Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and a mountain worth climbing in ones lifetime.
Anybody who has been to Scotland during the summer months will know it is a complete lottery as to what you will get weather wise. I was in Fort William in July 2019 to climb Ben Nevis 7 times in 7 days for charity in what I called my Ben Neverest Challenge. I completed all 7 walks and raised £4120 for charity as well as climbing the hight of Everest.
The good news is you only have to do it once!
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles. Standing at 1,345 metres (4,411ft) above sea level, it is at the western end of the Grampian Mountains. It is estimated over 100,000 people visit the mountain each year.
There are different routes up to the summit of Ben Nevis and some require serious mountaineering skills and especially in winter. That leaves two routes to choose from, one being the tourist path and the other being the CMD route (Carn Mor Dearg) which has a pretty decent arete to cross.
I will be covering the much safer tourist path although in bad weather it does have some dangers attached to it, that could lead to death or serious injury. Make no mistake Ben Nevis is a dangerous mountain all year around and the weather can change dramatically within minutes.
Five Finger Gully and Gardyloo Gully pose the biggest danger in poor conditions and sadly people have lost their lives around these areas in the past. In fact, there have been a total of 11 deaths on the mountain up to 2019. But do not let this put you off attempting the tourist path, given most of these accidents happen in winter and normally on the north eastern side of Ben Nevis, especially Gully number five.
I was camping at Glen Nevis Campsite which is more or less across the road from the start of Ben Nevis tourist path, so i had no reason to park on the car park, but there are plenty of spaces given its popularity. During my challenge I had the support of friends on three different days which were the beginning and the last day. Four days in-between I did the mountain solo normally starting around 7:45am.
My average time was an impressive 4 hours 20 minutes and that was walking not running! I had got into a rhythm and I had learned from the first two days to set off early given the amount of weekend traffic which was obscene if you ask me. On the start day which was a Saturday there must have been hundreds of people marching up the mountain and at times it can be a little frustrating if you want to complete within a reasonable time.
There were many groups of National Three Peaks challengers being led by guides and I caught a conversation with the guides telling some challengers to return back to the visitor’s centre given they could not keep a good pace to complete the mountain in time. I think some people underestimate what it takes to climb a mountain and especially the highest in the UK.
Again, do not let this put you off taking on Ben Nevis, if you are a seasoned fell walker then you will have no problem completing this mountain in 4 to 8 hours depending on stops and your speed. Summer is definitely the best time to do this mountain and it is suggested June – September being the best months. The weather can change dramatically like it did for me on certain days, so make sure you have the right equipment to keep you dry, warm and enough food.
You start the walk by crossing the bridge by the visitors centre and cafe, and turn right along the path adjacent the river. You will then head left along the path up towards the bunk house before turning right after crossing over the sty. There is a sign post here which is a good stopping point for that famous Ben Nevis Picture.
You will then be on the Ben Nevis Mountain Path; this path is a gradual climb and the path is very well maintained, the views down Glen Nevis are special and especially if there is cloud meandering over the tops of the mountains. The views of Stob Ban & Sgurr a’ Mhaim which are part of the Mamores are unforgettable and why I love mountainous areas.
As you continue up the path you will eventually start a winding ascent After coming to the junction of the Youth Hostel Path Underneath Meal an t-Suidhe. There is a little bit of scrambling involved here given the eroded rock but it is easy navigated. Once through this the path climbs more and eventually you will cross a wooden bridge. You will now be around the 400 m mark, only another 950 to go.
After crossing the bridge, the climb intensifies as you make your way around and up the side of Meall an t-Suide. The view opens up here and you start to get impressive views of Carn Dearg across and above to the right. On day five of my challenge I had a wobble here and I thought I was not going to complete my challenge. It is a steady climb and if you struggle around this point take 5 to have a rest and then continue upwards.
Eventually the climb will head left up a little zig zag, do not head right across the cheat path which not only is eroding the landscape but in my eyes is not doing the full walk by the correct path. The good news is once you reach the top of this climb the path levels out as you reach Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe. You are now at the half way point but make no mistake about it, the worst is yet to come.
Once you pass the lochan the path takes a direct right (South) Do not take the path to the left past the lochan or you will end up lost. Once you head right underneath Carn Dearg the path is not too bad underfoot and will eventually lead you across the waterfall coming down from Coire na h-Urchaire (Red Burn). On day six of my challenge I forgot to take fluids with me and ended up drinking from the waterfall and it tasted great, the best water I have ever tasted.
After you pass the waterfall you will be around the 700 m mark and this will be the last place the path is fairly level before you hit the dreaded zig zags. From 700 m the zig zags will lead you up a strenuous climb to around 1200 m. Take a rest here if you need to, because the zig zags are a mix of boulders, rough ground and scree, and can be very challenging to navigate. Watch your footing both going up and coming back down given this is the place where if any you may go over on your ankle.
What can I say about the zig zags? They are a tough ascent and in poor weather there seems to be no end in sight, in good weather there seems to be no end it sights too as you make your way up the mountain. A word of caution around the 900 m – 1200 m mark in poor weather keep focused on where the path is heading because there have been deaths because people have headed straight on instead of heading left and fallen to their deaths around Five Finger Gully.
Once you reach the top of the zig zags there is a big marker cairn that you cannot miss, the path heads slightly south east, there is also another path that heads slightly south, this path will take you around the top of Five Finger Gully and Coire Ghaimhnean and pick the path back up to the summit near number two gully. It is best to stay away from this route during poor weather and poor visibility. Instead take the cairn marked path I mentioned originally and this will lead you continuously upwards, but not with the same degree as the zig zags. There are a few false summits and you can be kept guessing where that actual summit is. Eventually you will reach Gardyloo Gully on your left which has a frightening drop which as humans we can’t help but have a peep over. This is safe as long as you do not veer too close to the edge.
Across Gardyloo Gully you will see the impressive sight of the observation hut and summit of Ben Nevis. Continue past the gully on the easily marked path which eventually turns to tricky boulders and rock, its feels very surreal as if you are on a distant planet in the milky way. If the weather is good the visibility 360 is brilliant and worth savouring. Just be careful of the northern edges given the sheer drops below.
After climbing Ben Nevis for the 7th time in a row I managed to climb higher than Everest essentially and was quite proud of myself and the people who had supported me on this challenge. I knew this side of the mountain instinctively but I had also made a memorisable image beforehand so I knew where I was at all times without needing to pull out a map. I was aided by GPS for quick reference but my prior homework for the days alone on the mountain in poor weather had served me well.
Is Ben Nevis worth climbing? Most certainly and one for the bucket list if notthing else. Is it the prettiest of mountain to climb? In my view it offers some amazing scenery but not the best I have seen in the UK. Will I climb the mountain again via the tourist route? Maybe but the next time I am in the area I will possibly take on the CMD route with is fascinating arete.
The whole aim of my challenge was to portray a physical analogy that people suffering from mental illness do not just climb a mountain, they climb one everyday and if people could be more understanding of that, then the world will be a better educated place.
Thank you, Emma, Matty, Eleanor, Curt and Paul for assisting me on different days on my challenge and everybody else who supported me with donations.
What does it take to complete a challenge like this? Determination, belief, the power of the mind to overcome adversity. Due to the loaction of Glen Nevis Campsite i was doing a total of 17K a time which worked out at a total of 119k