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

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 climbed Snowdon the year before and whilst it was a big day it was manageable.

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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 Now

the entrance to climbing ben nevis
Where the climb begins

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.

Welcome sign to Ben Nevis with a full map
The map of Ben Nevis near the beginning of the climb

The Morning of the Climb

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 for my climb up Ben Nevis as well as some winter climbing boots. Winter climbing boots have a much firmer base so work better with crampons vs normal hiking books.

We headed off and decided we would review how fat to climb about an hour or so in. The visibility on Ben Nevis 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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steel grate at the beginning of the climb up Ben Nevis
The beginning of the climb

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.

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Reaching the Summit of Ben Nevis

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,

British Rail Passes for Overseas Visitors

Rail is a brilliant way to get around 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.

woman hiker at top of Ben Nevis in white out conditions
This is me at the summit of Ben Nevis!

Then came the worst bit – getting down the mountain. 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.

views from the climb up Ben Nevis
One of the few lovely views I experienced climbing Ben Nevis

End of the Climb

I have never been so happy to see a car in my life as I was that day. I asked John how our 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 whiteout. 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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sign for the Ben Nevis Path and Visitor Centre

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 of The Lime Tree Fort William 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.

⇒ Few things feel better after some major exertion than a good massage! Check out my post on the best Spa Breaks in Scotland.

view over scotland from the climb up Ben Nevis
Imagine how stunning the views must be on a good weather day!

When should I climb Ben Nevis?

I would highly recommend climbing Ben Nevis in better weather than I did – preferably June before the midges. It is recommended that amateur walkers should only attempt to climb Ben Nevis between June and September.

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

How Long does it take to climb Ben Nevis?

The climb generally takes anywhere between 7 and 9 hours. Most people choose to start their climb by at least 9am.

BritRail Passes for Overseas Visitors

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. There is a 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.

What do I need to Pack?

The most important thing to pack is solid footwear. Shoes should have good ankle support and a solid grip. Layers are critical as the weather is so prone to major changes.

Do bring a water bladder and/or water bottle with at least 2 litres of water. There is nowhere to buy supplies once you are on the climb so make sure you bring snacks, some lunch etc.

Many of the hotels in Fort William will provide you with something like this on request.

⇒ 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 areas of Dumfries and Galloway and Ayrshire.

photo of the landscape of Glen Coe scotland
Lovely Glen Coe

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 on the grounds of Inverlochy Castle. Wake up underneath Ben Nevis from just £77 per night.

⇒ Read reviews on TripAdvisor Book Now

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.

⇒ Read reviews on TripAdvisorBook Now

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

⇒ Read reviews on TripAdvisorBook Now

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.

⇒ Read reviews on TripAdvisor Book Now

sheep on the path up ben nevis
Sheep and mountains at the start of the climb

⇒ Heading to London? Check out my posts on 13 Unusual Experiences in London, the best London Food Tours, my virtual London Travel Blog, some great Earlsfield restaurants, restaurants near Clapham Junction and Victoria Station restaurants, a mad hatter afternoon tea party and a day trip to Brighton and Cotswolds tour from London options.

Flights and Getting Around Scotland:

The best place to fly into to climb Ben Nevis is 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.

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.

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. If you’re staying in Glasgow check out my post on the best tours to take in Glasgow.

⇒ In the planning stages for your trip to Scotland? Check out my posts on Scotland Itinerary 7 Days and Scotland Itinerary 10 days for some inspiration!

The Ben Nevis Inn with mountains behind
The Ben Nevis Inn

There are some fantastic UK City and Sightseeing passes which offer free entry to all must-see attractions & great deals.

sheep sitting down with a black face in Scotland
Love the local wildlife in Scotland!

Stay in Touch in the UK

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

big blue skies over Turnberry in scotland
What Scotland looks like in good weather!
Green hills with dotted sheep and a lake in the west of scotland
Rolling green hills and sheep in Scotland

Tours for Solos:

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

Just You Scotland

Exodus Holidays Scotland

Explore Holidays Scotland

Adventures Scotland

Don’t leave home without travel insurance.

Who Paid for What in this Post

I covered all of the costs associated with my climb up Ben Nevis. However, this post does contain affiliate links. That means if you click through on them and end up making a purchase I may receive a small commission. I wanted to make sure that you were aware of this.

READ NEXT: THE BEST TOURS IN GLASGOW

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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12 thoughts on “Climbing Ben Nevis: A guide to Scotland’s Highest Mountain

  1. Anne / FinnsAway says:

    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 🙂

  2. My Travelogue by Bhushavali says:

    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!
    My Travelogue by Bhushavali recently posted…Hotel Prinsenhof, Brugge – A Review (Flanders – Belgium)My Profile

  3. Neha says:

    Great blog. I have visited the site but never climbed it. THe U.K. does have great places to go to

  4. Denny George says:

    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.

  5. LaiAriel R. Samangka says:

    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.

  6. k2 base camp trek says:

    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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