Ben Nevis ascent: Facts & Information. Routes, Climate, Difficulty, Equipment

Clara AguirrehJune 30, 2020

At 1,345 m (4,413 ft), the tallest mountain in the British Isles is an inviting peak to climb for those who like a true adventure.  Climbing Ben Nevis is an exciting experience and a great way to discover the beautiful Scottish Highlands and its surrounding “Munros” (mountains over 3000 feet). Furthermore, Ben Nevis can be climbed year-round, although winter climbs (which are popular) are a lot more challenging. 

The Ben Nevis ascent is also a charity challenge favorite. Every year, hundreds climb Ben Nevis to raise money for different charitable causes, sponsored by different organizations or by their friends and family. A great way to exercise, reach a mountaineering goal, and help the community on each step of the way.

Ben Nevis ascent: Facts & Information. Routes, Climate, Difficulty, Equipment, Cost
The Ben Nevis ascent during the summer.

What is climbing Ben Nevis like? Is climbing Ben Nevis safe for everyone? When is the best time to climb Ben Nevis? Which are the best routes? What skills and equipment do I need to climb Ben Nevis? To find the answer to all of these questions, we spoke with expert guide, Ken.

Ken is a British MIC-certified mountain guide. He has been working in this area since 2003. What he loves the most about his job is “sharing real adventures with the people”. He guides groups throughout the United Kingdom and overseas.

We asked him what his most memorable experience while ascending Ben Nevis was. This is what he told us:

One of the most memorable ascents was guiding a 9-year-old boy and his father in winter. We had plenty of snow, and the usual Scottish winter conditions up high. The boy did fantastically well! He persevered throughout. He reached the summit in good time – a brilliant achievement. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to attempt Ben Nevis in winter at that age!

Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis is a favorite for winter mountaineering.

This goes to show that even in the harsh winter conditions, with the help of a certified guide, physical preparation, and determination, almost anyone can climb Ben Nevis! Are you thinking of giving it a go yourself? Read on to find out everything you need to know to start planning your Ben Nevis ascent!

What makes climbing Ben Nevis special?

As someone who knows Ben Nevis inside out, Ken tells us:

“It’s a spectacular mountain. Its impressive north face, which can be seen from various points whilst hiking up the mountain path, is alpine in character and scale. There’s not really any face like it in the UK”.

Furthermore, it’s the highest mountain in the UK, a Scottish icon, and a favorite during both summer and winter. Nevermind the spectacular views of the beautiful Scottish Highlands from the top!

Where to start from – Ben Nevis Routes

To climb Ben Nevis, you need to travel to Fort William, which is a 3.5-hour drive away from Edinburgh (Scotland) and around 2.5 hours from Glasgow (Scotland). Most hiking ascents of Ben Nevis start from either the Achintee Inn or the Visitor’s Centre, both in Glen Nevis.

The Mountain Path (also known as the Pony Track or the Tourist Track) is the easiest and most popular route to the Ben Nevis summit. However, this does not mean it is easy.

Climbing Ben Nevis via the Ledge Route is another option that offers some fun scrambling opportunities. In the summer, it is suitable for fit beginners, but can also be adapted to more experienced mountaineers in the winter.

You can also choose a program via Tower Ridge. The ascent to Ben Nevis via Tower Ridge is a great option for those who love a nice steep climb and want to practice some rope work.

For experienced mountaineers: Another option is to start from the CMD Carn Mor Dearg Arete. But, Ken warns us:

“this alternative involves more ascent and a bit of exposure higher up. It’s more suitable for those with plenty of hill-walking experience and requires a head for heights”.

Ben Nevis
Let a certified guide show you the best route to the top of Ben Nevis.

Keep in mind that although Ben Nevis offers options for beginner/intermediate mountaineers to advanced climbers, it is always best to go with a guide as the routes are not always straightforward, especially in winter. Ken highlights:

“Navigation from the summit trig point of Ben Nevis to the mountain path can be quite tricky in poor visibility and especially so in winter. The issue is that a straight line from the summit to the zigzags on the mountain path takes you straight over the edge of Gardyloo Gully, a steep, icy gully on the north face, so in order to avoid that, you must walk on a bearing of 231 degrees for 150m before then walking on a bearing of 282 degrees to reach the top of the zigzags. From there, it’s much more straight forward.”

Best time of the year to climb Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis can be climbed year-round.

 

Ben Nevis can be explored during winter or summer. The experience in each of the seasons will be quite different!

The summer ascent can be done from May to October, and winter ascents, from November to April. What’s the weather like in each? Well, Ken reminds us:

“Scotland isn’t renown for its year-round sunshine and warm temperatures!”

The weather in the Scottish Highlands changes quickly and sometimes dramatically. Even during the summer, you can expect to experience some wet, windy, and cold conditions. In the winter, you can experience freezing temperatures, stronger winds, and snow.

When planning the ascent, it is crucial to check the weather forecasts regularly and carefully. Going with a certified mountain guide is also extremely important for a safe ascent.

Climbing Ben Nevis in Summer

Ben Nevis
The Scottish Highlands in the summer.

During the warm months, a Ben Nevis ascent can be tackled with little climbing experience, as long as you are physically fit and up for an adventure. Occasionally, thunderstorms add a bit of extra excitement to the climb, but all in all, you will enjoy the lush greens of the Scottish Highlands and the glittering lochs that make it famous.

Would you like to try out a summer Ben Nevis ascent? Then check out this summer Guided Ascent of Ben Nevis via Tower Ridge.

Climbing Ben Nevis in Winter

Ben Nevis
A Ben Nevis winter ascent is an exciting challenge.

A Ben Nevis winter ascent increases in difficulty. The weather conditions can include strong winds, freezing temperatures, and thick snow. You might also need extra equipment, like crampons and an ice axe (usually provided by your certified guide).

Ken offers some great winter climbing courses in the Scottish Highlands to prepare, and also a 1-day Ben Nevis winter ascent.

How long does it take to climb Ben Nevis?

The Ben Nevis ascent can be done in 1 day in both winter and summer and takes around 8 hours to complete. 

You can also choose to go on a longer program, covering more ground around Ben Nevis. A 5-day program will take you on different climbs close to the star peak, Ben Nevis. During this program, you will usually stay at the CIC hut (680 m), the highest mountain hut in the United Kingdom.

Click here for more information on the Ben Nevis, CIC Hut, 5 Day Guided Winter Climb.

How hard is it to climb Ben Nevis? What skills do I need?

The ascent of Ben Nevis is quite straightforward technically (Intermediate level recommended), but it is considerably long and starts almost from sea level. Ken suggests:

“Whilst you don’t need to have advanced hill-walking experience, it does require a good fitness level.

Ben Nevis ascent: Facts & Information. Routes, Climate, Difficulty, Equipment, Cost
The winter ascent increases in difficulty. The weather conditions can include strong winds, freezing temperatures, and thick snow.

What equipment do I need to climb Ben Nevis?

Given the often wet conditions, you will need to plan your clothing accordingly. Ken recommends:

  • Suitable clothing (waterproof)
  • Thermal base layers
  • Waterproof jacket and over-trousers
  • Boots
  • A spare kit in dry bags in your rucsac
  • Hats and gloves (even in the summer!)
  • Map
  • Compass (and knowing how to use it!)
  • Helmet
  • Head torch
  • Trekking poles (optional)
  • Harness

Extra equipment for winter ascents (usually provided by your certified guide):

  • Crampons
  • Ice axe

What else can I do in the Scottish Highlands?

Ben Nevis
Gorgeous Scottish landscapes and colors.

As part of your Ben Nevis adventure, you will visit what Ken describes as the “outdoor capital of the UK”: Fort William. This area has a lot to offer, from the finest mountains to incredible lochs (lakes) and coasts in the UK.

More relaxed options include taking the Jacobite Steam train out to Mallaig.

If you are feeling more adventurous, Ken recommends rock climbing, sea kayaking, white water rafting, canyoning, mountain biking, and even skiing, in the winter.


Planning to climb the highest peak in the UK? Check out all our options for guided mountain ascents of Ben Nevis.

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Thank you Ken for sharing your tips and experience with Explore-Share.com!

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