Hiking Ben Nevis brings hikers and climbers to the highest point in the United Kingdom. Even in the summer months, the summit can be quite chilly, rainy, and cloudy making what seems like a relatively easy climb challenging and rewarding. The most common route is the Mountain Track (or the Tourist Path), which is a maintained trail. Ben Nevis provides great training for mountaineering, including beautiful landscapes and rugged terrain.
Wanting a little more of a challenge and less-traveled option with only a weekend to explore Scotland’s Highlands, we chose the Carn Mor Dearg Arete (also known as the CMD Arete), which allows hikers to tag two Munros in one loop.
A Munro, in Scottish lingo, is a reference to a list of peaks in Scotland higher than 3,000 feet. I tend to prefer loop hikes to see more scenery as traveling by foot isn’t always fast and if you can get back to the starting point by staying on trails why not experience more.
Know before you go
- Getting around: A car makes it easy to get to the trailheads
- Best time to hike: Spring to fall
- Distance: 11.6 miles round-trip (~19 kilometers)
- Elevation: 4,652 feet (1,418 meters)
- Estimated time: 10 to 11 hours
- Actual time: 7 hours and 45 minutes
- Starting point: North Face car park
- Ending point: North Face car park
Starting at the North Face trailhead, head on a maintained trail. The trail continues up through the valley but doesn’t get you to the top of Ben Nevis. Start to make your own path through marshy bog land. Gaiters and GoreTex shoes make it a little more pleasant, a hard lesson I learned about hiking in Scotland.
The colorful bogs reminded me of hiking in Alaska’s tundra and added a vibrant visual while navigating our own path. I finally was experiencing Scotland’s terrain, my favorite in Great Britain.
Navigate towards a rocky trail after the bog towards Carn Mor Dearg. Gain the ridge and walk to a large cairn (pile of rocks) signaling you made it to the top of Carn Mor Dearg (my first Munro). Here’s where you can have sights of landscapes beyond the ridge with a 360-degree view of Scottish Highlands.
It’s time to descend a few hundred feet along the ridge before the final climb to the summit of Ben Nevis. This ridge isn’t overly exposed but should still be taken seriously. Finish walking the ridge and arrive at a boulder field that leads to the summit.
After sharing the route with only a handful of people, an overly crowded summit awaited us. All levels of hikers from beginners to experts share the summit and take in the weather and accomplishment of summiting Scotland’s highest peak.
What surprised me was the amount of trash tucked under rocks and around the summit. Be aware of Leave-No-Trace principles and the impacts of littering does not only impact the environment but the wildlife that makes the area their home. If you’re packing it in, you should pack it out and dispose of it properly.
Since the summit sat in the clouds with a misty haze, we opted not linger. After a quick snack, we began the second half of the journey. The descent follows the Tourist Path, which can be a crowded highway. Be patient as you try to make progress without going off trail. Don’t forget, uphill hikers get right-of-way but if hikers are behind you and moving faster, please be aware of your surroundings and let them pass.
I ended up jogging sections around other hikers in order to make up time from congested areas. It was a relief once we reached Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe where the CMD loop branched off the Tourist Path and back to a trail to the outflow where the bog navigation started again.
A close look at the colorful bog.
A rainy hike up Ben Nevis = wet pants and shoes. Fortunately, my pants dried fast when it wasn’t raining.
My feet were in a pool of water from the earlier trail and rain, I started to care less where I stepped to move fast through the bogs to make it back to the maintained trail. After fording through the river across the valley, we found the trail. It was a mad dash to the car to take off our shoes. I now regretted not packing another pair of shoes for the trip.
I’ve found myself re-sharing this experience with friends. The most memorable hikes are the ones where you learn. I learned a great deal on what to expect while hiking in Scotland and hope to return again in the future.
Trip date: August 5, 2017
Ben Nevis’s CMD Arete map
Suggested gear list
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- Waterproof hiking boots
- Hiking socks
- Hiking pants
- Synthetic hiking shirt
- Patagonia R1 mid layer
- Rain jacket
- Hiking day pack