Climbing Ben Nevis is a great adventure and fun challenge. Here’s everything you need to know to successfully bag your walk / climb up Scotland’s highest mountain. Dig in

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Amy S

Ben Nevis is the highest peak in Scotland (the whole of Britain, while we’re at it), offering a serious mountaineering experience without even having to set foot on a plane. But how do you go about getting the Scottish peak under your belt?

We’ve put together your ultimate adventure guide to climbing Ben Nevis – from how to get there and what to take, to the specific routes to follow. Now you’ve got no excuse not to rise to the challenge.

Why climb Ben Nevis?

Ok, look. We’re not pretending that it’s Everest, but with a summit 1,345 metres above sea level, you still get plenty of bang for your buck when climbing Ben Nevis. And just because it’s in Scotland, don’t assume it isn’t one hell of a challenge: depending on the route it can be a real beast, especially in winter.

At the end of the day, as iconic explorer George Mallory once said – the best reason to climb a mountain is simply ‘because it’s there’.

Where is Ben Nevis?

Ben Nevis is in Scotland. The Scottish Highlands, to be exact, part of the Nevis range of the Grampian mountains. The closest town is Fort William.

hikers read map before climbing ben nevis

How do I get there?

Whichever direction you’re coming from, getting to Ben Nevis means a road trip with some pretty epic views. Parking costs £3 at the Glen Nevis Centre.

We reckon the overnight Caledonian Sleeper train is a great (and green) option, with trains running from London, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and more to Fort William. Plush accommodation and hearty Scottish food? Sign us up. A bus runs from Fort William between May and September.

And of course, you could always fly to Scotland (but you’ll lose 5 eco points).

Where to stay when climbing Ben Nevis?

The budget option

The Glen Nevis Hostel is the closest you’re going to get (and at £12 a night, it’s a steal). Don’t expect chocolates on your pillow, but it’ll do the job.

Most of the other accommodation options are in Fort William.

Straight down the middle

There are plenty of nice B&Bs in Fort William with big breakfasts to start the day in and cosy rooms to curl up in. The Brevins Guesthouse is just 1.1 miles from the start of the trail, and is also just 15 minutes from the centre of Fort William.

A little bit of luxe

Treat yo’self at the ultra-stylish Garrison Hotel. It was once the police station, and so still has six original cells with bunk beds. A budget way to stay in a fancy hotel with a lovely bar and restaurant.

What is the weather like?

First time climbing Ben Nevis? We’d recommend going in the summer (between May and September). While reasonable weather in Scotland is never really guaranteed, these months give you your best chances of clear skies.

Keep in mind that high winds, poor visibility, rains and even snow are possible at any time – and the summit is much, much colder than the base – so it’s important to pack layers even if you’re hiking in summer.

We’d recommend keeping an eye on the dedicated Ben Nevis Weather Forecast, as well as the West Highland Forecast and the Met Office Mountain Weather. Also check the Mountain Forecast.

View from Ben Nevis mountain

What to take when climbing Ben Nevis in the summer?

At the risk of sounding like your mum, layers are always a good idea (especially in Scotland). As we mentioned, the mountain’s weather is unpredictable and a bit of a challenge, and so layers give you instant options to add on or take away. It’s worth a reminder here that you’ll generate heat as you walk, and sweat will make you colder the higher up you get. So, we’d recommend starting out cool even if you feel a little chilly (future you will thank you).

It’ll take a full day to climb and descend Nevis, so take plenty of snacks and food to keep your blood sugar levels up. Trail mix and energy bars are both calorie-filled, lightweight options that don’t need keeping cool.

It might sound a bit OTT, but we’d always recommend taking your first aid kit on an adventure to Ben Nevis. It doesn’t have to be too comprehensive or take up loads of room in your pack, but you can’t go wrong with basics like bandages and antiseptic wipes. Our ultimate guide to bikepacking has additional info on this if you’re interested.

In terms of footwear, sturdy and waterproof hiking boots are your best bet. We’d also advise cramp-ons, which will help you get traction if you do encounter snowy or icy conditions.

As with every adventure, always bring your mobile phone, ideally two. The best combo is a smartphone for ease of nav and an old school indestructible brick in case of emergencies. A portable charger for the smartphone is a good idea as the cold saps battery life ridiculously quickly.

Finally, you’re going to want to take a good old-fashioned map and compass to help you navigate. Of course, digital apps are useful too, but you can’t beat the reliable paper kind. We’d recommend the Harvey Superwalker map “Ben Nevis”.

What to take when climbing Ben Nevis in the winter?

In winter, you’ll need a lot of the same kit (map, compass, walking boots, cramp-ons, food…) but you’ll need considerably more weatherproof clothing. We’d recommend a beanie or hat, waterproof gloves, at least one insulating layer (down is good), a waterproof jacket and trousers, as well as a cosy fleece and maybe a long-sleeved tee. Oh, and spare socks.

When should I be climbing Ben Nevis?

As we mentioned, we’d recommend the summer for newbie adventures on Nevis. Warmer temperatures and longer days mean a more manageable hike. If you’re experienced and looking to challenge yourself, by all means go for it in winter.

Expect to encounter plenty of ice and snow, and of course, some pretty extreme temperatures (it’s not uncommon to see -4 at the top). Cramp-ons are non-negotiable in the winter months.

Do you need a guide when climbing Ben Nevis?

If you’re an inexperienced climber or attempting Nevis for the first time, we’d recommend going with a guide. Not only will they keep you safe while enjoying the challenge, but they’ll make the trip way more fun (and you might even pick up some bonus mountaineering skills on the way). If you’re interested in experiencing the mountain in the safe hands of an expert local guide, check out our Summit Ben Nevis and Learn Winter Mountaineering Adventure. You’ll summit Scotland’s (and the UK’s) highest peak in all its winter wonderland glory (and also eat haggis in Fort William. What’s not to love?).

Mountain guide shows direction Ben Nevis

Where to park when climbing Ben Nevis?

There are a few places to park when climbing Ben Nevis, and all give you access to walk the Pony Track that climbs Meall an t-Suidhe. The Glen Nevis Visitor Centre has toilets and an info centre, while the Ben Nevis Inn is slightly smaller but also has a pub and accommodation. If you’re staying at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, there’s parking there too.

What route should I take?

The route you walk depends on your hiking and mountaineering experience, as some are much more strenuous than others.

Beginners

For novices climbing Ben Nevis, we’d recommend the ‘Mountain Path’ (also known as the ‘Pony Track’ or ‘Ben Path’). It’s the simplest way to the top, and also the most popular. You’ll usually start at Achintree on the east side (if you’ve parked at the visitor centre or youth hostel, you’ll start at west side). It begins with a steep hike up to Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe (the ‘Halfway Lake’) and then zigzags up to the summit.

Mid-level

If you’re seeking a challenge when climbing Ben Nevis, start at Torlundy, which lies north-east of Fort William on the A82 road. You can also get here by following the Mountain Path up to the Halfway Lake, then dipping down slightly to the CIC Hut.

The route then follows the Càrn Mòr Dearg (CMD) Arête before ascending a steep 1,500 metres to the summit. The hardcore final leg is worth it: you’ll enjoy views of the north face cliffs that aren’t visible from the Mountain Path.

Experienced

Listen up, true adventure nutjobs (with a summit or two under their belts). Try starting at the Nevis Gorge car park at Steall. The routes from here all involve scrambling and are super steep.

How hard is climbing Ben Nevis?

Really, that depends on the route you choose from those above, and your experience. The Pony Track/Mountain Path is the best route to choose if you’re worried about not making it, or choose a harder one for a challenge.

How dangerous is climbing Ben Nevis?

Again, it depends on your route. Some involve loose scree and rock, naturally making them more dangerous than zigzags paths. Hiking always  involves a degree of risk, but as long as you plan your route, take decent supplies and don’t climb in low visibility, you’re as prepared as you can be.

How many miles is the ascent?

The walk to the top of Ben Nevis is around four miles (about eight and a half to get up and back down). We’d always recommend taking the same route for your descent.

How do I navigate?

Those handy Ben Nevis route maps are your number one piece of kit. It’s a good idea to do a bit of research into using your compass before heading out. You can also use the OS app (download your route to access it offline), and others like Gaia, which is our personal favourite at Call to Adventure. It helps you plan backcountry routes and navigate them offline.

View Ranger is another great option, with powerful GPS navigation and downloadable routes. Have a few different maps at your disposal, just in case, and you can’t go wrong.

What to do in an emergency

Climbing Ben Nevis may not be as perilous as, say, Annapurna or Everest, but it is a wild place and things do go wrong.

Ben Nevis has experienced avalanches, rockslides and blizzards in the past. In the (very unlikely) event that you find yourself in an emergency, decide whether it’s something you rectifiable within your group (waiting it out, using your first aid kit). You’ll find a shelter at the summit of Nevis, and it’s also a good idea to pack your own emergency shelter.

If you do need help, your next step is phoning emergency services (dial 999 or 112 and ask for Mountain Rescue). Keep in mind that phone signal isn’t reliable on Ben Nevis – if you’re having trouble getting through, try sending an emergency message to 999 or 112 (you’ll need to pre-register your phone).

Rescue teams may take several hours trying to locate and reach you. Downloading the Ordnance Survey app ‘OS Locate’ gives you a grid reference to provide to the emergency services operator, so they don’t waste precious time trying to find you. Knowing how to do so on your map is also a good idea (but is potentially harder to do in high-stress situations).

Basically, if the weather looks a bit dodgy and you think there’s even a tiny chance you might need to enlist the help of emergency services, go another day.

Here’s plenty more info about keeping safe on Ben Nevis.

What to do in poor visibility?

Weather changes quickly when you’re climbing Ben Nevis, and can make for a real challenge. Even if you’ve been meticulous in your planning, you might find yourself with clear, sunny skies one minute and freezing fog the next (you are in Scotland, after all). Your compass, and knowing how to use it, will prove invaluable in keeping you on the right track.

The summit of Ben Nevis is pretty dangerous, with steep cliffs on all sides. There have been numerous incidents where people have walked off the edge during bad weather. If you encounter poor visibility at the top, it’s super-important to follow the correct directions to get you back to the lower slopes. From the summit, go 150 metres at a bearing of 231 degrees. You’ll pass Gardyloo Gully (to your right). If you then follow a bearing of 282 degrees, you’ll start on the zigzags down the Mountain Path.

Climbing Ben Nevis responsibly

Ben Nevis is a wild place that we need to protect. It’s super-important to leave no trace (drink) – anything you bring, take away with you. Walk the paths where possible to minimise the chances of destroying plant life or animal habitats. It goes without saying that there aren’t any loos on Nevis, so ‘go before you go’. Basically, just don’t be an idiot, and you’ll be fine.

Ice axe self arrest when climbing Ben Nevis

Where to eat and drink when climbing Ben Nevis

If there’s any time you really, really deserve a drink (and preferably a slap-up meal) it’s after the challenge of scaling the highest peak in the UK. Luckily, there are plenty of places closeby.

The Ben Nevis InnYou couldn’t get a more convenient spot, really. This cosy restaurant and inn is in Achintree, and is located in an atmospheric, 200-year-old barn. Enjoy live music and tuck into hearty and super-satisfying meals like local beef burgers topped with smoky bacon and molten cheese, or Highland venison sausages with Stornoway black pudding. You deserve it.

Glen Nevis Restaurant and BarYou’ll find this gem in Glen Nevis, sandwiched between the visitor centre and the youth hostel. Stop in for a full Scottish breakfast before you start your hike, or visit afterwards to treat your hungry belly to sticky pork ribs or beer battered haddock. The views alone make the spot worth a visit.

Ben Nevis BarA swanky place sitting on the banks of Loch Linnhe, offering some pretty epic dinner views. The bar serves up plenty of local ales, as well as loads of whiskies if you fancy a dram. They serve lunch and dinner and often have live music, too.

The Wildcat -The Wildcat is in Fort William, about 2 miles from Ben Nevis. We love this café (that’s also a health food shop) for its vegan options and zero-waste policy.

The Geographer – Had your fill of haggis? Not to worry, The Geographer is on hand to sort you out with some internationally-inspired street food to enjoy after you trip up Ben Nevis. We reckon just the thought of crispy buttermilk chicken strips and nachos will be enough to get you through the tough bits of the ascent.

FAQ

How many people have died climbing Ben Nevis?

There are no concrete figures to show exactly how many people have died in total on Ben Nevis. However, more than 150,000 people ascend annually and there is only a tiny percentage of fatalities each year. In 2019, an avalanche killed three people (keep in mind that climbing any mountain brings risk. The more prepared you are, the safer).

Where to camp when climbing Ben Nevis?

Up your adventure points by pitching your tent. There are plenty of campsites to choose from, the closest being Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park which is only half a mile from the visitors’ centre.

Should a novice climb Nevis?

Of course, it might just be a bit more of a challenge. Make sure you’re smart about the route you take, and the time of year you go (see above for details).

Is climbing Snowdon harder than climbing Ben Nevis?

Snowdon and Ben Nevis are pretty much on a par when it comes to difficulty (although it does depend on the route). However, Scotland’s Ben Nevis is around 300 metres taller and may feel harder due to the steepness of the summit.

How high/tall is it?

The elevation of Ben Nevis is 1,345m.

Are there toilets?

The only toilets near Ben Nevis are in the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre (there are none at the summit). We definitely recommend using the facilities before you start your climb!

Where is Ben Nevis?

Ben Nevis is in the Scottish Highlands, four miles from the town of Fort William.

How fit do I need to be when climbing Ben Nevis?

A round trip up and down Ben Nevis is over eight miles long, so you’ll need to be fit enough to be confident walking that distance (it typically takes between seven and nine hours). The top is also very steep, which takes up a lot of energy. If you’re worried about your fitness, try walking the distance on flat ground first and go from there. We’ll bet you’re more capable than you think.

How old is it?

Pretty old. It’s the remnants of a volcano that erupted 350 million years ago.

Why is Ben Nevis called Ben Nevis?

Translated from ancient Gaelic, the name ‘Ben Nevis’ has two translations: ‘mountain with its head in the clouds’, or ‘venomous mountain’. When you get to the summit, you’ll see why both are pretty apt.  

Is there a cable car?

Nope. You gotta earn those views.

Can anyone climb Ben Nevis?

Within reason. As long as you’re physically able to take on the distance and elevation, there’s no reason you won’t be able to climb it.

Fancy tackling the highest peak in Scotland? Check out our epic Scottish adventure: Summit Ben Nevis.

Or if you want to add in a bit of wild camping, take a peek at Wild Camping Snowdonia National Park.

Want to brush up before you go? Take a look at our super in-depth Ultimate Guide to Wild Camping.

Ready to go full explorer mode? Get involved in the K2 Basecamp epic.


 

 

 


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