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Ben Nevis   

Country   United Kingdom
Height   1344 metres (4409 feet)
Vertical Elevation   ~1330 metres (carpark)
Rank   150/243
Location   East Coast Scotland
Nearest town   Fort William
Start/Finish   Glen Nevis Carpark
Climbing time   5-7 hours return
Distance  

8.45km oneway (5.25m)

Grade   3/5 Climb
See also   NA
Date Climbed   September 2012

Climbing Ben Nevis

| The Mountain |

Located on the west coast of northern Scotland, only a few hours drive from either Glasgow or Edinburgh, the United Kingdom's highest mountain is fantastic one-day hike and great way to enjoy the Scottish highlands. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your standpoint), the mountain is well visited, with thousands of tourists and locals reaching the summit every year. However a couple of different routes up the mountain do ensure you can avoid the tourist hordes if you so desire.

As I was on a tight timeframe, this description describes the most popular (and easiest route) Mountain Track or Tourist Trail as it more commonly known. The Mountain Track is well defined and not a difficult hike, nevertheless sudden weather changes and the long route (5.25 miles) do make this a reasonably committing daylong hike.

Official Climbing Times:
Time to Red Burn (C): 2 hours
Red Burn to Summit (F): +2 hours
Summit to base: 3 hours

| When to go |

Ben Nevis is climbed all year round, however the mountain is covered in snow during winter. Infact, some of Scotlands best ice-climbing routes can be found on the steep North Face of Ben Nevis during winter. It is likely snow will remain in gullies the entire year. Even during summer, the weather can change quickly with snow and rain falling on the summit (I had snow falling during Septmember). For this reason, it is advisable to be fully prepared for winter conditions and/or a sudden change of weather. During my climb, I was walking in sun at the bottom of the peak, rain halfway up and snowing on the summit - with temperatures ranging from 10-12C at the base to 0-2C at the summit.

During the summer months is definately when the most tourists are on the Mountain Track. I climbed midweek out of peak-period (mid-September) and there were loads of other tourists also on the trail. I'd estimate one or two-hundred climbers the day I summitted.

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. Max. Temp. 10° 10°
Avg. Min. Temp. -4° -5° -4° -2° -2° -4°

 

 


Weather measured on Ben Nevis summit.

| Access |

Getting to the base of Ben Nevis is really quite easy. The nearest town is Fort William about 3 miles away. Fort William is an easy 2.5 to 3 hour drive from Glasgow and passes through some fantastic countryside. Ensure you drive this route during daylight hours to enjoy the spectacular mountains and Lochs.

Fort William has a load of hotels ranging from a Youth Hostel right at the base of the mountain, to a number of 2-3 star hotels in town. There is a Train Station to Fort William.

Fort William has a tourist information centre in the centre of town, which can provide a load of maps and other information on climbing the mountain. However, there is also an equally equipped visitor centre right at the base of the moutain. There are also a load of supermarkets and a couple of camping stores in town for any last minute supplies.

The road to Glen Nevis (the base of the mountain) is quite easy to find and most locals will give you directions. While I drove right to the base of the mountain, I passed alot of hikers who walked from Fort William (add another hour or so each way).

The Glen Nevis carpark/visitor centre is pretty obvious so you won't miss it. The Visitor Centre is open 7 days per week all year round. Opening hours are 9am to 3pm winter, 9am to 5pm spring and autumn, and 8.30am to 5.30pm during summer.

| Fees |

There is no fee to climb Ben Nevis, however their is a daily carparking fee to park your car. I can't remember the exact amount, but I think it was about 4 Pounds.

| The Climb |

My climb to top of the United Kingdom had not started well. I'd arrived at Glasgow Airport (from Paris) the previous evening. I'd rented a car, booked a hotel in Fort William and had planned a leisurely drive up the west Coast of Scotland with plenty of time to relax before my one-day foray to the top of Ben Nevis, before returning to Glasgow for work. Unfortunately, my bags didn't end up in Glasgow and my 7pm depature ended up being 11pm.

My bad luck didn't stop there. No sooner had I climbed into my rental car than it started to rain. And not just an ordinary drizzle. This was bucketing down. An hour out of Glasgow and the road I was supposed to take to Fort William (my launching pad) was closed and I was forced to take a detour. During the day, I'm sure this alternate route would have been spectacular, as my GPS illuminated on the windshield, showed me passing one Loch (lake) after another. Instead, I peered out through the dark windshield, no street lighting and rain pouring down the glass. For the next 3 hours I slowly edged myself further north into the Scottish highlands. I passed one deserted hamlet after another. I was beginning to wonder whether anything was open and whether I'd just keep driving off the edge of Scotland never to be heard from again.

But finally, around 1am I finally arrived at Fort William. This is infact quite a substantial town, and although I didn't see anything that night, the next day there are loads of motels, a shopping strip and even the most traditional of Scottish restaurants - McDonalds.

I thought my bad luck would turn the next morning, when I walked outside to a cloudy, although no longer raining sky. I purchased a few supplies for my impending trip, including a map at a local camping store, water, snacks and chocolate from a supermarket, and drove toward Glen Nevis, the base of the mountain. Just a few miles outside of Fort William, Glen Nevis is really nothing more than an information centre, a carpark and a toilet block. I passed quite a few hikers already walking from Fort William and as I pulled into my car space, realised just how many people were likely to be joining me on this day. The carpark was full, and not just of hikers heading out, but at 10am there were already a few hikers actually on their way back. Early start I guess.

With all my mountain climbs (this surely was a mountain), I always enjoy doing a little research to understand what I might encounter on my hike up. There are a few different routes up Ben Nevis. The most spectacular and least touristed is along the North Face. Ben Nevis is also renowned for a number of difficult rock climbs during summer and ice-climbs during winter. Given my short preparation, poor weather, and general laziness, I'd opted for the most popular route - The Tourist Path, Pony Track or Mountain Track which are all used interchangeably to describe the route on which 100,000 other climbers would attempt sometime during the next 12 months. Infact, I'd been somewhat spooked into believing even this hike was a serious undertaking. Severe warnings, required safety equipment and other cautions I'd read about from the official climbing literature, had resulted in me packing my small pack with all manner of survival gear. I felt somewhat embarressed as I was laden down with cold weather gear, emergency food, first aid kit, compasses, emergency blanket, headlamp etc, while other hikers seemed to be wearing little more than shorts and sneakers. Nevertheless, in the event of a nuclear fall-out while hiking, I was sure to survive while the other summer tourists would surely perish.

It is worth noting that the tourist office is very well staffed and has quite abit of equipment available - no food, but lots of information.

It was 10am by the time I finally slammed the door shut and walked away from my rental car. After a short walk along the river, I crossed a small suspended bridge before slowly climbing up a path, at this stage more crowded by sheep than peopel. But the scenary was fantastic - green fields and stone walls. Even when I took my first rest some 15 minutes later (I was sweating given all the survival warm weather gear I was wearing) and realised I'd somehow lost the map I'd only just purchased, I was not too dissappointed. For despite, all the other tourists, also climbing Ben Nevis, this is a really beautiful hike.

On the far side of the river, once on the side of the hill, you generally continue to climb on more or the less the same spur right to the summit. The valley drops away to your right and with no trees higher up, you are presented with some fantastic views across the valley. By 11.15am I had reached the junction of another route up the moutain. Loch Meall lay in front of me and in theory, I was now on the last section of the climb (although still more than an hour away from the summit). I was however making good time, as the estimated time for climbing the mountain is listed as 5-7 hours (whereas it took me just on 5 hours including a few breaks and about half an hour on the summit).

However, I'm getting ahead of myself here. The trail takes a turn to the right and begins the climb up the mountain proper. Being quite a flat summit, means the summit always seems just a little farther away. To compound this problem the path was soon shrouded in a swirling mist. It was then that I noted the first small patches of snow. As I continued to climb, it got continued to get colder until I finally pulled out my warm jacket and even put on a pair of gloves. The track was not completed covered in snow and a small blizzard enveloped me. I say small, because it was actually quite enjoyable climbing with snow hitting my face and a cold wind blowing across the trail. I realised then why the warnings were perhaps warranted. Lowed down on the slope, I was wondering what possible danger there could be, as I sweated it out in the sun. But now, the path was all but gone, the fog was quite heavy and I could see how just a short wander off the trail and you could end up lost.

Fortunately there stone cairns every twenty or so metres and still quite a few tourists about. And then without warning, I could make out a cairn bigger than the rest up ahead. The ruins of an old observatory also came into sight and I'd reached the summit. I chuckled at the other tourists who had ignored the weather warnings and now stood stood shivering in shorts and t-shirts and the cold wind and snow chilled everything.

There is a small emergency shelter which I climbed up into as I waited for my turn to climb onto the summit cairn and get my photo taken. There must have been 30 people on the summit and more kept arriving every few minutes. After my summit photo, I sheltered behind and old wall and ate a few of the snacks I'd carried all the way up here, but not yet eaten. It was about 12.30pm, 2.5 hours since I left the car. After about 30 minutes on the summit, it was time to return to the car. I made good time and by about 3.00pm I was back at the car. The entire hike, including breaks, had taken about 5 hours.

But this is certainly a fantastic hike and I thoroughly enjoyed climbing the UKs highest mountain.

 

 


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