A Beginner’s Guide to Ben Nevis

A Beginner’s Guide to Ben Nevis

Ever since we had decided to visit Scotland, we had set our hearts on conquering Ben Nevis. It definitely was a challenge-the highest peak either of us had tackled-and we weren’t exactly in prime physical condition at the time. We’d both slacked off the gym, we hadn’t even been out walking that much, that’s not to mention the fact that I was pregnant. There was definitely a couple of moments where I doubted the wisdom of us even attempting it. Luke, on the other hand was strangely determined.

In order to reassure myself, I took this hike VERY seriously, having not one, but two maps to hand. I also intently studied the weather conditions, researched routes up and we even purchased walking poles. Oh yes, I was leaving nothing to chance. I heeded all the warnings, I wouldn’t be one of those unprepared fools who ends up being airlifted off the mountain in flip flops.

In reality I honestly needn’t have bothered. (N.B. The Helpful Hiker always recommends thorough preparation). It is, after all, quite a popular walking spot, especially on a warm, sunny day as we enjoyed. The appropriately named ‘Tourist Route’ (or Pony Track) from Glen Nevis is well marked and you’re likely to walk up in procession. I would like to say now that my advice is based on tackling the summit on a clear(ish) summer’s day. Winter is a whole other ball game and, quite frankly, way beyond my limited expertise.

So, after a breakfast of champions (or a McDonald’s drive thru) we joined the line of hikers snaking their way up and began the long, slow ascent. The path is easy to follow, although steep and increasingly stony. We started in t shirts as it was such a beautiful day. I couldn’t believe our luck, the weather was perfect. We made it up in a steady 4 hours. The poles were invaluable at several points, especially as the path became less stable underfoot the higher we got. It was a long, hard slog and I’m not going to lie, I may have sworn a bit along the way. Luke pulled me through, again his odd determination to get to the top reared it’s head. He didn’t even let me stop for a food break.

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                                     A couple of pics of the path up 


Some views of Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe (also known as the ‘Halfway Lochan’) at 570 m

A great view as we climbed higher

As we climbed it became ever colder, luckily we were well prepared with several layers. There was still snow at the top which was a great contrast from the warm sunshine at the bottom. At the top of Ben Nevis is a rocky plateau of about 100 acres, a trig point denotes the highest point, while there is also a ruined observatory (now a shelter for those caught out by the weather). It is rare to get clear views from the top, and indeed the cloud had closed in. There were, however, enough breaks to allow for some breathtaking vistas, which quite simply made it all worthwhile.

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                                            Some views from the top

With an enormous sense of achievement I sat down to enjoy my pasta lunch. However, before I was allowed to eat, the reason for Luke’s dogged determination became clear. I was starving and probably moaning about wanting to eat, however he led me off to a quiet corner and reached into his bag. He then produced a bottle of Prosecco, 2 glasses and a diamond ring! It was quite possibly the most perfect marriage proposal ever. My hunger (momentarily) forgotten, obviously I said yes. It then dawned on me that he had carried all that the whole way without a word. He subsequently mentioned just once or twice (every 15 minutes) how it had dug in his back all the way up. As people remarked later, it was a good job I said yes, or it could have been a frosty descent!


For me, going back down was easily the hardest part. My lack of fitness became all too obvious as I waddled down like an old lady. It took us the same amount of time going down as it did to get to the top.

So, next time (there will be a next time) I will definitely be fitter. I will also take more water and snacks.

Anyone with solid navigation skills, appropriate clothing and a head for heights can do this. There are always plenty of guided walks if you prefer that approach.

Are you planning a trip to Scotland? These posts might help:

Steall Waterfall

Coalasnacon Campsite

Glenfinnan Monument and Viaduct

Get the OS Map here:



  • Jenny Eaves Jenny Eaves August 05, at 16:34

    Aww, that’s the sweetest proposal ever! I love that he brought it all to the top of Ben Nevis for you! I climbed Ben Nevis with my dad when I was at uni, we went last the loch an and along the ridge opposite Ben Nevis, before following the top of the corrie up Ben Nevis. Then came down the same way you went, going down is definitely harder, especially if you were pregnant as well! A lovely story. 🙂 x

    • TheHelpfulHiker TheHelpfulHiker August 05, at 17:04

      Thanks, and yes it was very sweet of him, he hardly mentions it at all 😉 We’re getting married next May, hopefully we’ll have lots more adventures along the way!

  • katchambers katchambers August 28, at 14:19

    That almost makes me want to climb, except I have never climbed more than a few stairs in my life, I am terribly unfit, and they probably won’t let me just go for a wander for a few hours. We are heading there soon but probably will just be looking at the stunning views. Is there a way to get to the top without walking it all? Sorry that probably goes against your hiking nature. I will be fit enough one day but definitely not yet.

    • TheHelpfulHiker TheHelpfulHiker August 28, at 15:04

      I don’t know about that, I’m not very fit at the moment-I think I’d struggle if I did it today! Unfortunately, I think the only way up Ben Nevis itself is by foot. There is however the gondola that goes up Aonach Mor and gives great views of Ben Nevis and surrounding range. We drove past many times but didn’t actually go on it. http://www.nevisrange.co.uk/gondola-info.asp might be worth a go!

      • katchambers katchambers August 28, at 16:12

        Oooh thank you, that’s perfect! We can’t wait to go. I have never been to the highlands before and Scotland just looks so beautiful. Any other tips please let me know, thanks.

  • Cerys Lowe Cerys Lowe October 18, at 13:03

    Incredible photos!

    Pretty much the same thing happened to one of my friends but on the top of Snowdon. She said a few times she swore at her boyfriend {on the way up anyway!} about how she just wanted to turn around…only to get to the top through his determination and then for him to produce a ring!

  • Zoe at Splodz Blogz Zoe at Splodz Blogz October 18, at 13:15

    An amazing place to propose 🙂 🙂 And definitely some awesome views, what great photographs.

  • Elizabeth Elizabeth January 06, at 08:52

    What a fantastic location for a marriage proposal, I love it! 🙂 Looks like you had fantastic weather for it too. 🙂

  • Mrs H Mrs H February 11, at 19:46

    Awww, what a beautiful story. And what a perfect marriage proposal. I can’t believe he carried that bottle of prosecco all the way up Ben Nevis. Breathtaking photographs and a lovely post. Hugs Lucy xxxx

    • The Helpful Hiker The Helpful Hiker February 18, at 07:30

      Thanks, it really was stunning in every sense. I definitely won’t forget that day in a hurry!

  • Maria Maria February 12, at 08:57

    Congratulations! What a perfect way to propose! The scenery is incredible. Not a day you’ll forget in a hurry! xx

    • The Helpful Hiker The Helpful Hiker February 18, at 07:30

      It really was an amazing adventure -and a very special day. I’m a lucky girl!

  • Agness of Fit Travelling Agness of Fit Travelling February 17, at 11:35

    This isn’t only the beginners guide for Ben Nevis, but an essential one, Lauren! Great tips and stunning pictures!

  • Mark Galvin Mark Galvin March 28, at 17:15

    At first i thought its just the view, beautiful pictures you share but as i go further reading its a very sweet proposal. This is the best blog i had read, thanks for sharing your memorable moment and also this stunning photos. That was indeed a great adventure.

  • amanda amanda August 07, at 11:59

    i have just climbed snowdon and i have to say if it was not for my son the last bit i could not of done without him as i am terrified of heights . Has Ben Nevis got a shere drops, i can do the walk fine its just a height thing

    • The Helpful Hiker The Helpful Hiker August 08, at 08:23

      There are some big drops, especially at the top, but the tourist track is easy to follow and you can always stay in the middle away from the edges 🙂

  • A friend and I went up Snowdonia last year and her first comment once we had done it was “so when are we doing Ben Nevis”. You’ve reassured me that with fair weather it should be a good challenge #adventurecalling


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