At 1,345 metres the highest peak in the British Isles has and will continue to be an aspirational goal for many people. Most hill and mountain walkers share the common drive to overcome a challenge and crave the thrill of standing atop their chosen obstacle and taking in their achievement. There are few peaks which carry such a feeling as when you summit Ben Nevis.
If you’re planning to take on ‘The Ben’ you should ensure you are fully prepared. It’s a long, tough and isolated route. There’s no safety net of a cafe at the top, or a train ride down. The weather is notoriously changeable and you should absolutely be prepared to cancel your attempt if the mountain forecast comes in with bad weather. There are many other fantastic walks in the area you can decide to take on. Always have a plan B if on the day the weather ends up being poor. I’d recommend organising a trip to the Scottish Highlands for a few days with a flexible itinerary so you can decide to capitalise on any positive forecast.
The Tourist Path, Pony Track and Mountain Track all refer to the same route. Unless you are a very experienced mountaineer this is the only advisable path to the top. At times, quite a few times, it can be a real slog. You also have to accept you may not have much of a view. The vast majority of days will have the mountain covered in cloud, rain, with the odd gale. However if you’re lucky, walking up Ben Nevis on a fine clear day, is an experience like no other. It’s absolutely worth the gamble!
You’ll start at the Glen Nevis visitor centre, make the most of the facilities, and before you set off ensure you have plenty of food and water for the entire day. Also be aware that the temperature changes during the walk can be severe. Proper footwear, multiple layers and waterproofs should all be taken. Do NOT underestimate how quickly the weather can turn. Follow the sign posts across the bridge and away from the car park and you’ll soon meet the original path as it runs past the Ben Nevis Inn and begin your climb upwards.
The path is well trodden and well maintained, however that’s little comfort as you begin your climb up the steps as you rise away from the river Nevis. The initial stages are as scenic as you would expect, especially in the early morning as the sun rises over the valley. A few foot bridges and streams the path soon starts to get a little more severe. A long series of steps takes you up and alongside the Red Burn valley. Eventually the climb begins to level (But not completly) as you approach Loch Meall. Many come here just for this part of the walk, and on a nice day its a lovely area to sit and take in the wonderful views… you however, are here to conquer the summit.
You continue to follow the path past the loch, you’ll take a sharp right as the North Ridge path joins with this track. Although the path is well defined the going from here gets tough. The surface is rocky and uneven, often loose, the gradient can be relentless, and if the clouds come in mentally challenging as it is physically. There’s not much to say about the route at this stage other then press on!
As you close in to the top the conditions may differ greatly depending on the time of year. My experience of this route was in late May, where the summit was still covered in deep snow and ice. Around 1150 metres up the climb levels out towards the summit plateau, for me I was able to walk up a packed snow drift fairly easily all the way to the peak. At other times of the year the surface is scree. Be sure to stick to the path (There-s a slight split and a choice of two) as on either side the drop is steep and dangerous.
Head across the plateau towards the cairn which marks the highest point. It’s highly unlikely you will be alone at this point! Be sure take in your achievement no matter what the weather. You’re now at the highest point of the entire United Kingdom! I remember enjoying some lunch sat on the old observatory (people used to work up here from 1883 to 1904) accompanied by fellow walkers and a very vocal Snow Warbler. Take sometime to prepare yourself for the walk down. It’s steep, with the initial stages being loose scree and together with tired legs makes for a recipe for twisted ankles and painful knees. That said, the mental boost of having conquered the ascent should give you a much needed push. Don’t get complacent on the way down, even more so, with fatigued legs you’ll need to keep your wits about you right up to the finish.
As you descend be kind to others making their way up, and don’t be afraid to share the real view of how far people have to go. If the time is getting on and you meet people only now making it to the Loch for instance, be sure to stress how far they have left to go and how much daylight is left. It can be easy for less experienced walkers to think they have plenty of light left in the day!
The effort to take on Ben Nevis is significant, and I’ve been keen to stress how seriously you should treat any attempt to take on this challenge, but it really is worth it. Be sensible, respect the mountain and the Highland weather, and you’ll create memories which will last a lifetime.Route Name: Ben Nevis by the Tourist Path (AKA Pony Track, AKA Mountain Track)
Start / Finish: Postcode for car park (Glen Nevis Visitor Centre) – PH33 6PF
Distance: Approx 16km
Time: Allow 8 – 10 hours