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September 2014

Fort William, Scotland, UK

19.43kms (12 miles)

1-day guided walk via CMD Arête route

Who walked with me?

After we completed Wainwright’s Coast2Coast Walk in September, Mike and I embarked on a car touring holiday in Scotland. Two of the all-the-way walkers, Merran Cooper and Elizabeth Melchior, joined us for this celebratory holiday.

It was nice seeing popular tourist attractions, strolling shops, visiting cafes, and Scotch Whiskey breweries, but I could not keep this slow ambling pace if I didn’t have a decent walk on my agenda. I convinced the girls to sign up for a guided walk to Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, standing at 1,345mtrs (4,413ft). We would ascend it via the more difficult Carn Mor Dearg Arête route, or more commonly named CMD Arête.

We used Abacus Mountain Guides. I highly recommend their services. Click this link here for more information.

The CMD Arête route is the classic hill walker’s ascent of Ben Nevis from the back of the mountain that should be on every mountain walker’s tick list. It never gets harder than a Grade 1 scramble, with enough exposure to add excitement and it avoids the crowds, those 160,000 annually, who take the more straightforward endurance challenge from the car park via a stone staircase followed by a long series of monotonous zigzags up scree slopes as you near the summit.

The girls had built their walking confidence, and I felt they were up to the less populated CMD Arête route. Unfortunately, I did not anticipate fear of heights as we approached a precipitous ridgeline and ascended a scree laden slope towards its peak. Carn Mor Dearg, a separate munro, the name given for any of the 277 mountains in Scotland that are at least 3,000 feet high (914mtrs) connects to Ben Nevis via a knife-edged ridge. The CMD Arête ridge rivals other great ridge walks like Crib Goch on Snowdon or Striding Edge on Helvellyn. There is no established trail all the way up Carn Mor Dearg, as is available on the Glen Nevis side of Ben Nevis ridge, which makes the CMD Arête route the perfect choice to escape the crowds.

I loved the experience. My walking partners less so. But we did it with a patient and experienced guide who expertly coaxed us safely to the top.

First Glimpse of CMD Arête approach

The mountain is notorious for its inclement weather and high probability of snow at any time of the year. We were fortunate to have superb autumn weather with excellent 360⁰ views. Some cloud persisted when we reached the peak. We descended the stone staircase for a quicker exit. I encourage adventurous souls to do the CMD Arête route with a guide. It was exhilarating, made you feel like a mountaineer, and inspired me to want to seek future new challenges.

How long does it take?

A full day. Allow 8 hours.

What have I learnt?

Never overestimate your abilities and use experienced guides when you are in any doubt.


Our guide picked us up outside our guest house in Fort William. We carried water, lunch, snacks, and wet weather gear.

View from the top of Ben Nevis
Fort William

After reaching the peak we descended the straightforward stepped route and then bush whacked our way across heath-laden countryside to the guide’s vehicle. He drove us back to our accommodation in Fort William.

Descending the Paved Route

As mentioned earlier in this post, we did the walk with Abacus Mountain Guides. It is cheaper to do it in a group. It was worth every dollar. Without local knowledge, better navigational skills and mountaineering experience, I would not attempt the Carn Mor Arête Route on my own. The alternative pathed route presents no navigational difficulties and is the best way to go if no guide is available.

Proud of our efforts completing the difficult ascent of Ben Nevis via CMD Arête route

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