I walked up Ben Nevis on a glorious day in late May. There was still snow on the top, but the sky was clear and blue. We were lucky; most who get to the top of Ben Nevis don’t get a chance to see much as most of the year it is mist covered.
It took us 8 hours to get to the top and back again. We took it easy and did not rush at any point; I can’t think of a time we ever rushed a hike, and this one is so magnificent that it has to be savoured. We walked what they call the tourist route up the mountain – Britain’s highest at 1,344 metres, with 700 metre cliffs on one side; so obviously, that was not going to be our route. Now don’t go thinking because they call it the tourist route that, it is easy – however, now the Scottish Tourist Board call it the Mountain Track. This is a strenuous climb. It is about 17km to the top and back down again, a decent weekend walk for me.
There is parking at the bottom just off Belford Road, the main road from Fort William to the mountain. The road follows along the side of River Nevis, from which you get great views of the walk ahead. This is the location of the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre.
The Start of the Walk
From the car park, there are two possible routes to take at the start. One route takes you along the side of River Nevis. If you follow this, you will have a steep uphill climb at the end of it. I prefer the other route, which traverses across the hillside. At this point, you can be misled into thinking this will be an easy day. However, after the two routes meet it is uphill till you reach the snowy summit.
From this point on, you just walk and rest. You will pass a few streams and then come to the valley of the Red Burn. The route is well marked, and make sure you don’t miss any markers and wander off around the valley at this point. There is a right turn just after the valley. The left takes you to the bottom of the cliffs of Ben Nevis, where the rock climbers head.
From this point until you start to reach the plateau at the summit, the route is hard going; it is very steep in parts and hard going underfoot over the scree.
At The Top
If you are reaching the top in cloud cover, be very careful. Walking straight ahead takes you over the cliffs. If it is snow-covered at this point further up, you will get a better view down the cliffs and perhaps see some rock climbers without running the risk of overhanging snow.
I strongly suggest that if you are not an experienced hiker, to not attempt the route in bad weather, check the forecast before you set off that morning and be prepared to turn back if the weather changes.
Two things that I did not take enough of were water and food. I was getting exhausted on the way back down and could have done with more food and water than I had packed, especially food. I packed what I would on an average day hiking – that was not enough.
I found this hard going. However, it is still the walk that I have the most bragging rights about, and I have walked across the Massif Central in France, the 800km Camino de Santiago, the West Highland Way, and many others.
Please remember to take all your rubbish home. Thanks.
I’ve had the privilege of hiking the Camino de Santiago twice, walking up Ben Nevis, and spending three weeks hiking in the Candian Rockies. I love the peace that comes from getting out of the cities I have lived in to enjoy hikes of all lengths in various countries.