CMD Route on the ‘Ben, by Flo & Tom

This year's winter CIC meet was a first visit for a number of newer LMC members.  The hut and the surrounding amphitheater of rock and ice can be a beguiling place but always packed with adventure. 

Two such members, Flo and Tom, set out on a long winter day out on the CMD Arete and Flo created a great written piece on their day out and weekend at the hut:

As Lomond Mountaineering Group monthly meet ups go this was an odd one, and by odd one I mean Tom and I somehow managed to be pretty much alone while surrounded by people and this was neither bad nor anyone’s fault. We’d spent the Friday walking with friends around Loch Lomond and so we arrived at the North Face car park much later than intended. It was well past dark as we squeezed the car into the last remaining space and set about repacking our gear for the long walk to the CIC hut. Some things were a given; the ice axes go straight in. So too the Crampons, every warm layer we had and obviously the waterproofs. It may be March but it’s still Winter on The Ben. Having argued the merits of all the other items and selected those deemed most useful and least cumbersome we set off. If any of you have never walked into the CIC hut it’s a long way to go for a bed for the night. An alpine hut is perched below the head wall of Ben Nevis’s spectacular North face. For a day hike this would be child’s play, on a sub-zero night with all the heavy gear that goes with winter mountaineering it’s a pretty grueling trek. Tom was very clear that he blamed me for this and that’s probably fair, I was after all the one determined to go and seek adventure on the highest mountain in the UK.

We arrived to the hut around eleven o’clock to find it silent, all other occupants having sensibly retired to bunks in preparation for the day to come. Quietly, or as quietly as possible (sorry) we made ourselves some food before finding ourselves a spot on the communal bunks and attempting to get some kip.

I awoke somewhere around five am, when the initial wave of super keen adventurers arose and set off to conquer the objectives they had planned the night before. Then, again, at around seven when the still keen but slightly less crazy people got up and began shuffling around getting things together. By nine I was about ready to face the world, briefly saw Michael who was clearly on the rush to be out, and wandered through to the chaos of kitchen in which too many people have hastily eaten a meal. We made a brew, ate breakfast with Chris and at somewhere around mid day decided it was high time we got our collective proverbial together and set off.

The sweep of the Carn Mor Dearg arête is something pretty special. Even more so the basalt fortress of the North Face; the remains of an ancient volcano that ripped itself apart some three hundred and fifty million years ago. We turned towards the blanketed flank of Carn Mor Dearg and set off following the simple navigation of ‘up’. By about a third of the way up we’re on crampon points and daggering the axes into the icy surface. Tom has taken to reminding me that he hates me. By half way up my calves are reciting a dull but insistent protest at the abuse. In a failed attempt to silence them I dig a quick bucket and turn to watch the teams of climbers snaking their way up Ben Nevis, trying to see if I can identify Chris or Mimo. As Tom catches up with me and digs a bucket of his own he takes the opportunity to remind me that he is not fond of me right now. Fair enough.

We gained the ridge line just below the cairn and the views are both sudden and stunning. The immediate elation of seeing the land stretch out as impossibly perfect waves of white beneath a bluebird sky is enough that even Tom has a stupid grin on his face. He only “doesn’t like” me he concedes, I’ll take that. We get our summit selfie on the top of Carn Mor Dearg and then it’s down towards the beginning of the arête, mindful as we go of the cornices clinging to the edge of the path as we go.

The arête itself is a rather tumble jumble affair, boulders litter the ridge line wearing a coating of snow and ice. That said, it isn’t particularly narrow (for an arête) or especially precipitous. It was also miraculously empty for such a beautiful day on a bank holiday. The view stayed breathtaking so that the greatest danger was forgetting to look at my feet while too transfixed on the horizon. Half way over we stopped to giggle to each other and glory in it all. “I don’t mind you” he says. Winning.

The arête connects to Ben Nevis some three hundred meters below the summit so we turned and headed up the once again very steep shoulder. This was tough. Made tougher by realisation that we had made the rookie error of walking out the hut without food. In addition, our Calves hadn’t forgiven us for the first ascent and the wind had become fierce. “I hate you”, that familiar refrain.

The summit is strangely disappointing after everything it takes to get there. There are other people, for a start. The views disappear because, while this is the highest point in the UK, it’s also a plateau and unless you’re keen on a fatally fast decent you can’t walk to the edge and look over. The snow buntings were cute though.

Summit selfie taken we set off down the tourist path. I was immediately glad that we didn’t ascend this way. No hope of getting lost with the continuous line of fair weather mountaineers heading up and down like an outdoor escalator. We diverged from the crowds at the foot of the hill, walked back over the shoulder below tower ridge and into the silence of Coire Leis. The last few miles of the route back was in the rain, small price for a pretty perfect day.

Arriving back at the hut we made food, spoke to a few of the other occupants and heard others talk animatedly of their day. It was rammed but cosy and companionable. Sadly we didn’t manage to find any other Lomonders so if you were there, I’m sorry we missed you, I hope your day was as memorable as ours.

 

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