Sienna Witthans from Air, Land & Sienna talks about her experience hiking the United Kingdom’s highest mountain and gives us her best Ben Nevis walking tips!
When my roommate asked me if I wanted to join him on his trip to Scotland, I thought why not? I love the television show Outlander and thought that the landscape looked stunning, not to mention that the flight from Dublin to Edinburgh was only €25! The next thing I knew, I was waking up at 5am to catch a flight to Scotland.
Little did I know that I had signed onto a hiking trip. For those who don’t know, Scotland has some of the most beautiful hikes in the world. My roommate, Simone, was an avid hiker while I on the other hand, am more of yoga and the occasional spin class kind of girl. However, my lack of experience hiking was not going to stop me from experiencing one of Scotland’s greatest hikes, Ben Nevis.
When Simone mentioned to me that hiking the mountain was on the itinerary, I hadn’t thought much about it. I had recently backpacked around Europe and walked around the streets of London and Paris, hiking was basically the same thing, just uphill right?
Some Facts About Ben Nevis
- Ben Nevis is 1,345 metres (4409 ft) tall!
- It is located at the western end of the Grampian Mountains in the Scottish Highlands
- Ben Nevis is an extinct volcano. It’s peak is the collapsed dome of the volcano that imploded millions of years ago
- It can snow on Ben Nevis any time of the year!
- There is an emergency shelter at the summit for those who get stranded from bad weather
- Over 100,000 people climb Ben Nevis every year.
Soon after our arrival in Fort William, I realized that I may have gotten in a little over my head. I hadn’t realized that Ben Nevis was the highest mountain in the United Kingdom and that the average person takes roughly 3-5 hours to hike to the top and 2-4 hours to hike to the bottom! Once I heard this, I thought that there was no way I could make it to the top.
Luckily, when I checked into our hostel, the woman at the front desk informed me that there is a halfway point that many people choose to stop at. There is a tranquil lake and a magnificent waterfall there. I informed Simone that I would do my best to climb to the top, however, if I were unable to make it, I would stop at this halfway point and wait for him to come down.
On the day of the hike, I felt beyond overwhelmed, but determination to reach the peak is what drove one foot in front of the other on the trek up. Simone powered on ahead of me, only feeding my desire to push myself to complete the journey ahead. The pathway itself was relatively easy to follow and had steps to help with the climb up.
While climbing the mountain, the summit itself remained hidden in the clouds masking how much further there was to climb. Roughly halfway up the mountain, we entered the clouds and could only see about three meters ahead. The clouds definitely helped to cool us off as we continued the trek up and before I knew it, we reached the summit. When I looked at my watch, I could not believe that we had made it to the top in five hours!
Once at the top, the clouds surrounded us, masking the view below. Apparently, the stunning landscape below is only visible 10% of the time. However, we stayed at the peak of the mountain for an hour or two and enjoyed a well-earned lunch. Luckily for us, the clouds eventually cleared and we were able to get a glimpse of the view below. The view was well worth the climb!
Needless to say, despite what you might have heard about hiking Ben Nevis, you are more than capable of making it to the summit. If I was able to reach the top, someone who practically never hikes, then you can as well! It is one of the most unique experiences I have had in all of my travels. You are legitimately sitting and eating lunch in the clouds.
Hiking Ben Nevis is definitely an amazing experience that everyone traveling to Scotland should experience. If you are making the journey to this beautiful country, I highly recommend attempting it and I hope these tips make your journey easier!
Packing list for hiking Ben Nevis
- Lots of water
- Snacks. I recommend apples and peanut butter for you energy.
- Toilet paper
- A comfortable rucksack
- Walking boots (make sure you’ve worn them in)
- Decent thick hiking socks
- Thermal top and trousers (merino wool is fab)
- Hiking trousers i.e. quick dry
- Waterproof trousers and jacket
- Hat and gloves
- Maps and compass
- Spare warm clothes
- Headtorch and spare batteries
- Fully charged mobile phone
- First aid kit
- Blister plasters (Compeed or similar)
- Group shelter
- Walking sticks (optional)
- Dry bags to keep kit dry in your rucksack (optional)
Preparing for hiking Ben Nevis
- Get a good nights rest
- Go on a few smaller hikes beforehand
- Start early in the morning – you don’t want to be hiking down in the dark
On the day of the hike
- Start as early as possible. I am not going to lie, hiking up in a cloud made it much easier. First of all, it was cooler making it easier and second of all, I could not see how much further ahead I had to hike. Personally, that helped me because when I see how much further I have to go, I have this tendency to talk myself out of it. Therefore not seeing how much further I had to go, really helped to propel myself further.
- Use the bathroom before beginning your journey. In case you did not realize, there are no bathrooms on this hike and it is an all-day journey so unless you feel like squatting in an open field, I would do my best to wait.
- Always check the weather forecast before you leave. Most incidents happen when the weather suddenly changes on unaware hikers, and in Scotland you can have four seasons in one day!