Ben Nevis - Top Tips

map of Shelters Removed on Ben Nevis

Shelters Removed on Ben Nevis

The Nevis Partnership in consultation with the John Muir Trust and after wide consultation amongst mountaineers have removed the two shelters shown on the map. There are no plans to remove the summit shelter.

Click here to see the map in PDF format



The details given below are taken from the guidebook by Cicerone Press - Winter Climbs Ben Nevis and Glen Coe - Alan Kimber - ISBN 1 85284 348 9

The high summit plateau of Ben Nevis is surrounded on nearly all sides by steep and difficult ground. Many accidents have occurred in descent. Often this part of the day will call for more concentration and shrewdness of judgment than at any other time.
The best descent will be determined not only by your point of arrival on the summit plateau but also by the weather and snow conditions. The shortest way will not necessarily be the easiest and in really bad conditions the best way off the mountain may be by Route 1 below. Careful use of map, compass, pacing and possibly GPS and the sketch plan of the cliffs given in this guidebook will suffice to get you down but local knowledge is invaluable. When visibility is good, make a close study of the general topography of the mountain and if possible visit the summit plateau with a view to memorising its details and recording important compass/GPS bearings. The ruined observatory, topped by a SURVIVAL SHELTER, GPS NN16684 71256, is an UNMISTAKABLE LANDMARK on the summit itself even though the neighbouring triangulation point and numerous cairns may be covered by snow. It is recommended to start all compass bearings and GPS Waypoints from the shelter, even though the observatory ruins can intrude on the initial few metres of the 231° (grid) safety bearing if they are not covered with snow.
The best aids to descending from the summit of Ben Nevis are the Harvey Superwalker map of Ben Nevis, 1:25,000 and a compass, and the ability to use both in vile weather conditions. These two items should form essential companions to this guidebook. The insert on the map (Scale 1:12,500) is particularly useful. It shows the sharply indented plateau, and the gullies which must be avoided on compass bearings in poor visibility.
Anyone who visits the mountains in summer or winter without a map and a compass (and the ability to use them in ‘white out’) is putting their life at risk.

Using the map previously mentioned the following descents are recommended:

  1. Red Burn (‘Mountain Track’)
    The easiest way down the mountain. Follow a grid bearing of 231° for 140m from the summit shelter or 150m from the summit trig point (use a rope to measure it if you are not sure of your pacing) GPS NN16558 71180. This will avoid the steep drop of Gardyloo Gully close on your right. Then follow a bearing of 282° (grid). GPS NN 15721 71384 to the 1200m contour. Don’t forget to convert your grid bearings to magnetic (approx. +4° in 2002). On the second bearing you should reach a short steeper section after 300m and continuously steeper ground after 900m of down hill travel. At this point the ‘Mountain Track’ route meets the plateau. Continue on down a steep but easy slope, for another kilometre on the same bearing or GPS NN14756 71865, then turn north towards the ‘Halfway-Lochan’.
    N.B. Along this route it is important not to stray left (south) in the first 2km, as this would lead to the steep and serious ground of ‘Five Finger Gully’. The steep lip of this gully is 800m (approx) from the top of Gardyloo Gully. Accurate pacing and compass work is an essential skill for all people climbing on Ben Nevis. If after 800m on the recommended bearing you encounter steep ground and cliffs dead ahead you are advised to try and avoid them by
    going right (North) until it is possible to continue on the bearing (282 deg grid). This may require that you travel uphill for a short distance to skirt the top of ‘Five Finger Gully’.
    The Red Burn is well known as a good ‘Bum Slide’. Please be aware that large waterfalls exist at the bottom of the burn before it reaches the track and many large rocks are present all the way up the burn which will not only rip your expensive Goretex pants, but may put a hole in your head as well! This area has been the scene of fatal avalanche accidents .
    GPS towards Mountain Track (Red Burn) descent as follows:
    Summit shelter NN16684 71256
    Gardyloo Gully ‘dog-leg’ NN16558 71180 (140m)
    Maclean’s ‘Steep’ NN16262 71232 (310m)
    Red Burn Track NN14756 71865 (1650m)
  2. No.4 Gully
    For climbers returning to the C.I.C. Hut or Allt a’Mhuilinn area, this descent is straightforward in good visibility. The top of the gully has a metal marker post with the number 4 drilled into it (GR 158717 – GPS NN15821 71733). Sometimes the cornice can be impassable, but a slot is usually dug out from below. Also it is possible at times to move a few metres to the north, along the rim and gain access to the gully down steeper ground. Avalanches have occurred in this gully from time to time and the initial entry can be steep, but it soon eases. Take care.
    N.B. A compass bearing due west from the lip of this gully (270° grid) or GPS NN 14756 71865 is a descent to Glen Nevis, via the Red Burn mentioned previously.
  3. Carn Mor Dearg Arête/Abseil Post Sign
    This route can be used with care. It provides a method of descending quickly to a lower altitude, especially if the weather on the plateau is fierce. MANY DEATHS HAVE OCCURRED ON THIS DESCENT OVER THE YEARS. Most of the fatalities have been connected with people straying too far left (north) from the summit on descent.
    From the summit shelter a bearing of 134° (grid) GPS NN16897 71017 should be held. Initially the ground will be flat. After 100m the gradient steepens abruptly and some short posts may be seen; keep these to your left (north-east). From the steepening after approximately 200m of descent a slight col will be found to the left (east) half a kilometre from the summit. At this point is a metal sign (GR 171710 – GPS NN17099 71005) with information relating to the ‘Abseil Posts’. Only two of the higher posts remain (winter 2002) and with care the person experienced in negotiating steep Grade 1 ground in descent will be able to move down easily into Coire Leis. Often it is easier to traverse left (west) towards the Little Brenva Face, before descending. However, snow build-up will dictate the easiest and most obvious route down. The angle is steep at first, but eases after 150m. As with many snowy descents be careful after strong winds during periods of heavy drifting to avoid being another avalanche victim on this slope.

N.B. From the Abseil Post Sign it is possible to descend to the head of Glen Nevis on a bearing of 220° (grid) or GPS NN 16459 70018. This leads to the top of the ‘Waterslide’ mentioned elsewhere under approaches. The original bearing of 134° (grid) from the summit should not be followed for more than 500m as it leads to steep and dangerous ground.

Extra Tips:
For those climbers ‘topping out’ on the following routes in poor visibility and not wishing to visit the summit, these bearings will help:

Gardyloo Buttress 214° grid for 75m (GPS NN1650171181)
then 282° grid to Red Burn or GPS NN16262 71232 to GPS NN14678 71590

Tower Gully 214° grid For 50m (GPS NN16426 71198)
then 282° grid to Red Burn or GPS NN16262 71232 to GPS NN14678 71590

Tower Ridge 214° grid for 130m (GPS NN16378 71232)
then 282° grid to Red Burn or GPS NN16262 71232 to GPS NN14678 71590

No.2 Gully 282° grid to Red Burn or GPS NN14678 71590

No.3 Gully 282° grid to Red Burn or GPS NN14756 71865

Green/Comb Gully 220° grid for 150m (GPS NN16082 71291
then 282° grid to Red Burn or GPS NN14756 71865

Ledge Route 270° grid for 200m (GPS NN15675 72100)
then 180° grid for 450m (GPS NN15675 71655)
then 270° grid to Red Burn (GPS NN14756 71865)

Castle Ridge 232° grid for 200m then 308° grid The descent to the ‘Half-way-Lochan is over very rough, broken and rocky ground, with one or two small crags in places.

NB: The slope north of the Red Burn between the 1125m and 675m contour lines is not very pleasant for descent and contains a number of small crags.

For climbers finishing on routes to the east of the summit (N.E. Buttress and Little Brenva Face) it is advisable to try and find the summit shelter (GPS NN16684 71256) as a definite reference point before descending if they are unsure about the descent. To do this, it should be possible to use the N.E. edge of the plateau above Zero & Point Five gullies and Good Friday Climb as a ‘handrail’ to the summit trig point (15m north of the shelter). Cornice collapse has caused a few fatalities in this area so stay roped, with only one member of the party near the edge.