How Hard is Ben Nevis Compared to Snowdon?
If there are two mountains on the breath of any UK hiker, it would be Ben Nevis and Snowdon. Each famous in their own way, these peaks are pinnacles of the UK hiking scene and climbing them is a highlight for British adventurers. Ben Nevis takes the mantel as the highest peak in Scotland with Snowdon being the highest summit in Wales. However, how hard is Ben Nevis compared to Snowdon?
The peaks are situated in different countries and National Parks. The landscapes, weather systems, and terrain vary between the two peaks as do the altitude, trail quality, and ease of access. For these reasons, many hikers question which of the two peaks is more challenging to climb. In this article, we will compare the two mountains and answer the question: how hard is Ben Nevis compared to Snowdon?
What is Ben Nevis?
Ben Nevis is 1,345 metres high which makes it the tallest peak in the British Isles. It is a peak in the Grampians Mountain range of the Scottish Highlands. Visitors often access this peak via the town of Fort William – a hotspot for ramblers wishing to explore Glen Coe and the many Munros in the area.
Around 130,000 hikers attempt to summit this peak each year. Its numerous cliffs, aretes, and scree slopes also provide a fantastic place for scramblers and mountaineers to flex their skills. During the winter, Ben Nevis is a snow-covered landscape that offers opportunities for ice climbing and winter hiking.
Ben Nevis Difficulty?
There are a handful of routes to climb Ben Nevis. The Mountain Track is one of the most popular hiking routes in the UK. The Ben Nevis via Carn Mor Dearg Arete trail is a more specialist route frequented by experienced walkers who enjoy scramble hiking. In general, there is more scree and loose rock on the slopes of Ben Nevis than on Snowdon. Hikers may have to scramble across some tricky sections which can add to the difficulty of the trail.
So, how hard is Ben Nevis compared to Snowdon? Due to its height, Ben Nevis is subjected to some foul weather. Sub-zero temperatures are common with high winds, ice, and snow plaguing hikers for many months of the year. Most summit attempts are made during the summer months to avoid this bad weather. However, rain and cloud can still hamper visibility in poor weather conditions.
Once you are on Ben Nevis, there are no opportunities to pull out from the trail. You either have to venture to the top or turn back. There is no visitor’s centre at the summit like on Snowdon, and there is no railway to reach the top either. The standard route up Ben Nevis takes 6-8 hours. The route is 10 miles with 1,300 metres of ascent.
What is Snowdon?
Snowdon (1,085 metres) is the highest mountain in Wales and the iconic peak of the wondrous Snowdonia National Park. Now known by its Welsh name of Yr Wyddfa, this peak is visited by some half a million hikers each year. The Snowdon Massif is famed for its glaciated geomorphology and alpine features.
It is the highest mountain in the British Isles outside of Scotland. Often subjected to bad weather from the Irish Sea, this dramatic pyramidal peak is renowned for its angular profile. The steep walls are regularly used for rock climbing. In fact, many budding mountaineers come to Snowdon to practice pitching on its precipitous edges and sharp aretes, including Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Mount Everest.
When hikers ask, “how hard is Ben Nevis compared to Snowdon?” it’s worth considering the different trails you can take to the summit. Snowdon has 6 official trails, along with unofficial scrambles and arete summits, which all range in difficulty. One of the hardest routes to the peak is the Crib Goch track – an unofficial Grade I scramble that has some serious exposure along a knife-edge ridge. There is also the Snowdon Mountain Railway which can take you straight to the summit!
The other routes to ascend Snowdon vary in length, altitude, and trail quality. The Llanberis Path is considered the easiest as it is well-paved with a gradual ascent. The Pyg Track and the Miner’s Track both follow a similar route from Pen y Pass up a long series of stone-stepped switchbacks. The Snowdon Ranger Path, Rhyd Ddu, and Watkin Path follow different trails that are also of mixed quality.
The weather is often poor on Snowdon which increases the challenge but due to the visitor’s centre and café at the Hafod Eryri Summit Station, there is less risk of getting caught in bad conditions. Snowdon generally takes 5-7 hours to climb. Of course, depending on your chosen route, the timings and distance will vary. In general, the distance is between 7-9 miles with 750-1,000 metres of elevation.
Having looked at these two peaks, it’s now time to decide, how hard is Ben Nevis compared to Snowdon? Firstly, summiting Ben Nevis is a greater distance than Snowdon. The shortest route up Ben Nevis is 10 miles, whereas the shortest route up Snowdon is less than 7 miles.
Ben Nevis is also more challenging due to the elevation you must climb. At least 300 metres of additional ascent are required to climb Ben Nevis. The weather on both mountains is considered extreme but Snowdon has the extra support of the visitor centre to provide respite from adverse conditions. In general, when wondering “how hard is Ben Nevis compared to Snowdon?”, the main walking paths on Snowdon are better paved and easier to follow than on Ben Nevis.
Taking all of this into consideration, Ben Nevis is more difficult in most categories but not by a huge amount. Both mountains require strong fitness levels and thorough planning to navigate safely. Ben Nevis may be the more challenging peak but both mountains are formidable summits of the British Isles.