Ben Nevis CMD Arete from the North Face Car Park
One of the classic mountain walks in the UK – a must do for any keen hill walker.
Distance: 19.4 km
Ascent: 1550 m
Time: Allow 8 hours or more
Start and Finish: North Face Car Park near Torlundy
None on route.
River Crossing, Some pathless sections and Scrambling.
None – you’ll need to get a taxi from Fort William
North Face Car Park
Post Code for Sat Nav: PH33 6SW for the turning at Torlundy!
Recommended Ben Nevis Guidebooks:
- Ardoch House Hotel (5-Star) and West Highland Way Campsite ( km away)
- Sykes Holiday Cottages in Scotland ( km away)
Ben Nevis CMD Arete from the North Face Car Park Details
The Carn Mor Dearg Arete is one of the classic UK scrambles, and without doubt the only option for the experienced hill walker looking to climb the UK’s highest mountain – Ben Nevis. The CMD Arete can be approached from a number of directions, with one option being to start from Glen Nevis on the Mountain Track and veer off towards the North Face and approaching the long steep slog up Carn Beag Dearg either by crossing the Allt ‘a Mhuilinn in a direct assault (not recommended if the river is in spate) or by taking the long route via the CMC Hut. This route is the more direct route from the North Face Car Park that involves a river crossing to return to the start directly, or you could decide that the wisest option is to follow the mountain track back to Fort William and either get a taxi to the start initially or to pick up your car at the end of the day.
Ben Nevis CMD Arete Route Map
Ben Nevis CMD Arete Full Route Description
1 The route towards the CMD Arete starts off in a pedestrian manner via forestry tracks and paths from the North Face Car park near Torlundy, just outside Fort William along the North Face Trail that leads up into Coire Leis along the Allt a’ Mhuilinn river. It’s a signposted route initially, visit the Forestry Commission Scotland site for more information – and crosses the route of the old narrow gauge line – the Puggy Line – before pulling up to the stile at NN147 751
2 From the stile, the path continues onto open hillside on a good path along the Allt a’ Mhuilinn with the 600m cliffs of the North Face dominating the view, as it will for a good deal of the route. To your left you’ll see Carn Beag Dearg, at 1010m in height and a slog ahead of you. Continue on the Core Leis path for around 1km and take the faint path uphill.
3 Off the good path, the start is rough and wet in comparison. It’s a relentless ascent up to Carn Beag Dearg, and a matter of heads down and keep on plodding upwards. The path ends up veering beneath the summit, and contours along towards the first summit of the day, Carn Dearg Meadhonach. Even if this is almost a 900m slog from when you left the North Face Trail, the views towards the North Face of Ben Nevis while you take a breather makes it tolerable.
4 From Carn Dearg Meadhonach, with the bulk of today’s ascent ahead of you, you can look forward to enjoying one of the best ridge traverses in the country. First, you’ll need to complete a final pull up to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, which surely deserves a summit break!
5 The CMD arête proper starts now. It’s an airy and exposed traverse, a kilometre or so in length that curves from the summit of Carn Mor Dearg and partially up Ben Nevis. While it’s narrow, it’s not in the same league as Crib Goch, and is much larger in scale. However, it’s still a sustained scramble which would benefit from crossing in calm and dry conditions and requires both a head for heights and serious hillwalking experience if you’re to attempt it. As is usual with these traverses, it’s usually best to stay high on the crest rather than looking for short cuts that invariably find more difficulties than they avoid.
6 At the bealach there’s an abseil point for those that can use it, as an emergency descent to the CIC hut. From the abseil point, the CMD continues for a short distance as you begin to ascend Ben Nevis with a few final sections of scrambling before the ridge gives way to boulder mountainside. This is now an anticlimactic slog, after crossing the spectacular CMD arête, but the lack of exposure might be welcomed by some.
7 The Summit of Ben Nevis, despite being the highest mountain in Scotland, isn’t the highlight of the day – not after crossing the CMD! You’ll still stop here as is customary, take some shots, and venture from observatory ruins to the trig before thinking of that long descent down the Mountain Track.
8 You’ll need to ensure you find the start of the Mountain Track in low visibility:
From there on, follow the mountain track down as far as Lochan Meall an t-Suide. If you’ve completed the CMD Arete, you should have no trouble following this motorway of a track.
9 Leave the Mountain Track at Lochan Meall an t-Suide (though you can also continue to Fort William from this point and get a taxi back to the start) and follow the track into Coire Leis. You now have to choose your route. If the Allt a’ Mhuilinn is in spate, and it doesn’t take much for it to be a tricky crossing, or if you just dislike river crossings then continue onward towards the CMC hut rather than crossing the glen directly. The choice is between a rough and potentially wet 1km yomp, vs a 4km walk on a largely good path beneath the North Face. We suggest the longer and safer option! It’s still rough in places, but you get to see the CMD and the North Face from another angle, well worth the slight detour.
10 The path from the CMC eventually re-joins the point at which you left it this morning (which feels so distant now) and you can follow this route back to the start.