How to scramble the CMD Arête, Ben Nevis

This legendary ridge is one of Britain’s most thrilling routes on its biggest peak, and you don’t even need to be a mountain goat to walk it.

The CMD Arête on Ben Nevis

by Ben Weeks |

Distance 16.5km | Ascent 1500m | Scramble rating Grade 1 | Go there In mid to late summer, when snow should have retreated from the summit.

Arguably, the CMD arête (full title, the Carn Mor Dearg arête) is the most exciting, awe-inspiring, and view-saturated route to the top of any British mountain. The fact that mountain also happens to be our highest only adds to the appeal.

How hard is it? Well, the entire route is challenging enough to burn your thighs and narrow enough in places to give you a heady dose of airy thrills. You get views into the depths of The Ben’s brutal North Face and over the seemingly endless peaks of the Scottish Highlands beyond. It’s rugged and exposed, but never really strays beyond the remit of a walking route. There really are few finer mountain scrambles in Britain, and here’s how to do it...

Scrambling guide: The CMD Arete

Step 1

Park in the North Face car park near Torlundy (NN144763). In summer this can be a real midge-fest, so come prepared! Take the winding uphill track through the woods, following signs for the North Face path. Where it leaves the trees, follow the path along the Allt a’ Mhuilinn. As you gain height, the first glimpses of the North Face come into view.

Ben Nevis north face
The North Face of Ben Nevis appears!

Step 2

Fork left off the main path and follow the steep trudge up to the ridge of Carn Beag Dearg. Once on top, continue along the ridgeline, passing over Carn Dearg Meadhonach before arriving on the summit of Carn Mor Dearg – the peak that gives the CMD arête its name. The incredible views of The Ben’s North Face from here are worth pausing to enjoy.

The CMD Arete
Descending from Càrn Mòr Dearg.

Step 3

From Carn Mor Dearg the ridge begins proper, narrowing as it drops from the summit before sweeping around to the right to join up with the shoulder of The Ben. Take your time; although high and exposed, the ridge requires little actual scrambling and often provides the option of a lower bypass route just below the crest. Again, brief pauses to gawp at the views of Ben Nevis and the Mamores to the south are well worth it in clear weather.

Near the start of the ridge.

Step 4

The ridge narrows again as it gets close to The Ben, with a few airy steps and a bit of hands-on-rock clambering. Once off the ridge and onto the mighty shoulder of Ben Nevis, an awkward boulderfield has to be ascended to reach the summit. Keep away from the right-hand edge as you climb. The drops here are sudden and long!

Heading for the summit.
Typical scrambling terrain on the CMD.

Step 5

Walk to the summit cairn to relish your achievement, admire the views, and inspect the remains of the observatory and hotel that once stood at the highest point in Britain. When leaving, follow the cairns from the summit to the top of the Mountain Track. In poor conditions take a bearing of 231° from the summit trig pillar and follow it for a distance of 150m. Then turn to a grid bearing of 282° and follow this until it hits the Mountain Track.

Ben Nevis summit navigation

Step 6

Drop down the zig-zagging path to Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe. From the end of the lochan head just east of north, following the line of old fence posts towards where the Allt a’ Mhuilinn meets the woodland. Cross the deer fence via a style and then cross the river 300m downstream by a bridge. Re-enter the forest and follow the paths back to the car park.

Ben Nevis summit with cairns
View from near the top of Ben Nevis. ©Live For The Outdoors

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