Ben Nevis Summit Walk
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Ben NevisPhoto: Macs Adventure
A strenuous walk up Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis (1344m), beginning on the valley slopes of Glen Nevis.
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Britain. This route is the standard, so-called ‘Tourist Route’ up the mountain. It is straightforward, if strenuous, by hillwalking standards, but the less-experienced should read all the precautions. The path is steep throughout. Once passed the Red Burn the route crosses boulders and scree. The upper sections are often snow-covered and losing the line of the path could lead you towards dangerous terrain, thus navigational skills are required.
Please bear in mind that a hike up Ben Nevis is an altogether more serious objective for the unseasoned, casual walker. Although certainly manageable it makes for a challenging day out only recommended in good weather, and with an early start to allow for plentiful breaks along the way. The route is 16.5 km long, and will take in 1326 m of continuous ascent from the Visitor Centre to the summit. The route will likely take 7-10 hours unless you are a very fit and frequent hiker. If you go ahead make sure to be prepared for all weathers, so you can linger on the summit to soak up the spectacular and well-deserved view from the highest mountain in the UK.
We only recommend walking the route in good weather! Don’t be fooled by the weather conditions down in Fort William, it could be very different on the upper slopes of Ben Nevis, so make sure to check the mountain-specific weather forecast. We recommend MWIS: https://www.mwis.org.uk/forecasts/scottish/west-highlands.
Please note that an ascent when there is snow lying on the path requires winter walking equipment (ice axe and crampons), and the knowledge to use them effectively.
Please bear in mind that a hike up Ben Nevis is an altogether more serious objective for the unseasoned, casual walker. Although certainly manageable it makes for a challenging day out only recommended in good weather, and with an early start to allow for plentiful breaks along the way. The route is 16.5 km long, and takes in 1326 m of continuous ascent to the summit. The route will likely take 7-10 hours unless you are a very fit and frequent hiker.
If you are not an experienced hillwalker, read the signs and perhaps download the information leaflet from the Nevis Partnership prior to your trip. This route, known as the "Mountain Track" is the easiest way up Ben Nevis and is often busy with walkers.
Make your way to the Visitor Centre in Glen Nevis, you can drive, take a taxi or walk depending on your itinerary. Cross the bridge over the River Nevis, downstream from the centre. Once across the bridge, turn right and follow the river bank for a few hundred metres; then turn left over a stile to meet the original path which started at Achintree farm; turn right up this rising path.
Follow the wide path climbing across the hillside. After passing above a small plantation, the path from Glen Nevis Youth Hostel joins from the right (this path leads directly from the Hostel to the main path and gives a shorter route; however there is no car parking at the Youth Hostel). Further on the path doubles back on itself to ascend up the steeper slopes in a wide zigzag. There are excellent views up Glen Nevis to the Mamores, with another Munro - Stob Ban - prominent.
The path crosses a couple of footbridges over small streams and curves round above the valley of the Red Burn. As the head of the valley is approached, watch out for a very sharp left turn; many walkers miss this and have worn a route directly to the head of the valley itself, which is steep and loose. The correct path winds up much more easily to reach the plateau that holds Loch Meall an t-Suidhe, known as the half way lochan. It doesn't approach the actual loch though, keeping well to the right.
As the path begins to climb once more, a junction is reached. Turn right (the path keeping left heads round below the North Face of the mountain). After another half kilometre the path crosses the cascading upper Red Burn stream. The going now becomes much rougher; the path is a worn route through the boulders and scree, climbing relentlessly in a series of very wide zigzags. Hill runners participating in the Ben Nevis race short cut straight down the scree in the middle of this slope, but sticking to the path gives much better going. Much higher up, the path passes above the steep screes thatfall to the right into the head of Five Finger Gully. This has been the scene of many fatalities in descent, when walkers attempting to avoid the North Face of the mountain steer too wide a course and heading too far south and fall into the gully. In good weather, the views of the Glen far below are superb.
The gradient now eases as the beginning of the summit plateau is reached. The path passes close to the tops of Gardyloo and Tower gullies. In good weather it is worth peering down from the top of these to get an impression of the great North Face of the mountain, and perhaps spot rock-climbers coming up Tower Ridge or other classic climbs. If there is snow on the ground, however, stay well clear as there could be cornices of overhanging snow that could collapse if you step on them. After passing Gardyloo gully the 'path' curves to the left to reach the summit proper.
The summit of Ben Nevis is 1344 metres above sea level; the highest mountain in the British Isles. The summit area has several memorials, a trig point, and many cairns; some of the memorials have been removed in recent years to prevent the area looking messy. There are also the scant remains of the meteorological observatory that operated here early in the twentieth century. The view is extensive and takes in much of the Highlands, but there is nothing more dramatic than peering down the north side, across or down the massive cliffs; again, do not approach if there is snow [as there could be an underlying cornice of snow that could give way under any weight].
The return to the Visitor Centre car park is made by the same route. In misty conditions and with snow covering the path, very careful navigation is required to steer a course between Gardyloo Gully and Five Finger Gully. Follow a bearing of 231 degrees for 150 metres, and then a bearing of 281 degrees, to pass the most dangerous section. Once down - a celebration and well-deserved hearty dinner will be in order!
Sturdy hiking boots, warm clothes and a waterproof and wind-breaker layer are all required. You may find walking poles useful for the long ascent and descent. A waterproof cover, or dry bags to keep your rucksack contents dry, for your rucksack is also useful. Plenty of food and water will be required for your ascent, as it can be a long day on the trail. Always bring more than you need to ensure you are suitably fuelled and hydrated for your hike. The weather can change quickly so be sure to take all equipment even if the weather looks okay.
When there is snow lying on the path the route requires winter walking equipment (ice axe and crampons), and the knowledge to use them effectively.
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