Day 2’s 11.7km clockwise walk with 1287 mtrs ascent and 958 mtrs descent. (Click for full size map)
Day 2 was the day I would be making the big ascent up Ben Nevis. Day’s 1 & 3 were simply there for logistical purposes only. This would be the main day!
Although I had some reservations when I initially planned the route, having now done it, I am so glad that I had chosen to climb Ben Nevis via the CMD Arete rather than the easier Pony Trail. The majority of the views and thrills that I got from this walk would have been missing had I elected to use the more conventional way up the Mountain.
I apologise for the long post, but it seems that the number of photos that I take is directly proportional to how stunning the stunning views are! You would not believe that the photos posted here are only a small subset of those that I had taken in total.
I’m hoping that by posting this many photos it will give readers a much greater impression as to what walking the CMD Arete entails so that they can hopefully make a more informed decision as to whether or not to do it.
The CMD Arete does require a head for heights – although if I’m honest I didn’t really find it that bad in terms of raw elevation exposure.
What I will say is that you need to allow yourself plenty of time. I think it took me around 6-7 hours to get around the horse shoe and up on top of Ben Nevis – and that was in good weather conditions with around a 14 kg pack including water.
The other thing to consider during planning is that once you start the ridge, you are committed. There is no getting down until you reach the base of Ben Nevis or you turn around. This is why it is so important to allow plenty of time and to make sure you check up on the prevailing weather conditions.
One other thing to consider is water. I took just under 1.8 litres with me. In retrospect I think I would have felt more comfortable with another litre on top. Though it has to be said that my walk was in the height of summer with relatively high temperatures, so water consumption would have been a little higher than normal.
Today’s walk also saw the first real use of the walking poles provided by Mountain Warehouse. I won’t go into too much detail here as I will put up a separate post on their performance, but suffice to say that they really saved my knees on the descent!
Anyways, I’ll let the photos tell the story!
The morning of Day 2 starts off nice and bright with hardly no winds – a good sign that the ascent should go smoothly!
However, the midges are out in force, which requires eating my breakfast from within the confines of a closed tent. After breakfast I apply some Deet insect repellent for the first time…
I top up the water ready for the up and coming day. I’m in a bit of a dilemma. It’s a hot day, so I need water, but I also need to minimise the weight I take up the mountain. In the end I decide to fill the Travel Tap and one of the 1 litre bottles. I would have to monitor my water consumption on the way up.
I’m soon ready and packed up for the great ascent! I take the hiking poles out to see how they fair for ascending steep hills.
Up ahead on the left is the first hill I have to climb called Carn Beag Dearg at 1010 mtrs elevation. The top looks a long way off! On the right is Ben Nevis, the primary objective of the walk!
As I climb I take a quick look back down the hill toward my camp spot and Fort William down below. I soon realise that using hiking poles for ascent work is not for me. For some reason it doesn’t suit my ascent style, so I stow the poles on the rucksack. The poles do come out later on for the descent where they absolutely shine.
On the way up I run into the odd streamlet. I take the opportunity to drink as much as I can, then top up the Travel Tap so that it is full again. I know that water will be in short supply on the latter part of the ascent, hence these water stops.
Things start to steepen up. This ascent reminds me very much of the ascent up Sca Fel Mountain that I did last year. It’s the shape of the Mountain and the fact that it starts off on a grassy apron, which is then followed by a boulder field.
As I climb a deer pops it’s head over the ridge line to the East. I guess it was wondering what all the noise was!
It’s not long before I start to run into the bottom of the boulder field. From here on in, things are about to get a little trickier!
I have now gained enough elevation that I can see Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe to the West. The aim will be to camp nearby to it once I have made my descent.
The view back down the Mountain as I take a rest break. With clear visibility the view is simply stunning. The climb itself has been fairly difficult as I haven’t been feeling too well. I can constantly smell the Deet insect repellent and on top of that it seems to have given me a headache. Never the less I carry on and hope that the effects will subside.
*Zoom On* To the West I can see the radio transmitter on Cow Hill that overlooks Fort William. When I had first arrived at Fort William the previous day that antenna looked very high up perched on top of its hill. But from here I’m now having to look down on it. This felt really odd!
I’m now well and truly amongst the boulders. Climbing these seems to sap my energy in the heat of the morning.
After what seemed like an age in the boulder field, the slope starts to flatten out! It looks like I’m nearing the top of my first Mountain – Carn Beag Dearg at 1010 mtrs!
To the East I can just about see Loch Lochy! The views from up here are simply breath taking.
As I ascend I find a grassy spot above the boulder field and sit down for a rest whilst admiring the scenery. I’m pleased to note that my ‘luminous’ boots are starting to get muddy – something that I thoroughly approve of!
The rest of the climb is quite easy as the slope is now shallow enough that I can walk on it normally. It won’t be long until I reach the peak of Carn Beag Dearg.
To the West I can see Ben Nevis’s menacing profile. I was a little uncertain about this walk as from certain angles it looks like that one of the vertical buttresses forms part of the CMD Arete. I had decided that if that was the case I would not attempt the vertical climb. Despite these thoughts, my map kept telling me that the actual ascent up to Ben Nevis was a lot shallower. So I place my faith in the map and continue with the walk.
Another view Eastward. The boulders at this level have changed from grey to brown which lends a different character to this part of the Mountain.
To the West Fort William now looks a long way down!
Directly across to the East is the Anach Mor ridge. From here I can just about discern the ski lifts that service that Mountain. I’m guessing that in the Winter that ridge is a major ski slope.
Up ahead I can see the next peak I have to climb – Carn Dearg Meadhonach at 1179 mtrs elevation. Although up hill, this part of the walk is a breeze compared to my earlier ascent. I feel that most of the hard work is now behind me.
The ascent of Carn Dearg Meadhonach has now started!
As I ascend I can spot the next peak along! It looks remarkably isolated!
Down below to the East I can see a snow cornice – or at least the remains of one. I can’t believe how thick it is. This area must receive a lot of snow in the Winter.
This photo shows what looks like my next two peaks. Carn Mor Dearg on the left at 1220 mtrs elevation and Carn Dearg Meadhonach on the right at 1179 mtrs elevation. I note that from this angle Carn Mor Dearg looks very rugged indeed!
As I climb I take the opportunity to take a glance back behind me.
It seems that I’m nearly there! Carn Dearg Meadhonach will soon be in my grasp!
But it soon turns out that there is a false ridge, nevertheless I can now directly see the top. It won’t take too long to get there.
There’s the Cairn at the top of Carn Beag Dearg at 1179 mtrs!
I have now reached the top of the Carn Beag Dearg at 1179 mtrs elevation. This is the view Northward back toward the way I came. I have now broken my elevation record, but this won’t last for long!
Ahead of me is the next peak of Carn Mor Dearg at 1220 mtrs elevation. The slope up there looks like a nice easy one!
The climb up Carn Mor Dearg is easy. I note that the the slope aspect is now looking more like a proper ridge line!
To the West I can now see the real ridge line of the CMD Arete and where it joins Ben Nevis. The buttress up ahead has revealed itself for what it truly is. So it looks like I won’t be climbing up that! *sigh of relief*
Another view back the way I came. Once again, just stunning!
Up ahead is the peak of Carn Mor Deag at 1220 mtrs elevation. I now wonder what the view will be like once I get up there?
Once I reach the top, my jaw drops! The view down onto the CMD Arete ridge line is outstanding. From here the ridge line seems impossibly thin, but I’m determined to carry on.
I now start the descent down onto the CMD Arete. I can’t believe how good the weather has been for doing this, one of the finest ridge walks in the UK. I feel truly blessed!
To the West is Ben Nevis. Most people never see this stunning view of Ben Nevis as they make their ascent and descent via the Pony Trail.
The ridge line proper has now started!
The thrill of walking the ridge line is exhilarating. That coupled with the views makes for a day that I will never forget.
Although the ridge line is relatively narrow, I never really experienced any elevation exposure effects. I wonder if that is because I am becoming used to it after all my other climbs? Maybe the ridge line just felt wide enough to feel safe?
The top of the ridge line is very rocky. In my mind’s eye I kind of imagined a nice easy stroll over a flat, but thin ridge line. However, this could not be further from the truth. Traversing the rocky ridge really takes it out of you!
Not only is the ridge line rocky, but it also has it’s own mini-peaks to climb – once again a bit of a surprise!
The view down to the right – it’s a long way down, yet I feel perfectly safe.
The view down to the left. Still a long way down, but not as sheer!
At times I’m having to use my hands to climb up onto the rocks. I feel thirsty from the constant exertion, but I’m rationing my water to make it last to the top.
Another great view of Ben Nevis. I can just make out people at the top and feel a little jealous as it seems so far away!
Another mini-peak to climb up. If you are ok with heights I can thoroughly recommend this walk. The one caveat though, is that once you start you are committed as there is no way down until you get to the end!
I’ve finished climbing the mini-peak. I can now see that I’m around half way around the CMD Arete.
This is the view down the valley back toward Fort William.
On some parts of the Arete is a well worn track. In some places it makes sense to use it, but most of the time I elect to stay at the top of the ridge for the best views!
I can see that I’m nearly at the base of Ben Nevis for the final climb. Down below on the right I can see the Coire Leis tarn.
As I move further around the CMD Arete I get a better view of the tarn. The tarn itself looks a long way up, I imagine that it would make a great camp spot, even if it is a little rocky!
The view to the South East is just stunning!
Nearly there – nearly at the base of Ben Nevis!
A look down the valley Northward now that I’m right at the end of it. In the far distance I can see the tree-line where I had camped earlier this morning.
The final rocky climb to take me out of the CMD Arete.
Once again the views to the South are just mind-blowing!
A look back down the ridge line. It will soon be time to say goodbye to it
Nearly at the base – one more climb!
The peak of Ben Nevis still looks a long way off – but I’m near the end now!
Couldn’t resist – a selfie on the CMD Arete!
I am now finally off of the CMD Arete. The next stage of the climb will be a simple boulder climb to the top!
Once I get to the base proper I notice this stone marker. I’m guessing that it marks the top a route up the side of the Mountain from the valley to the North?
The final ascent of Ben Nevis has started. The boulders make it a very tiring process.
The ascent is relatively steep and just like other similar climbs, the steepness makes it very difficult to tell how much more there is to go!
I take a rest on the way up and just admire the view. Down below is the CMD Arete ridge line that I had just traversed.
There still seems a long way to go!
As I climb ever upward the views get ever better!
Still more boulders to climb. Once again I have no idea how much further there is to go.
Another rest stop. At my age rest stops are mandatory!
One thing about climbing boulders, is that one can inevitably find a good seating arrangement. The scenery makes my rest stops take a little longer than they should. Being on the side of a Mountain in isolation with such a view at hand just invites additional contemplation time!
I start noticing metal poles inserted at intervals on the way up. I guess they are there to show the safe route up when there is a lot of snow about. I’m also hoping that they are an indicator that I’m near the top!
I get a tangible sense that I’m nearly there, but it is really hard to tell.
It looks like I have practically made it. I’m so stunned and surprised that I involuntarily shout out aloud that ‘I made it!’…..
The only problem is that there are a lot of people up here! I only notice them at the last minute after a few more steps upward. Some of them looked in my direction at the source of the shout – *cue embarrassment!* It was so strange going from a walk where I saw very few people indeed and where I was for the most part alone. To one where in the blink of crossing a ridge line, I’m suddenly inundated by crowds of people! It was quite a shock to the system and very unexpected. I had a very similar experience when I got to the top of Snowdon from the Watkin path.
Unlike other Mountain tops this one has a fair few old buildings and cairns on it. The building up ahead is an emergency storm shelter built in the remains of an old meteorological observatory. It’s height above the ground provides some indication of just how deep the snow can get up here in the Winter.
I make a b-line straight to the trig point to claim my prize of climbing the highest Mountain in the UK. When I get there I’m surprised to see that the trig point isn’t quite as safe as it would seem! 🙂
A victory pose from the top of Ben Nevis at 1344 mtrs elevation – the UK’s highest Mountain . If I want to go higher, I will have to visit mainland Europe. I have now well and truly smashed my own elevation record! 😀
It seems that the old meteorological observatory is quite extensive. Apparently it was operated at the end of the 1800’s to the early 1900’s. During that time it had compiled a very accurate mountain weather survey that is still used to this day!
An old war memorial.
The plaque on the side of the observatory.
A quick selfie from the emergency shelter. I popped up there as it seemed a little higher up than the trig point! 😛
A long-shot of the top of Ben Nevis. Here one can see the Trig Point, Emergency Shelter, Observatory Ruins and War Memorial all in one shot!
After having a late lunch, I break out the hiking poles and start the long descent downwards. The view from the Pony Trail is outstanding!
A close up of three cairns on the Southern edge of Ben Nevis.
To the North East one gets hints of Ben Nevis’s sheer cliff like side, the side that many taking the Pony Trail never get to see properly. What is apparent in this picture is that the top of Ben Nevis is kidney shaped. This makes it very dangerous for walkers in poor visibility and/or snow. It’s one of the reasons that Ben Nevis has such a high fatality rate. The bottom line is that you should not be up here unless you have a map and compass and know the two safe bearings and pacing to take you from the emergency shelter to the Pony trail and vice-versa. This seems excessive on a good day such as this one, but Mountain weather can change exceedingly quickly…
The Pony Trail makes for a nice relaxing descent. Totally out of character with my ascent.
Up ahead is a snow field that I have to cross. I can’t quite believe it! Here we are at the end of June and there is still snow to walk through!
The snow is exceedingly slippery due to the fact that it has been compressed by all the walkers ascending and descending the Mountain. I’m now really glad that I’m using walking poles, as these provide much welcome added stability.
The views on the descent are marvellous. In many respects this feels like the first hike of the year where I have had truly blow-your-socks-off views!
Down below on the right I catch sight of the Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe tarn – my planned camp spot for today. Water is now very low so I will be very glad to get there and rehydrate properly.
Down below I can see the trail zig zagging its way toward the bottom. The descent is quite hard work, even with walking poles. However, by this point I had developed a walking pole technique where I had locked my elbows into my side and used the wrists to rotate the poles back and forth. This meant that I could keep my weight on them for the maximum length of time for the minimum amount of movement invested!
The views to the West on the way down were stunning and for me a first time as I had not ascended via this route.
On the way down I was transfixed by this green well cultivated area. There was just so much detail to see there!
As I get lower I spot this large water fall! I’m elated as I had been operating under water rationing for quite some time. Once I got there I filled the Travel Tap up and drank my fill! Not too sure what the two people waiting down there made of me doing this – but I was very thirsty!
The trail soon becomes much smoother and much flatter. I can’t believe that after such a long descent my knees have felt no physical pain. The hiking poles really made a massive difference. Normally I would be hobbling at this point, barely able to walk, yet here I was feeling just as fit and mobile as I had felt at the start of the walk. It is amazing that poles can make such a big difference!
I was going to camp near the tarn, but in the interests of trying to stay away from the midges, I elect to stay relatively high up and camp by a small streamlet instead.
The first order of the day – as usual – is to obtain water for camp. The water from this streamlet was exceptionally clear and clean!
With all three water bottles topped up, I head down hill toward the Akto tent.
I was quite far ahead of schedule, so this enabled me to just chill out and enjoy the evening!
As is traditional on my walks – the last meal is a Mountain House Curry. It certainly hit the spot!
I’m now fed, so spend the next few hours reading and looking at the photos I had taken. Then it was off to bed for an early night to help ensure that I make the train station on time. With only two trains available, one of which is a fully booked night train, I cannot afford to miss my train!
I felt really contented at the end of the day. I had challenged myself and achieved everything that I had set out to.
My main concern now was making sure that I got to the railway station in Fort William on time as I could not afford to miss the train. This would require a relatively early start.
Tune in next week for the final descent back to the railway station!