Is the CMD Arête to Ben Nevis Difficult?

cmd arete for beginners
The UK's highest mountain by its most spectacular hiking route. That's what the CMD arête to Ben Nevis promises. But how is it in reality? And how does it fare for beginners? I hiked to Ben Nevis via Carn Mor Dearg and the CMD arête. Here's how I found what was my first notable ridge hike.

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As an enthusiastic mountain hiker, tackling the UK’s highest (Ben Nevis) always felt like something I should do. But as I then started out specifically hiking Munros and talking to others who do the same, I was hearing mixed reviews of the main mountain path from Glen Nevis. Specifically that I should expect crowds and that, frankly, there are Munros that make for better hikes than the Ben.

 

But, how can you not hike Nevis? And as one of the 282 Munros on the overwhelmingly extensive list, I knew I’d have to do it at some point. Fortunately for me, a friend who’d hiked it via the mountain path last year fancied revisiting Ben Nevis via Carn Mor Dearg and the CMD arête. So we headed out on that route in June 2022. This is my take on the route and some photos and videos from a long day’s hiking with 2 summits and one ridge!

Ben Nevis via the CMD Arête 

So here’s the run down from my Striding Edge to Helvellyn hike.

Hike date16th June 2022
Weather conditions

So bad that I spent much of the day questioning all the life choices that brought me here.

Windy and rainy, incredibly low visibility.

Distance hikedApprox 24km
Walking time11 hours
Elevation gain total1,600m
TerrainReasonable path both at the start and end of the walk. Reasonabl mountain path back down Nevis. Lots of boggy terrain and boulder fields in between. Did I mention the bogs? Lots of bogs.
Hiked withA friend

CMD Arête Video (GoPro Max 360 Chest Mounted)

I wore a chest mounted GoPro Max 360 for the traverse of Carn Mor Dearg Arête, so if you’d rather see it than read about it, here’s that video.

We had awfully low visibility though, so don’t expect too much by way of views!

 

Carn Mor Dearg, CMD Arête and Ben Nevis Route

This is the route we took:

Alltrails estimated the route at 18km, but it came in at just over 24 for us. 

Loose directions (but follow a map):

  1. Start at the Ben Nevis North Face car park (free to park there as of June 2022)
  2. Follow the North Face path towards the CIC hut 
  3. Turn off the North Face path (you don’t reach the hut)
  4. This is where it gets boggy – you’re climbing up a steep grassy ascent for some time with a very poorly marked path in places and lots of bogs
  5. Eventually, bogs turn to more of a rocky surface
  6. A bit of a laborious climb on very rocky terrain ensues and you’ll summit Carn Mor Dearg 
  7. Descend slightly to reach the Carn Mor Dearg Arête 
  8. Cross the ridge
  9. You’ll reach a steep boulder field then up which you’ll need to hike/scramble (or cry) to the Ben Nevis summit
  10. Follow the mountain path off the summit down as far as the half way Lochan
  11. At this point, you’re back on bogs, poorly marked paths and soggy ground until you reach the North Face path again
  12. You’ll have to cross a river to get back onto the main path back to the North Face car park. Lots of people suggest taking boots off and rolling up trouser legs to cross. But in all honesty, we were so wet anyway that just crossing fully clothed made absolutely no difference to how wet we were

I know from reading various routes that some people follow the North Face path right up to the CIC hut and scramble up to Carn Mor Dearg from there. That will be a very steep scramble, however.

Plan your route before and just be sure you’ve got the appropriate navigation aids with you.

How Difficult is the CMD Arête?

Let me just remind you about the weather we had. It rained a lot and was mightily windy.

In fact, we’d already discussed the possibility of turning back once we summited CMD. But we headed down to wards the ridge to check it out and it looked passable. The ridge itself, despite its exposure, was definitely not where we encountered the worst conditions that day.

It’s not a technically challenging scramble for those who are familiar with such terrain. Classified as a grade 1, no specialist equipment for climbing is needed. The CMD arête can be crossed just with feet and some help from your hands.

This was both mine and my friend’s first real ridge walk. The restrictive visibility meant we couldn’t even the bottom of the drop off the ridge, never mind the end of the ridge itself. 

I’m not sure whether that made the exposure better or worse, to be honest.

But the ridge is passable by beginners, in my view (though take your own tolerance for heights and exposure into account). As I said, it was our first notable ridge walk. 

It’s long (allow 30 minutes to an hour, I would say) and it is exposed. But I found the ridge itself a lot of fun in a hike that was otherwise pretty difficult in horrible conditions.

Is there a path on the CMD arête?

Yes. There is a path that runs off to the left of the CMD arête (your left if you’re crossing from Carn Mor Dearg towards Ben Nevis) for some of the route.

Here are some photos of that:

However, it does not run the whole way. Sometimes it leads you right back to the top of the ridge and then picks up again later. So don’t expect to be able to avoid the top of the ridge the whole way.

There are also parts of the path that require some scrambling.

However, if you don’t fancy scrambling your way across the top, the path runs for, I’d estimate, about two thirds to three quarters of the ridge.

Is the CMD Arête dangerous?

Any mountain walk or ridge has its dangers. This is an exposed ridge with plenty of spots that have notable drops either side. 

Personally, I wouldn’t cross any sort of ridge in winter/ice/snow conditions, but those with much more winter mountain hiking experience than I have may feel differently.

Even in good conditions, there are incidents of Lochaber Mountain Rescue being called out owing to things like people becoming crag fast here. 

Do you research, go prepared and don’t be afraid to turn back if you just don’t feel like it’s for you.

Munros Bagged

I’d be lying if I said part of the appeal of hiking Ben Nevis this way wasn’t the bonus munro! Both Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis are munros so that’s two more off the list.

Would I do it again?

When I got back to the car, I was pretty glad to see the back of the hike and would’ve told you then that, as fun as the ridge had been, it wasn’t a walk I’d do again.

However, my views have softened a tad.

In good conditions, I would actually like to go back and get some views up there. I’m not sure I’d necessarily want to climb back through the bog fest up to CMD. But I’d consider the mountain path up Ben Nevis, a descent onto the CMD arête and then over to CMD itself (then back on myself). 

At the beginning of the CMD hike, the views of the Ben Nevis North Face were incredible and I really wanted to enjoy the views from the summit of Carn Mor Dearg. But conditions meant we had 20m visibility at best.

So I would consider a revisit – but I’d happily skip the bogs next time.

 

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cmd arete for beginners

Is the CMD Arête to Ben Nevis Difficult?

The UK’s highest mountain by its most spectacular hiking route. That’s what the CMD arête to Ben Nevis promises. But how is it in reality? And how does it fare for beginners? I hiked to Ben Nevis via Carn Mor Dearg and the CMD arête. Here’s how I found what was my first notable ridge hike.