Ben Nevis provides some of the finest mountaineering and rock climbing routes in the British Isles. On the north-east side there are routes of all lengths and grades from two pitch Very Difficult climbs to E grade routes nearly 300 metres in length. At 420 metres, 'The Long Climb' (Very Severe) is one of the longest rock climbs in Britain.
A climb up one of the classic ridges of 'The Ben' can give a mountaineering adventure which is second to none in quality and situation. The most popular of the ridges is probably Tower Ridge, a stupendous 600 metres of superb scrambling and climbing at Difficult standard. The north side of Ben Nevis is not the place to practise elementary mountaineering and climbing skills, and beginners wishing to venture up this side of the mountain should go with an experienced mountaineer or mountain guide (see also 'the ascent of Ben Nevis'). Lower down on the south side of the mountain, the smaller crags of Glen Nevis provide dozens of shorter climbs. There are several local mountain guides who provide a friendly guided walk up Ben Nevis, which you can do privately or in a small group of like-minded walkers.
Countless years and ice ages have eroded the hills of Lochaber to their present rough and craggy shapes. The ancient rocks are especially appealing to the rock climber. Granite, gabbro, schist, rhyolite, andesite, limestone, quartzite and gneiss are all available making for a huge variety of venues and styles of climb. Bouldering, roadside crags, mountain routes and Alpine scale climbs are all found in Lochaber.
There is a very strong tradition of naturally protected climbs. Only one crag in Lochaber offers sports routes, Creag a’Bhancair in Glen Coe. Here you’ll find a few, hard, bolted climbs starting at F7b. The crag is a great evening venue and stays dry in all but the heaviest rain. All other climbs rely on leader placed protection demanding a high level of experience and competence. Full details of climbs are found in the many guide books to the area. There are also Mountain Guides and Instructors who can show you the best routes and coach you in all the skills you need to climb them.
The many mica-schist buttresses scattered in amongst the trees that go to make up Polldubh in Glen Nevis provide Scotland’s best roadside cragging. All the buttresses offer slabby south facing front faces and steep left sides. The rock, although very slick when wet, dries out extremely quickly and is lovely to climb on with generally good protection. The closer buttresses to the road are the most popular but don’t necessarily have the best climbing. Search out the higher crags and you’ll find fewer people and better views.
• The Gutter (Difficult) – a superb introductory route
• Flying Dutchman (Severe) – brilliant, exposed climbing
• Secretaries’ Direct (Severe) – delightful slab climbing on quartz holds
• Resurrection (VS 4c) – a Polldubh classic
• Storm (HVS) – exciting positions and well protected climbing
• Travellin’ Man (E2 5c) – perfect rock and an outstanding climb
• Edgehog (E3 5c) – the best arête in the area
Although not as well known as a summer climbing venue as it is in winter, Ben Nevis is home to some of the best mountain rock climbs in the country. The great ridges – Castle Ridge (Moderate), Tower Ridge (Difficult), Observatory Ridge (V Diff) and North East Buttress (V Diff) – are renowned classics of Alpine scale and grandeur. Carn Dearg Buttress, at 250m high, is of a similar scale and is home to a surprisingly wide spectrum of standards of climb. Given several days of dry weather the climbs are second to none.
• Route II Direct (Severe) – amenable climbing in awesome surroundings
• The Long Climb (VS) –a definite mountain route that finishes on the summit
• Centurion (HVS 5a) – the great corner of Carn Dearg Buttress
• Minus One Direct (E1 5b) – the magnificent rib on the Minus Face
• Torro (E2 5b) – stunning climbing with a real stinger of a last pitch
• The Bat (E2 5b) – the classic corner, strenuous and exposed
• Titan’s Wall (E3 5c) – strenuous and sustained climbing