Ben Nevis deep snow in May

Ben Nevis deep snow in May

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 56.79627°N / 5.00474°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 3, 2009
Activities Activities: Hiking, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Spring


This is a trip report in which I took the ridge of Carn Mòr Dearg (CMD) to approach Ben Nevis and came down with the tourist route. I will also mention how to take public transport (train/flight) to Fort William from London so that a weekend/long weekend climb to Ben Nevis is possible. The photos taken in early May with still full of snow are stunning (2009 appeared to have very cold winter), rain, storm, fog, hailstone and sunshine all in one day.
the pass  Carn Mòr Dearg Arête Standing on 2nd summit Carn Mòr Dearg (1220m AMSL) looking at the pass of the ridge (Carn Mòr Dearg Arête), pretty stunning!

Timetable / Trip Summary

12:00 flight left from London
13:00 fiight arrived at Glasgow
visit around glasgow
18:00 train left Glasgow
22:00 train arrived at Fort William
22:45 taxi arrived at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel

08:15 left youth hostel to hike up tourist route
09:30 600m level; left tourist route
11:30 on CMD Ridge
13:00 lunch on CMD ridge
15:00-16:00 Ben Nevis
walked down tourist route
18:30 back to Youth Hostel

08:00 visit around Fort william, including Ben Nevis Distillery
17:30 Train left Fort William
22:00 Train arrived at Glasgow
23:45 Train left Glasgow
night train

06:30 Train arrived at London
09:00 back to office

Transport Arrangement

In this trip report, I mainly mention how to get to Ben Nevis from London. Referring to my timetable above and route description below, you can see I made a 3.5 days trip because I had 3-day holidays and the flight+train option is cheaper. I can also visit Glasgow on the first day. However, for the most efficient weekend arrangement, you can make a trip as per the following suggestion:

FRI 22:00 train departs from London Euston
Caledonian Sleeper Direct Train
SAT 09:45 train arrives at Fort William
Walk to Ben Nevis
Saturday night staying in Fort William
Sunday visiting Fort William OR climbing other peaks

SUN 19:00 Train departs Fort William
Caledonian Sleeper Direct Train
MON 06:30 Train arrives at London Euston

Day 1 - Travelling

Saturday 2.5.2009

Since it was impossible to get an advance cheap train ticket (£32) for that particular Friday night direct train from London to Fort William, I booked a British Airways ticket, departing London Heathrow at 12noon and arriving at Glasgow at 1pm. My friend Vincent and I then visited around Glasgow and went to Mackintosh house. We met up another friend Haru at 6pm. Then 3 of us boarded the train for Fort William.

We arrived at Fort William just after 10pm. The weather was quite bad with heavy rain. We called a taxi to get to the Youth Hostel at Glen Nevis but the taxi came 0.5 hr later. It made our time quite tight because we were hurrying to check in to the hostel before 11pm. Nevertheless, eventually we got there on time.

Glen Nevis Youth Hostel (part of IYHF) is a good base for climbing Ben Nevis. It is exactly at the beginning of the tourist route to the summit. You will certainly meet a lot of fellow hikers there.

Day 2 - The Big Hike

Sunday 3.5.2009

Prehike PhotoPhoto of all hiking members in front of the youth hostel before the hike, in case anything happens
Glen Nevis ValleyIn the middle of tourist route, at around 300m AMSL, looking SES at the wide Glen Nevis valley

We got up at 07:00. Enjoy the hostel's breakfast at 07:30. Then we set off for the big hike at 08:15.

Though weather was not great, it was good not raining. We left the hostel, took a team photo (3 of us; in case anything would happen) and then walked across the river to the beginning of the tourist route (just 30m AMSL). Maybe since one of my mates have not done long hike for years, he was quite slow. Therefore, we have plenty of rest time, which is a good thing, making the hike quite comfortable other than a rush.(He is fitter now after a couple of hikes and gym sessions)

At around 09:30, we arrived at 600m AMSL, where the route branches out to the bottom of the CMD ridge from the infamous tourist route. At this junction, a high level lake Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe is on your left hand side, offering amazing scenery with the dramatic weather.

lake Lochan Meall an t-Suidhelake Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe at around 600m AMSL
North CMD ValleyNorth CMD Valley, where the river Allt a'Mhuilinn lays. This view is looking north.
North ValleyApproaching the North Valley, where the river Allt a'Mhuilinn begins. This is the view of the CMD ridge from the valley.
North ValleyFrom North Valley looking to CMD ridge. At this point, still quite a distance from the emergency hut, we cut left across the river to ascend to the CMD Ridge.

After a short rest, we walked down this branching out route, due North, around the foot of Carn Dearg Mountain, to the long CMD valley (where the river Allt a'Mhuilinn begins).

Carn Dearg hill behindVincent was ascending onto CMD ridge. The background is Carn Dearg hill.
Carn Dearg hill with Ben NevisThough I would not claim I have seen the summit Ben Nevis, this photo taken from the east session of CMD ridge almost shows the summit.

We cut across the river, where we also filled up our bottles, way far before the rescue hut. At 10:30 we ascended straight up the steep west face of CMD ridge. The further we ascended, the more snow on the rock/grass we encountered. It was quite a steep climb. Although we all wore proper boots, we did not bring crampons. However, it just turned out it is a bit slippery. Taking extra care, there was no problem to negotiate the entire route.

Looking at pass on CMDStanding on the half way to CMD ridge top, looking S at the southern pass of CMD ridge (Carn Mòr Dearg Arête).

On 1st summit Carn Dearg MeadhonachOn Carn Dearg Meadhonach (1179m AMSL), obviously, I looked very cold with strong wind...
From 1st to 2nd summitOn the route from Carn Dearg Meadhonach to Carn Mór Dearg. That is the best view I could see. All I could do was to follow the top of the ridge, avoiding walking too much to the left on the pure white snow, which might fall off the cliff at any moment.

What a pity, just 5 mins before we arrived at the ridge top, Vincent decided he had to turn back because he did not notice he needed to work on the next day and had to catch the 5pm train to hurry back to London. Then I asked Haru to go with him as well (because it is safer for them to go together and both of them felt it be a too long and not very safe route to Ben Nevis). Meanwhile, I insisted I would walk along the CMD ridge to the summit by myself, although as a usual advice they strongly recommended me not to do so for safety reason. Anyway, I felt pity because I could not take them to the summit.

Now I was ascending along the ridge by myself. Actually, at the moment my friends turned back down, we did not reach the ridge yet and no one knew how near the ridge top was because it was so foggy with very low visibility. After all, I walked for 5 more mins and suddenly find that I was exactly on the first summit Carn Dearg Meadhonach (1179m AMSL) at 11:15. Meanwhile, I still regret that I failed to take my friends to the ridge top.

CMD Ridge & meTaken not far south from Carn Mòr Dearg on the ridge, looking south, with Mamores area behind
From CMD summit looking at Fort WilliamTaken on Carn Mòr Dearg (1220m AMSL). For the first time of the trip, I could have a good visibility, seeing the entire valley and Fort William, 1220m below my feet (the left corner of the water is Fort William).

Wind was so strong (particularly on the ridge, you know) and it was freezing up there. Apart from the little stone shelter, everything else was just fog and white snow. However, after a short rest and I still managed to have a number one, I shot off southward along the ridge. Although There was full of deep snow and no way to find any trace of route, I just kept on the ridge and looked at my compass to make sure I was on the right course. Soon after that, I reached another summit point Carn Mór Dearg (1220m AMSL) at 12:30. Here I could see the ridge from a distance for the first time, as some fog/cloud cleared up and sun shined. The ridge branches off to the east side of the summit was also visible. Meanwhile, I was able to take some dramatic photos of the white-snowy but rocky CMD ridge approach to Ben Nevis. The whole CMD Valley and as far as Fort William were also under my view, although I could never clearly see the north face of Ben Nevis. Hailstone fell at one point and sun shined in another minute. I took a rest and had a lunch.

the pass  Carn Mòr Dearg Arête Standing on 2nd summit Carn Mòr Dearg (1220m AMSL) looking at the pass of the ridge (Carn Mòr Dearg Arête), pretty stunning!
Scramble across the PassMy fellow BBC team scrambled across the pass (Carn Mòr Dearg Arête), the most exposed part of the CMD ridge, with vertical fall on the north face.

At 1pm, I saw a team of 3 people (they told me they were colleagues in BBC) walking along the ridge with a hired guide. I took the chance to walk with them as it is always safer to walk with people in snowy situation. In this way, we carefully, but easily finished the most exposed part of the CMD ridge (SE and S sessions of the ridge; around 1058m AMSL).

CMD ValleyStanding at the beginning of Carn Mòr Dearg Arête (CMD Ridge southern pass), looking at the CMD valley

At 14:00, we had another short rest coz my fellow BBC mates ate lunch. Then we ascended along the final session to the summit, full of snow, but very decent and gently steady slope to ascend.

Ben Nevis Trig PointLook how thick the snow is, almost covering the trig point platform. And there is always a party up there. You see people having their dogs and chit-chatting.
Observatory RuinAnother party next to the Observatory Ruin on Ben Nevis

Just before 15:00, we arrived at the summit Ben Nevis(1343m AMSL).

Weather was still bad at this level. One could not have a visibility above 20m. What we could see is the mountain shelter and the trig point with a 0.8m high platform (I see from other's foto this platform was at least 2.5m high, now all covered in snow). During the 3+hr I was walking along the CMD ridge, I met only 6 hikers, including the BBC team. However, once we arrived at Ben Nevis, it was like a party up there, despite the cold weather and deep snow. At a moment, there were 30-40 people!! Some of them are in very big groups, people in all shapes, some with even flip-flops and with their dogs, chit-chating around the trig point. I assume most, if not all, of them climbed up slowly from the very safe tourist route. On one hand, it looks funny to find this scene on a proper mountain top. On the other hand, I think it is good that the highest summit in the UK is accessible by most people, not only professional or enthusiastic hikers. Or people became more keen on mountain sports after conquering Ben Nevis, who knows?

After taking some photos to prove that I was there (with big crowds at the background, certainly), I texted my 2 friends, who were at the bottom of the mountain, to aplogised my failure to bring them up to the top and tell them that I am already at the summit. At 3:15pm I began to walk down along the tourist route. Then soon something surprising happened!

On the topHaru & I on the top

I came to a point where the quick descend of tourist route began. Suddenly, someone shouted my name "Edward!". I found that it was Haru!! He was walking up slowly, very tired. Then he told me the story that, after he took Vincent to the 600m level, where it was safe enough for Vincent (who was apparently very exhausted) to stroll down back to Glen Nevis by himself, he walked up the tourist route by himself. I told him again I was very ashamed I did not take them to the top, but very glad that he eventually made it up there by himself. He was so tired that he borrowed my hiking stick, which he was keen on not using before. Then we walked back up to the summit together for 10/15mins. At 3:30pm, we are on Ben Nevis (again). So Haru has done 2000m hieght gain on that day! We took loads of fotos. I told Haru about the custom of eating mountain chocolate at the summit. Instead, he told me his custom of drinking a whisky. So he took out his bottle and we shared a whiskey on the freezing top.

At 4pm, we strolled down. The beginning of the tourist route was quite slippery, partly because it was a very frequent route that the snow was pressed and became ice. Some people even put on crampons. However, you do not need them. All you need to do is to walk off route a bit and step on the fresh snow.

At 6:30pm. We arrived at the door of youth hostel in Glen Nevis. Finishing a 10hr walk, we had a shower and walked to Fort William (1hr walk) for a big dinner. Most places don't serve dinner after 9pm, but we found one good place did. We took a taxi back to hostel and finished off the day.

Day 3 - Fort William Retreat

Monday 4.5.2009

Fort William overcastOvercast Fort William on Monday, and did not recover again through out the day.
Pub  Nevis Sport  in Fort WilliamThe pub "Nevis Sport" adjacent to the big sport shop (and opposite the train station) in Fort William showcases antiques winter mountaineering gears.

We got up and ate breakfast. After that, we still found that it was rainly, worse than the day before. Therefore, Haru and I were not very keen to get ourselves thoroughly soaked. We decided NOT to go into the mountain. We walk out to Fort William, visiting Ben Nevis Distillery. bought a couple of whiskies.

Still rainy, we had a lunch in Fort William. Hanging around, we boarded 5:30pm train for Glasgow. Before we left, we could still not see the top of Ben Nevis at all from Fort William. My conclusion is that, Ben Nevis, like most of UK summits can't be seen when looking from the bottom and the bottom can't be seen once you are on the top.

We arrived at Glasgow at 10pm. Then we had a late dinner in Bella Italia, being the only customers in the restaurant at the last hour. Finally we boarded our prebooked Caledonian train at 11:45pm (£32 p/p, reclined seat) for London

Day 4 - Back to Office

Tuesday 5.5.2009

We arrived at London 6:37am. I still managed to go home to have a shower and a further short nap before going to work at 9am. Certainly, it was a very tiring day of work. But it's worth it coz we just finished climbing the UK highest summit and saved time by taking overnight train.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-9 of 9

Charles - Sep 16, 2009 10:17 am - Voted 10/10

And by Rail!

well done! Thing about the Ben it can snow any time there - except when it should of course.


edwardmw - Sep 17, 2009 5:34 am - Hasn't voted

Re: And by Rail!

Thank you! To be honest, I am still not very experience on snow/icy condition. But the good thing is that a lot of them are actually safe if you play safe, and STUNNING!!


Charles - Sep 17, 2009 7:41 am - Voted 10/10

Re: And by Rail!

Yes indeed! Enjoy them!



AndrewSmyth - Sep 16, 2009 10:34 pm - Hasn't voted


Having left Scotland last year after 8 years of residency, and having completed numerous routes on 'The Ben', this brings back great memories - thank you. Next time have a crack at Tower Ridge or the GN Buttress, wonderful climbing :)


edwardmw - Sep 17, 2009 5:35 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Memories

Cheers! as per your suggestion, I am reading people's posts about other ridges and planning my next trip.


AndrewSmyth - Sep 22, 2009 3:13 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Memories

Edward, if you do get back and are undertaking some serious climbing, I know a (fully qualified) guide who will be more than willing to assist and is pretty fair in his charges.....


edwardmw - Sep 22, 2009 8:41 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Memories

Great! Thx for suggestion! Let me ask you about that once my next trip forms in shape. Meanwhile, am still picking up more climbing skills coz I have been mainly a hiker and have not climbed for 9 years...


climber555 - Sep 17, 2009 10:27 pm - Hasn't voted

Nice report

Well done. Beautiful pictures and great trip report. Enjoyed reading every moment.


edwardmw - Sep 18, 2009 9:00 am - Hasn't voted

Thank you

I saw your pictures and they are even more beautiful! If I travel to the States again soon, the mountain is definitely the main reason.

Viewing: 1-9 of 9