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Ben Nevis, Scotland

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK standing 4,409 ft. above sea level. It is located directly south-east of Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. I climbed Ben Nevis toward the end of a short vacation in Scotland in 2012 using the CÓrn Mor Dearg Arete route.

Ben Nevis Trail Map

Thursday July 5th, 2012

I woke up around 4am and had a quick breakfast in the hotel before a short drive to the Pony Track trail head in Glen Nevis. I arrived at the trailhead across from the Ben Nevis Inn at 4:30am. There were two cars in the parking lot but no one to be seen. The cars probably belonged to people staying at the Inn.

It was pleasantly cool when I started up the path from the parking lot along the side of Meall an t-Suidhe. Numerous sheep were wandering around in the heather along the side of the trail. After about an hour I came to the wide col between Meall an t-Suidhe and Ben Nevis. Here the trail turns north into the col and continues up and to the right of Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe. The view across the lake and over the edge of the mountain toward Fort William is beautiful with the early morning fog.

Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe

At waypoint 2 the Pony Trail turns sharply back to the south where it begins a series of switchbacks up the south east side of Ben Nevis. A smaller trail continues to the north of waypoint 2 and circles around under the north face cliffs to the CIC hut. This path provides great views of the north-west side of the mountain with numerous couloirs and buttresses that you don't get to see on the normal route.

The view north from the north side of Ben Nevis

Cliffs on the north side of Ben Nevis Cliffs on the north-west side of Ben Nevis

Three kilometers of relatively flat trail brings you around to the CIC hut. About 200 meters before the hut I turned left off the trail and descended down to the stream in the valley. The stream was easily crossed by stepping from one large boulder in the stream bed to the next.

Stream Crossing

After finding a way across the stream I took a direct line to the top of Carn Dearg Meadhonach. The climb to the top of this heather and rock covered slope is a strenuous kilometer with a 580m elevation gain. The slope begins with a 15 degree incline and gradually steepens to about 35 degrees near the top with many tall steps required due to the rock. It took about an hour to climb to the top after which I found a comfy rock to sit on and have a snack and drink while snapping a few photos. There were a few drifts of snow along the north west side of Carn Dearg Meadhonach near the top.

From Carn Dearg Meadhonach I followed the ridge to Carn Mor Dearg and then continued along the Carn Mor Dearg Arete to the east side of Ben Nevis. Large clouds had formed around the summit of the Ben and were drifting down in whisps over the Arete as I crossed it. The walk across the Arete took about an hour and another 45 minutes of climbing up the fog covered slope of large strewn boulders brought me to the summit at 9:15am.

I turned out to be the first climber on the summit that day and spent about 10 minutes looking around at the various large cairns and other rock structures before a man and his teenage son arrived, the first climbers up the normal cart track route. I chatted with them for a little while and then took a look at the tops of the north west face cliffs before starting back down via the normal cart track route at around 9:45. The sun was beginning to come out and the fog starting to dissipate.

As soon as I reached the top of the switchbacks on the east face I could see dots of climbers all along the trail on their way up. With nothing much else to do I kept a rough count of the climbers that I passed on the way down exhibiting various stages of exhaustion. There were about 220 in total. After 2 hours of descent I was back at the parking lot. It was 11:45am. Looks like I'd be back in town just in time for lunch!