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Climb Ben Nevis this year!

Posted by
19 Jun 2015
As we approach the summer months I'm starting to think about what hill climbing I'd like to do this year. I particularly enjoy new experiences and the challenge of walking up a mountain I haven't done before, exploring new areas of the UK at the same time. But I also love going back to my favourite walks so I'm sure I'll find a weekend to drive up to Fort William.

Ben Nevis, or the 'Ben' as it is fondly known locally, is the highest mountain in the British Isles and dominates its local landscape. The dramatic effect of this is emphasised by the fact that it begins its rise from sea level on the shores of Loch Linnhe, to tower 4,406 feet (1,344 meters) above Fort William, providing an almost paternal presence over what is arguably the outdoor capital of the UK. Britain has nine mountains over 4,000 feet and all of them are in Scotland.

Fort William lies on one of the most picturesque mainline rail links in Britain - the West Highland Line, which links Glasgow's Queen Street station to Fort William, before winding and twisting on to Mallaig, at the western lip of the mainland. If you have time then taking the train is highly recommended. En route, you'll find no shortage of spectacle as you pass many a rippling loch, rugged monolith and lonely expanse of heather-covered moorland. You can of course drive and the scenery by road is no less stunning. Park at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre and you're almost at the foot of the mountain, and there are toilets and a shop too.

The first recorded ascent of Ben Nevis was made on 17th August 1771 by James Robertson, an Edinburgh botanist, who was in the region to collect botanical specimens. 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 1883 Pony Track to the summit (also known as 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 from Fort William town centre, at around 20 meters above sea level. The path climbs steeply to the saddle by Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe (also known as the 'Halfway Lochan') at 570 meters, then ascends the remaining 700 meters up the stony west flank of Ben Nevis in a series of zigzags.

Thousands of people walk up Ben Nevis every year and the vast majority do so in safety, taking common sense measures to make sure they stay safe while on the mountain. The path is regularly maintained but running water, uneven rocks and loose scree make it hazardous and slippery in places. Thanks to the zigzags, the path is not too steep apart from in the initial stages, but inexperienced walkers should be aware that the descent is relatively arduous too. The mountain can be intolerant of inexperienced, ill-prepared walkers though!

Before you start your walk up Ben Nevis make sure you are properly prepared. The most important item is proper footwear. Trainers are definitely OK if you're agile and have good balance - preferably trail running trainers with a grippy sole and a Goretex liner. You don't want to end up with wet feet. The temperature at the summit is just below freezing on average, so make sure you take warm clothing with you. A light fleece under a light waterproof jacket is more than adequate in the summer months, and shorts are too. Your climbing will raise your body temperature more than enough and your legs will cope with the drop in temperature at the top. Definitely check the weather forecast before you go, no matter what month of the year it is.

A small rucksack with some food and water is more than enough - some energy bars and isotonic sports drinks are ideal. You don't need to take too much unless you feel you're going to be walking for most of the day. Most likely you'll end up carrying stuff to the top and then you'll carry it all the way back down again.
You can make the top without climbing skills. You can even reach the peak in a few hours, as long as you're reasonably fit and happy to spend long hours slogging up and down - but you can achieve the summit without ever having to extend yourself beyond a determined walk. It can get very busy on the mountain so I would recommend leaving as early as you can - you'll pass a procession of people when you're on the way back down, and this can be frustrating. Start your climb at first light - the early start will be appreciated later in the day!

There's a very real chance that you won't be blessed with a clear day, even in the middle of summer. The peak of Ben Nevis is frequently hidden in fog and there's snow at the summit most of the year. But take a camera with you and start snapping those breathtaking views as you go up! The weather will probably change as you climb, and you'll be able to take some beautiful shots as the clouds move over the mountains. You may find that the cloud cover has come down by the time you reach the top, and you can't see anything. The weather can change very quickly so getting to enjoy the spectacular scenery is simply down to your luck on the day.

The summit of Ben Nevis comprises a large stony plateau of about 100 acres. The highest point is marked with a large, solidly built cairn atop which sits an Ordnance Survey trig point. The ruined walls of the observatory are a prominent feature on the summit. An emergency shelter has been built on top of the observatory tower for the benefit of those caught out by bad weather, and, although the base of the tower is slightly lower than the true summit of the mountain, the roof of the shelter overtops the trig point by several feet, making it the highest man-made structure in the UK.

With a total of around ten miles of trekking, after a day on the mountain you'll certainly feel very satisfied if you make it to the top. Standing at the top of Ben Nevis your reward is a glorious 360 degree view that extends for over 120 miles. On a clear day, looking over the beautiful Western Highlands, you should be able to see Northern Ireland. HIGHLY recommended!
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