The weather forecast for our last full day advised on strong winds, so we were confined to not going too high. We were keen to take in some more views of Ben Nevis so decided to do a short walk to the CIC mountain hut which lies at the foot of the North Face.
Thankfully there was space to park in the Forestry Commission Car Park, and even better is was free! It's not a huge parking area so worth arriving early on a weekend or good weather day.
The route up to the North Face begins on way marked forest tracks. It's fairly steep to begin with, which I guess can be seen as a good thing as you get the worst of the climbing out the way in the shade of the trees!
It was incredibly quiet and we were glad we weren't on the tourist trail up Ben Nevis. The path gets a little rockier as you get closer to the hut, and there's a minor river crossing which was a little awkward due to the banked up snow.
We got over the river without hitch and stopped at the hut to chat to some climbers who'd been winter mountaineering the previous day.
It was quite breezy, but bright sunshine so rather than do the out and back route recommended in the Walk Highlands description we decided the cross the river and ascend upwards to reach the 'Half way lake' - Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe where we had a really breezy lunch spot - although this is on the tourist route up there was no-one about, we figured that most would be higher on the mountain at this point. It's worth noting that ascending to the loch involved a fairly sleep ascent which part was on soft snow. If you didn't have axe/crampons you wouldn't be able to do this route in hard snow or ice. There could also be a risk of avalanche from above if the snow conditions were right.
From the loch we followed the outflow down - Allt Corie An Lochan which was a pretty river with lovely pools which would be good for a dip in warmer conditions. We had thought it would be pathless as nothing was marked on the map, but others had clearly been this way before, so it was an easy (slightly boggy) route down.
Once we reached the fence we crossed it to return to the larger river Allt a'Mhuilinn. We presumed there was no bridge across so removed our boots to cross the bitterly cold snow melt water. Slightly annoyingly there was an actual bridge not far down stream!
As we had rejoined our forest track up we had an easy fast descent unable to stop our legs jogging down the slow.
This is a brilliant walk for taking in the majesty of Ben Nevis - it seems a shame that those ascending via the tourist path don't get to take in the big cliffs and crags of the Northern side. It's worth adding in to your itinerary as a short half day walk if you are staying in the area.