Ben Nevis FAQ
United Kingdom - Scotland
4,409 feet 1344 meters
Ben Nevis Home|Climbing Home
These are some common questions about climbing Ben Nevis. This was one of my Memories are Everything® expeditions. Since I am not a guide nor a professional climber, this information is based on my experience and are my opinions so always consult with a professional before making any serious climbing decisions!

About Ben Nevis Training, Gear & Communication Expedition Basics My Experience

About Ben Nevis

Q: Where is it
A:
Known as simply Ben by the local, it is steeped in history and acclaimed as one the primer climbing spots in all the UK. It is located in the Scottish Highlands at the western end of the Grampian Mountains. The nearest town in Fort William with Glasgow and Edinburgh being the closest major airports. The first summit was recorded in 1771 by a botanist, James Robertson. In 1883 an observatory was built on the summit  and now is no longer in operation but the trail, aka the Pony Track, remains popular and is used by over one hundred thousand each year. The John Muir Trust bought massif and surrounding area in 2000. The second highest peak in the UK is Ben Macdui at 4,295'/1309m, northwest of Ben Nevis. View Ben Nevis on a larger map.

Tower Ridge Route from SummitPost

Q: When is it usually climbed (hiked)?
A: Ben is climbed year round but is famous for difficult weather with clouds covering the summit nearly 80% of the time in winter and 50% in summer. It is said the summit is clear only one out of every ten days. The average summit temperature is around freezing and it receives twice as much rainfall as nearby Fort William. There is snow year-round in the gullies but not in climbing shape.

Q: I understand that Ben Nevis's is just a simple walk-up. How hard is it?
A: It depends on the route. The Pony Track is an easy, wide trail and requires only good shoes and willpower in good weather. However there are hundreds of routes including four ridges and the imposing north face with serious technical wall climbing in the summer and ice in the winter.

Q: Is a Ben Nevis climb dangerous?
A: Absolutely, hikers regularly get lost in the poor visibility - even on the Pony Track - and climbers suffer from the normal mountain hazards including rock fall and avalanche.

Q: How many people had summited and how many people had died trying?
A: It is estimated that over 150,000 people hike Ben Nevis each year with several deaths annually. Two climbers were killed by avalanche in 2009.


Training, Gear & Communication:

Q: How did you train for this climb?
A: I am still in excellent condition both the physically and mentally for this climb enjoying the benefits of climbing the 7 Summits in the last year. But I suggest the usual training regime of running, light weight training and aerobic conditioning. Please see my training page for more ideas.

Q: Was altitude a problem on this climb at 4,000'?
A: Not for me but it was strenuous at times.

Q: What kind of equipment did you use?
Click for a larger view of my Everest gear. A: I used my standard mountaineering gear given I climbed the technical Tower Ridge. This included one short ice axe, crampons, harness and helmet plus rope that Abacus kindly provided. I have a gear page for reference. I am very pleased with all my gear but had a few standouts that I note on my gear page.

Q: Anything special in your gear for Ben Nevis?
A: I did take both snow and full rain gear not knowing what to expect but never used the rain gear. I was glad I had a good set of gloves due to the wet snow conditions.

Q: Did you use a satellite phone?
A: No, my cell phone worked just fine from the summit. Both Vodaphone and O2 had good service there. For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial.


Expedition Basics

Q: Which route is most popular?
A: The Pony Track which starts near the Ben Nevis Inn and ends at the observatory on the summit is by far the most popular walking route. Route finding can be a challenge if the trails are snow covered or it is fogged in. As for the technical routes, the gullies offer excellent climbing as does the ridges. See this page at SummitPost for an exceptional overview of all the routes.

Q: How long will it take?
A: A full day is normal with the  Pony Track taking 4 to 6 hours up and half that down depending on your pace and intensity and longer for the technical routes. We took about 8 hours for the Tower Ridge round trip.

Q: How much does a standard climb cost with and without a guide?
A: There are no permits required for Ben Nevis. Hotels and food are available in nearby Fort William at the base of Ben. You can hire a guide there for about £200 or $USD330 a day for a technical climb or £40 for the Pony Track

Q: Do I really need a guide for Ben Nevis?
A: Only if you are climbing a technical route where you want to depend on local knowledge like I did. Otherwise with over 100,000 people a year hiking it on the Pony Track, you will rarely be alone especially in the summer. However, people get lost and have serious incidents even on the walk-up due to poor visibility. I climbed with Ken Applegate arranged by Mike Pescod of Abacus Mountaineering

My 2012 Experience

Alan on the Summit

Q: Did you summit?
A: Yes! I climbed the classic Tower Ridge (pictured above), an 1800' ridge line with significant exposure and several tricky parts. It is graded as a Scottish level iV, 3 meaning the route has steep ice with short vertical steps or long pitches up to 70º, or mixed routes requiring advanced techniques. I found this description very accurate. I climbed with Ken Applegate arranged by Mike Pescod of Abacus Mountaineering

Q: What was the route to the summit like?
A: Great fun. It was mixed climbing with snow conditions from a few inches of fresh snow all the way to snow packed boot tracks. The elevation gain was sustained from the start of the ridge. The two Towers (Little and Great) provided a good break from ridge climbing and required true rock climbing skills made more difficult by the use of crampons. Ken and I climbed roped up the entire ridge. The crux was the Tower Gap -  a gap of maybe 10 feet with hundreds of feet of exposure on both side. It required a drafty move, facing into the rock, to slip down about 10 feet into the slot whilst holding onto a sling. From there the route crossed a narrow and exposed section then a nice snow slope to the top of the ridge near to the true summit. See the full trip report

Q: What kind of weather conditions did you have?
A: Amazing! It was near freezing, no winds and mostly clear skies. Everyone said it was the best day in months. I was quite lucky. The next day, more normal weather set back in and it was windy, cold and cloudy the remainder of that week.

Q: Would you climb Ben Nevis again?
A: You bet! There are so many high quality routes including both ice, rock and mixed. Plus the entire area was absolutely beautiful.


Bottom Line

Ben Nevis is a classic for good reason. With so many solid technical routes, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as an easy walk-up. That said, taking the Pony Track on a fine day would also be enjoyable as a day outing given the amazing views. The area is nice with convenient accommodations and services. If you get a chance to visit Ben - take it; you'll never regret it.