actually one last obstacle to overcome, before we could stake our claim on the highest point between Iceland and the Alps :