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The traverse is deceptively long: from Carn Beag Dearg to where the arete joins up with Ben Nevis alone is over 2 miles. It is now past noon and I had clearly underestimated the time it would take to make the summit via this route. At the summit of Carn Mor Dearg, I got a little taste of the area's fickle weather: within a span of 20 minutes, it rained, then snowed, the sun made a cameo appearance as the cloud draping the summit was lifted just long enough to take a picture, then finally overcast conditions came back again. Looking east from Carn Mor Dearg, one gets a good view of 2 more Munros: Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag (1,221 and 1,234 meters, respectively).
(Right): Looking south from the summit of Carn Mor Dearg to the start of the arete that eventually joins up with the bulk of Ben Nevis from the east.
lifted briefly to reveal the great North-East Buttress and the
summit of Ben Nevis.
(Right) Scrambling over the granite blocks along the Carn Mor Dearg Arete.
The arete requires a little concentration to negotiate. The blocks of granite are polished smooth and are slippery from the light rain that had been falling intermittently all morning. The drop-off is not too vertigo inducing, although a fall would certainly put the hurt on you. Nonetheless, I felt a sense of almost childlike enjoyment scrambling over and around the rocks. Where the top of the ridge gets too exposed there is almost always a parallel trail just below for the more cautious.
The southern half of the arete, including the
that joins up with the North-East Buttress of Ben Nevis.
At the end of the Carn Mor Dearg Arete, the path takes a right turn up the steep slope of the North-East Buttress. The path heads northwest towards the summit, and I imagine navigation can get a little tricky in foul weather. Fortunately there are a few path markers that climbers can follow to lead them to the summit.
The summit plateau was
surprisingly broad, and can easily fit 30 football fields. There
were quite a few people on the summit. There were also summit
cairns and a non-functioning observatory. Did I mention quite a
few people? There must have been close to 100 people at the
summit, and since I only saw about 10 on my way up, I'm assuming
that most of them came up via the Pony Track (derisively called
the "Tourist Track").
(Right): Standing at the highest point in the United Kingdom.
I started descending at 14:00 via the Pony Track. I was amazed at the number of people still on their way up at that time (the procession up easily exceeded 200 people). I would strongly recommend against taking the Pony Track up Ben Nevis except for the most inexperienced hill walkers. The route is a monotonous series of switchbacks from the western side of the mountain. But more importantly, this route provides very little impression of the mountain's grandeur and the scale of the northeastern cliffs and would most likely disappoint a climber expecting to see Ben Nevis' profile.
The walk down seemed interminable; I imagine going up this trail is a lot worse. There is a nice waterfall two-thirds of the way down, but not much else. At points the granite steps are so short and steep that one must take extreme care not to hurry too much, no matter how tempting. The steps are smooth and wet; kind of like going down the steps alongside Vernal Falls at Yosemite, except on narrower steps; clearly, slipping and twisting an ankle are real possibilities here...
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This and That:
For those coming in from southeastern England or overseas, I highly recommend taking the Scotrail Sleeper from Euston to Fort William. I can't imagine that driving a car would be more convenient than taking this train. The ScotRail phone number is: 44 0345 48 49 50. A last-minute round-trip ticket would cost you from £129-149, presumably cheaper with advance purchase. The train leaves Euston at 21:30 and arrives Fort William at 10:15 or so the next morning. Departure from Fort William is 19:10, arriving back to Euston the following morning at 7:30.
There are quite a few hotels and B& Bs in Fort William. The Alexandra Hotel has the advantage of being directly across from the train terminal. The facilities are clean, although the food leaves a lot to be desired (in fact, food in Fort William leaves a lot to be desired!). Its number is 44 01397 701177.
Last-minute gear and clothing purchases can be made from several outdoor-clothing and equipment stores in central Fort William. Merchandise are equally as overpriced as comparable shops in London (although I suppose Fort William has more of an excuse). There is also a Safeway's and a Tesco nearby.
Last Updated: May 19, 1998
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A "Munro" is any mountain in Scotland that is over 3,000 feet high. The term derives from Sir Hugh Munro, an early member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, who first published a table of such mountains. The exact number of Munros seem to keep changing, but currently stands at 284. Munro-bagging is almost an obsession among hillwalkers in the UK and bagging all Munros is considered a rather noteworthy accomplishment within the British hillwalking community. Then there are the "Corbetts"--Scottish peaks between 2,500-3,000 feet, with at least 500 feet of ascent on every side. (Back)