Hiking Ben Nevis: The UKs Highest Mountain

Hiking Ben Nevis: The UKs Highest Mountain

Conquering Britain’s Apex

After months spent cooped up in London during lockdown, I was beginning to feel like a hamster in a cage with nothing but a plastic wheel to burn off my mounting energy. My craving for physical adventure and my desire to be closer to nature was growing stronger by the day, so I set myself a challenge and headed up to the Scottish Highlands. I set my sights on climbing Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. However, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

While I’ve always loved hiking, my previous experiences were limited to relatively flat grounds, so would I really be able to climb the highest mountain in the UK? Would I be fit enough? As I gathered my gear and boarded the train from London, a sense of nervous excitement filled the air. I was about to embark on an adventure unlike any other.

The Mountain Track

There are two main routes to reach the summit of Ben Nevis. The first is the Mountain Track, also known as the Pony Track. This is the easiest and most common route taken by walkers, and the one which I opted to take since I didn’t really know how I’d manage in terms of my fitness. Better to err on the side of caution!

Those looking for a more challenging hike have the option to take the Carn Mor Dearg Arête route, which essentially involves climbing two big mountains – Carn Dearg Meadhonach, which leads to Ben Nevis via an arête (mountain ridge). You can read more about this route here.

The Journey Begins

Along with my twin brother, I hopped aboard a train from London King’s Cross and within five hours we landed in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. After spending the night in Glasgow, we picked up our car hire in the morning and made the 2 hours 20 minutes drive to Fort William, where the climb up Ben Nevis begins.

It would’ve been ideal to drive straight to Fort William on the day of our arrival to avoid driving on the day of our hike, but since we arrived late in the evening, we had no other choice. Fortunately, we had booked a hotel in Fort William for the following day so we could rest our feet and collapse into bed after a long day of hiking.

The drive from Glasgow to Ben Nevis was beyond scenic, hugging coastlines and passing the peak-encrusted valley of Glencoe, one of Scotland’s most beautiful and atmospheric landscapes, easily comparable to the Western Fjords of Norway.

Starting the Ascent

The Mountain Track starts at the car park near Achintee Farm. There is a pay and display ticket machine that is open 24-hours. Next to the car park is an Information Visitor Centre and toilets. I grabbed a map from the visitor centre, but I soon realised it wasn’t really necessary because the trail to the top of Ben Nevis is along an easy-to-follow pathway (though under low visibility, I would advise a map).

To get onto the path, you need to walk around the visitor centre and across a small bridge. After only a few moments of walking, I could already feel the sun beating down on me. I looked at my brother and he glanced back with an expression I recognized: concern. We knew there and then it wasn’t going to be easy, but we were determined. Hot weather has never been a friend of mine, least of all now.

The Zig-Zag Climb

The start of the route is steep and zig-zags its way upwards, over a couple of small streams and curves round, climbing above the valley of the Red Burn towards Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, a picturesque lake which signals close to the halfway point of Ben Nevis. The views here are spectacular, so we stopped for a much-needed rest.

Whilst looking sweaty and disheveled, we talked about how rocky the pathway had been up until this point. We wondered out loud if it was going to carry on being like this, and out of nowhere, we heard a voice replying to us, “I’m afraid it is!” We swiftly looked around and saw this tall, radiant young man beaming back at us before jetting off into the distance with the grace of a gazelle.

“He’s running!” I cried to my brother. “Who runs up Ben Nevis?!” I exclaimed in disbelief. “Superhumans,” replied my brother. From this point, we trudged on for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably closer to 1 hour 30 minutes. In what must have only been less than 45 minutes, the young man who had run past us earlier was now running past us again. He had reached the top and was now making his way back down. He made the whole challenge of climbing the UK’s highest mountain look like it was nothing more than a walk in the park! The differences between us was comical. Despite a slight burn of humiliation, it gave me hope that the end was now in sight.

Reaching the Summit

The higher we got, the cooler it became, and the occasional breeze felt like it had been personally delivered by the gods. I was happy for the incredible weather and stunning vistas, but my throbbing face from the sweltering heat was a high price to be paying. The closer we reached to the summit, we were encouraged by fellow hikers who were now on their way back down, ‘You can do it!’, ‘Not long to go now!’ The camaraderie gave me the extra push I needed to reach the top.

To those people who will never read this: thank you. By now, we were submerged in the clouds, a stark difference from down below. I put on another layer of clothing. We clamored faster, knowing we were nearly there. Greeted by large cairns to mark the highest point on the mountain, we had made it. The feeling of relief and personal satisfaction is something I can’t put into words.

After spending twenty minutes or so at the top, looking at the various cairns and landmarks, we descended the same way we climbed. We did go off the main track a couple of times, but it involved a bit of scrambling, so I wouldn’t recommend doing this if you have any problems with your knees. The greatest thing about the descent was the view of the surrounding peaks and valley, all of exceptional beauty. By now it was golden hour, and the rays from the sun appeared almost biblical in how they broke through the clouds like shards of glass. With the hard part now over, I could truly appreciate what was laid out before me.

Reflections and Future Plans

We spent most of our descent talking about what mountains we could climb next. Ben Nevis was our first, but certainly not our last. It took us approximately 6.5 hours to complete, with 3.5 hours to ascend and 3 hours to descend. Don’t treat it like a race, take your time to be careful and enjoy the incredible views that Ben Nevis has to offer.

If you’re planning your own adventure to conquer the UK’s highest peak, be sure to check out the campsite at Loch Ness Shores. With its stunning views and easy access to the trailhead, it’s the perfect base for your Ben Nevis expedition. Who knows, maybe I’ll see you there on my next Scottish Highlands adventure!

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