Hiking to the summit of Ben Nevis – highest point in the British Isles

**Thanks to our Admin, Mark, for sharing our journey to the top of Ben Nevis!**

Hiking somewhere at Ben Nevis was always part of my travel plans, months before I got to Scotland. There are several lower elevation hikes around the mountain, in case attempting the summit would be out of the question due to weather or other factors. Another consideration was that the trailhead to the summit was a few miles from the Caledonia Canal, where we were staying aboard svDetour, necessitating a taxi ride or a long walk just to get started.

As it happens, the weather was fairly decent and we also had a rental car available, so we were able to drive to the trailhead and begin the hike at 10:29am.

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Ben Nevis is the highest point in the British Isles, at 4,414 feet above sea level. Notably, the hike starts a mere 100 or 200 feet above sea level, so the elevation gain is considerable and challenging.

After parking and paying at the busy parking lot, we inquired at the visitor center: “Most people take about 4 hours to reach the top and 3 hours to return.” Okay, we can try for that. We were told that reaching the waterfall would be roughly the halfway point in elevation.

About 100,000 people attempt the ascent every year. This was easily the busiest trail I’ve ever seen, especially considering its length and difficulty. We would pass various groups of people and they would later pass us, as everybody took rest stops at different places. Some groups were clearly better prepared than others.

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The trail climbs steadily, either gradually or straight up; I recall only one section, near the waterfall, where there is the slightest downhill. It’s a rocky trail, with lots of steps, and ranges from fairly easy to walk to some difficulty. Views increased as we ascended.

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We reached the waterfall at 12:20pm, just over 3 miles into the hike, at an elevation of 2,258 feet. Shortly after this, we lost our good views as we ascended into clouds and fog and there was no letup in the grade.

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As we continued to climb, the fog was more dense and we were all glad to have the large trail markers to guide our way, even though there were still many people on the trail.

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We reached the summit at 14:19 (that’s 2:29pm), after 5.3 miles of climbing. One of the top two or three vertical ascents that I’ve ever done. No views, thanks to the fog and the wind, and the temperature was probably in the 30s, so we kept our snack short and spent only about 15 minutes on the summit. We headed down for 1 1/2 miles, taking a longer snack break with slightly warmer temperatures and also out of the wind. Coming down was considerably quicker, as long as you kept a sharp eye on the rocky trail.

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After about an hour and a half of descending, we had some light rain, which made the rocks on the trail rather slippery and slowed our progress. But somewhere around this point, we were below the clouds and were able to spot the Fort William area, including the canal area where s/v Detour was docked. As you see, my zoomable camera managed to zero in on Detour even from that distance (the boat on the right).

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We continued on down, much fatigued and gradually the grade lessened — we were all ready for this to be over! We finally returned to the parking lot at 17:30, after a total of 10.7 miles. We took 3:50 to ascend and 3:00 to return, fairly close to the visitor center’s prediction.

What a day! What an accomplishment! We made a stop at the grocery store in Fort William to replenish (nothing like having a rental car available so you can carry a large load) and headed back to Detour for a wonderful dinner, tired but happy.

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