Ben Nevis, Number 4 Gully


This may be the quintessential Mild Mountaineering route, and it’s where all of this started.

Number 4 Gully is, by all accounts, the easiest way up the North Face of Ben Nevis. But don’t let that fool you – it’s a Grade I winter climb of the highest peak in the UK and is still a serious day out; it’s a hard, challenging climb that involves significant risk. You cannot climb this without an ice axe, crampons and the skills to use them. You need to be able to navigate in bad weather, which will make it significantly harder and less pleasant. It deserves respect, but it’s also a lot of fun.

The North Face of Ben Nevis is an awesome place. For an idea of scale, the two dots in the centre are climbers. Number 3 Gully is on the right, from here there’s about 90 minutes more climbing to the top of Number 4 Gully

The route starts at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, climbs up the start of the Tourist Path, heads along the North Face Path to the CIC Hut, climbs Number 4 Gully, bags the summit, and heads back down the Tourist Path – 17km, 1,814m of climb and about 10 hours later. It’s a big day.

Looking down on Glen Nevis from just before Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe

The first couple of hours are simple – head out of the Youth Hostel, across the bridge right over the road and up the obvious path until you get to Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe at about 600m. It’s a simple uphill climb on the stoney steps of the Tourist Path.

At the southern end of the Lochan, you’ll hit the Tourist Path – but for this route don’t go south and head for the summit, head north for the North Face path; when we did it in snow, it was easy to miss. The North Face path takes you around Castle Ridge on an flat-ish path – but it’s narrow and can get icy in winter, so you may well need crampons. This took longer than expected – almost 2 hours to get to the CIC Hut.

Looking south-west up Coire na Ciste from the CIC Hut. Number 3 Gully is the obvious cut in the centre.

By this point, you’ll be a little way above the CIC Hut and at the foot of Coire na Ciste – the real mountaineering starts here. Provided the weather’s looking good and it still feels like the best option, head up towards the corrie at the foot of Number 3 Gully, then track west beneath the rocks when Number 4 Gully appears. This isn’t a technical climb, and it’s all on snow, but it’s constantly steep and hard work for a couple of hours. A slip would not be fun, so take it seriously – you’ll need decent crampon technique and will be kicking or cutting a lot of steps. And be careful of avalanche risk.

Number 4 Gully is the narrow gully in the centre where the footsteps lead, the climbers are beneath Number 3 Gully

The actual gully isn’t especially long, maybe 200m, but it gets steep in the last 20m or so. Number 4 Gully is used a lot by people coming down from higher grade routes, so the cornice is likely to be breached, but if you don’t know what you’d do if it wasn’t, and wouldn’t be up for climbing back down, don’t start up.

Looking over the edge of the cornice at the top of Number 4 Gully

All in all, expect a solid couple of hours of steep, relentless climbing to get from the hut to the top of the gully. If it’s a clear day, you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views and a pleasant few minutes getting your breath back on the plateau. If you want to bag the summit, it’s about 200m up and 1km away – maybe another hour there and back.

Once you’re back down from the very top, follow the Tourist Path all the way back to the Youth Hostel and boom, you’re done.–no4-gully?lat=56.804055&lon=-5.021406&zoom=13.5827&style=Leisure&type=2d&overlays=&placesCategory=