Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles. Standing at 1,345 metres (4,411 ft) above sea level, it is at the western end of the Grampian Mountains in the Lochaber area of the Scottish Highlands, close to the town of Fort William.
The mountain is a popular destination, attracting an estimated 100,000 ascents a year, around three-quarters of which use the Pony Track from Glen Nevis. The 700-metre (2,300 ft) cliffs of the north face are among the highest in Scotland, providing classic scrambles and rock climbs of all difficulties for climbers and mountaineers. They are also the principal locations in Scotland for ice climbing.
The summit, which is the collapsed dome of an ancient volcano, features the ruins of an observatory which was continuously staffed between 1883 and 1904. The meteorological data collected during this period are still important for understanding Scottish mountain weather. C. T. R. Wilson was inspired to invent the cloud chamber after a period spent working at the observatory.
The first recorded ascent of Ben Nevis was made on 17 August 1771 by James Robertson, an Edinburgh botanist, who was in the region to collect botanical specimens. Another early ascent was in 1774 by John Williams, who provided the first account of the mountain's geological structure. John Keats climbed the mountain in 1818, comparing the ascent to "mounting ten St. Pauls without the convenience of a staircase". The following year William MacGillivray, who was later to become a distinguished naturalist, reached the summit only to find "fragments of earthen and glass ware, chicken bones, corks, and bits of paper". It was not until 1847 that Ben Nevis was confirmed by the Ordnance Survey as the highest mountain in Britain and Ireland, ahead of its rival Ben Macdhui.
The summit observatory was built in the summer of 1883, and would remain in operation for 21 years. The first path to the summit was built at the same time as the observatory and was designed to allow ponies to carry up supplies, with a maximum gradient of one in five. The opening of the path and the observatory made the ascent of the Ben increasingly popular, all the more so after the arrival of the West Highland Railway in Fort William in 1894. Around this time the first of several proposals was made for a rack railway to the summit, none of which came to fruition.
In 2000, the Ben Nevis Estate, comprising all of the south side of the mountain including the summit, was bought by the Scottish conservation charity the John Muir Trust.
In 2016, the height of Ben Nevis was officially remeasured to be 1344.527m by Ordnance Survey. The height of Ben Nevis will therefore be shown on new Ordnance Survey maps as 1,345 metres (4,411 ft) instead of the now obsolete value of 1,344 metres (4,409 ft)
The 1883 Pony Track to the summit (also known as the Ben Path, the Mountain Path or the Tourist Route) remains the simplest and most popular route of ascent. It begins at Achintee on the east side of Glen Nevis about 2 km (1.2 mi) from Fort William town centre, at around 20 metres above sea level. Bridges from the Visitor Centre and the youth hostel now allow access from the west side of Glen Nevis. The path climbs steeply to the saddle by Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe (colloquially known as the 'Halfway Lake') at 570 m, then ascends the remaining 700 metres up the stony west flank of Ben Nevis in a series of zig-zags. The path is regularly maintained but running water, uneven rocks and loose scree make it hazardous and slippery in places. Thanks to the zig-zags, the path is not unusually steep apart from in the initial stages, but inexperienced walkers should be aware that the descent is relatively arduous and wearing on the knees.
The CMD Arête under deep snow in spring, from the summit of Càrn Mòr Dearg
A route popular with experienced hillwalkers starts at Torlundy, a few miles north-east of Fort William on the A82 road, and follows the path alongside the Allt a' Mhuilinn. It can also be reached from Glen Nevis by following the Pony Track as far as Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, then descending slightly to the CIC Hut. The route then ascends Càrn Mòr Dearg and continues along the Càrn Mòr Dearg Arête ("CMD Arête") before climbing steeply to the summit of Ben Nevis. This route involves a total of 1,500 metres of ascent and requires modest scrambling ability and a head for heights. In common with other approaches on this side of the mountain, it has the advantage of giving an extensive view of the cliffs of the north face, which are hidden from the Pony Track.
It is also possible to climb Ben Nevis from the Nevis Gorge car park at Steal at the head of the road up Glen Nevis, either by the south-east ridge or via the summit of Càrn Dearg (south-west). These routes require mild scrambling, are shorter and steeper than the Pony Track, and tend only to be used by experienced hill walkers.
Check out the Official Route and Triplog.
This is a difficult hike. Arrive fit and prepared or this could get ugly.