Ben Nevis is the UK’s highest mountain, a not particularly high 4,413 feet/ 1,345 meters. While the height is not impressive, climbing the mountain was a tough, fun challenge for us. As soon as we planned our trip, my husband declared this was on his ‘must-do’ list. After all, our family is in shape and we “hike” all the time. A quick search online told me this mountain was no joke and not something we should take lightly.
If you have fit teens, do a little more preparation than we did, and manage expectations, and this could be a wonderful experience for family.
But I have two words: Be Prepared!
1. Have the Correct Gear (Shoes and Winter Outerwear)
Scotland is unpredictable in terms of weather and Fort William, home to Ben Nevis, is the rainiest part of Scotland (no joke) so we all came with rain gear and layers. What half of us didn’t come with was hiking shoes. This TravelTeening mom hiked Ben Nevis in converse sneakers. It can be done….but it was not fun nor easy.
When we started the hike, it was a lovely day–warm, sun was shining, and you could have gotten away with shorts (maybe) and a T-shirt. As we climbed, the temperature began to drop, and we went through periods of misty rain.
About an hour from the summit, the temperature had dropped
significantly and the path turned to mostly loose stones. I had brought extra layers and hats and gloves for some people, but not all. I won’t mention who in our family thought there was no way it would be close to freezing at the top. But it was! On a warm summer day down below, the summit of Ben Nevis was howling wind, near-freezing temperatures, and what seemed like frozen drizzle and fog. Visibility was in the tens of feet and it was a genuinely inhospitable environment.
Stuff your backpack with extra layers, cold-weather gear, and make sure you have good, sturdy, waterproof walking shoes.
2. Start the Hike Early
We started around 10 am, and it was already very busy, which is good in some ways. As you get to the top of the mountain, there are many opportunities to slip and fall, and you would not want to be out there alone without assistance. There are paths where you will have to move aside to let people pass you.
The hike took us about 7 hours to complete, but the norm is a little longer. We stopped briefly at the top and had some food and rested our feet, but the temperature was so cold that you likely won’t want to stick around too long. My kids did enjoy the a young Scot at the top in who wore a kilt and no shirt who were pretending to be Braveheart.
3. Bring Plenty of Water and Food
Every person should have 2 liters of water with them. We’re talking at least 7 hours and the last hour of the uphill climb is brutal, low visibility so you’ll need to go slow and less oxygen. There is nothing along the way to the top so bring some good nutritious food to keep you going and your kids from complaining. We went through all of our water and protein bars faster than expected.
4. Consider Additional Gear
I rolled my eyes when all the reviews mentioned maps and compasses….seriously. A well traveled path like this shouldn’t require that. And while we didn’t need it, as the fog closed in on us, it would have made me feel better to have something. As you get to the top the cairns show you the way. But people seem to just be wandering by that time, unsure of where they are going and where the “top” is. Don’t wander too far or you may….fall off the other side. Yeah, no joke.
The other item besides a map/compass that would have been nice were walking poles for the parents. I never thought I would be here to say that, but it would have made keeping a steady foot up, down and long some of the streams a little more solid. Not needed, but if you have one pair, it might be nice to take along.
If you have a first aid kit, bring it. Just in case.
5. Know When to Quit
My Scottish dentist wanted to tell me all about all the people who have fallen off cliffs or froze up on Ben Nevis. It’s from lack of planning for the most part. Although, accidents happen and my husband I discussed how lucky that everyone was fine because you fell up there….you’d be waiting a long time for help. If your kids are melting down, and you’re already 2 hours in, just bail. The view along the way is amazing for about half the time. There was no view at the top the day we hike. It’s more of a ‘been there done that’ kind of thing. There is nothing amazing at the top so if you need to bail, no one will fault you for it.