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Climbing Ben Nevis? What to expect on your route to the top

When it comes to things to do in Scotland, it's hard to beat hiking adventures in the Highlands, and in particular, Ben Nevis. From stunning views and wildlife to the ultimate feeling of reward at the summit, climbing this majestic peak is one of the most memorable ways to experience this part of Scotland.

Choosing your path to the summit

Choosing your Ben Nevis walking route

There are two main Ben Nevis walking routes that will get you up to the summit, and which one you take will depend on your hiking experience – not to mention how much of a challenge you’re up for.

The first of these Ben Nevis walking routes is the Mountain Track, which is also known as the Pony Track or the Tourist Track. As you can tell from that last name, this is the gentler of the two walking routes and the most suitable if you're not an experienced hill climber. The Mountain Track starts at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre car park and opens with a fairly steep climb up to Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, then zig-zags on up to the summit.

For climbers looking for more of a challenge, Carn Mor Dearg Arête is the Ben Nevis walking route for you. This route is almost two mountains in one, as it crosses the ridge between Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis before climbing the north face of Ben Nevis itself. To tackle the climb this way, start from the North Face car park at Torlundy, or follow the Mountain Track up to the lochan where the two paths intersect.

What you’ll need to bag Ben Nevis

What you’ll need to bag Ben Nevis

Whichever Ben Nevis walking route you take to the top, climbing the peak will be a challenge – it is a mountain, after all! Even the Mountain Track, which is the easier of the two Ben Nevis walking routes, will take 7–9 hours to ascend and descend, so you'll need a good level of fitness and some experience of hillclimbing.

For adventurous souls tackling the Carn Mor Dearg Arête climb, you can expect it to take between 10 and 12 hours up to the summit and back. You’ll also be spending that time scrambling over boulders, ridges and uneven terrain, so be sure that you've got the right level of physical fitness before setting out.

Both Ben Nevis walking routes will require some map and compass-reading skills, as the correct path isn't always clear. This is especially the case in poor conditions since fog or even snow can easily make tough work of picking out the way ahead.

Speaking of the weather, be prepared for that to change throughout your climb, even from moment to moment. A bright, sunny day at the base can be bitterly cold at the summit and you might run into wet mist or rain along the way, so make sure you're prepared with good quality hiking gear for all conditions.

What's waiting along the route?

What's waiting along the walking route?

There's no denying that Ben Nevis makes for a tough walking route, but the reward at the end is certainly worth it. For one, you'll have the satisfaction of saying you’ve climbed the highest mountain in both Scotland and the UK.

As it's the highest mountain, you'll be able to enjoy stunning views across the surrounding hills, lochans and glacial valleys throughout your climb. Those views then become panoramic at the summit, where you’ll be able to pick out other Highland peaks like Ben Lomond, Morven and the Torridon Hills. If the weather’s on your side, you can even see across the Inner Seas to the top of Knocklayd in Northern Ireland.

At the summit of your Ben Nevis walking route, you’ll also be standing on the collapsed dome of an ancient volcano. There are opportunities for unique photos next to the ruins of the Old Observatory, which collected valuable data on Scottish mountain weather in the late 1800s. If you ascend via the Carn Mor Dearg Arête, you’ll also pass the Charles Inglis Clark Memorial Hut, an alpine-style mountaineering lodge.

Wildlife to watch out for

Wildlife to watch out for

The Scottish Highlands are a haven for wildlife spotters, and the walking routes up Ben Nevis are no exception.

A fitting sight on the mountain's majestic slopes are the red deer. During the Winter months they tend to group together on lower ground, while in the Autumn, you might hear the distinctive roars of stags rutting during mating season.

A little lower to the ground, you can catch a glimpse of pine martens close to woodlands. Otters and water voles are also regularly seen near water, such as around Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe halfway up the climb.

Buzzards are common in the skies above Ben Nevis, and if you’re lucky you might also spot the golden eagles which nest higher up the mountain. The slopes are also home to several rare species of butterfly, including the chequered skipper, which is extinct everywhere but Lochaber.

If you're planning your walking route to Ben Nevis, feel free to explore our blog for more of the best sights and wildlife on offer in the Scottish Highlands. And for a place to rest after your rewarding climb, Kilcamb provides a peaceful night's sleep with stunning views that come close to matching those of your pinnacle climb.

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