When creating the plan to walk up Scotland’s iconic mountain, Ben Nevis, you must account for the weather. On a sunny day it can be an incredible experience but on a rainy day (something that is all too common in Scotland) and you’ll find that the experience is somewhat miserable, not to mention considerably more dangerous. The average person should not attempt Ben Nevis between November and May.
As Britain’s highest mountain, sitting at 1,345 metres/4412.73 feet, Ben Nevis falls victim to some drastic weather changes. What was once an active volcano – erupting millions of years ago and collapsing in on itself – attracts thousands of hikers each year. Typically, there is snow at the top even in the height of summer. You also have to take into account that Scotland’s average summer temperature is only about 15o Celsius/50o Fahrenheit.
What you need:
- Walking boots (already broken in and waterproofed)
- Waterproofs and multiples layers (trousers, jumper(s), jacket)
- Supplies: plenty of water and food (energy bars/drinks would be advisable)
- Plan your route and have maps with you
And so it begins…
I’m not going to lie, the first hour or so of the walk was incredibly boring! There was so much fog that you could only see a short distance in front of you limiting any views. Eventually, as my family and I turned around having just stepped out of the fog, it was as if we’d crossed through from one world to another. The sun shone through the cloudless sky as the fog retreated down the valley like the ghost of the glacier that once existed here millions of years ago.
However, this moment in our journey also marked the sudden realisation that we were nowhere near the top. As we looked ahead, the red stone path swerved around a terrifying drop and proceeded to ascend up the real part of the mountain. In reality, we had covered about half the distance and the difficulty of the climb became increasingly harder.
As we followed the red road, the true beauty of this mountain began to reveal itself. To our left were calm and clear lakes that appeared completely detached from human society and directly in front of us was a luscious and powerful waterfall where we decided to stop and have a break. The heat of the Scottish sun (which would probably feel like winter to most people) was enough to merit a soaking in the waterfall and a change from trousers to shorts. The water is safe to drink so this is a great place to stop to fill up any bottles.
The path from this point onwards became a little more treacherous: rocks shift underneath your feet and you feel like you’re climbing up the face of a mountain, the zig-zagging of the path serving only to remind you of how far you could fall. As you near the top, you begin to fill with optimism. You tell yourself “I knew I could make it!” but one thing that nobody warns you about are the false summits. Time and time again you think you’re reaching the top only to realize how far you still have to go.
Reaching the Top!
When the summit actually reveals itself, I found myself a little unnerved. For a moment, before the amazing sight hits you, before the joy sinks in and the happiness of being one of the highest people in Britain dawns upon you, you have this dark pause where you realise just how high you actually are. As you look around at these gigantic mountains that are so far below you, you can’t help but feel a little wobbly. At least as someone with a fear of heights, that’s how I felt.
Once that moment passed, however, I began to smile. I had done it!
I’ll admit that looking over the edge was nauseating and is a moment that haunts my nightmares…but truly no sight has ever compared to looking across the sky, feeling above the world, and knowing that not a single other person in Britain is higher than you are.
If I were to warn you about any aspect of this mountain, it would be the fog. When you’re near/at the top, clouds can block your vision entirely. If you’re with young people, they need to be made aware of this as a frantic run in the wrong direction could have disastrous consequences!
What would I do differently? Certainly, more training! If you’re young and at an average level of physical fitness, then you’ll manage it fine but the next day you’ll struggle to move your legs. You’re only walking about 8 miles in total but half of that is incredibly steep.