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The Munros
Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis from the summit of Stob Ban to the west
Country: Scotland
Location: Glen Nevis
Accommodation: Fort William (hotels, B&B), Glen Nevis has a Youth Hostel, caravan/camping site, nice B&B and bunkhouse at Achintee House. Camping is allowed in the upper glen (beyond the carpark and Nevis Gorge).
Transport: Train and bus station in Fort William. A summer bus service goes to the carpark in Glen Nevis.
Maps: OS Outdoor Leisure 32 (scale of 1:25,000) or Landranger Map 0041: Ben Nevis, Fort William & Glen Coe (1:50,000). Also good is Harvey Map Services Ben Nevis (Superwalker).
Trip Date: 23 May 1992
Also See These Hiking Pages:
The Lochaber 4000 footers by Paul Kennedy.
A Winter Climb of Ben Nevis. Lots of big, beautiful photos for climbers plus maps and diagrams.
Introduction

Ben Nevis (possibly from an old Gaelic word meaning venomous) is the highest mountain in the British Isles at 1344 metres. This also makes it the highest Munro. It is easily accessible from Glen Nevis via the old pony track which used to service the observatory on the summit. The path can be started from the youth hostel or from Achintee House (B&B and a bunkhouse available) lower down the glen. Note that this is the 'tourist route' up Ben Nevis - it may be crowded and does not give the best view of the Ben.

Despite there being a 'tourist route', any trip up the Ben must be taken seriously. You will be spending many hours on a mountain that is known for sudden and unpleasant weather changes. Take sensible clothing and wear good walking shoes or boots. I recommend the OS Outdoor Leisure 32 map since it has a 1:10,000 insert of the summit with the compass directions to get off safely in mist (remember to take your compass!). People have died on this mountain.

For a guidebook to the area have a look at: Ramblers' Guide: Ben Nevis and Glen Coe or try Amazon.com. From gentle strolls alongside the lochs to the ascent of Britain's highest mountain, this guide offers an exceptional variety of landscapes for the keen walker to explore. The main section of the book contains 30 walks.

If you want to have a look at the area before visiting then there are web cameras showing Ben Nevis, the North Face and Loch Linnhe.

The first route I describe is one of the longer ways to climb the Ben. I took 12 hours to do it (from 9 am at the distillery to 9 pm at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel) at my usual slow pace during an extremely hot day (for Scotland). It can definitely be done faster. On both routes the height gain is nearly the full 1344 metres (4409 feet) but the tourist route is shorter - 14 kilometres versus 17 kilometres (8.6 miles vs 10.5 miles).

Route

Start from the Ben Nevis Distillery just outside Fort William at Victoria Bridge. Unfortunately you should be starting too early to sample its wares. Pass to the left of the buildings and cross the railway tracks. There is a muddy path that climbs up through woods to pass under power lines and meet a dirt road. Head left for 200 metres and join another track that leads via more woody patches and a line of posts to an another dirt road. Off to your left is an intake (this takes water under the slopes to the factories above Fort William) and bridge on the Allt a'Mhuilinn. Cross the bridge and follow the bulldozed track upstream. Just before the track becomes a footpath, there is a good spot for a swim. On a hot day this is also the best place to refill your water bottles.

The bridge across the Allt a'Mhuilinn can also be reached by a path across the local golf course. This is more direct but has the disadvantages that there is only a lay-by on the A82 road (which has fast blind bends at this point) and you may be approached by golfers, annoyed at the climbers walking over the course. A better alternative is the North Face carpark at Torlundy where a rough, eroded path leads up over undulating terrain to the same point. However this path may be re-routed and improved soon - see the following page: The Ben Nevis Track.

After about a kilometre, leave the path and make your way up the broad ridge leading to Carn Beag Dearg (1010m). This 600m climb is a bit tedious but the opening views to the north and up the Great Glen compensate. Have a breather on Carn Beag Dearg and look south to the massive cliffs of Ben Nevis. The same point can be gained from the path up from Glen Nevis by following it as far as the Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe (also known as the halfway lochan) and then following the directions below. This is the best way to do a round trip from Glen Nevis.

Carn Mor Dearg Arete to Ben Nevis
Carn Mor Dearg Arete to Ben Nevis

Follow the ridgeline south to Carn Dearg Meadhonach (1179m) and then to the pink granite summit of Carn Mor Dearg (1223m - another Munro). From here the path drops 200m to where the ridge sharpens to a narrow arete. The exposed arete is composed of huge granite blocks which give good footing - needed for the section that actually overhangs the ridge. Try to ignore the scratches engraved in some blocks - these are just the marks from the crampons of winter climbers, not from the fingernails of summer walkers! You can avoid most of the exposure via a narrow path on the south side of the crest. The arete gives impressive views of the North-East Buttress.

After the arete, you come to a level section of the ridge with abseil posts on the north edge. The last post marks the start of a reasonably easy descent into Coire Leis which may be used as an escape route (not to be used if there is snow on the headwall). A faint path now climbs 250m over the next 500 metres through a boulder field to the summit. The path is the easiest way up unless you like clambering over boulders. Most of the year the summit has a cap of snow providing beautiful cornices above Tower Gully. Keep well away from the summit edge since it will also have cornices. The summit is a bit crowded with structures - the OS pillar, a war memorial, an emergency shelter and the ruins of the observatory. The views can be stupendous (weather permitting).

To return you can either:
Follow the route back or
Drop down the tourist path to Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe and follow the path northwards until you can descend into the Coire Leis and regain the route or
Follow the tourist path down to the youth hostel to stay, be picked up or call for a taxi.

Route from Glen Nevis

There are 2 points of access in Glen Nevis for the path up the Ben. The shortest route starts at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel where a bridge across the river and a steep path joins the usual route. This is best used by residents at the hostel since there is no official parking here. You may want to avoid this route on the first Saturday in September when up to 500 hill runners pant their way uphill in the annual Ben Nevis Race. They do the round trip in under one-and-a-half hours!

Nearing the summit plateau of Ben Nevis
Nearing the summit plateau of Ben Nevis

The proper route starts at the visitor centre about 2 kilometres up the glen from Fort William where there is tons of parking. Cross the Nevis River on a footbridge and head upriver to pass around Achintee House. For 100 metres the path remains on flat ground and then begins a rising traverse for the next kilometre on the slopes of Meall an t-Suidhe. It meets the route from the hostel and turns into the valley of the Red Burn, climbing all the way on a rocky and increasingly flagstoned path. There are good views up the glen from here to Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean.

After 2.5 kilometres from the start the path reaches the broad bealach that contains Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe and levels out to allow a bit of a rest. You have now climbed 500 metres and have another 800m to ascend. The path makes its all-too-obvious way across the bealach and climbs slightly to a junction at a stone wall redirecting people up the Ben. To join the more exciting Arete route:

Continue north above the lochan and then NNE along a level path for a kilometre. An old fence marks where the path turns to the SE below the cliffs of Carn Dearg. Leave the path (which goes onto the private CIC mountaineering hut) a few hundred metres further. Drop east over rough heathery ground to cross the Allt a'Mhuilinn for a final 600m climb to Carn Beag Dearg and the ridge to the Arete.

The path from the lochan heads south and upwards to cross the Red Burn gully. After a kilometre it meets the first of a series of large zigzags. These climb up progressively bouldery ground to the enormous summit plateau where the first glimpse of the northern cliffs can be seen. Keep to the path since the terrain off it is very rough. The slope eases for the last few hundred metres to the summit but care still needs to be taken as the path is squeezed between cliffs to the north and south.


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