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  • Writer's pictureDavid Buckett

Summer series of interest - Ben Nevis

Over the month of April i will be publishing a weekly (hopefully) interesting article about some of the mountains and areas that i guide people, starting with Ben Nevis, Glencoe and Skye. This week i will write about some of the common questions that i get asked from people wanting to walk up and hopefully put a few self reflective questions out there as well.

Over the month the other articles will focus upon 'more challenging routes on the north face', 'the new theory of the formation of Ben Nevis', and 'Ben Nevis in winter'.

This article will focus upon summer ascents via the mountain path and i will deal with other routes in subsequent articles.

Ben Nevis summit

Common Questions about walking up Ben Nevis.

How long does it take to walk up Ben Nevis?

This is a tricky question to answer as there are a lot of external factors that need to be taken into consideration. A good framework for planning any day out in the hills is to think of - Group, Terrain, Weather in your planning and whilst walking. On average the time up and down is around 7 hours, about 4 hours up and 3 down. But i have personally completed a round trip in 5 hours and also 12 hours!

A few of the elements that can influence the time an ascent can take is the fitness of the people walking. Sounds obvious but i do find that people under-estimate the type of fitness that is required; the slow plod for 7 hours, rather than approaching it like a mad gym session. Wear and tear on the body is a big factor. The descent is harder on the body than the walk up. I find a lot of people make good time to the summit but then halfway down their bodies give up, particularly knees and any old injuries from the repetitive action.

Another element that i find influences overall time is fatigue over the day. I do see many people having very long rest breaks (and also to look at the views), this is great but an eye also needs to be kept on energy levels and time on the mountain. If you have 7 hours walking in a day and then have 2-3 hours of 'rests', that is a long time to be out in the hills and the weather. Its always the last 1.5 hours of the day when people either pick up an injury or get over tired due to the length of the day, never in the 1st half of the walk.

Ben Nevis summit for charity

The summit, only 5.5miles to go and 1345m of descent.

Is it hard to climb Ben Nevis?

In terms of walking up mountains in Scotland, Ben Nevis is one of the easier mountains to walk up. This is down to the fact that there is a path from bottom to top, the way up and down is via the same route and there is only one walking route up to the summit so it focuses people together.

However 2 main points that need to be considered following on with our Group, Terrain and Weather model, is what the path is like. Overall the mountain path up Ben Nevis is well made stone and is not muddy or boggy. This is easy to follow for most of the way and is wide enough to get at least a few people next to each other. But being stone this does bring other issues. It is very hard on the joints, up and down, there are many steps in the lower half and the upper half is looser stones which adds to the effort levels. And it is 17km, 11 miles long, 5.5 miles up and 5.5 miles down!

The weather on any mountain day needs to be taken into consideration not only whether it is wet or dry, windy, hot or cold but also the difference between the car park at sea level and the summit. I have started a walk just wearing one layer in 25 degrees and by the summit i have a thick hat and gloves on and 3 layers plus waterproofs with the temperature around 4 degrees. There are a few places to look: Met office and search for Ben Nevis to get the summit weather, MWIS for a mountain focused forecast for the region, West Highlands is the Ben Nevis area.

Ben Nevis mountain path

One of the better sections of the path

When should i climb Ben Nevis?

If you are looking for a summer ascent the best time is between May and October. This may sound like a late start in the summer but in the Scottish Highlands and on Ben Nevis there can still be snow from the winter right through April and also fresh snow falling through the month of April as well. As i write this now the top half of Ben Nevis is still completely snow covered and the summit temperatures are -6 degrees with the sea level temperatures being 10 degrees. This does change year on year. Last year for example the winter and the snows were almost gone by the end of March, this year it will be well into May. Keep an eye on the weather forecasts and the social media forums for peoples recent photos, look at the conditions in the photo rather than what people say as a lot of comments are subjective.

Autumn in the Highlands and on Ben Nevis can be one of the best times to visit with the change of the seasons, but again keep an eye on the weather. At some point in October there is a gradual change into winter with colder temperatures and more rain. We don't tend to get the first dusting of snow until November but it can be cold on the summit. The other element to consider is the shorter daylight around that time of year. It can be dark by 5.30pm. I always prefer to start early to have time at the end of the day than the other way round.

Weekends (especially Saturdays) through the main summer months are busy with people walking up and down so if you want a slightly quieter day then a mid week walk would be better or even a Sunday. The main busiest times are July, August and September.

A spring ascent.

I hope that these areas covered have been informative and will help you enjoy your day on Ben Nevis. The next article will about other routes up Ben Nevis like the CMD arete, Ledge Route and Tower Ridge.

If you want more information about what we do as a guiding company on Ben Nevis then feel free to have a look at our Ben Nevis area of the website or email us. We are currently open for bookings during the Covid-19 crisis where you can buy a voucher for a future activity with no time scale on booking the date.

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