Thankfully, there is another way, a better way, to climb Ben Nevis. This is it. Instead of continuing to trundle up the soulless tourist track to the summit, on reaching the fork in the path above Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, I turned north, leaving the hordes wearing wellies and carrying umbrellas to their ascent.
The path climbs below the forbidding cliffs of the Ben’s north face, which today was capped by mist, accentuating its fearsome reputation. From Allt a’Mhuillin, it is a relentless 600-metre slog up the very steep and pathless flank of Carn Dearg Mor, the UK’s ninth highest mountain.
The arete curves to the south, then the west, from just below the summit of the Munro for around one mile. ‘It’s like Striding Edge,’ another walker on Carn Mor Dearg commented. It is, although far longer and marginally less exciting. Its knife-edge reputation has perhaps been exaggerated by some.
Still, it’s a world away from the Ben’s tourist trek: an airy arete that makes your heart beat faster. After the arete, the slog to the 1,344-metre summit of the Ben is relentless. Even when I emerged on to the misty plateau, I was disorientated, until the unmistakable summit protrusions emerged through the gloom. The crowds were back, presumably having all ascended the tourist track. They don’t know what they were missing.
It was my fourth time here and perhaps the best view – I could see about 50 metres. Will the Ben ever be kind to me? Once below 1,100 metres, the shroud had gone, giving magnificent views of Glen Nevis and of the dozens of walkers scurrying down the zigzags like multi-coloured ants. The woman with the umbrella made it, I’m pleased to report.