Scottish Winter Climbing And Mountaineering Routes in Scotland UKScottish Winter Climbing And Mountaineering Routes in Scotland UK
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Climbers in No. 3 Gully.
North face of Ben Nevis Map Photos
This climb takes you into the heart of the UK's premier winter climbing venue, the stunning North Face of Ben Nevis. The north face of 'the Ben' is split by a number of large gullies. This route tackles one of the more straightforward options, No. 3 Gully.
Area: Central Highlands
Grade: Winter I   what does that mean?  but a large cornice can sometimes cause problems.
Total Distance: 14.5 km
Total Ascent: 1350 m
Time: 9 hours
  • Ordnance Survey Landranger 1:50,000 Sheet 41
  • Ordnance Survey Explorer 392 1:25,000
  • Harvey Ben Nevis Map 1:25,000
  • Avalanche hazard: The north face of the Ben should be avoided after heavy snow or during a thaw. Safer alternatives would include the CMD Arete.
    Avalanche Forecast area: Lochaber.   more
    Gear: Take a 50-metre rope and a couple of slings. Wear a helmet in Coire na Ciste, as well as in No. 3, as there are usually lots of climbers about.
    Tips: The Ben can be the place to be late in the season when the extra altitude can result in good snow cover lasting well into April. The longer days don't hurt either, given the length of the routes.
    Alternatives: In good visibility, it is also possible to combine an ascent of No. 3 Gully with a descent of the CMD Arete.
    Other routes in the area: There are almost countless mountaineering and climbing routes on the Ben. In all there are 5 large 'easy' gullies:
  • Gardaloo and No.2 are Winter grade II.
  • No.3 and No. 4 are winter grade I.
  • No. 5 is generally avoided as it is very avalanche prone.

  • The most famous mountaineering route is Tower Ridge, now graded Winter IV.
    Refer to the SMC or Cicerone guidebooks for route decriptions.

    Take the Torlundy turn-off the A82. There is a small sign for 'The North Face car park' if you're approaching from the south. Drive through the village, over the single-file railway bridge and take the first right along an un-made up road to reach the car park.

    Grid Reference NN144764.


    Follow the continuation of the road for about 100 m until you reach a path on your right, signposted 'Allt A Mhuilinn path'. Follow this path (more signposts) as it climbs uphill through the trees. Ignore the fork signed 'Viewpoint' reached after about twenty minutes and carry on till another fork is reached soon afterwards. Take the right branch, again signed 'Allt A Mhuilinn path' and follow it to a forest road. Walk up the road to a higher car park where a stile leads to a path alongside the Allt A Mhuilinn (the burn). Continue along this path for about 3 km until you reach the CIC hut, crossing the Allt A Mhuilinn just before you get there. Have a rest here before the real work (and fun) begins.

    No 3 Gully  

    Clamber over the slabs in front of the CIC hut and head in a south westerly direction, staying right of the 2 streams running down from Coire na Ciste. Climb up steep scree/snow slopes and pass under No. 5 gully before entering the wide bay of Coire na Ciste, which contains No. 2,3 and 4 gullies. No. 3 is broad cleft at the back of Coire na Ciste leading directly to the summit ridge. Climb the steep snow to the entrance of No. 3.

    The ascent of the gully is normally straightforward. The easiest way through the cornice is on the extreme right although it can still be large and problematic. If so, it is advisable to take a belay just below (an ice-axe belay may be the only choice). Climb the cornice onto to the summit ridge.

    In total, the gully only involves about 100 m of ascent but the approach slopes are much longer.

    Escape Route!
    Follow a bearing of 282° for 1200 m to clear all difficulties. Then head north towards the 'half-way lochan' (Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe) and traverse back to the Allt A Mhuilinn.

    Escape Route!
    A quick descent is also possible via No. 4 Gully. Head carefully along the rim in a generally NNE direction until you reach the next big gully, No.4, which is marked by a metal post with the number 4 in it. The descent of No. 4 is steep at first and it's best to face in to down-climb. However, it soon eases off and leads back to Coire na Ciste. Descend to the CIC hut and walk back along the Allt a Mhuilinn.

    Ben Nevis (1344m) 

    The safest way to reach the summit is to head on a bearing of 155° for 175 m where you may encounter the 'tourist path' if it has not been obliterated by snow (maybe cairns). Then follow a bearing of 102° for around 600 m to bypass gaping Gardaloo Gully and finally follow a bearing 51° for 150m to reach the summit. The large shelter on the summit is always visible, even if the trig point is covered with snow.


    WarningNavigation on Ben Nevis is notoriously difficult. In bad visibility, it is vital that you follow the detailed directions given below. A detailed summit map can be found here.

    Summit Map

    Follow the standard descent procedure:

  • Follow a bearing of 231° for 140 m (distance) from the summit shelter.
  • Then follow a bearing of 282° for 2 km to clear all difficulties.
  • Head north towards the 'half-way lochan' (Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe).
  • Return 

    Shortly before you reach the half-way lochan, pick up the path which heads north initially and then traverses the foot of Carn Dearg. Leave this path when it starts to turn northeast and continue in a northerly direction to meet the Allt a Mhuilinn.

    Follow the bank of the Allt a Mhuilinn to a bridge a couple of hundred metres beyond the higher car park (i.e. downstream of it). Cross the bridge and pick follow the route you took on the ascent back to the North Face car park.

    © 2007