Ben Nevis Ledge Route & CMD

3 09 2016

Mon 4 July 2016
This was another day out organised with Steve Fallon, although he wasn’t doing the guiding this time…

At the start of the year, feeling a bit of a daredevil, I booked up with Steve Fallon to do several ambitious scrambling routes in the Scottish mountains. The first was my Forcan Ridge trip in June – this was the second and there is one more to come.

Ledge Route

most photos my digi-camera as it was too horrid to waste film!

After worrying until the start of June that the North Face of Ben Nevis (‘The Ben’) would be too snowed up, a hot blast at the start of the month shifted the last of the snow from the face (and the summit). I was glad as I certainly didn’t want to do it as a winter route!

Ledge Route is essentially a scrambling route (the only one I think) up the 2000 foot northern cliffs and buttresses of The Ben. I knew a few people who’d done it though and had found it fine – the photos looked fine too. I can’t say I was stressed out beforehand…

All the weekend before I did worry however – most of Steve Fallon’s walks seemed to be over a weekend – on the Sunday I was seriously worried I’d got the day wrong and that I should be on Ben Nevis instead of in Cumbria. Luckily, a reassuring text from my guide-to-be, Martin, asking if I was okay for the next day came in. I ran to check the dates on my calendar – phew – it really was taking place on the Monday.

I finished packing my car and set off for a leisurely drive up to Fort William. I’d had to pack the wind-up alarm clock from my caravan as the B&B said they didn’t have any. On arrival, I also asked the B&B owner to give me a shout around 0700 for my 0730 breakfast (horribly early for me!).

In the end, the alarm clock tick was so unbearably loud I had to lock it in the wardrobe and, by the time I’d got up after the B&B owner had knocked on my door and got ready to go down for breakfast, the alarm still hadn’t gone off! My watch alarm would have but I never heard it as it is way too quiet.

My breakfast was huge and, after eating approximately half of it, I felt so terrible I wanted to go and lie down again! (I really can’t do breakfasts) Also, a glance out of the window showed that, not only was it steady rain, but it was unlikely to clear all day – nothing like the forecast said – that had said minor showers.

I drove to the North Face carpark for 0820 as I was due to meet Martin the guide and the others at 0830. The only other people in the carpark were two ladies who went off on their own shortly after. I looked in all the vehicles, especially a red van parked up but there was no-one else around.

By 0840 I’d started to panic that I was in the wrong carpark and texted and rang Martin – no answer so I left a message. Meanwhile a red van rolled up with a guy and someone else in it – hoping that was Martin, I rang his phone again but the driver didn’t pick up a phone so I thought it must not be him. By now really panicking, I rang Steve Fallon himself and left him a message asking whether I was definitely in the right parking and meet-up spot?

Eventually I got out of my car for some reason and the guy in the van leapt out and came over – it was Martin after all. I mentioned I’d rung him but he said he had a different phone with him. Shortly after that Steve rang his phone to find out what was happening – the other walker, Donald, answered and said we’d all met up.

Martin, being in the local mountain rescue team, had a key to the forest gate and so we drove up to the top of the forest to start our walk. I was very glad of this at the end of the day, as I’m sure Donald was, as it meant a starting height of nearly 1000 feet.

Before we set off, Martin felt Donald’s pack and suddenly started to unpack it. He threw most of the contents out as it was way too heavy (as Richard’s always is). He didn’t check mine but I can assure you it was exceedingly light. I just had my climbing harness and very light helmet, the map, a flask of coffee, a 2-pack of biscuits and a flapjack. I had my compass and whistle in my coat pocket.

I was pleased we had Donald with us anyway as, with him living in Manchester and not hillwalking as often as I do, this time I wasn’t at the back! That really took the pressure off me as I’ve been feeling very inadequate with my sudden slow-down this year. My chest was still bad on the walk in along the Allt a’ Mhuillin to the famous CIC hut. Martin commented on my nasty cough and I told him I’ve now had it all year 😦

Approaching CIC Hut (portrait)
the bright and sunny walk in (Olympus Trip 35 film camera to start)

We made good progress to the hut and stopped for a short break. I had a good flask cupful of water out of the spouting hose outside the hut and a mini-fudge bar. Donald and I peered upwards at the dripping-wet, black crags looming in the mist above us – they were trying to clear but I doubted they would – I turned out to be right.

Ledge Route Start
The route goes up to the right of the burn and left of the nearer buttress – others seem to go right of it up the snowy no 5 gully

Martin outlined the basic route… I’d asked Steve Fallon whether we would be doing the horrible slimy slab everyone talks about and he said that wasn’t the route they did.

Ledge Route Start (portrait)

Looking at my photos of the face when it cleared at the end of the day, our route has to be ‘THE Ledge Route’ and I believe everyone else is going wrong. I say that as we took an obvious green ledge which goes across the face to the foot of the arete – the route everyone else seems to be taking doesn’t follow a proper ledge at all.

Ledge Route Closeup
Our green ledge is obvious in the centre of the photo above with no. 5 gully descending through the middle of it (the gully with the snow) – the arete is outlined by the cloud. Everyone else crosses the gully near the top of the snow so they miss out the green ledge.

We set off straight from the hut up easy paths in the scree to the left of a smallish tower – our grassy ledge started behind that. Martin spotted some really unusual alpine flowers up here – anyone know what they are please?

Ben Nevis Unusual flowers
photo Martin McDermott

Martin found a climbers’ ice axe on the scree – I found that a bit ominous as, with climbing axes being in the climber’s hand all the way up the face, I wondered if it was associated with an accident? I hoped no-one was lying dead above us…

We soon reached the start of the wide grassy ledge which crosses no. 5 gully and got our first sight of the scary-looking gully and also the route below which everyone else seems to use. Our route was definitely nicer!

Ledge (wrong) Route Slab
Everyone else’s nasty slab route

No. 5 gully had black, dripping and menacing looking jaws below us – I hoped our path traversing above it was a stable one!

No 5 Gully Wall
Our obvious ledge above the horrible-looking route up from the nasty slab everyone else does

We had another quick break and then set off on a very good path towards the burn rushing down no. 5 gully.

Ledge Route - PROPER Start!
The ledge after the crossing of no.5 gully (Martin McDermott)

The path was fine all the way along the ledge and ended up at the ‘Jenga Block’ – a superbly poised pinnacle which seems to defy gravity and hangs above the large drop to the corrie below.

Jenga Block

I swapped from my film camera to my digital soon after this as I was just wasting film in the awful visibility.

As we prepared to start the scramble up the wet and greasy arete, Martin asked me to go at the back. I was greatly honoured by this – usually, as I’m such a coward, I’m put in the middle where I can be kept an eye on!

The start of the scrambling included quite a narrow section where my boots were sliding all over the rock and I just had to use my knees instead. This entailed me kneeling on a narrow section of ridge just wide enough for both my knees and leaning over what was probably a huge drop to no. 5 gully – I couldn’t see anything but mist though so just continued along until I could stand up again.

Somewhere after this, we had a steep ascent up a narrow scree gully. I was panicking slightly up this and ensuring I had great hand or finger holds on the rock sides all the way up but, when I turned round at the top, saw it had actually been fine. It wasn’t far down the gully and the bottom of it was a very wide area of grass so there had been no risk.

I have to say I was very surprised at the complete lack of exposure all the way up the Ledge Route arete. I would look round to my right and see the Allt a’ Mhuillin very far below but then would check my immediate surroundings and they were always very comfortable. You were never really looking straight down anything. Amazing when you consider we were ascending the 2000 foot crags of the North Face.

Steep but not Exposed on Ledge Route
Steep and high but not exposed (film shot)

Martin commented at this point that we’d both gone very quiet and that I hadn’t started swearing yet as promised. I just said I was finding it horribly greasy and was sliding around a lot which didn’t make me happy. I said that on a fine day I was sure the whole thing would be lovely and totally relaxing. Martin had said several times that we could ask for the rope at any time but neither of us did in the end.

The ridge got wider as we ascended and no. 5 gully came up beside us which meant there was almost no drop on our left at all now. The scrambling mostly got easier as you got higher too and, all too soon, we were at the final rock tower. This had wonderful rock steps up the side and was a doddle. We were on the plateau already and nothing had been hard or particularly scary!

Ledge Route Top
The Top of the route (film shot)

It was quite a nice stroll along the edge of the gullies and buttress tops to the summit and I chatted to Martin all the way up. I took most of my photos here – and very murky they are too! Definitely not worth using film on (although I did take a couple)!

Ben Nevis after Ledge Route01

Ben Nevis Plateau in mist
The gloomy way ahead (film shot)

Ben Nevis after Ledge Route02

Ben Nevis after Ledge Route03

Ben Nevis after Ledge Route04

Ben Nevis after Ledge Route05

Ben Nevis after Ledge Route06

Ben Nevis after Ledge Route07

Ben Nevis after Ledge Route08
You can see from the preceding photos how little snow is left this summer on The Ben – totally unlike last year when there were huge ice cliffs

Above Ben Nevis Ridges
final film shot

At the summit we stopped in the murk for a ten minute break to get hot drinks – I started my flapjack and put my gloves on as it was characteristically cold up there (it always is). When Richard had been up here last summer in June, he’d told me all the summit ‘furniture’ had gone and all that was left was ‘the Pagoda’ as he calls the shelter. That proves how much snow there was as everything else was actually still there but under 8-10 feet of solid-frozen snow!

Ben Nevis after Ledge Route09
The ruin of the old hotel – completely covered over last June!

It was too cold to hang around long so we soon set off across the boulders to find the long descent to the Carn Mor Dearg arete (CMD). I’d been told of the awful boulderfield as Richard had come up it when he’d done the arete previously (I’d turned back). I knew descending it would be awful.

I can’t descend steep boulders without having a handhold all the way as I just don’t trust them. You could either slip off them or they can rock and drop you down a gap between them – that could easily result in a broken ankle or suchlike.

There is nearly 1000 feet of boulder-slope to descend and, by the time I’d bent over descending that with a rucksack on my back, I’d started with a very bad back. At last the cairn on the col before the arete hove into view – I was very grateful!

Approaching CMD Arete

CMD Arete start

Martin had said the rock of the CMD was more slippery than that on Ledge Route but I have to say I found it slightly less so. It was still pretty slippery though and a lot of the rocks along the top of the arete, where we were attempting to stay, were lichen covered and fairly lethal. Martin, strangely, wasn’t slipping in his boots at all and he had Vibram soles the same as me.

Carn Mor Dearg in mist
Looking back to our descent down the back of The Ben

There was a fairly narrow section early on and, after we’d successfully dealt with it, Martin said we’d done the hardest bit. I wasn’t sure we had as I remembered I’d turned back coming the other way on a corner peak as I’d started to find the scrambling too hard.

The arete goes in a more or less straight line to a dip before rising up again to the corner peak mentioned above and then turning up to Carn Mor Dearg itself.

I had a couple of uneasy moments due to the slipperiness and was making certain I always had at least one handhold (as I do).

Me Scrambling
Both photos Martin McDermott
on Misty CMD

CMD in mist looking narrower
my photo – looks nasty here doesn’t it!

CMD in mist
There weren’t any really hard moves but I reached one section where you really just had to walk along the top of smooth rock a couple of feet wide. I set off gingerly and hoped I wouldn’t slip off down the crags!

Soon after making it across that we were at the dip where Coire Leis hove mistily into view. I bemoaned the fact that there would be superb views if it would just clear up a bit. I also thought I could see a very easy way down into the corrie from here, although there supposedly isn’t one – I’ll have to have a look from below sometime.

On the section rising up to the corner peak, we pretty much went down onto the path just below the arete and made much better progress…

CMD after dip

We had another short break on the corner peak where another chap was sat. We’d met a few people on the arete too but going in the opposite direction (the usual direction).

CMD & Donald

As we left we kept looking back as the arete was trying to clear… I noticed what looked like either a walker’s ice axe or an orange walking pole just below the summit of the peak but it wasn’t in a very accessible position.

CMD Corner Peak

I found the scrambling from the corner peak to the col before the final climb up to Carn Mor Dearg pretty challenging – it was much harder than anything we’d done all day in my opinion – no wonder I’d turned back all those years ago when I was less confident and experienced! Donald said the scrambling was pretty much on his limit too.

Donald and I followed on increasingly carefully as we negotiated slippery, broken ledges on the side of the arete with rock bulges to get around – at least the drop was much less here… At one point there was a rock window which Martin took photos of us through – I’m characteristically soaked as I will almost never put my hood up or wear a hat!

Me in CMD Window
both photos Martin McDermott
Donald in CMD Window

At last we got onto the easy ground rising up to the Munro of Carn Mor Dearg – I was pretty relieved as I’d found it a long day and it was nice not to have to have a handhold any more!

CMD from Carn Mor col

CMD from Carn Mor Dearg

CMD Arete
film shot taken on the day I’d turned back

I flopped down tiredly on the summit for another coffee and a bit more flapjack. Around now the rain stopped, the sun came out and Ben Nevis appeared at last!

Ben Nevis Buttresses

Ledge Route from Carn Mor Dearg

and views back to Fort William and Loch Linnhe…

Lochs Linnhe & Eil from Carn Mor Dearg

Soon we set off down – Martin led us down a lovely path back to the Allt a’ Mhuillin. I wasn’t aware of the path and, last time, descended horrible boulders for quite a way and then rough grass.

Carn Mor Dearg in mist - looking back
looking back to Carn Mor Dearg

Ben Nevis North Face - snow and cloud
Cloud and snow on The Ben

Ben Nevis - Castle Ridge
Castle Ridge

Lochs Linnhe & Eil from Carn Mor Descent

Ben Nevis from Carn Mor descent

Ben Nevis from Allt a Mhuillin

It was pleasant to reach the glen path again…

Ben Nevis and Blasted Tree

Ben Nevis from Allt a' Mhuillin

Nearly-There Tree

The ‘Nearly-there tree’ – or at least it was for us as we reached the van very soon after 🙂

While I’d felt fine at the end of the walk, by the time I’d got showered and walked out for my tea I had all of the following: my bad hip had gone and was collapsing, my bad back had returned, I had sore muscles in my shoulders and right hand, a pulled sciatic tendon and a bad ankle! It took me most of the week to recover!

Stats: 9 miles 4115 feet of ascent



23 responses

29 09 2016

That ledge route looks fantastic, although I’d be inclined to take your lead and hire a guide.
The CMD is fantastic, not as hard as it is perhaps made out to be and worth the extra effort.


30 09 2016

I think you’d need a guide for your first trip up the Ledge Route as it wouldn’t be obvious where you were heading – especially if you got weather like we did on the day!

Liked by 1 person

26 09 2016

Fantastic 😀

I’ve done the CMD Arete but your ascent route of the Ben looks well worth making a return visit! I bet Richard wishes he came on that trip.

Cheers Simon


29 09 2016

I’m wanting to do Ledge Route again (and probably CMD) and have said Richard ought to come up and do it. I’m quite happy to lead it as it was very straightforward 🙂


11 09 2016

Excellent that one, Carol. I’d love to have a go at that route and return over the arete. Not on my own. mind.
Cheers, Alen


12 09 2016

I’ll have to take you and Richard along – I’d be quite happy to ‘lead’ it!

Liked by 1 person

4 09 2016

That looks like a wonderful climb.


4 09 2016

It was pretty good – given a nice, dry day, it would have been superb! I’m thinking of dragging Richard up it sometime on a better day…


4 09 2016
Blue Sky Scotland

PS. Your alpine plant looks like Sea Campion. That and Sea Pink or Thrift usually grow on rocky shorelines at the coast but will thrive on damp mountains if the seeds are blown up into a rocky hollow.

Liked by 1 person

4 09 2016

Wow! so it is – impressed by your knowledge! thanks for that…


4 09 2016
Blue Sky Scotland

Normally folk start off scrambling early then slow down but you seem to be doing it in reverse Carol. Maybe next year you’ll be leading multi pitch mountain Severes. Brings back memories just a shame the weather wasn’t better for your ascent. You can make Ledge Route a lot harder if it was too easy for you these days. What happened to Rowena? She just seemed to disappear. Maybe switched to another media platform?.


4 09 2016

Rowena decided she didn’t want to spend time blogging any more – but her exploits are reported in the 45 Degrees MC blog instead (which is an equally great read).

I think I’ve suddenly found that, given the right support, I really enjoy scrambling and awkward routes. But in the past I’ve been stuck trying to do them alone which I still don’t like and I still chicken out a lot on my own…


3 09 2016

Great report. I did the CMD arête in pretty poor weather and tbh it scared me silly. Definitely much harder than Striding Edge.


3 09 2016

I don’t know – at least there was nothing like the ‘chimney’ on Striding Edge.


3 09 2016

Desperate to do Nevis, defeated twice, once by snow and once by fog tut


3 09 2016

Are you wanting to do the normal tourist route? if so, the mist shouldn’t matter really as it’s a pretty good path all the way. The plateau just needs the return bearings noting beforehand – they’re readily available and are just to stop you wandering into 5-Finger Gully and the like. I can’t really understand how people do wander into 5-Finger Gully anyway as it’s so steep and loose they must surely realise they didn’t come up anything like that on the ascent!


3 09 2016

They tend to slide into it in Winter.


3 09 2016

Your photos of the Ledge route do look much ‘nicer’ than some others I’ve seen – must have been because you were on the better route!
Years ago, a friend once tried to persuade Geoff and I to go up the CMD arête with the two dogs we had at the time. They were both excellent hill dogs, but I was very assertive and refused – I didn’t think that was a suitable route for them at all. To this day I’m totally convinced I might the right decision!


3 09 2016

There’s a bypass path all the way along I think so they would have been fine from what I could see. I wouldn’t want to take them up Ledge Route though…

Liked by 1 person

3 09 2016

fantastic – our club had a classic meet there last year


3 09 2016

I remember Rowena’s report (on her blog though I think) – that was one of the things which tempted me into it 🙂


3 09 2016
Gaslight Crime

Terrific pictures.

Liked by 1 person

3 09 2016

It was a pretty terrific route for The Ben – far better than the normal plod 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: