Scottish Winter Climbing And Mountaineering Routes in Scotland UKScottish Winter Climbing And Mountaineering Routes in Scotland UK
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Climber approaching the difficult step.
Ledge route Map Photos
Arguably the best route of its kind in the UK, the Ledge route has a bit of everything. It starts in No. 5 Gully on Ben Nevis and weaves an improbable line up Carn Dearg Buttress, leading to a narrow ridge and finally the summit of Carn Dearg on the Ben Nevis plateau.
Area: Central Highlands, Ben Nevis
Grade: Winter II   what does that mean?
Total Distance: 14 km
Total Ascent: 1220 m
Time: 8 hours
Maps:
  • Ordnance Survey Landranger 1:50,000 Sheet 41
  • Ordnance Survey Explorer 392 1:25,000
  • Harvey Ben Nevis Map 1:25,000
  • Avalanche hazard: The climb starts in No. 5 Gully, which is avalanche-prone on account of its aspect and large catchment area. Do not linger in No. 5! The route gets much safer higher up.
    Avalanche Forecast area: Lochaber.   more
    Gear: You should wear a helmet, mainly for the approach and the brief time you are in No. 5 gully. Take a rope and a small selection of slings and nuts. Hexes could also be useful.
    Tips: The Ledge route requires precise route finding and can be difficult to follow in poor visibility.
    Other routes in the area: See 'North face of Ben Nevis' route.
    Approach 

    Reach the CIC hut as per the North Face of Ben Nevis route.

    Ledge route and Carn Dearg (1221 m) 

    Clamber over the slabs in front of the CIC hut and head in a south westerly direction, staying right of the 2 streams running down from Coire na Ciste. Climb up steep scree/snow slopes to the entrance of No. 5 gully.

    Climb up No. 5 gully for about 50 m (distance) until you reach a ramp on your right, perpendicular to the direction of the gully. The ramp is about 3 m wide and is easy if covered in consolidated snow, although it may be difficult if rock is exposed. Climb the ramp until you reach an obvious break on your left after about 50 m (distance). Take care not to traverse further as the ground beyond becomes very steep. Head sharply up the break to reach a faint ridge looking down on No. 5 gully below.

    Turn right again and follow the faint ridge, skirting beneath crags, until you reach a more obvious ridge just beyond a large perched block. Follow this ridge left (WSW). You soon come to a very narrow section followed by a tricky descent step. Most people will appreciate the rope here (if not a lot sooner!)

    From here the ridge is pleasingly narrow but straightforward. The final steepening is a little intimidating but the rocks can be bypassed slightly to the left. Carry on to reach the cairn marking the north-west summit of Carn Dearg.

    Descent 

    As per other descents from the Ben Nevis plateau, the descent from Carn Dearg is dangerous.

  • Follow a grid bearing of 270 for 200 m (distance).
  • Then follow a bearing of 180 for 450 m (distance).
  • Follow a bearing of 282 to the 'half-way lochan' (Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe).
  • Return 

    Shortly before you reach the half-way lochan, pick up the path which heads north initially and then traverses the foot of Carn Dearg. Leave this path when it starts to turn northeast and continue in a northerly direction to meet the Allt a Mhuilinn.

    Follow the bank of the Allt a Mhuilinn to a bridge a couple of hundred metres beyond the higher car park (i.e. downstream of it). Cross the bridge and pick follow the route you took on the ascent back to the North Face car park.

    Alternative descent 

    In good visibility and snow conditions, follow the summit rim left, giving wide berth to the in-cut gullies until you reach the top of No.4 gully, which is marked by a metal post with the number 4 in it. If the cornice is impassable or the snow conditions are not as good as you thought, head back along the rim and follow the the normal descent route via the half-way lochan.

    The descent of No. 4 is steep at first and it's best to face in to down-climb. However, it soon eases off and leads to easier ground in Coire na Ciste.

    Descend to the CIC hut and walk back along the Allt a Mhuilinn.

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