Ben Nevis in Scotland is the UK’s highest mountain at 1,345 m/ 4,411 ft high. Not quite as high as the mighty Mt Everest in Nepal at 8,848 m/ 29,029 ft. But still pretty high. So does that mean you need a guide to do the Ben Nevis walk? No, definitely not, but hiking independently with a group or even solo means you need to know a few things before walking up the mighty Ben Nevis.
Last autumn, I was travelling around the UK hiking in all 15 of our beautiful National Parks. Ben Nevis was a mountain I’d always wanted to climb. (And yes I know it’s not officially in one of the National Parks). But I decided to include on my trip anyway. In between visiting the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Parks, I stopped off at Fort William to finally climb Ben Nevis.
Here I share my solo hiking adventure up and down Ben Nevis. Including how long it takes to climb Ben Nevis, what to wear for the hike and some top tips for completing the Ben Nevis walk.
What route did I choose to climb Ben Nevis?
There are a few options for reaching the summit of Ben Nevis. The most popular route for your average hiker (and by that I mean someone like me with no rope climbing skills) is the Mountain Path. Also known as the Tourist Track. I think that name says it all!
I love trying different and less touristy options when I’m travelling and hiking. But this time I settled for the recommended Mountain Path. Why might you ask?
Firstly, I wanted to make it to the summit and as this is the easiest option so I had a better chance. Secondly, my map reading skills aren’t amazing and I didn’t want to get lost or have to involve search & rescue teams. How embarrassing would that have been haha! And thirdly, I’m a solo hiker so this route means more people to chat to along the way! Plus if I had any issues with option two then there were people around to ask for help!
Planning my walk
My planning began before I left home, borrowing my brother’s Ordnance Survey OS Explorer 392 map. I then arrived at Fort William the day before my planned walk and set up camp at Glen Nevis Campsite, literally a 10-minute walk from the start of the Ben Nevis hike.
The start of the hike is a bridge next to Glen Nevis Visitor Centre so I decided to pop down and see what information I could gather! The Visitor Centre is great, there’s lots of information, including Ben Nevis weather predictions, plus a helpful man and map of the Mountain Path route.
The visitor centre is open daily 9.00 – 17.00.
Starting the hike
I wanted to get an early start on the hike so left Glen Nevis Campsite at 7.45 am. After a few Ben Nevis starting photos I was ready for the hike around 8 am.
Across the bridge you turn right, then next left, following the sign to Ben Nevis (you really can’t go wrong!) The incline starts almost immediately, taking you up a path to a stile. I’m only mentioning this as it might affect what you decide to wear. Hiking uphill is hard work (and hot) so don’t have all your layers on as you’ll be stopping after 5 minutes to take it all off!
You now hike up a stone path. And looking down to the right you can see Glen Nevis Campsite, lots of tiny tents dotted about!
The path is easy to follow (although I can imagine in snow it would be quite different). You reach another bridge after about 30 minutes. I stopped here for about 20 minutes to take a few photos haha!
Even though the route is relatively straightforward I loved having my map with me on the walk. It was great to identify where I was on the walk and calculate how long it was taking me.
Keep following the same path, it takes you up via a switchback route, until it seems to completely flatten out for a small section. Great time to catch your breath but not for long!
About 9.30 am, I reach the lake, it is covered in thick mountain mist so I keep walking. The path is now becoming a little bit rockier in places so you need to watch your footing. And then there’s a small waterfall to cross (maybe this isn’t small when it’s been raining a lot!)
Still going up!
One of the great things about the hike is due to the path you can regularly see tiny dots in front and behind you. The weather did close in quite a bit so the people in front seemed to disappear quite quickly. But you never felt that far away from people.
The hardest section to navigate was coming up and although I was feeling confident that I’d not gone the wrong way I decided it wouldn’t hurt to have a few people in front and behind me for this part.
There’s a very obvious stone shelter before you go into the cairn section. A cairn is a pile of stones (see photo below), used as a way marker, some are small piles and other are huge rocks. I stopped to take a compass bearing to make sure I walked in the right direction.
And this is worth doing as in bad weather and without the sight of the next cairn in front of you, it would be easy to get lost. This section takes about 20 minutes to the top of Ben Nevis.
And for me the weather was really closing in, thick clouds were clinging to the mountain, but I still had enough viability to use the cairns as markers, along with my compass.
Top tip – check the weather report (www.mountain-forecast.com) before you do the climb!
Ben Nevis summit
Unbelievably the summit appeared from no-where, there seems to be a lot going on, various cairns, stone ruins and a survival shelter. I went in the survival shelter and could not believe how disgusting it was, apparently, people are capable of carrying bottles of beer to the summit but unable to take the rubbish home!
On average it takes 2-5 hours to reach the summit. I had done it in 3 hours so I was feeling pretty pleased.
The information at the Visitor centre was correct about the weather is 9 degrees colder at the top. And the wind seemed to have appeared from nowhere and made it a challenge climbing to the very highest point!
I had planned to use my tripod for a summit selfie photo but there’s no way it would have stood up. So instead I asked a fellow hiker to capture the photo for me.
Back down the mountain
After a good 30 minutes at the top. This was far too long because I was messing around taking photos and my hands were frozen. I have terrible circulation in my hands so they seem to turn to ice blocks within about 10 minutes!
Navigating back through the cairns was relatively easy on the way back, plus there was now a steady flow of people hiking to the summit. Most people were asking how much further to the summit so it was nice to give let them know it was only 10 or 15 more minutes.
When planning your hike you might be wondering how long it takes to walk up and down Ben Nevis. Generally, going down a mountain is quicker than going up. The average time for descending Ben Nevis is between 1.5-2.5 hours I think I am the exception as the weather cleared on the way down so I stopped to take a lot of photos! I eventually reached the Visitor Centre at about 1.45 pm, nearly as long as the walk up.
You might like to read Why is the West Highland Way an amazing trail (plus tips)?
Ben Nevis walk – Clothes, Gear and Tips for the Hike
What to wear for hiking Ben Nevis?
The best clothes to wear for your Ben Nevis hike are thin layers that are also waterproof/or quick dry! The temperature can be up to 9 degrees colder at the top and on a windy day, this can feel even colder. A fleece to keep your core body temperature lovely and warm.
Walking trousers are ideal, plus they normally have good pockets to keep sweets and other useful things in! Don’t wear jeans, they are rubbish for hiking and even worse if they get wet.
Take waterproof trousers and a jacket. Even if it’s not forecast to rain in Fort William you don’t know what the weather will do on the mountain. Plus if it’s cold then you have an extra layer to wear.
Look after your hands, feet, face and head! These are the parts then will feel the cold first. Don’t forget a lovely warm hat, gloves, some thick socks. Plus a buff is great for keeping your nose warm.
And lastly, don’t forget those walking boots!
What other gear and Equipment do you need?
- A decent rucksack to carry your supplies in (plus a waterproof cover).
- A map and compass (or GPS)
- Walking poles (optional)
- A camera to capture that summit selfie!
You might like to read – 22 day hikes in the UK
Top tips for hiking Ben Nevis solo
- Be prepared for the hike with the right clothes and equipment
- Pack extra warm layers to put on at the top (it’s cold!)
- Remember your map and compass (or GPS) and know how to use them
- Tell someone you are doing the hike (and remember to let them know you’re back safe)
- Take enough food and water for the hike (there’s no-one to steal food from haha!)
- Don’t forget your First Aid Kit
Where to stay if you are hiking Ben Nevis?
The start of the Mountain Path route is located in the town of Fort William. And you’ll find plenty of options for places to stay. But be sure to book in advance, Ben Nevis walk is popular so places can book up (especially in peak season).
Fort William Campsites
Glen Nevis Campsite is where I stayed, you have the option of camping or trying out their glamping pods (for a bit of added luxury!) This is 0.5 miles from the start, about a 10-minute walk. Perfect for on the way back when you want to take your boots off!
You can read my Glen Nevis Campsite review here
More accommodation options here – Click to check prices and availability for your trip
Mid Range Hotels
Fort William has plenty of mid-range hotel options in the main centre including a Travelodge and Premier Inn. Plus quite a few of the independent hotels to choose from Imperial Hotel (2.4 miles), Distillery Guest House (1.4 miles) or Lothlorien (10.7 miles)
Are you planning your Ben Nevis walk? Are you hiking solo? Ask me any questions in the comments or send me a message on Facebook.
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