Climbing Britain: Spotlight on Ben Nevis

by Jules on June 17, 2013

Ben Nevis is the UK’s highest peak, which makes it a worthy challenge for any budding mountaineers or, in fact, anyone who wants to experience the thrill of hiking to the top of a peak. What makes Ben Nevis a particularly good choice is that you only need a weekend to ascend the summit.

Ben Nevis: vital statistics

Height: 1,344 m
Location: Grampian Mountains, Scotland
Walking time for summit climb: seven to nine hours

Most climbers who take on the trek up Ben Nevis base themselves in Fort William, which has been named the outdoor capital of the UK. The mountain itself is in a spectacular setting, rising above the shores of Loch Linnhe and towering over Fort William.

One of the main reasons that it’s appealing for trekkers in the UK is that it’s easy to reach from most parts of the country and doesn’t involve the expense and hassle of flying. If you are intending to go on to tackle a higher peak elsewhere in the world, it’s also a great training walk to help prepare your body for steep ascents and walking at altitude.

Over 150,000 people successfully ascend Ben Nevis each year, with some of these taking the climb on as part of the Three Peaks Challenge. This involves hiking up the tallest peaks in Scotland, Wales and England within 24 hours and means you’ll need to walk up Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon.

Climbing Ben Nevis

The Ben Nevis trek is considered to be challenging, especially during periods of inclement weather. One of the things that makes the hike difficult is the changeable conditions on the mountain’s slopes, with hikers often experiencing reduced visibility and cold (sometimes snowy) weather as they climb higher.

Although it’s possible to follow the trail without the help of a guide, if you’re new to mountain hiking or are unsure about whether you have the necessary experience to navigate in poor weather, it’s advisable to tackle the trek as part of a group with a guide who knows the mountain well. Companies like Explore Worldwide offer short breaks to climb Ben Nevis, with these typically lasting for three days and providing you with the chance to try other outdoor activities once you’ve completed the hike.

On the day of your ascent, you’ll typically be walking for between seven and nine hours, so you need to have a moderate level of fitness if you want to enjoy the walk. The majority of walkers follow the Achintee footpath, which gradually winds its way towards the summit.

The early stages of the hike lead you to the saddle at Lochan Meall and from here you climb along a zigzagging path to the summit plateau. It’s worth mentioning that this is where navigation can become particularly difficult if you encounter bad weather, so you need to have a map and compass on you at all times.

On the summit plateau

If you’re lucky on the day you ascend Ben Nevis, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views across the Grampian Mountains, Loch Linnhe and, in clear conditions, as far as County Antrim in Northern Ireland. However, the views aren’t the only thing worth seeing at the top of the mountain, as there is also a touching memorial to those who lost their lives in World War II, as well as an observatory dating from the 19th century.

For over 20 years, this observatory was constantly manned, with meteorological observations taken every hour during this time and then telegraphed to the superintendant’s house, which you can see near the entrance to the West End car park.

The Three Peaks Challenge

If just climbing Ben Nevis isn’t enough for you, take on the Three Peaks Challenge – a gruelling 24 hours that will see you tackle Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Scafell Pike. This is certainly not a trekking tour for the fainthearted and you need to have experience of mountain walking and a good level of fitness if you want to be in with a chance of successfully scaling all three summits in the timeframe.

One of the toughest things about attempting these climbs is that you’ll need to follow some of the trails in the dark, which means excellent navigation skills are a must. Typically, you’ll start out in Fort William and climb Ben Nevis during daylight hours, then drive to Scafell Pike and continue on to Snowdon.

You can take on the Three Peaks Challenge on your own or join an organised trip that helps you arrange the logistics and will ensure you know what equipment you’ll need ahead of the climbs.

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