Planning our trip to the Scottish highlands and climbing Ben Nevis
Ben what? Is what I said when my friend suggested a weekend trip to climb Ben Nevis. Not the cleverest response but I had not actually heard of Ben Nevis as I’m not a very outdoorsy, country kind of girl but I do like to try new things, so of course, I said yes.
Expectation vs Reality – Ben Nevis
I had this idea that we would be going on a nice little walk up the mountain wearing matching crop tops and leggings and do an amazing Instagram photo shoot at the top before returning to the car. How wrong I was.
If you’re planning your trip now, you better stop thinking about the above and concentrate on what’s to come. The Scottish highlands are absolutely breath taking, the views are to die for so it is well worth it and an amazing experience but mountain climbing is not a joke. This is not a hill you are walking up and it can be very dangerous so please pay great attention to what is to follow.
Safety first – climbing Ben Nevis
The mountain summit is only visible 30 days of the year in a cloak of mist that is so dangerous people can quite literally walk off the edge.
The plan – climbing Ben Nevis
We went in a group of three girls and luckily one of us had done it before. I would recommend a group of three or more for safety and if you can, bring someone who has done it before. Even though people kept asking me if I was going as part of a guided group I don’t feel this is necessary at all. Perhaps in strong weathers it would be advisable but I think if we had payed someone to show us how to walk along a path I would feel pretty mugged off, just saying.
What I find quite amusing is people kept asking me if I had been training for this and I can say the answer is no. Not really at all, I just decided in incorporate more and lengthy walks on the stair master. 45 minutes in on the stair master I was absolutely shattered and I was really questioning whether I would be able to do it at this point but it was too late to cancel now. We booked the trip roughly three weeks before so there wasn’t really any time to make any drastic changes anyway, whether I wanted to or not.
My Ben Nevis shopping list:
- Waterproof trousers – Amazon £14.99
- Fleece – The North Face £50 reduced to £30
- Waterproof Jacket – Karrimor, Sports Direct £75 reduced to £35
- Thermal Socks – Primark £3
- Walking Socks – Sports Direct £6.99
- Thermal long sleeved top – Gym Shark £30 reduced to £15
- Ski Gloves – Amazon £11.99
- Waterproof back pack cover – Amazon £6.99
- Back Pack – Nike £25
- 1 litre water bottle –USN Amazon £4.49
- Snow boots – Dare2be £115
Other things that I already owned include:
- Fleecy leggings
- Snacks – go natural bars
- Waterproof case for mobile phone
- OS Locate App
- OS Maps
Luckily for me there were three of us. I am not the most organised so my friends brought the additional essentials:
- Emergency shelter
- Rehydration tablets
- Tiger balm
- Heat patches
Travelling to Ben Nevis
We booked flights from London to Edinburgh. I don’t believe it makes a huge difference whether you fly to Edinburgh or Glasgow but we found cheaper options to Edinburgh.
Flights cost in the region of £50 return if you’re up for dodgy Ryanair. Left on Friday morning and returned Monday evening. We decided to go for 4 days as this gives us a two day window so we could decide what day to climb – weather dependant.
We stayed at the Premier Inn Fort William, £228 for three nights in a family room – very good price, within walking distance to the station, town, Morrisons and McDonalds.
We hired a car from Edinburgh airport from Hertz. This is great as you don’t need to get a shuttle from the airport. Most car companies are walking distance from the terminal. £104 for one driver, car rental and insurance and then a £200 deposit. It was very quick to both pick up and return the car and that’s coming from the worst driver ever – but that’s another story.
What I had imagined was having a nice relaxing Friday to prepare myself for the walk the next day however this was far from it. I left my house at 9 am and didn’t get to fort William until 9 pm. Please believe the whole journey was TWELVE hours and it was mentally exhausting. Not only did I drive to the airport, the waiting, the flight, the more waiting, the driving for like 4 hours and then the checking in – god help me I was exhausted. Please bear this in mind if you’re travelling from London, or anywhere to be honest.
Climbing Ben Nevis
It was about 10 degrees and windy in Fort William, for me this is freezing. I wore two socks, boots, leggings, sports bra, gym shark top, Nike t-shirt, fleece, and jacket. I packed my waterproof trousers, scarf, gloves, water, snacks, phone, waterproof backpack cover all in my bag.
We fuelled up with porridge, fruit and crumpets. Lots of carbs to give us lots of energy and then we were ready to go.
Ben Nevis is around a five minute drive from Premier Inn and has a car park and visitor centre. We parked up for about 9 am and were ready to go. There are a couple of different paths up the mountain but we took the obvious route – the tourist path or alternatively called the pony track.
I have to say we were extremely lucky with the weather. In Scotland it literally rains every day, and it did on our trip apart from the day we decided to climb. We had a clear sunny day – couldn’t believe our luck. Literally on the other days we were there I could barely walk to the shop without blowing away down the road. The weather was so extreme there was a yellow weather warning for heavy rain. I think if we had planned for a different day we wouldn’t have been able to attempt it due to safety.
As you are probably doing now, I read numerous blogs that state that the first quarter of the hike is steep and then it flattens out. This is not true at all. I found that it was very steep just after the half way point, very hard on the legs. The first quarter you are walking on mainly large rocks, you have to keep your eyes to the ground to avoid any slips and trips but it is very beautiful and you find after about 30 minutes you are already reasonably high up with lots of lovely views. We were even lucky enough to see a rainbow.
I started off at the bottom of the mountain feeling absolutely freezing, with the incline walking I quickly warmed up and was able to remove my raincoat, fleece, and t-shirt so just wearing the thermal long sleeved top.
You get to see all the stunning mountain streams, walk across little bridges and even a waterfall. At about half way you reach a lake, here some walkers can take a different path and then start their decent down the mountain. Many walkers stop here for lunch or snacks and refuel/ recharge for the rest of the trek.
This ascent to the summit includes a combination of steep rocky pathway and flattish gravel pathway. As you get higher and higher you start to see frost on the floor, we even experienced a bit of snow fall and it was at this point we layered up, t-shirt, fleece, gloves and coat went back on. We also were unable to see the bottom of the mountain due to the mist surrounding Ben Nevis. I think it was now that I was starting to feel the strain on my legs the most. You could neither see the top nor the bottom and it was constantly on my mind, ‘ when are we going to get there’, ‘how much longer’.
After four hours we reached the top of Ben Nevis, what an achievement. At -11 degrees and actual frozen hair. Yes I said it, the hair on my head was frozen, I had crunchy hair. We took a few pictures on the tallest point and in the little ruins up there and quickly began the decent. It was absolutely freezing at the top, just taking your gloves off to take a quick picture was too much. I think what kept us going was the great sense of achievement and all the other walkers at the top with the same great energy, it really is quite something.
It took two hours to reach the bottom. Quite tough on the knees walking down and again you have to keep your eyes on the ground to avoid any accidents. You also don’t warm up as much going down so I kept all my layers on until the bottom minus the gloves. Again I felt absolutely fine on the decent but during the last quarter my feet were aching considerably and I was very focused on sitting down.
When reaching the bottom we had a little sit down and recover then quickly drove back. Our whole trip there and back took 6 hours which I was very pleased with. After the best shower I’ve ever had in my life, it was time for prosecco and pasta, YAY.
Looking back – climbing Ben Nevis
On reflection, it is so scenic along the route so well worth it just for that. I don’t think it was as challenging as expected if you are of reasonable fitness, and far better than I had anticipated.
Phone coverage up Ben Nevis
Also another point to add, for those concerned about phone coverage I didn’t really experience a signal issue, perhaps it cut out now and again but nothing too concerning. The main issue is the cold, as you go higher and higher the battery drains very quickly. One minute it’s 80% the next it’s switching off or on 1% so I would only take it out if absolutely necessary AKA Instagram picture time.
My advice would be to make sure you go at your own pace. We saw people running up and down the mountain, sorry not for me. When you think you can’t go on a second longer just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and keep going. For me, I found that when I stopped or sat down for a minute it was 10 times harder to start again.
Additional facts about Ben Nevis:
- Tallest mountain in the UK
- 1344 meters
- Based in the Scottish highlands – Fort William