Ben Nevis, similarly to Carrauntoohil in Ireland, is a mountain with exceptionally bad weather. Ben Nevis is covered by clouds and fog for 70% of the year and even if you are lucky with a clear sky the weather can change any minute. That’s why it’s important to be properly prepared for its summit. This article will give you all necessary tips you need before your visit of Ben Nevis including descriptions of the routes, a map and my personal experience.
The best routes to Ben Nevis
- Ben Nevis mountain path: This is the most common route to Ben Nevis. It starts at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, near the town of Fort William. The path is well-defined and marked, making it suitable for less-experienced hikers. The initial part of the trail passes through the glen, and as you ascend, you’ll encounter rocky terrain. Highlights along the route include the halfway lochan (lake) and the famous zigzags known as the “Devil’s Staircase.” The final stretch involves a rocky ascent to the summit. We’ll take a deeper look at this route later in this article.
- CMD Arete (Carn Mor Dearg Arete) route: This is a longer and more challenging route as it involves ascending two mountains on the way – Carn Dearg Meadhonach (1180 m) and Carn Mor Dearg mountain (1220 m) and passing a long spectacular arete (ridge) leading to Ben Nevis. This route is better for more experienced hikers and for everyone who prefers hikes without other tourists as this hike is less popular than the Ben Nevis mountain path. Another advantage of this hike is that the hike starts and ends at the Ben Nevis Distillery. Take a look at the map here.
Important information for climbing Ben Nevis from Glen Nevis
Short description of the ascent: Easy hike with no difficulties, be aware of changeable weather Essential equipment: General hiking gear, don't forget waterproof clothing Best time to visit: April- November Fees or restrictions: No Camping allowed: Yes, you can wild camp near Ben Nevis, but you must follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Read more here. Height of the peak: 1345 m Hiking distance: 7,9 km Time to ascend : 2-4 hours up, 2-3 hours down Difficulty level: *** (6 stars maximum) Personal rating of the mountain: *** (6 stars maximum) Beer on the peak: Crabbies ***** (6 stars maximum)
Map of the best route to Ben Nevis
My story of climbing Ben Nevis with personal tips
I climbed Ben Nevis as a part of my project European Peaks during which I climbed the highest peak of every European country but I visited also Ben Nevis 7 years ago. Therefore, I will use both of these experiences to give you all necessary tips you need before your own visit.
Discovery of the beauty of the mountains
Scotland is simply a beautiful country which I always gladly visit again. It is actually the country where I found my passion for hiking 7 years ago. My friends and I climbed Ben Nevis that time and I realized that it is exactly what I want to do in the future – climbing mountains. I finally lost my fear for mountains there which I got when hiking with my parents in the Slovakian Tatras when I was a kid.
That time, we did a demanding hike on an exposed mountain ridge called Tri Kopy – Baníkov and I got a panic attack due to a fear of heights and storms there. That experience kept me away from mountains for more than ten years. I am very glad I went to the mountains again in Scotland with my friend Rikki and I am thankful that Ben Nevis rekindled my love for the mountains!
Scotland has a lot to offer. Most people visit only the capital city Edinburgh which is a beautiful old city. However, I think the most exciting part of the country is further in the north where the mountains are getting higher. During my first visit, we made a long round trip across the north of Scotland and it was simply amazing. Unfortunately, it would take hours to describe everything you can see on your trip to Scotland in just one article, so I am picking one picture from our trip to best describe the Scottish atmosphere. Look at the Harry Potter train crossing the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct during the most typical Scottish weather. Isn’t it beautiful?
Scottish whiskey on the way to Ben Nevis
I started my trip this time with four friends from my home country the Czech Republic and since we had a one week window for climbing Ben Nevis, we also visited one of the nicest islands I have ever been to – Isle of Skye. It is simply an amazing place where tough weather created a picturesque landscape with wild beaches, high mountains and sharp cliffs. In addition to the wonderful nature you can come across some charming villages and several whiskey distilleries. A perfect warm up before the climb to Ben Nevis.
Driving left in UK can be confusing for visitors
After exploring the island, we headed straight to Fort William, a seaside village and especially the starting point for Ben Nevis. Along the way we encountered the major disadvantage of traveling in Scotland. At about 90 km/h speed, a car with tourists showed up in the opposite direction just in front of us. Fortunately, good visibility and good brakes prevented a disaster. You can see that one easily forgets that you are in the UK and that you drive on the left. We were lucky this time.
Surprisingly great views from Ben Nevis
The weather forecast, like in Ireland, looked positive for the evening, so we decided to go to the top for sunset. And we were lucky this time, unlike in Ireland. It was a pleasant 20 °C and especially, the peak was cloudless. The trail rises continuously from sea level to the top and the climb is never difficult. Along the way you will meet no obstacles, only a lot of curious sheep. Since the weather was great we could also enjoy the views over the bay of Loch Eil.
Three Peaks Challenge
The motivation to reach the summit before the sunset was so strong that we managed to summit the peak just in 2 hours and 25 minutes. Indeed, the mountain remained free from clouds so we enjoyed a beautiful sunset. We caught one of the lucky days when Ben Nevis offers good visibility! Such a pity I can’t share any picture from this wonderful evening.
After enjoying the view over Scottish mountains for a while, it became cold so we headed back to our car. We had to get down as soon as possible, so we would not end up descending in darkness. Luckily, it went very quickly and smoothly so we were soon back at the parking lot.
We changed out of our sweaty clothes, took a quick dinner and started to drive towards Wales. Our goal was actually not to climb only the highest point of United Kingdom but also the highest point of England and Wales during one day. This Three peaks challenge is very popular in the UK and many people undertake it every year. We were tempted as well.
The worst experience of my life
Unfortunately, the car drive was not very long. Everything happened very quickly. Our car suddenly went off the road and it hit a stone in a field. Luckily, nobody in the car was hurt but everyone was in shock. Our reaction was quick. We all jumped out of the car and ran away. When we all left the car we spotted a fire starting. Being scared that the car could explode we ran even further. Then, we just stood a few hundred meters away, watching all our belongings disappear in fire and smoke.
It was cold and dark. We wore only a few pieces of clothes and most of us didn’t even have shoes on. Everything was left in the car. Luckily, one friend found a phone in his pocket. That old Nokia with the famous game Snake we made fun of before. It saved us by allowing us to call for help. Since we were in the middle of nowhere it took the police over an hour to arrive. What a luck nobody was hurt. This long waiting time could be crucial.
Yes, it was terrible. It was the worst experience in my life. I still sometimes imagine someone of my friends getting hurt in the car accident. How thankful I am everybody survived the accident without any injury.
Driving is still very dangerous nowadays
The problem is that car accidents do happen every day. Over 25,000 people die on roads in the EU every year. Please, be careful when driving, especially at night on roads you don’t know. From my experience of my expedition in the mountains, I can assure you that driving is still much more dangerous than any mountain I climbed.
The expedition European Peaks was finished for me at that point. My and my friends’ thoughts were just to get safely back home. We were cold, without clothes, without money, without passports, without phones. Only thanks to friends, family and modern technologies we managed to get home to the Czech Republic in just 48 hours. Everything is possible in today’s world when you have amazing people around.
To end on a positive note, I would like to point out that Ben Nevis is an exceptional mountain really worth visiting. Accidents can happen every time and anywhere and they should not put you off from our passion. We should just always do our best to avoid them. This was the biggest lesson in my life and I can assure you that I will always do my best to not put my life in danger again.
DISCLAIMER: Due to the accident I don’t have any up-to-date pictures from my climb to Ben Nevis. Most of the pictures used in this article were taken during my visit of Scotland in 2012.
My tips for the mountain Ben Nevis:
- Be careful when driving in Scotland. Keep left.
- If you plan to climb Ben Nevis, try to plan a longer visit of Scotland so there is a bigger chance to summit the mountain during good weather.
- If you have extra time, don’t hesitate to visit the Isle of Skye, one of the most beautiful islands in Europe.
- In case of bad weather, remember: it doesn’t rain in bars and distilleries in Scotland.
- Consider doing the famous Three Peaks Challenge. However, I recommend to do it with a company or take the train instead of a car.