Ben Nevis sits head and shoulders at the top of the Munro pile, but it’s never been at the top of my must do list. I had resolved however that if I was going to do it it would be by the Carn Mor Dearg Arete, or CMD as it’s otherwise known. The tourist route, with its endless procession of charity walkers pushing up pianos or a bath full of beans, has never appealed to me. I’d suggested this walk a while back to my mate Jim, but he had dragged me up the Aonach Eagach ridge instead, so when we were looking for our next walk together this was the first one he thought of. We were going to be joined by Andy, another railwayman, who was meeting up with us at Doune. Traffic wasn’t bad for a Saturday and it wasn’t long before we were pulling into Fort William, where the Jacobite, the steam train was preparing to depart. Today we weren’t being paid to “spot” trains, so we set off to find the car park at Torlundy where our walk would begin. Sometimes the hardest part is finding the start, which we proved by missing the turn off, the signpost for the car park being hidden by trees. Over a railway bridge and onto a dirt track, we shortly arrived at a small car park in the woods. There were only a few cars there, one apparently hiding under a collection of bumper stickers from across the world. There were no charity groups here, no identical t-shirts, no baths full of beans. They were on the other side of the mountain.
The path is well signposted, for the Allt a’ Mhuillinn, climbing steeply uphill through the trees. It was sweaty work, made worse by the need to put our waterproofs on as the clag turned to drizzle. In the distance we could see the steam from the Jacobite making its way along Loch Eil towards Mallaig. We turned our attention to the path again, crossing a huge stile over a deer fence at the edge of the woods, to the hill proper.
We were on the lookout for a diverging path on our left, and were aided in this respect by a local walker out for a walk up Coire Leis. Once off the main path the ground became broken and boggy, gradually giving way to better ground the higher we got. Ben Nevis apparently spends much of the year in cloud, but today as we climbed higher it dissipated slightly, giving glimpses of the North Face.
We were entertained for a while with the arrival of an RAF rescue helicopter, which put on a wonderful display of aerobatics as it went up and down the coire. Our initial fears it may be a call out proved groundless, and it flew off towards Spean Bridge. We crossed our fingers that we would not be requiring their services and headed on up, past a lonely stag, back into the mist again.
It was a hard trudge up the path, which runs diagonally up to the ridge, finishing at a small cairn of red rock just shy of the summit of Carn Dearg Meadonach.
We huddled down at the cairn, seeking shelter from a cutting wind, fingers turning to ice as we tried to gulp down drinks and grab a snack.
Setting off we passed the summit, and a stone wind-break. shelter, previously hidden in the mist. The path takes a sharp turn here before climbing to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, at 1220m, shrouded in mist, and no place to hang around. Next up- the CMD…
There seemed to be a choice of paths here, and I dropped onto the lee side of the arete to tighten my laces, to be called back by Jim, who had discovered a “pig” on his side. It wasn’t hard to find. As we progressed along the arete the mist cleared to reveal the whole ridge, a large group of walkers already ahead of us.
It’s an impressive sight, a jumble of rock leading round to the summit, dropping away on both sides to the corrie below. We picked our way across, Jim insistent on following a pure line along the crest, with no deviations onto “bypass paths”. It requires a tremendous amount of concentration, and with it, time, to cross this.
It’s all straightforward, with no “bad steps”, at least until the end with a small climb of only a few feet, but this can be bypassed easily. All to quickly it was over and we stood in the shadow of the north face, looking down on the remains of an emergency shelter and to the CIC hut.