Ben Nevis via the CMD Arete

Ben Nevis North Face

This long and challenging trek is beyond any doubt the best way to climb the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis. This walk follows the Mountain Path from the visitor centre at Achintee but leaves it at the 'Halfway Lochan' then skirts off round the corner of Carn Dearg to head into the Allt a' Mhuilinn valley. The walk then crosses the Allt a' Mhuilinn and ascends a steep and unclear route through the heather and boulder flanks of Carn Beag Dearg and on to Carn Dearg Meadhonach then Carn Mor Dearg. From Carn Mor Dearg summit, the views across Coire Leis to the North Face of Ben Nevis are truly awesome, and one of the best views in Britain. From Carn Mor Dearg a long swooping knife edge ridge known as the CMD Arete makes for one of the best walks in Britain. The walk descends Ben Nevis via the usual Mountain Path back to Achintee, starts at sea level, and involves a total ascent of over one thousand seven hundred metres. This is a challenging trek, and even for fit walkers, can take almost ten hours so choose a long summer day or a clear day in late spring or early autumn. In my own opinion you would be missing out by doing this walk in cloud as the highlights are the views to the magnificent North Face of Ben Nevis.

Route Directions

  1. This walk starts from the Ben Nevis Visitors Centre in Glen Nevis just a few minutes from Fort William at grid reference NN 122 730. To get there follow the signs for Glen Nevis from Fort William. At the small roundabout on the A82 head up the minor road into Glen Nevis. The Visitor Centre is just two kilometres down the road on the left.
  2. Head to the back or northern end of the Visitor Centre Car Park and cross the wooden footbridge over the River Nevis. On the other side of the bridge turn right and follow the river side path south for around three hundred metres until the path turns left and heads up to the Ben Nevis Inn.
  3. The path reaches the end of the road near the turn for the Ben Nevis Inn. Here, turn right and head south east on the Mountain Track which now rises slowly up the side of the mountain, passing through bracken. As it rises, the views open up across Glen Nevis on your right.
  4. After a kilometre the path will meet the path coming up from the Youth Hostel on the right. Here the path starts the first of two switch backs as it rises higher and then crosses two small footbridges.
  5. After another kilometre, the path will turn left and head east, then north east and ascend into the Red Burn Glen. The path continues a steep but well laid ascent and reaches a sharp left turn at the head of the valley.
  6. The path ascends to a sharp right turn, and then flattens out somewhat into a wide track and crosses grassy land for half a kilometre to reach a path junction. The Halfway Lochan or Loch Meall an t-Suidhe, is now on your left.
  7. The Halfway Lochan, or to use its proper name the Lochan Meall An T-Suidhe, sits in a saddle between the Ben Nevis massif and its much smaller neighbour to its west known as Meall An T-Suidhe. From Lochan Meall T-Suidhe the majority of people will head south and uphill along the Mountain Path to the arduous route up the zigzags.
  8. Instead of taking the route towards the zigzags, head left here in a northerly direction. Follow the path north but don't be tempted to head off left towards the far end of Lochan Meall An T-Suidhe. Instead, keep on the same contour line heading round the mountain. The path is clear at first but does go through some boggy areas.
  9. Eventually the path will have gone right round the foot of Carn Dearg and you will be looking into the valley of Allt a' Mhuilinn. Looking across the valley you will see the steep heather and boulder flanks of Carn Beag Dearg. You will also notice that there are no defined paths.
  10. Most guidebooks suggest that once you see the Allt a' Mhuilinn you should head downhill to the river and cross it to the other side, however I have found the river isn't quite as easy to cross as that. The path you are on does head into the valley and join the path on the other side eventually, so if the river looks in spate, instead carry on up the path and cross it further up the valley.
  11. Once on the other side of Allt a' Mhuilinn, head a little back down the valley and then at any point turn right and start the arduous ascent. Take your time as there is no path and the going is rough with deep heather, large boulders, and loose scree in places.
  12. As you climb higher, keep taking well-deserved breaks and turn round every so often to enjoy the incredible views that open up the higher you climb. Also keep an eye out for ptarmigans that can be seen sitting between the rocks on Carn Dearg Meadhonach.
  13. The North Face of Ben Nevis suddenly appears behind you, and its many famous crags, buttresses, climbing gullies and sheer size will stun anyone. Once you get towards the top of the steep climb head to the right slightly towards Carn Dearg Meadhonach. Eventually you will reach a clear path that heads along this side of the above ridge.
  14. The path heads along the side of the mountain before heading off left zigzagging slightly to reach the summit of Carn Dearg Meadhonach. From this summit the views open up to the north east looking over the huge Aonach Mountains.
  15. From the Carn Dearg Meadhonach summit, head south along the crest of the ridge and up the shoulder of Carn Mor Dearg, to reach its lofty summit.
  16. From Carn Mor Dearg the views are incredible: to the east are the huge four thousand footers of Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag; to the south the Mamores range, with Sgurr a' Mhaim its most dominant peak; to the north over Glen Lochay the wilderness of Knoydart and the northern Highlands. By far the most eye-catching of all views from Carn Mor Dearg is that of the mighty North Face of Ben Nevis. There is no mountain face like this anywhere else in Britain. It is rarely seen by most people as, despite its huge mass, it is hidden away in the Coire Leis Valley and doesn't face a road or populated area.
  17. The North Face of Ben Nevis is a huge mass of crags, buttresses, ridges, chimneys and some of the world's most famous and often dangerous climbing gullies. To see the North Face from Carn Dearg Mor is something you should savour as few people get to see this incredible view.
  18. The Carn Mor Dearg Arete, or CMD Arete as it is more commonly known, is a sweeping knife edge ridge that connects the summits of Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis, in a truly spectacular sight, at the head wall of the Coire Leis. On a dry, clear day this long ridge walk is an exciting adventure that is actually somewhat easier than it may first appear.
  19. In good conditions, the best route to take is at the crest of the ridge, walking along its steady boulders taking in the slightly leg-wobbling exposure, and jaw-dropping views. On a cloudy day, or in wet conditions, you should take significant care, and when required, use the faint path to the right on the first section, and to the left on the final section.
  20. So, head south from the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, and follow the crest of the ridge on the start of its swooping journey towards the bealach between here and Ben Nevis.
  21. After tackling the crest of the ridge for just under a kilometre you will reach the bealach at the lowest point on the ridge. Here there is a sign that signals the top of the climbers' abseil down to Coire Leis.
  22. From the bealach, head southwest across a rocky section for four hundred metres and then turn slightly right in a westerly direction for a hundred metres. You will not yet be at the bottom of the final ascent to the Ben Nevis summit plateau.
  23. Ascend a steep path in a north-westerly direction snaking past the odd small boulder field. After this steep three hundred and fifty metres of ascent you will find yourself on the summit plateau of Ben Nevis.
  24. If it is a clear day you will be able to make out the large summit manmade structures of the summit cairn and emergency shelter. If it is cloud-covered then head west to northwest for a hundred metres and you will find them.
  25. The summit of Ben Nevis is a fascinating place with several features. The usual ordnance survey trig point pillar can be found on top of a circular stone cairn about seven feet high. Close by there is a huge emergency shelter built up about fifteen feet off the ground. The reason for this structure being built up so high is only apparent when on top of Ben Nevis in winter when several foot of snow stays on the summit for months. It totally covers most of the summit features, except for the emergency shelter, and the trig point on its tall stone cairn.
  26. Although there isn't much wildlife on a mountain summit, Ben Nevis has a slight exception and I have never been on its summit without seeing its beautiful little snow buntings. The other features on the summit include a memorial cairn, and the remains of the old weather observatory. A few walls are all that remains of the once manned weather observatory, and now these walls make excellent shelter from the elements while on the summit.
  27. The most incredible experience while standing on the summit of Ben Nevis though is not its small features but its massive and extensive views. Saying said that however, most days the summit isn't clear, so to get a better experience choose a clear day to make the ascent. The views are amazing from the summit; a panorama of the whole west coast of Scotland and out to the Western Isles. On really clear days you can actually see the east coast and most of the northern half of Scotland.
  28. You will now descend the mountain via the more popular mountain track. To do this on a clear day is fairly straightforward and you can usually just follow the masses. The only dangerous part of the summit area is an essential dog leg around an extremely dangerous gully known as Gardyloo Gully. On bad weather days it is essential to follow the instructions in the next paragraph to avoid the gully.
  29. To descend safely from Ben Nevis in low visibility, follow these instructions: From the summit cairn set your compass on a bearing of 231 degrees, or southwest, walk in that direction for one hundred and fifty metres. Stop here and set your compass on a bearing of 282 degrees, or west to northwest, then walk in that direction following the newly defined and well cairned path for just under a kilometre to reach the top of the zigzag paths again.
  30. Once at the top of the famous tourist path, zigzags descend the obvious route on the well cairned and often busy path. There are several zigzags and they can sometimes seem to go on forever. You now have the right to give those struggling up a smug smile!
  31. After the final switchback the path will descend back down to the Halfway Lochan, crossing Red Burn on its way. Here, turn left and head along the track over the flat grassy area and then follow the path back down the two sharp turns into the Red Burn glen, and down to Glen Nevis.
  32. The path turns right, crosses the two footbridges, and starts its descent towards the Ben Nevis Inn where you can enjoy well-earned great food and drinks, before taking the path back to the wooden footbridge, over the River Nevis to the Visitor Centre.

Maps for this walk

Paper maps for this walk

Click to buy OS Explorer 392 Map Click to buy OS Landranger 41 Map Click to buy Harvey Super Walker Ben Nevis Map Click to buy Harvey Ben Nevis Mountain Map

GPS files for this walk

Route map of this walk

Photos & Trip Reports

Planning for a walk

Check the weather

The weather is a very important part of hill walking. Weather conditions and daylight hours will dictate where you walk, what gear you will need to carry, how far you walk, and may even decide if you go at all. The following links will help you gather information on weather conditions for areas of Britain...

Plan your journey

Planning your journey before you set off for your walk can save you vital hours on the day. You need to make sure you know the area surrounding your starting point as many factors can influence or change the place you park. Don't forget change for parking meters and fees.

Maintenance of your vehicle and being ready for breakdown situations when driving to remote areas is also vital. Pack a full spare petrol can in your boot, and take de-icing tools in winter, including a shovel. The Transport Direct website below is a great resource for anyone wanting to get to the start of their walk using public transport...

Pack the right gear

Carrying and wearing the right gear is essential for walkers to remain comfortable and safe while hill walking in Britain. However, the best gear in the world is of no use to anyone who doesn't know how to use and care for it. Knowing how to use your gear will give you a much more enjoyable experience. The following items are, in my opinion, the essential items to wear and carry for a hill walk in Britain. It would be foolish to head into the hills and mountains of Britain without these essential items and the knowledge of how to use them. Check out the gear section of this site for techniques and gear lists...

  • Footwear
  • Clothing
  • Rucksack
  • Warm Clothes
  • Waterproofs
  • Map & Compass
  • Emergency Kit
  • First Aid Kit
  • Food & Drink
  • Seasonal Gear

Know what to do in emergencies

It is good practise to tell someone where you are going, and when you expect to return. If you don't get in contact when you said you would on your return, and those you told can't get hold of you, at least they will be able to provide the search party with your general location.

Emergency equipment in the check list above means items such as a survival bag, whistle, and emergency food rations. This isn't anything special; any whistle will do, the orange emergency bags only costs a few pounds, and basic food rations can consist of a couple of chocolate bars. Carrying a head lamp is also an important component and a vital piece of kit used for signalling when you require rescuing.

You should always try and get out of a difficult or emergency situation using your own gear, knowledge and energy. If you cannot do this, then you should dial 999 and ask for the police. Use all the gear you have to keep any unwell or injured members of your party or yourself safe and warm, and use your signalling devices to let the rescuers know your whereabouts. To do this blow six good long blasts on your whistle, or flash six flashes of your torch. Stop for one minute. Repeat. Carry on with the whistle blasts until someone reaches you, and don't stop because you've heard a reply.

Never contact mountain rescue unless absolutely necessary, but on the other hand don't ever feel guilty for having to do so, especially if you are a prepared walker. The Mountain Rescue teams are full of fantastic like-minded souls who love nothing more than people who are prepared for being safe in the mountains.