Ben Nevis CMD Arete from the North Face Car Park

Ben Nevis CMD Arete from the North Face Car Park

By Dave Roberts   

on January 3, 2021   No ratings yet.

Ben Nevis CMD Arete from the North Face Car Park

Further Details

Route Summary:

One of the classic mountain walks in the UK – a must do for any keen hill walker.

Start and Finish: North Face Car Park near Torlundy

Distance: 19.4 km

Ascent: 1550 m

Time: Allow 8 hours or more

Timings are approximate and depend on the individual. Calculate the time using Naismith’s Rule and factor in your own pace.


None on route.


River Crossing, Some pathless sections and Scrambling.

Public Transport:

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!

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Ben Nevis CMD Arete from the North Face Car Park Ordnance Survey Map and GPX File Download

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Ben Nevis CMD Arete from the North Face Car Park

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 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:

Getting safely off the Summit of Ben Nevis

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.


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Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader. Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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4 thoughts on “Ben Nevis CMD Arete from the North Face Car Park”

  1. Great route, and description. Can you give an indication of timings? For ease of estimation would it be easier to assume it would be a 10 hour trek? so in that time frame, the time from the car park to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, time from there to cross the arete to the stone cairn, the scramble up to the summit of Ben Nevis, and then the walk down to Lochan Meall an t-Suide, and from there back to the car park via the wet yomp across the glen?

    1. Thanks for the feedback. We’d like to add duration onto the routes – but it can be a bit of a headache unless you know how fast people walk. If you’re going to take around 10 hours – then for the above, depending on how fast you scramble etc.
      Car park – Summit 3-4 hours (though a fit walker could do this in just over 3 hours according to Naismith’s Rule)
      CMD Arete – bealach – this is the tough one! It’s only a short distance, but could take 30-60 minutes.
      Bealach – Ben Nevis – around 1 hour (45 minutes according to Naismith Rule – 300m of ascent and 1km distance)
      Ben Nevis – Lochan – around 1 hour (depending how you cope with downhills)
      Lochan – car park – this might take longer depending on finding a place to cross the river – an hour wold be a good time.
      That all adds up to around 8 hours, with breaks and other stoppages making up the rest of the time. Hopefully that helps you time the route a little better.

  2. I am going up to Fort William on Monday next week (arrive Tuesday morning 18th September 2018) on the Caledonian Sleeper and staying two nights in the Ben Nevis Inn Bunkhouse. Planned to take the CMD Arete route to the Ben from the bunkhouse on Wednesday with an early start (first light). Thursday I have planned to do Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor from the Nevis Gorge/Steall Falls direction. Staying Thursday night at the Cruachan Hotel and going home Friday/Saturday. Of course this is weather permitting as the Hurricane Helene is forecasted to be heading towards the UK next week. I have just received in the post a copy of the Cicerone book Ben Nevis and Glen Coe by Ronald Turnbull, what an excellent book. Got it from Dash4it, a really wonderful place where I get my maps and walking/climbing books. My late wife and I moved to the Highlands (Drimsallie, 13 miles from Fort William on the A830 road to Mallaig) in 2004 and out again to Somerset in 2009, I didn’t spend anywhere near enough time on the mountains, and so it will be great to return. Our house, Aladale, was right in front of Gulvain by some three and half miles and it was the first Munro that I climbed. Anybody going up the same day?
    Cheers, Geoffrey.

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