Looking to Carn Mor Dearg from the top of the abseil posts

Ben Nevis and CMD arete hiking route

Hillwalking route up Ben Nevis via the Carn Mor Dearg arete

Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis are linked via the narrow and curved Carn Mor Dearg arete. This magnificent route not only gives a awesome view of Ben Nevis's North Face but also makes for a fine introduction to rock-scrambling in Scotland.

Route outline


Ben Nevis, 

Carn Mor Dearg

Ascent 1520m (4980ft)
Distance 16km (10m)
Time 6:30hr
Start/finish North Face car-park
Grid Ref : NN145764
easy hard
easy hard
easy hard
ok fab

A horseshoe route starting from the Ben Nevis North Face car-park, this is probably the finest way for hillwalkers to experience Ben Nevis. Much quieter than the Mountain Track, a faint path leads up to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, giving a superb vantage point to view Ben Nevis's North Face. Beyond this, the narrow and famed Carn Mor Dearg arete leads around and up to the summit of Ben Nevis.

Route map

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Route description

1. Getting to the North Face car-park

View from the path above the North Face car-park

From Fort William, the A82 travels northwards. Around 1 mile on this, a sign points to Torlundy.

Follow this narrow road past an industrial estate to a hump-back bridge with traffic lights.

Over the brige, turn immediately right and drive along a rough forestry track (beware the pot-holes) to the North Face car-park.

2. Carn Mor Dearg

Carn Mor Dearg Mheadhonach on the way to Carn Mor Dearg

From the car-park follow the signs for Ben Nevis.

Initially you'll be on a forestry track, then this will be left for a well maintained path through forests. The forests occasionally clear giving fine views, where benches have been installed.

You'll get to the edge of the forestry and to another higher car-park (for Mountain Rescue and other authorised users). Over a stile, a well constructed path follows the Allt a'Mhuilinn.

After around just under 1km on this path, a small cairn marks the departure point to aim for Carn Mor Dearg. This begins with slog uphill on marshy ground following a faint trod. Ground underfoot improves as height is gained and the trod becomes a slightly more obvious path.

The path keeps to the west of the crest of Carn Beag Dearg (you'll need to detour if you want to reach this minor summit) and loose red granite screes are met as Carn Dearg Meadhonach is approached.

Beyond Carn Dearg Meadhonach, stick to the wide crest of the ridge and the route to Carn Mor Dearg is obvious, though narrows near the summit and some rocky-blocks need negotiated. A small cairn sits on this excellent vantage point from where Ben Nevis which looks massive.

3. Ben Nevis via the Carn Mor Dearg arete

Looking up the CMD arete to Ben Nevis summit

Leaving Carn Mor Dearg's cairn behind, aim southwards on rocky ground following the narrow crest. A path meanders a route, sometimes keeping to the west side of the crest to avoid any difficulties. As ground levels out, the route continues to stick to the crest, occasionally keeping to the east side to avoid exposure.

The lowest point on the ridge is reached and the route ahead looks a bit tougher as the red granite of Carn Mor Dearg is left. Uphill, the rock-scrambling is pretty easy keeping to the crest, but if windy, there are opt-out options on the south-east of the crest.

The ground begins to level and become easier. A large cairn is reached - this is where the top of the 'abseil posts' used to mark a route into Coire Leis. Ahead lies 1,000ft of ascent up fairly steep bouldery ground, through which a worn path can be traced most of the way. Higher up, the ground begins to level and some aluminium frames are seen - aim for these and the summit of Ben Nevis . comes into view. Ben Nevis's summit is a spectacular place to take in views - beware of edges above vast drops.

4. Return to North Face car-park

Descending the Mountain Track on Ben Nevis

The next part of the route follows the Mountain Track and after the quiet routes up Carn Mor Dearg and over the arete, the likely crowds and bussle will come as a bit of a shock !

In mist, careful compass work is needed to avoid Gardyloo Gully - from the summit trig point walk on a bearing of for 231o for 150m, then aim 282o.

Follow the Mountain Track to the junction in the track above Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, the 'Halfway Lochan', then follow the northern-aiming branch. This comes to an abrupt end at the northern end of Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe .

Follow the burn coming out of Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe northwards downhill. The ground is fairly wet, though faint traces of paths and ATV tracks can be picked up.

The River Nevis will be met most likely by a fence that crosses it, just above which is a car-park for the emergency services and other essential users . If not in spate, the river should be easily crossed, but if in spate, you can walk a bit downstream to meet up with a bridge. After getting onto the other side of the River Nevis, a well constructed path twists and turns a route through foresty (with occasional clearings and viewpoints) down towards the North Face car-park.

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