How to Hike the Ben Nevis Pony Track
Hiking Trail Name: Ben Nevis Pony Track
Distance: 10.5 miles (there and back)
Total Climb: 1325m (4,436 feet)
Time: 5-7 hours
What is the Ben Nevis Pony Track?
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and the famous lofty peak of the Scottish skies. Surely, anyone who is interested in hiking in Britain needs to add this peak to their mountaineering accolades. Unlike other summits in the UK, Ben Nevis really only has one main route to the top.
The Ben Nevis Pony Track, “Mountain Path”, or “Tourist Track” as it’s also known, is by far the most popular route to the top of this 1,345-meter peak. What makes this path so challenging, but undeniably exciting, is its huge ascent.
The trail begins down by the lochs of Fort William, which are effectively at sea level. Therefore, during one push for the summit, one must climb close to 1,325 metres. That is nearly double the ascent of the UK’s second-highest mountain, Snowdon.
How to reach the Pony Track Trail Head?
The Ben Nevis Pony Track is located in the western highlands of Scotland. The trailhead is in the nearby town of Fort William, a reasonably sized urban area with good transport links.
Hikers can reach Fort William by sleeper train from England and indeed from cities throughout the UK. There are also bus terminals in Fort William for a cheaper form of public transport. Hikers wishing to climb the Ben Nevis Pony Track can head straight to Fort William and depart right from the city centre (although it is a 2-mile walk to the official trailhead).
For those wishing to drive, there is parking at the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre. As with many popular hiking spots in the UK, it’s best to arrive early if you wish to bag a parking slot. Alternatively, you can look for parking in Fort William, but this will extend your hike distance.
How to Navigate on the the Trail?
The Ben Nevis Pony Track begins in proper from the hamlet of Achintee. You can either start from the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, on the southern side of the River Nevis, or the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre to the north. All along this stretch of river, there are campsites, parking areas, and youth hostels. Depending on where you’re staying, you’ll be closer to one of these trailheads than the other.
Either way, both converge shortly after leaving Glen Nevis. The most popular route is to cross the bridge beside the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre to begin the trail. The route is well paved with gravel and stone steps. The path traces the valley side gradually working its way up the fells. At Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, you reach the halfway point to the summit of the Ben Nevis Pony Track.
From here, you follow a series of switchbacks through rocky outcrops, steadily climbing higher. If the mist and rain keep at bay, the views of the highlands should be spectacular, particularly back towards Fort William and the fells.
The final push follows several large rock cairns leading up to the summit. A trig point marks the summit which should be easy to identify from its stone plinth and hikers surrounding the marker taking photos! On the plateau, you’ll also see the remains of an old observatory surrounded by crumbling stone walls.
The trail is considered challenging. As the biggest peak in the UK, climbing the Ben Nevis Pony Track is understandably expected to be a difficult undertaking. Preparations need to be made before departure and a good level of fitness is recommended to maximise success.
However, the trail is technically the most accessible trail up to the summit but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Often people have to turn back due to poor weather or lack of adequate fitness levels.
Recommended Kit List
Anyone climbing the Pony Track should be prepared for all eventualities. This is not a mountain hike you should take lightly. Even until May, there can be snow and ice blanketing the summit. Blizzards and whiteouts have caused many fatalities on the peak and each season mountain rescue has their hands full with calls to save people.
That shouldn’t put anyone off but it’s a reminder to take precautions and be prepared. Cold weather gear and waterproof layers are both advisable. A hat, gloves, fleece, down jacket, and waterproof layers should all be stored in a backpack. It’s worth getting a waterproof stuff sack or shell layer to keep your inner items extra dry.
If you want to be prepared, add an emergency blanket to your kit list. They’re lightweight and hardly cost anything. You can buy them at most outdoor apparel stores, and they can be the difference between life and death if you’re caught out on the mountain.
Food & Drink
Stock up in Fort William. Your best access to shops is in the town centre. Buy provisions for the hike including trail snacks and water. Food like nuts, trail bars, dried fruit, and chocolate are all good snacks to eat while hiking. They store easily in your bag and give you that boost of energy you need to keep going.
It gets cold in the Scottish Highlands, particularly at the summits. A flask filled with tea or hot chocolate can make a world of difference in warming your belly and keeping you motivated. Or, if you want the real authentic experience, a nip of Scottish whisky to celebrate reaching the summit can’t do too much harm!
Pony Track Bonus Tips
To best tackle the trail, hikers should carry all the correct equipment and clothing. It’s generally advised to climb the route in pairs and it’s worth checking the weather forecast regularly to watch out for any adverse conditions.
As mentioned, Ben Nevis has some of the fiercest weather systems in all of Scotland. Pay particular attention to mountain forecasts and weather warnings. Do not try to attempt an ascent if the conditions are poor. Climbing this trail is an exciting undertaking, but it certainly isn’t easy!
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