Ben Nevis from Achintee

Ben Nevis

This is the most popular route up the highest mountain in both Scotland and Great Britain starting from the visitor centre at Achintee in the beautiful Glen Nevis just outside Fort William. It is also the route most commonly used for those taking on the national Three Peaks Challenge. The route is not technically hard on a good day but is still a hard slog as the walk starts pretty much at sea level. Do not be fooled by the incorrect term often used to describe this route, the tourist track. This is a serious mountain that requires a good level of fitness and the right gear on any day. In winter it is a very serious undertaking and only for those with the right gear and knowledge to use it. You should never be put off by any negative reputation that Ben Nevis has sadly got for itself due mainly to its popularity. This is a stunning mountain set in the most incredible part of the British Isles. The views from its summit on a clear day are awesome. Descending looking west out over Loch Linnhe towards the western isles as the sun goes down is something you never forget. Those taking part in the national Three Peaks Challenge should research and keep to the codes of practice that sets out guidelines to ensure that the potential negative effects of the Three Peaks Challenge are minimised.

Route Directions

  1. This walk starts from the Ben Nevis Visitors Centre in Glen Nevis just a few minutes from Fort William at grid reference NN 122 730. To get there follow the signs for Glen Nevis from Fort William. At the small roundabout on the A82 head up the minor road into Glen Nevis. The Visitor Centre is just two kilometres down the road on the left.
  2. Head to the back or northern end of the Visitor Centre Car Park and cross the wooden footbridge over the River Nevis. On the other side of the bridge turn right and follow the river side path south for around three hundred metres until the path turns left and heads up to the Ben Nevis Inn.
  3. The path reaches the end of the road near the turn for the Ben Nevis Inn. Here, turn right and head south east on the Mountain Track which now rises slowly up the side of the mountain, passing through bracken. As it rises, the views open up across Glen Nevis on your right.
  4. After a kilometre the path will meet the path coming up from the Youth Hostel on the right. Here the path starts the first of two switch backs as it rises higher and then crosses two small footbridges.
  5. After another kilometre, the path will turn left and head east, then north east and ascend into the Red Burn Glen. The path continues a steep but well laid ascent and reaches a sharp left turn at the head of the valley.
  6. The path ascends to a sharp right turn, and then flattens out somewhat into a wide track and crosses grassy land for half a kilometre to reach a path junction. The Halfway Lochan, or Loch Meall an t-Suidhe, is now on your left.
  7. At the path junction turn right and head south along the Mountain Track. After half a kilometre the path crosses the Red Burn stream.
  8. After another half kilometre the path switches back to the left. This is the first of the Mountain Track's famous zigzags, of which there are several. The zigzags take the effort out of climbing a third of the mountains total ascent. They do make the ascent easier though it will still seem like quite a slog.
  9. Gaining five hundred metres in sea level you will certainly notice a temperature difference as you gain height on the zigzags and on cloudy days may well find yourself in the clouds by the time you reach the top of the zigzags as you will now be over a thousand metres above sea level.
  10. Once at the top of the zigzags a newly defined and properly cairned path heads in an east- southeast direction over the plateau towards the summit. On clear days, or busy days, you basically follow other people. On quiet or winter days, you do need to be careful as you get nearer the summit, as the path rounds the dangerous top and drop of Gardyloo Gully.
  11. In winter, the top of the gully can be covered by a snow cornice and many walkers, not realising they are doing so, will cross the top of the sometimes unstable cornice, unaware that the proper path avoids this dangerous area.
  12. After Gardyloo Gully the path turns left to the summit area, where you will see a large round stone cairn with trig point pillar on top, and the huge stone emergency shelter with its corrugated roof. Scattered around the shelter are the stone walls of the old Meteorological Observatory.
  13. The summit of Ben Nevis is a fascinating place with several features. The usual ordnance survey trig point pillar can be found on top of a circular stone cairn about seven feet high. Close by there is a huge emergency shelter built up about fifteen feet off the ground. The reason for this structure being built up so high is only apparent when on top of Ben Nevis in winter when several foot of snow stays on the summit for months. It totally covers most of the summit features, except for the emergency shelter, and the trig point on its tall stone cairn.
  14. Although there isn't much wildlife on a mountain summit, Ben Nevis has a slight exception and I have never been on its summit without seeing its beautiful little snow buntings. The other features on the summit include a memorial cairn, and the remains of the old weather observatory. A few walls are all that remains of the once manned weather observatory, and now these walls make excellent shelter from the elements while on the summit.
  15. The most incredible experience while standing on the summit of Ben Nevis though is not its small features but its massive and extensive views. Saying said that however, most days the summit isn't clear, so to get a better experience choose a clear day to make the ascent. The views are amazing from the summit; a panorama of the whole west coast of Scotland and out to the Western Isles. On really clear days you can actually see the east coast and most of the northern half of Scotland.
  16. To descend from the summit follow your route back to the top of the zigzag path. If you are unsure, or there is no visibility, you must take a summit bearing from the summit cairn to avoid Gardyloo Gully.
  17. To descend safely from Ben Nevis in low visibility, follow these instructions: From the summit cairn set your compass on a bearing of 231 degrees, or southwest, walk in that direction for one hundred and fifty metres. Stop here and set your compass on a bearing of 282 degrees, or west to northwest, then walk in that direction following the newly defined and well cairned path for just under a kilometre to reach the top of the zigzag paths again.
  18. Once at the top of the famous tourist path, zigzags descend the obvious route on the well cairned and often busy path. There are several zigzags and they can sometimes seem to go on forever. You now have the right to give those struggling up a smug smile!
  19. After the final switchback the path will descend back down to the Halfway Lochan, crossing Red Burn on its way. Here, turn left and head along the track over the flat grassy area and then follow the path back down the two sharp turns into the Red Burn glen, and down to Glen Nevis.
  20. The path turns right, crosses the two footbridges, and starts its descent towards the Ben Nevis Inn where you can enjoy well-earned great food and drinks, before taking the path back to the wooden footbridge, over the River Nevis to the Visitor Centre.

Maps for this walk

Paper maps for this walk

Click to buy OS Explorer 392 Map Click to buy OS Landranger 41 Map Click to buy Harvey Super Walker Ben Nevis Map Click to buy Harvey Ben Nevis Mountain Map

GPS files for this walk

Route map of this walk

Photos & Trip Reports

Planning for a walk

Check the weather

The weather is a very important part of hill walking. Weather conditions and daylight hours will dictate where you walk, what gear you will need to carry, how far you walk, and may even decide if you go at all. The following links will help you gather information on weather conditions for areas of Britain...

Plan your journey

Planning your journey before you set off for your walk can save you vital hours on the day. You need to make sure you know the area surrounding your starting point as many factors can influence or change the place you park. Don't forget change for parking meters and fees.

Maintenance of your vehicle and being ready for breakdown situations when driving to remote areas is also vital. Pack a full spare petrol can in your boot, and take de-icing tools in winter, including a shovel. The Transport Direct website below is a great resource for anyone wanting to get to the start of their walk using public transport...

Pack the right gear

Carrying and wearing the right gear is essential for walkers to remain comfortable and safe while hill walking in Britain. However, the best gear in the world is of no use to anyone who doesn't know how to use and care for it. Knowing how to use your gear will give you a much more enjoyable experience. The following items are, in my opinion, the essential items to wear and carry for a hill walk in Britain. It would be foolish to head into the hills and mountains of Britain without these essential items and the knowledge of how to use them. Check out the gear section of this site for techniques and gear lists...

  • Footwear
  • Clothing
  • Rucksack
  • Warm Clothes
  • Waterproofs
  • Map & Compass
  • Emergency Kit
  • First Aid Kit
  • Food & Drink
  • Seasonal Gear

Know what to do in emergencies

It is good practise to tell someone where you are going, and when you expect to return. If you don't get in contact when you said you would on your return, and those you told can't get hold of you, at least they will be able to provide the search party with your general location.

Emergency equipment in the check list above means items such as a survival bag, whistle, and emergency food rations. This isn't anything special; any whistle will do, the orange emergency bags only costs a few pounds, and basic food rations can consist of a couple of chocolate bars. Carrying a head lamp is also an important component and a vital piece of kit used for signalling when you require rescuing.

You should always try and get out of a difficult or emergency situation using your own gear, knowledge and energy. If you cannot do this, then you should dial 999 and ask for the police. Use all the gear you have to keep any unwell or injured members of your party or yourself safe and warm, and use your signalling devices to let the rescuers know your whereabouts. To do this blow six good long blasts on your whistle, or flash six flashes of your torch. Stop for one minute. Repeat. Carry on with the whistle blasts until someone reaches you, and don't stop because you've heard a reply.

Never contact mountain rescue unless absolutely necessary, but on the other hand don't ever feel guilty for having to do so, especially if you are a prepared walker. The Mountain Rescue teams are full of fantastic like-minded souls who love nothing more than people who are prepared for being safe in the mountains.