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Climbing Ben Nevis

As Scotland's highest mountain, Ben Nevis attracts a lot of attention, with people from the UK and overseas coming every year to make the climb.

Thousands of people do climb Ben Nevis every year, and the vast majority of them make it back down safely. However it is a demanding walk with many potential hazards and there are also accidents every year, many of which could have been avoided had the people involved been aware of the challenges involved.

Read on to find out what you need to know for a successful ascent and a safe return!

The familiar whaleback of Ben Nevis rising over surrounding mountains. Photo by Neil Reid

Even in summer, Ben Nevis can be very cold, wet, windy and covered in snow; and remember, it will get colder and windier the higher you climb.  

Donít be fooled by the weather conditions down in Fort William, it will be very different on the upper slopes of Ben Nevis, so make sure you take warm and waterproof clothes including hat and gloves.

Check out the following links:

Even Search and Rescue Dog Millie looks cold on the upper slopes on Ben Nevis

It will take six to eight hours for the round trip depending on your level of fitness.  Do not underestimate how challenging this climb is: it starts virtually from sea level and ascends a rocky and rough track to 1344m - then you have to come all the way back down again.

Yes, you need to have a reasonable fitness level and stamina.  It would be wise to climb some lower hills first to build up your hill fitness levels.

Warm, wind and waterproof clothing is essential. This should include gloves, hat, fully waterproof and windproof jacket and trousers and spare clothing such as a warm sweater or fleece. Cotton clothing such as jeans and T shirts is not recommend as it absorbs moisture and draws the heat from your body.

Yes, your footwear should provide good ankle support and have a firm sole with a secure grip. Hill walking boots with a ĎVibramí sole are strongly recommended to protect your feet from the rocky terrain, prevent slips and to keep you warm.


Proper walking boots are recommended

Yes, carry equipment for use in an emergency such as a torch, whistle, First Aid Kit and emergency shelter. You will also need a map and compass to help you navigate in poor visibility (see below).

During the winter months or early summer when snow covers the upper part of the mountain you will also need an ice axe, rigid mountaineering boots and crampons and know when and how to use this specialist equipment.

Mountaineering Scotland is a not for profit organisation for people that walk, climb and ski on Scotland's mountains. As a member, you get exclusive discounts and offers at outdoor shops, online retailers and accommodation providers as well as other useful services including digital maps. Liability insurance is included in membership, so you have peace of mind when you're enjoying the outdoors!

Find out more about about Mountaineering Scotland membership and join today from just £16.25 for your first year.

Take enough food and drink for each member of your group. A minimum of two litres of fluid per person is recommended.  Simple high energy foods are best (e.g. chocolate, dried fruits, cheese and biscuits), as are hot drinks in cold wet weather. There is no cafe or shop at the summit, so take everything you need for the whole day.

Many people get into difficulties when the cloud lowers or snow covers the track making the route less obvious. There is a man-made track to the summit, but higher up above the Half Way Lochan snow cover and rocky terrain make it difficult or impossible to follow at times. Everyone should have a map and compass with them and know how to use them in the event of poor visibility.  Suitable maps of Ben Nevis are produced by OrdnanceSurvey and Harvey Maps.

Get a FREE Harvey's Ben Nevis Ultramap when you join Mountaineering Scotland - find out more here.


Navigational skills are crucial for a safe return

Because the summit is on the edge of the cliffs, and there are steep gullies on either side of the route down, it is absolutely essential that you know and are able to follow the correct directions to safely gain the lower slopes.

From the summit cairn, walk for 150 metres on a bearing of 231 degrees, which will take you safely past Gardyloo Gully on your right. Then follow a bearing of 282 degrees, which will take you down to the zig-zags on the mountain track, avoiding Five Finger Gully with its deceivingly gentle upper slopes but which has been scene of many accidents.

Once you have reached the zig-zags, if there is snow about you must still be careful to avoid drifting into the Red Burn area, which is a known avalanche danger area.

If you are unsure about how to follow these directions you can refer to our navigation pages for more information, but it is vital that at least one of your party is confident about their navigation skills.

The summit of Ben Nevis, perched on the edge of cliffs

Highland Council has a dedicated ranger base right at the foot of the main mountain track in Glen Nevis, with toilets and car parking facilities. Staff at the ranger base can provide you with all the latest information regarding conditions on the mountain (tel 01397 705922).  See also the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre facebook page for latest photos and information on mountain conditions.

Further information can be viewed at Ben Nevis' own website

If there is an accident and you are in need of professional help, dial 999 or 112 and ask for Police and Mountain Rescue.