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Climbing Ben Nevis

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

As Scotland's highest mountain, Ben Nevis naturally attracts a lot of attention, and many people who wouldn't normally climb hills decide they want to get to the top.

Thousands of people do climb Ben Nevis every year, and the vast majority of them make it back down safely. However there are also accidents every year, many of which could have been avoided had the people involved taken the proper precautions.

The information on this page tells you what you need to know for a successful ascent and a safe return.

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

Even in summer, Ben Nevis can be very cold, wet, windy and snow-covered; and remember, it will get colder and windier the higher you climb.  Don’t be fooled by the weather conditions down in Fort William, it will be very different on the upper slopes of Ben Nevis.

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 ‘Vibram’ sole are strongly recommended.

Proper walking boots are recommended

Yes, carry equipment for use in an emergency such as an orange plastic bivi bag, torch, whistle, First Aid Kit and emergency shelter.   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.  Clearly it is also essential that you know when and how to use this specialist equipment.

Take ample 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.

Yes, this is crucial. 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.

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.

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 write ups of mountain conditions.

Further information can be viewed at Ben Nevis' own website

Check out the following links:

Bennevisweather is updated the night before for the following day.

The Met Office gives a five-day forecast for Ben Nevis.

The Mountain Weather Information Service gives a general West Highlands forecast.

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