While Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis are hills worth climbing in their own right; the circuit of these two peaks is considered to be a Scottish classic primarily because of the amazing ridge which joins them together. This ridge, the Carn Mor Dearg Arete ('The CMD') draws walkers from around the country to stride, clamber and scramble along its airy, elevated walkway. In terms of difficulty, the CMD is rather nicely pitched in between the plodding tourist path up Nevis, and the serious climbers and mountaineers routes like Tower Ridge. It offers hillwalkers a little taste of the excitement of a little exposure, on high stunning ridges, without any technical difficulty.
There are several route options available to walkers all over these hills. We chose the tourist track up from Glen Nevis as far as the 'half way lochan', for a route looked like a good option for folk with only one car. Our circuit would bring us back down to the starting point; avoiding a long walk around the base of the mountain at the end of the day. At the half way lochan, we left the tourist path and took the track curving around the North side of Nevis itself.
The track doesn't go to Carn Mor Dearg, but curves up the glen beneath it, terminating at the climbers hut beneath Ben Nevis' stunning NE cliffs. As the track curved up the glen, we undertook a steep, heathery and slippery descent down to a ford over the Allt a Mhuillin, followed by a gruelling ascent of Carn Mor Dearg itself. There is a path up this ridge, which peels off from the main track at the foot of the glen, above the gold course. It is worth finding this, as it saves a lot of energy, as its cuts through the long heather and rough ground. The sun split the skies, and the temperatures soared as we grafted out way up Carn Mor Dearg - an ascent that never seemed to end! This ascent was made worse by the amount of height that is lost crossing the glen to the ford; every hard earned metre of which has to be re-gained.
The other challenge of the day was to carry enough fluid. The weather forecast was exceptionally good, promising no cloud, no rain, no wind, and high visibility. I took my usual hat/gloves etc out of my pack and filled it with extra water bottles - a decision I was very glad I took, despite the excessive weight of the water. Every hundred metres climbed opened up new views. Loch Linnhe, Corpach, The Aonach's all ranged into view, but the vast cliffs of Ben Nevis looming up in front of us were hugely impressive. Eventually when the first Munro summit was gained, the CMD arete presented itself to us - and it looked absolutely stunning.
With different levels of scrambling experience in the group, we picked out way carefully along the crenellated rocky spine; with folks choosing the ridge-top, scramble or the safer path further down one side, as they wished. We all met up again at the huge cairn which marks the start of the very steep, bouldery climb up Ben Nevis. From there we trudged back down the tourist track to the car, and the long, weary drive home.
Carn Mor Dearg's Arete, is deserving of its place as a 'must-do' Scottish hill walk. This was my second attempt to climb it, as the first was abandoned because of bad weather! Its worth waiting for a good day, to enjoy the views, and have the comfort of dry, grippy rock to run about on. I would seriously avoid this route in high winds, which could pluck a walker from the ridge and send them hurtling downwards. It's not an easy day, its over 20kms, a couple of thousand metres of ascent, with real steepness and a little exposure in places. If you have the chance to do CMD, and the sun is shining, don't miss out; it is overwhelming!