Part one – Ben Nevis
During the Summer of 2019, before the coronavirus and lockdowns, myself and my cousin Bri decided to do the so called Three Peaks, that is the national summits
of Scotland, England and Wales; Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon. There was no intention of completing these in 24 hours owing to the inordinate amount of
driving involved – instead we opted to take a week and enjoy the ambience of the Highlands, the Lakes and Snowdonia. As it was the trip nearly didn’t happen at all
due to a general reluctance to leave our Scottish campsite at Caolasnacon by the idyllic shores of Loch Leven.
The route we chose to climb our first peak, Ben Nevis, was the Carn Mor Dearg Arete (or CMD Arete) which begins at the North Face car park, using the normal tourist route for the first part of the descent as far as the halfway point at Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe . From here we would leave the tourist route to return to the Allt a Mhuilinn track (more on that later). Here is the route in pictures:
In the above picture the first part of our route can now be seen. We follow this trail – the Allt a Mhuillin track – to where a fainter path branches off to the left and head up towards the rounded peak on the left (Carn Beag Dearg). The way is a little boggy at first but soon improves and after reaching Carn Beag Dearg we keep following the ridge (good path) along to Carn Mor Dearg (a Munro of 4003ft/1220m). Staying on the main path would lead towards the hut in Coire Leis and will be our descent route. The next picture was taken between Carn Beag Dearg and Carn Mor Dearg.
Crossing the CMD Arete is not an unduly difficult undertaking though care is needed in a few places. The route ahead is usually clear and even while we were in mist there were no route finding issues; it’s a case of just keep on the crest or descend a little to the eastern side when the path indicates. It is important not to try and descend to the western (Coire Leis) side unless you know the area well and are equipped for more difficult climbing. If you do need to return for any reason, then going back over Carn Mor Dearg and down the way you have come is the best option. I did this route in reverse with Dad many years back and despite zero visibilty, we experienced no route finding problems.
Now having completed the arete, we were face with a steep and bouldery 1000 foot ascent to the summit of the Ben – hard work after the effort already expended but the views kept getting better all the way until all of a sudden the relentless slope comes to an end and there is the top of Scotland – and the British Isles – right ahead. Just when we were beginning to forget what level ground looks like.
Ben Nevis has a reputation of being covered by cloud some 300 days a year so we were privileged indeed for a view like this. The last time I was here there was nothing but – well Scotch mist. If you are going to stand on the edge of the North Face though then do remember that the cliffs are 2400 feet high which is well over twice the height of the Shard. Here are some more views looking out over Loch Linnhe and south over the Mamores towards Glencoe.
We lingered a while on the summit, reluctant to leave but we still had a long descent so presently we set off down the busy tourist track and the infamous zig zags. Bri was particularly happy that we hadn’t come up this way – it’s ok for descent but the Arete is the finest walkers’ route to the Ben. On reaching the halfway lochan (Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe) we branched off the tourist path to the right and followed another path to the lochan’s outflow (the stream of Allt Coire an Lochan) where the path ended and we basically took to the heather as they used to say up here.
There is another path that leads to the hut in Coire Leis that may have been a better route though this way is more direct and saves going further up the valley than needed. However after heavy rain or in mist it may be advisable to take the other way (follow the right hand trail instead of walking down to the lake) as the river is easier to cross higher up. We made a steep descent over rough country eventually, and without any real difficulty, reaching the river called the Allt a Mhuillin. Here after some scouting around we found a crossing place and (almost) dry joined a good path on its far side. This we followed left or downstream and watched over by the towering crags of the Ben, we presently passed the point we had left the path and soon re-entered the woods on a warm and pleasant summer evening.
This route entails around 5000 feet or 1500m of ascent and covers a distance just short of 11 miles or 17km. It is much more strenuous than going up and down the Tourist Track and the terrain is also harder, especially on the arete and on the subsequent climb to the summit. Having said that it is much quieter, the views are spectacular and you get to summit two Munros, Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis the highest mountain in Britain. Highly recommended!