A spectacular (and breathless!) day climbing Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain.
I still can’t quite believe that I’ve climbed Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain. 6 months ago, after I’d completed my first 10 Munros, I’d actually laughed a friend out of the pub when he’d suggested I’d be soon ‘Bagging the Ben’.
Who me? Climbing Ben Nevis? Ha, never in a million years. I wasn’t ready for that!
But that short conversation started something; I got a little niggle in the back of my head. Could I do it? Secretly I set a little challenge to myself – if the perfect opportunity came along, then I’d go for it. No big fanfare, no chance of explaining away a failure.
Just me and The Ben – the mountain with its head in the clouds…
The perfect opportunity came much sooner than I expected.
We’d booked a 7-day trip sailing the Caledonian Canal (more soon!) from Inverness to Fort William. It turns out that the canal goes right past the Nevis Range, and with a week of sailing to choose the best time to climb Ben Nevis, we could await a break in the weather and go for it.
The weather gods were on our side. From our very first day on the water the weather was perfect, and as we leisurely motored along the canal, we could see the top of the hill clearly. With an average of only 14 clear days a year on its summit, getting a good day on Ben Nevis is a wee bit of luck.
The forecast was just as good for the next day so we cruised down the canal from Gairlochy and moored up for the night at Banavie by the Neptune’s Staircase locks, about 1.5 miles from Fort William. After a carb loading dinner (and a fortifying glass of wine) in the Grogg and Gruel in town we set the alarms for 8 am and kept our fingers crossed.
Thankfully, the Ben Nevis weather predictions were spot on…
By 9 am we were walking. At first, I found the path easy, and steadily climbing we left the glen behind. We made fast progress, reaching the halfway point of the Red Burn and the Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe at 570m in just 1 hour. I couldn’t help stopping for photos, the views across to Loch Linnhe, down to Lismore and as far as the Isle of Mull were absolutely stunning.
However, from the halfway point on I struggled. Despite all the hills I’d clocked up, the ease that I could walk 10 miles, and that our last outing (14 miles in the rain over most of Beinn a’Ghlo) was a much tougher challenge than Ben Nevis, I climbed the next 500 meters at a snail’s pace.
Thankfully, being surrounded by hundreds of people going through exactly the same thing kept me going. I forced myself onwards and upwards as the easy steps and well-made path of the glen below turned to slippery shale and uneven rocks and the path climbed up the hill in an endless exhausting zigzag.
Then at 1200m, the views disappeared, leaving us in the fog to follow the crowds to the summit. You can see just why Ben Nevis is so dangerous and deserves its name ‘the venomous’ mountain.
I must admit I’ve never been happier to reach the summit of a hill, you can tell by my face just how much I was still grimacing. But in 3 hours we had climbed 1345m – and were on top of the UK.
It was freezing at the top, and after a quick summit selfie we wrapped up (I was very thankful for my hat, gloves and my down jacket!) and perched on a rock for a wee dram and a good old-fashioned cheese sarnie before we turned for home. It was time to face those horrendous zigzags again, but with my trusty Leki walking sticks, I found the going down much easier, and just 2 hours later the welcoming sight of the Ben Nevis Inn appeared into view. To the bar to celebrate the Big Ben!
My head has still to come back down out of the clouds…
Fancy climbing Ben Nevis yourself?
What I wanted to know before climbing Ben Nevis…
How long does it take to climb Ben Nevis?
The average time taken to climb Ben Nevis is 7-9 hours, with the climb to the top taking around 4 hours, and the return 3 hours. The climb took us 5.5 hours, but we are used to hillwalking (despite my struggles!) and the weather was on our side.
How do you get to Ben Nevis?
Ben Nevis is 1.5 miles from Fort William. We jumped in a taxi (£9 from Banavie, £7 back into Fort William) to the start of the walk at the Glen Nevis Visitor Center. There is also parking available at the Centre for £3. Beware of organised events as the car park only has spaces for 80 cars.
Best time to climb Ben Nevis?
I am not sure there is a ‘best time’ to climb Ben Nevis. With a very wet and very windy alpine climate, you are never guaranteed views on the Ben. Most of the time the Ben is hidden in deep cloud. However, I find Scotland’s weather is best in May and September. Don’t attempt the Ben in winter unless you are a specialist climber.
For Ben Nevis weather forecasts, I recommend you check out all the following sites before your walk.
- Ben Nevis Weather Forecast (dedicated service)
- MWIS (West Highland Forecast)
- The Met Office Mountain Weather
- Mountain Forecast
Don’t forget to check out the wind speed. Anything above 20mph will be arduous at 4000ft
How hard is it to climb Ben Nevis?
How hard you will find climbing Ben Nevis will totally depend on your fitness – and the type of exercise you are used to. Firstly, the Mountain Path route is 11 miles from the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre, so I suggest getting used to walking at least 10 miles on a regular basis. As the climb is also 5.4 miles uphill, I would also suggest climbing a few beginners hills or beginners Munros in advance.
Click on the images below:
Which Ben Nevis route should I take?
If you aren’t an experienced hillwalker, then the ‘Mountain Path’ or the ‘Pony Track’ is for you. Do not attempt the much more difficult CMD Arete without an experience of ridge walking.
The Mountain Track is also known as ‘the Ben Nevis tourist route’ which makes it sound easy – it is not. Whilst there is a steep path most of the way, there are some horrible drops near the top – including the vertiginous Gardyloo Gully – just as the path disappears. There are a series of large summit cairns to follow in bad weather. Please don’t build cairns on Ben Nevis, as you might inadvertently direct someone the wrong way in the fog.
Ben Nevis Route Maps
- Walkhighlands have the Mountain Path route.
- You also need an Ordnance Survey Map of your route.
- I also use the Viewranger App which is a GPS tracker. Always carry an extra battery pack if you plan to use an app.
Need more advice? Have a look at my beginner’s guide to bagging a Munro!
Love, from Scotland x