Amazing weather on Ben Nevis
I’d never been up Ben Nevis before and had heard mainly bad things about the ‘Tourist Route’ -recently rebranded the ‘Mountain Track’ to imply a level of seriousness and to reduce the number of mountain rescue team callouts.
A bit of research led me to the Carn Mor Dearg Arete route (CMD arete). This route takes a more scenic and challenging approach from the Northern side of the mountain and an extended time on a high ridge.
I followed a route from the Walkhighlands website. It began at the car park for the Glen Nevis visitor centre (Parking £3 for the day).
The route begins along the river then picks up the main ‘mountain track’ as far as the ‘Halfway Lochan’. Here the tourist herd turn right and my route turned left.
I wouldn’t see another soul for over an hour after this point.
The path contoured around the end of the mountain before entering the valley between Ben Nevis’ North face and Carn Mor Dearg.
After a while I reached the CIC hut, a private bothy for climbers.
From here it was a steep climb over loose scree, boulders and up a snow field. Eventually I reached the ridge and stopped to admire the view. On my living room wall I have a large, framed poster of the North Face of Ben Nevis. Until today I’d never seen it. Now, the scene before me was the same as the poster. The famous ridges and buttresses spread out in front of me.
The ridge was mostly clear of snow, only patches below the top remained. I was equipped with an ice axe and crampons but was glad not to need them. The scrambling wasn’t too difficult and the conditions were perfect; not a breath of wind and bone dry rock.
Reaching the summit of Carn Mor Dearg I stopped for a brief lunch before continuing on descending first then re-climbing to the edge of Ben Nevis.
Between me and the summit now was a steep boulder field without clearly defined paths. I scrambled, clambered, walked and shuffled upwards and towards the top. After an eternity I realised that the view ahead of me contained more sky than rock. I was nearing the summit! Spurred on I sped towards the blue.
After hours alone I reached the summit and the hordes of tourists enjoying the May sunshine.
There were dozens of people sat, wandering, being photographed, exploring the summit. The trig point was crowded, the ruins surrounded. There was even what appeared to be a fridge strapped to someones backpack!
The weather forecast had said there would be rain later in the afternoon and I didn’t want to wait for it on the summit of the UK’s highest mountain.
After ten minutes I was off again.
As part of my preparations I’d marked my map with the bearings and distances for the safe descent in poor visibility.
I could clearly see the way down but for interests sake I followed the compass bearings to see how it compared to the ground in front of me.
The route taken by the masses closely matched the bearings I was following, so I followed the people and the footprints.
The descent route was still very deep in snow so I used a ‘ski-less’ skiing technique to get down quickly. Slipping, sliding and skidding down the snow field to the zigzags of the mountain track.
The snow cover extended far past the top of the zigzags and so I decided to keep on sliding, skidding and slipping down the mountain. Most of the crowd had by this time returned to following the zigzags but a few of us remained on the snow.
The direct route over the snow saved so much time over the tedious looking zigzags I was back at the halfway lochan in no time.
Stopping to remove my gaiters and have a drink I looked back up, impressed at the ground I’d covered.
Back on the mountain track I was back at the car in a little over an hour.
Overall I’d been out for 8 hours 10 minutes. The guide reckoned 10-12 hours!
Travelling over the snow had definitely been worth it.