Climbing Ben Nevis: A guide to Scotland’s Highest Mountain

climbing-ben-nevis

Updated January 2019

Sure Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK. But it’s up and back in the day. And I’ve done Kilimanjaro. I’d done Snowdon the year before and whilst it was a big day it was manageable. I really didn’t think climbing Ben Nevis would be that big a deal. I was very wrong!

Book Your Ben Nevis Guided Climb from Fort William Here

 

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Climbing Ben Nevis: Finding a Guide

As I was travelling solo I decided to find a guide to help me in climbing Ben Nevis – thank goodness! I emailed the hotel I was staying at (The Lime Tree) and asked for a recommendation. They came back with Atlas Mountaineering. After I sent him an email the owner Connor actually rang me and asked if I knew what I was getting into.

He explained that even though I was planning on climbing Ben Nevis at Easter there would still be a lot of snow on the top of Ben Nevis and that I would need to use crampons and an ice axe. This struck fear into my heart as my usual rule is that I don’t climb anything that requires technical stuff – especially in the scary snow! He also explained that the weather changed very quickly climbing Ben Nevis. I thought oh well maybe the weather will be better than he says and stayed very positive.

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The Morning

I was up early my first morning in Fort William and drove to meet my guide, John. He was very experienced and gave me a lot of warnings about climbing Ben Nevis. I hired the crampons and ice axe from him as well as some winter climbing boots. These have a much firmer base so work better with crampons vs normal hiking books. We headed off and decided we would review things about an hour or so in. The visibility was not great – although at that point I was only concerned about taking photos rather than actually being able to see where I was going.

We headed off and decided we would review things about an hour or so in. The visibility was not great – although at that point I was only concerned about taking photos rather than actually being able to see where I was going. Anyway, we got to the go/no-go zone and John said he thought I could handle climbing Ben Nevis so I couldn’t say no!

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An hour later we put on crampons and I had my first go at an ice axe. The crampons were actually great – so much easier to walk in! And the ice axe was heavy but fine. About half an hour after we put them on complete whiteout descended on us. All I could see was John’s pack. Every inch of me was covered and thank goodness I was exerting myself so heavily or I would have been freezing. At this stage, John was navigating using just an old-fashioned compass and his hand nearly froze.

Reaching the Summit

At one point John turned to me and said: “We’re here”. I asked where we were and he replied that we had reached the summit of Ben Nevis. Luckily there was a snow covered rock that I could put my hand on and get a photo on my phone. I checked it out against shots on a clear day on Ben Nevis online the next day and could not believe the difference!

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Then came the worst bit – getting down. John was keen to get us down as quickly as possible – so was I but it was hard work on the knees heading down – and scary stuff heading down at quite a fast pace in crampons! Finally, after another hour we could take off the crampons. An hour later we stopped climbing Ben Nevis for the first time that day – it was about 3 pm. Finally, I was able to eat something although I was so exhausted by that point I could barely be bothered.

Another hour and a half of painful walking as my soaked socks made my foot slip inside every step – guaranteeing me another lost toenail. I also went through 3 pairs of gloves that day (soaked) and John went through 5 pairs.

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End of the Day

I have never been so happy to see a car in my life as I was that day. I asked John how the day had compared to previous times climbing Ben Nevis – on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the toughest where would this sit? He looked at me like I was a bit mad and said well it doesn’t get worse than total white out. He had been in conditions that bad before but never anything worse which was quite sobering. He also told me how many people disappear climbing Ben Nevis each year as the weather comes in so quickly and destroys visibility. I can certainly see how this is the case!

He had been in conditions that bad before but never anything worse which was quite sobering. He also told me how many people disappear climbing Ben Nevis each year as the weather comes in so quickly and destroys visibility. I can certainly see how this is the case!

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Thank goodness I had my boutique hotel booked – The Lime Tree! And I had already checked that I could have room service. I arrived at the front desk very bedraggled and the first thing they pointed out to me was the drying room of which I made good use! I had an amazing hot shower and jumped into my high thread count sheets! Delicious room service was up next with wine and tv and gosh did it feel good! I woke up in the morning to a rather sore body and a very big appetite for the large Scottish breakfast that was awaiting me.

I had an amazing hot shower and jumped into my high thread count sheets! Delicious room service was up next with wine and tv and gosh did it feel good! I woke up in the morning to a rather sore body and a very big appetite for the large Scottish breakfast that was awaiting me.

climbing-ben-nevis

I would highly recommend climbing Ben Nevis in better weather than I did – preferably June before the midges. And if you are traveling solo definitely get a guide. I would also be careful going up in a group (which they run in the summer) and stick close to the guide and other members of the group. It would be so easy to get confused up there and make a wrong turn when the weather comes in. Atlas Mountaineering was fantastic and I would highly recommend them.

Book Your Ben Nevis Guided Climb from Fort William Here

 

If you are travelling around Scotland don’t miss the lovely Edinburgh! Here is a fantastic itinerary that covers everything great to do in Edinburgh in 4 days. . 

And whilst in Edinburgh, I highly recommend that you explore Underground Edinburgh. 

Another great option is to drive through the stunning South West of Scotland – don’t miss the lovely area of Dumfries and Galloway.

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Boutique Hotels Around Fort William:

-If you would like to stay as close to Ben Nevis as possible you can stay at The Factors Inn which is in the grounds of Inverlochy Castle. Wake up underneath Ben Nevis from just £77 per night. Click here for up to date prices and availability

-if you like the idea of staying super close to Ben Nevis but after something more decadent you can actually stay at Inverlochy Castle – but prices do start at £313 per night. Click here for prices and further info.

The Grange is a wonderfully comfortable and cosy B&B that has been beautifully done out. This is very much like staying in someone’s comfortable home from just £180 per night. Click here for details and costs.

The Lime Tree is a cool boutique hotel with an art gallery right in the heart of Fort William £90 per night. Check prices and dates available here. 

-stay right on the Loch at Cruachan Hotel £77 per night. You can enjoy a bar meal on the loch, some stunning views and you are right in Fort William. Prices and availability here.

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Flights and Getting Around Scotland:

Looking for flights to Inverness?

The best place to fly into to climb Ben Nevis is Glasgow. Click here for some great deals to fly to Glasgow.   The other option is to fly to Inverness which is on the east coast and drive through Loch Ness and head down to Fort William. Click here for some great deals on flights to Inverness.

Once you arrive in Scotland I would highly recommend that you hire a car. The roads are easy to drive and there is not a lot of traffic. It really is the most lovely way to see Scotland in my view. Click here for Deals on Car Rental

If you are heading to Scotland from London, in particular, it can be a lovely experience to take the train! And this can, of course, continue once you arrive – Click here for Dates and Costs on Scotland by Train

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Great Deals for those visiting Scotland from outside the UK

Visit Great Britain has some fantastic offers that are just for those who live outside the UK. It is possible to make significant savings if you book certain things before you travel – not to mention how much easier it is to already have tickets for things when you arrive!

If you have just moved to the UK you can buy these passes in your first six months of residency.

Transport

There are a number of Brit Rail passes available. Rail is a brilliant way to get around the UK – the train services are generally pretty good and there are good timetables. The most important thing to check is what kind of pass you need. The best way to determine this is to start by checking this map against where you are planning to visit.

There are two options available for Scotland.

The BritRail Central Scotland Pass covers the key central cities in Scotland – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Fife Station.

If you’re planning on exploring the Highlands and the islands of Scotland then a better option is the BritRail Scottish Freedom Pass. This covers all rail within Scotland and even some of the ferries to the islands.

If you’re planning on travelling around England and Scotland then the best option is to buy the BritRail GB Pass. This covers all train journeys across all of the United Kingdom.

All of the above take the form of paper tickets that will be mailed to your home address.

things-to-do-in-dumfries

There is a new BritRail MPass which has an e-ticket that can be downloaded onto a mobile. However, it has one key restriction which is that the travel must be taken on consecutive days so make sure you check if this suits your plans before purchasing.

Book Your BritRail Passes Here

If you prefer travelling via a bus to train then check out the skimmer pass national express coach. National Express travels to over 1000 locations and has free wifi, USB and power sockets, onboard entertainment, air conditioning and reclining leather seats!

Minicabs can be a great way to get around the UK. Minicabit taxi booking covers 300 UK towns and cities and can be booked as far as one year out. These can be particularly good for getting from a train station to hotels/b&Bs.

Attractions

One of the best value offers for overseas visitors are National Trust passes. These passes cover entry to a large number of major attractions and stately homes within the UK. If you will be visiting a few of their properties these passes very quickly become amazing value.

The Historic Scotland Explorer Pass covers more than 75 properties including Edinburgh and Stirling Castles, Urquhart Castle at Lochness and many more.

The Scottish Heritage Pass covers over 120 properties but can only be used between April 1 and October 31.

Click Here to see All Deals on UK Sightseeing passes 

 

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UK Travel Essentials

Grab a WorldSIM PrePaid Global SIM Card to stay in touch at reasonable prices. Access WIFI at local rates with the mobile wifi rental wireless internet anywhere you go in BritainThis in your pocket wifi can be picked up at Heathrow or Paddington Station. 

You might also enjoy reading:

The 12 Best Things to do in the Scottish Highlands Part One

If you enjoyed this Ben Nevis check out my full Scotland Itinerary

things-to-do-in-dumfries-and-galloway

Tours:

If you are travelling solo and heading to Scotland check out these organised tour options:

Just You Scotland

Exodus Holidays Scotland

Explore Holidays Scotland

G Adventures Scotland

Don’t leave home without travel insurance –  Click here for a good deal on Travel Insurance

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Keen to conquer the highest mountain in the UK? Here is my experience of doing that climb in icy conditions! #bennevis#climbingbennevis#fortwilliam#scotland#climbingmountains

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Also published on Medium.

Summary
Climbing Ben Nevis: A Guide to Scotland's Highest Mountain
Article Name
Climbing Ben Nevis: A Guide to Scotland's Highest Mountain
Description
Things I learned climbing Ben Nevis on a cold early spring day - who to climb with and how to think about climbing this mountain
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The Boutique Adventurer
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12 Comments

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  • Interesting report about doing this climb in winter! Wouldn’t want to be alone in the middle of such total white out… We did the climb 1,5 years ago in August, and even at that time of the year it was cold on the summit. Otherwise we were lucky with the weather, since it was clear and sunny day, nice memories 🙂

  • Sounds like a challenging hike! I’ve never been to anywhere except Edinburgh in Scotland where I climbed to Arthur’s Seat, which is nothing when compared to this. I’d love to do this though.
    Oh my goodness…. So much of ice that you were covered and your hand almost froze when checking compass? That’s harsh and really brave of you to scale it!
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  • That hike sounds really scary. I would probably be too chicken to attempt to summit in such a total whiteout. Kudos to you for completing the hike.

    • Thanks Denny – the truth is I didn’t know what I was getting into so I don’t think I was that brave!!!!

  • Mountain climbing is a kind of adventure I always love to do. I haven’t been to Scotland yet, and this guide will surely be a big help If I climb this mountain. Your photos are really amazing as well. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

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  • My son loves hiking Thanks for sharing so much information. Ideas like these are so useful for a hiking freak like me! Looking forward to going for a hike real soon on k2 base camp trek!

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