It’s a funny thing that with some mountains, the most travelled route is by far the least interesting. It's a phenomenon that afflicts many of the UK's finest mountains, notably Snowdon and Helvellyn, whose best routes are eclipsed by long and mediocre trudges up what is perceived to be their most accessible sides, even if there are numerous technically similar and more engaging routes nearby. Ben Nevis is one such mountain, and the Pony Track, also known as the Tourist Route, is it's exceptionally popular dud. To describe it as a bit dull would be an enormously favourably review. This long and somewhat underwhelming slog begins in Glen Nevis, and rises gradually at first (unless you start at the Youth Hostel, in which case it rises quite rapidly), before meandering up the sloping western aspect of The Ben. It is the runt in a litter of quality routes that proliferate this fine mountain's many slopes. As you might have gathered it’s a little difficult to recommend this route, however I cab but try and to be fair it does make for a handy descent, and is (arguably) quite a good introduction to the mountain for the inexperienced or less able walker. So why, you might now be asking should I have bothered to write this description. Well to put it simply, because it's there, and for SummitPost to be as complete a resource as possible, even the naff routes need to be included. Plus if people are going to insist on doing something they might as well be informed about it. But you can't say I haven't warned you!
Ben Nevis is located close to Fort William in the NW of Scotland and is served by both bus and train services. Some information about reaching Fort William by public transport, as well as the public transport is available here. Trains can be booked here. If you plan to take the over-night train between Fort William and London (or on route) then make sure you have a berth reserved. As a last resort there is a seated carriage but if this is full then you won't be allowed to ride the train. Citylink operate a bus service between Glasgow and Fort William. Some of these buses also continue to the Isle of Skye. Fort William can also be reached from Oban, Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness. One bus a day runs to Mallaig and in summer a couple also go to Kingussie and Aviemore.
Fort William is easy to reach by car. I'm not going to list every road route here so consult Google Maps or an equivalent. There is a no good or bad approach but on occasions roads close due to heavy snow fall.
Although this route has two possible starts, they are located along the same road and are pretty easy to find. At the roundabout (NN 112 742) between Fort William and Claggan take the unclassified road signposting Glen Nevis east and then south-east along the glen following the southern side of the river. The first starting place is located at the large carpark (NN 122 731) just across the river from the Achintee Pub and Distillery (NN 124 730). The second starting point is some 1.5km further on down the road at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel (NN 127 717). There is less parking here so unless you're starting particularly early, or are staying at the hostel, then this probably isn't a realistic starting point in high season.
If your starting at the Achintee carpark (NN 122 731) start by crossing the wooden suspension bridge across the River Nevis and follow the broad track past the Achintree Farm. Continue in a south easterly direction along a well defined path up a gradual climb follows the slope of the hill. After 1km or so you will meet the junction (NN 133 720) where this path joins the one starting at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel (NN 127 717). If you have started at the hostel then your approach so far will have been short but steep. From the hostel cross the footbridge across the river and head in a slightly rough, but straightish path directly up the side of the hill past two very small plantations of forestry, until the path meets the junction.
From the junction the paths converge and contour around the hillside, crossing two metal footbridges, before following Allt na h- Urchaire/ Red Burn towards Lochan meall an t-suidhe (NN 143 727). As you near the head of the valley you will be taken on a short diversion in order to allow soil regeneration on part of the slope. Continue to follow the path in a north-easterly direction for around 400m until you reach a small cairn/wall (NN 147 724), which marks a juncture in the path. From here take the right hand turn and head in a southerly direction roughly following the contours of Carn Dearg (SN 159 719). The path then zig-zags steeply up the long slope to the summit plateau. Although the path is obvious in summer, in winter it becomes hidden by snow with the only a few cairns announcing it's presense. In these conditions it's worth checking the compass and navigating yourself to the summit trig-point (NN 166 712).
Descent from Ben Nevis is often determined not by your point of arrival but by the weather and snow conditions. In poor weather descent will require more concentration than at any time on the way up as the top of the NE Buttress is only 300 yards away ; the top of tower ridge is 250 yards away, Coire Eoghainn Gully is directly behind you in the south and Five finger gully lies a short distance two the west. To avoid falling down any of these hazards accurate compass technique is essential. From the summit cairn follow a Grid bearing of 231° for 150 metres. Beware of the steep drop into Gardyloo Gully on your right. Remember to make the correct adjustment for the magnetic variation (in 2007 add 3° so that the bearing becomes 234°). Once you have completed this leg and passed the top of Gardyloo Gully, turn onto the second Grid bearing of 282°. Remember the magnetic variation (in 2007 add 3° so that the bearing becomes 285°).
As with any mountain walk in Scotland, be sure to wear a good pair of boots, carry full waterproofs, hat, gloves and a fleece mid-layer or equivalent. In winter the route becomes a lengthy snow plod and an ice axe is advisable. Crampons could also be considered, however for the most part you’re unlikely to need them, although they may be useful on the summit plateau.
Owing to The Ben’s northerly latitude and unpredictable weather, extra precautions should be taken in winter. A survival bag/bivy sack, head torch, emergency rations and even a snow shovel could save your life (or at least some fingers and toes) should you be injured or benighted.
Scottish Mountaineering Club Guides and Publications
Scottish Mountaineering Club - Scotland's national mountaineering club
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland - Scotland's official mountaineering body
British Mountaineering Council - Britain's official mountaineering body
Climbers Club - British national climbing club
Nevis Range - ski centre information for the Ben Nevis area
Visit Scotland - website for the Scottish Tourist Board
Visit Fort William - tourist information for Ben Nevis and the surrounding area
Munro Magic - information of the Munros
The Highland Council - local authority home page
Scottish Natural Heritage - Scotland's statutory body for the protection of landscapes
Joint Nature Conservation Committee - Britain's statutory body for the protection of wildlife
Nevis Sport - a major outdoor shop and mountain centre in Fort William
West Coast Mountain Guides - Avalanche information, climbing conditions and weather forecasts.
Abacus Mountaineering - Climbing conditions
The Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) - Avalanche information
Mountain Weather Information Servise (MWIS) - mountain weather forecast
Metcheck - 7 day weather forecast
Met Office - Weather from the Met Office
Weather Channel UK - Weather Channel weather
Lochaber Transport Forum - local public transport information
National Rail - UK Train Timetable
Showbus - bus timetables for the UK
Citylink - Scottish bus timetables
Inverness Airport - home page of Inverness airport
BAA Glasgow Airport - homepage of Glasgow airport
Glasgow Prestwick Airport - home page of Glasgow Prestwick Airport
BAA Edinburgh Airport - home page of Edinburgh Airport
Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries - ferry information and timetables for the wet of Scotland
ecossenet: Taxis - list of taxi companies operating in the Fort William area
Visit Scotland: Fort William - an extensive list of accomodation in and around Fort William
The Mountain Bothies Association - information on bothies (mountain huts) in Scotland
Scottish Youth Hostel Association - home page of the SYHA
Glen Nevis Youth Hostel - page of the Glen Nevis YHA
Scottish Independant Hostels - a directory of independant hostels in Scotland
UK Campsite.co.uk - directory of campsites in the Fort William area
Maps and Guidebooks
Ordnance Survey - Britain's national mapping agency
Harvey Map Services - an excellent selection of maps designed specifically for outdoor enthusiasts
Cicerone Guidebooks - guidebooks for people of all abilities
Climbers Club Guidebooks - guidebooks for climbers
Scottish Mountaineering Club - guidebooks and publications for and about Scottish mountains