By Simon Ball, Jun 16 2017 03:31PM

So, you've trained hard, you're looking great in that new jacket and you're ready to climb Ben Nevis. What could possibly go wrong?

Over the years we have guided hundreds of people on Ben Nevis as they raised vital funds for Autism Northern Ireland. Training, careful preparation and determination were all key to their success.

However, we have also seen a few pit-falls, easy mistakes to make, which have either stopped people in their tracks or made the experience less pleasant than it should have been! This is why I'm sharing my Top 5 Things Not To Do on Ben Nevis.....

1. Don't Make Lunch For The Office

If your job doesn't involve a lot of physical activity then you probably survive on pretty meagre rations during your day. Climbing Ben Nevis is physically demanding and you are burning MANY more calories than usual. So, you will need to pack much more food than usual and make sure that you eat it during rest breaks on the mountain. Trust me, the eating bit is harder than you think when just want to press on, but you have to do it.

When we call at the supermarket the day before, buy convenient food like twice as many sandwiches than you would normally have, along with fruit, nuts and some sugary treats for a quick boost when you need it. You need to be self-sufficient from after the continental breakfast (provided in the hostel) to the evening meal, which is around 8pm. Keep the small stuff handy in your pockets and pack your lunch in a waterproof bag.

2. Don't Dehydrate

Dehydration isn't just unpleasant, it's dangerous. Respiration and perspiration are both higher on the mountain so hikers use up much more water, particularly in hot weather. You are more likely to sip water regularly if you have a drinking tube and bladder, which is more convenient than removing your rucksack. Water requirements vary from person to person, but I personally take 3 litres on an average day, and more if it's hot.

3. Don't Dress For The Gym

No matter how attached you have become to your trainers over the past few months, resist the temptation to wear them on the mountain. With no ankle support, you are more likely to have a sprain or a strain. On a wet day they will soak through and you are also more likely to slip over (you really don't want to do that!) Regardless of the weather, with trainers you are also more likely to get blisters. Be kind to your feet! :) Leave the leggings at home too, they're not great protection against the wind and rain, though we are hoping to avoid that.....

4. Don't Expose Yourself

In wet and cold weather, it can feel like winter as you climb higher on Ben Nevis. Your extremities need protection so take waterproof gloves, a hat that covers your ears and a scarf or buff for your lower face. Hopefully they will stay in your rucksack, but if you need them, you will be glad you have them!

5. Don't Pack For The Park

The summit of Ben Nevis can feel like another world if you're not used to the high mountains. You can't nip back to the car for that extra layer and there are no shops handy on the day of the climb. So, check and double check that you have everything on the kit list before you fly to Scotland.

As soon as you get to your hostel on Friday, pack your rucksack for the climb. If you do this early enough there may be time to get anything that you forgot in Fort William. Don't overload yourself with unnecessary stuff that you probably won't will have to carry it all day!

Don't Panic!

This isn't a common pitfall, but it's worth a mention.

Ben Nevis is a challenge for a reason - it's a significant achievement to summit and you will feel pretty epic on Saturday night. But don't panic about it! It's achievable by any fit walker and you will have a team of experienced leaders to support you every step of the way. Don't hesitate to say hi and ask for advice or let us know if anything is worrying you, whether in the airport, on the minibus or in the hostels. We will be glad to help! :)

Good luck with the rest of your training and preparation, eat well and don't do too much in the last days before the climb.

Here's to success in Scotland! :)



Simon Ball is a qualified Mountain Leader who has a lot of experience of making mistakes in the mountains

By Simon Ball, Jan 27 2017 05:01PM

"You're having me on, I can't even walk the length of myself!"

"I don't like going up a stepladder!"

"It looks cold and wet and I haven't got the right clothes, boots or waterproof mascara!"

These reasons have all got one thing in common - they're simply not true. Over the years, lots of people have joined our guided summer treks supporting Autism NI and proved it.

Yes, Ben Nevis is big. At 1344 metres (4409 feet in old money) it's the highest mountain in the UK and Ireland. It's way up in the beautiful Scottish Highlands, the land of bagpipes, haggis and whiskey (other good reasons to visit). Nothing higher to the west before you hit the US of A, and nothing higher to the south until you hit the Alps. Don't know about the north or east, I've only ever been to Amsterdam and that's just flat isn't it?

Climbing Ben Nevis is a real challenge and one that attracts a lot of people every year. But they're not all rugged mountaineers - you don't have to be missing frost-bitten fingers or wear a puffa jacket to have a go. You just need to really want to do it and put a bit of effort into preparing yourself - but we'll cover that in another post.

For now, let's dispel a few myths about climbing Ben Nevis.

I need to be an athlete

Let me be straight with you. If you don't exercise at all and you rock up for a go at Ben Nevis then you will not enjoy it. If you do manage to wing it to the top (and back down) you probably won't be able to look at a flight of stairs for a week and it will put you off mountains for life. We don't want that for you.

You don't need to be uber-fit. Ben Nevis is about 7-8 hours of walking carrying a small rucksack on good tracks and steps, which is within the ability of anyone who is in good health. Don't be put off by the word "training" because this doesn't need to be painful or involve gyms, weights or lots of sweat. It could simply be brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming or a few trips to the hills. Anything to get your heart and lungs going and to build strength in your legs - routes on rolling hills are perfect. Start now, build up the frequency and intensity, and you will be fine. There's more information on our Training page.

I'm scared of heights

If you search Google, you will see some dramatic shots of knife-edge ridges, the sheer north face and a multitude of daring routes up Ben Nevis. We don't go near any of them. If you get the climbing bug and you want to build your confidence and skills to do these routes then brilliant.

For this trip, we take a gradual, winding route up the mountain. The climb is physically demanding and as you get higher and higher you enjoy some dramatic scenery, but there is no exposure to long drops or anything that should unsettle the vast majority of people. The tracks can be narrow and may need care in places, but that's mainly because they sometimes get busy. The greatest danger is stepping back too far when taking a selfie with the view.

I don't have or can't afford the right kit

Having the right kit is really important. On a sunny day, most of it will stay in your rucksack. On a wet and windy day you will be wearing all of it and, if you forgot any bits, your fingers/ears/nose will be cursing you for it. It doesn't need to be high performance gear from expensive brands. Yes, expensive kit tends to be of higher quality and lasts longer but it is really more suited to being used in more extreme mountain environments.

For Ben Nevis, the sort of kit that you would wear for a winter day in bad weather is what you need because, even in summer, it can feel like winter on the summit. Most of you who have to walk the dog year-round will have this stuff already. One addition for most people is a good pair of boots, but these can be picked up quite cheaply and will do you for ages. Check out our Kit page and also our current Deals & Discounts.

One word of warning if you're not climbing with a guided group. Ben Nevis is a pretty foreboding place if you don't know where you are or when the weather turns bad. Stay safe and, if you don't have the right skills or experience then find someone who does to go with you. It must also be stressed that in the winter it's a completely different mountain altogether, where ice axes and crampons, and the skills to use them, come into play.

So, there you have it, a few facts about climbing Ben Nevis. But don't just take it from me - get in touch with the on-line community on Autism NI's Facebook Ben Nevis 2017 event page and chat with others who have done it or who are going to give it a go.

And finally, the sun does come out on Ben Nevis sometimes, I've seen it! :) :) :)

Happy climbing!


Simon Ball is a qualified Mountain Leader who will be celebrating his 11th trip to Ben Nevis this summer.


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How Not To Climb Ben Nevis