Climbing The 5 Peaks | Tackling the UK & Ireland's Biggest Mountains
Ben Nevis, Snowdon, Scafell Pike, Slieve Donard & Carrauntoohil and how to climb them
The 5 Peaks are icons of the British and Irish landscape. Holding true to the old saying that bigger is always better, thousands of people flock each year to the UK and Ireland's 5 highest mountains, itching to scale these epic landmarks. Some people climb the 5 peaks for fun, some for the amazing views and the love of nature and some for the selfies to slap on Facebook.
Bragging rights aside, although nearly all of the 5 Peaks have been made accessible thanks to the bus loads of tourists that scramble up them each year, these mountains still require a reasonable level of fitness and a spot of planning before you tackle them. If you're planning to climb one or even all of the 5 Peaks there are a couple of things that are handy to know before you set off on your British mountaineering adventure.
When attempting to climb any mountain, let alone one of the 5 Peaks, you'll need some basic equipment. No matter how dry and warm it looks, make sure you have at least a lightweight waterproof with you and something warm to wrap up in. Weather and temperatures can change quickly on a mountain and you'll find that conditions at the top are often quite different from those below.
A whistle should also be on your list alongside a portable first aid kit. Mountains are dangerous places and even with plenty of other walkers around it's easy to get lost or injured when you're out exploring. If you do get lost, 6 long blasts on your whistle followed by a pause of one minute then another 6 is the recognised international emergency signal that shows you need help. Another great piece of emergency kit is a survival bag. These bright plastic sacks weigh almost nothing but they'll keep you warmish and dry until help arrives.
Geeky though it might seem, a compass and map are pretty much essential. Make sure you know how to use both before you head up because if the weather closes in these two simple bits of kit can literally save your life, helping you to find the path back down instead of taking a tumble off a cliff.
Something to eat and drink is also a good idea. Hiking up any of the 5 Peaks can be pretty tiring work so it's important to stay hydrated and fuelled and it's always nice to be able to take a break where you want instead of at a tourist café.
Ben Nevis – Lochaber, Scotland
Time To Climb: 6-8 hours
Car Park Location: Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, PH33 6PF or Latitude: 56°48'38.90"N Longitude: 5°4'38.17"W if your sat nav takes co-ordinates.
Where To Stay: The Lime Tree, Fort William PH33 6RQ or the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, PH33 6SY
Route Description: trekkingbritain.com
Climbing Ben Nevis, the UK's tallest mountain, is pretty straightforward. There's one main path, the Mountain Track which is the one used by most visitors. It's a relatively easy route to follow until you reach the boulder fields near the summit. Here you have to use a series of cairns to figure out your way to the top which can be pretty difficult in the often cloudy weather that surrounds Ben Nevis. Make sure you pack a compass and map for this one and try to steer clear of the North Face and Five Finger Gully which can be super tricky and potentially dangerous with poor visibility.
If you're feeling adventurous and have a head for heights, check out the Carn Mór Dearg Arête path. This alternative to the well used Mountain Track requires a good bit of scrambling and you have to tackle the knife edge approach along Carn Mór Dearg but the views and the challenge of this route make it well worth it. You'll need to allow a bit more time for this trek, around 10 hours in total, so look for a long sunny day with good weather to try it.
Snowdon – Gynedd, Wales
Time To Climb: 6 hours
Car Park Location: Pen-y-pass car park, LL55 4NY or the cheaper park and ride spot at Nant Peris, LL55 4UF
Where To Stay: Snowdon Ranger Youth Hostel, LL54 7YS yha.org.uk/hostel/snowdon-ranger or the Bryn Tyrch Inn, LL24 0EL http://www.bryntyrchinn.co.uk/
Route Desciption: trekkingbritain.com
Sat in the middle of the beautiful Snowdonia National Park, Mount Snowdon is a glacier formed peak topped by a pyramid of rock that wouldn't look out of place in the Alps. This is an awe inspiring stone playground which can provide a real challenge if you're looking for one but watch out for that weather because it can come in very quickly, making any trip potentially dangerous.
If the weather is good then the Snowdon Horseshoe is one of the most epic routes to summit. This trek requires some proper scrambling skills as it takes in the knife edge ridge and rocky terrain of Crib Goch as well as the nearby peaks of Garnedd Ugain and Lliwedd before hitting the top of Snowdon. If you fancy a straight shot to the top of Snowdon then check out the Snowdon Ranger Path on the Western side of Snowdon which starts at the youth hostel.
If you're feeling peckish, there's the Summit Hotel at the top of Snowdon or the Penceunant Isaf Tea Rooms if you're taking the easier Llanberis Path. If you want to take it really easy there's the Snowdon Mountain Railway that runs to the summit and back. There's also the local Sherpa Bus service which links all of the villages at the bottom of Snowdon meaning you can climb up one route and back down another without a long walk back to the car, giving you the freedom to tackle Snowdon however you like.
Read our full guide to climbing Snowdon here.
Slieve Donard – County Down, Northern Ireland
Time To Climb: 5 – 6 hours
Car Park Location: Bloody Bridge Car Park, BT33 OLA
Where To Stay: Briers Country House, Newcastle BT33 0JJ
Route Description: walkni.com
Slieve Donard is actually the shortest of the 5 peaks but it's also one of the most beautiful. Set right on the Northern Irish coast, a climb to the top of Slieve lets you take in the breathtaking views across the Irish sea,
Most people climbing Slieve Donard start at Donard Park in Newcastle, BT33 0HL. This route follows the Glenn River, criss crossing the water until it meets the Mourne Wall, a massive dry stone wall that leads all the way to the summit of Slieve.
If you fancy a different route to the top, check out the route from Bloody Bridge. Starting at a coastal car park, this route has some steeper and more demanding sections than the traditional Glenn River route but lets you approach from the East instead of the North, giving you a unique approach to the mountain that most visitors will miss out on. This route also meets up with the Mourne Wall too, following it up to the summit.
If you're climbing this peak during the July and August you can also make use of the Mourne Rambler bus service which will circles the bottom of the mountains allowing you to hop on and off if you fancy coming down a different route than the one you set off on. If the weather is warm also pack a towel so you can take a dip in the rock pool along the Bloody Bridge route.
Carrauntoohil - County Kerry, Ireland
Time To Climb: 6-8hours
Car Park Location: Cronin's Yard Car Park, Mealis, Beaufort,, Killarney.
Where To Stay: Arbutus Hotel, College Street, Killarney
Route Description: kerrymountainrescue.ie
For a mountain topped with a cross, it seems odd that Carrauntoohil's tourist route is called the Devil's Ladder. Despite the rather uninspiring nickname this route is still one of the easiest ways to get up the mountain and as a result it has become pretty eroded and dangerous. The Ladder area is a deep gully which, thanks to the large number of visitors each year, has become filled with loose rock and scree that can easily move and cause injuries.
Many people still use the Ladder but you can hit the top of Carrauntoohil and summit Ireland's second and third highest peaks by taking the Coomloughra Horseshoe. This route requires a fair bit of scrambling and crosses the dizzying heights of the Beenkeragh Ridge, so it's not for the feint hearted.
You'll need to allow about 8 hours to complete the Horseshoe, and it should only be tackled in good weather because high winds or poor visibility can make the ridge incredibly dangerous, but with good planning you'll have spectacular views of the lakes below and the beautiful Macgillycuddy's Reeks mountain range.
Scafell Pike – Cumbria, England
Time To Climb: 7-8hrs
Car Park Location: Park on the road near Seathwaite Farms, CA12 5XJ
Where To Stay: The Cottage In The Wood, Keswick CA12 5TW
Route Description: scafellpike.org.uk
Not to be confused with the neighbouring Sca Fell, Scafell Pike is England's highest peak which sits right in the middle of the Lake District National Park. The Lake district is full of great climbing that can be approached from many different angles but this is one mountain where the tourist trail really is the best. Although there are three main routes up Scafell, it's the popular path from Borrowdale that makes the most of the gorgeous Cumbrian landscape.
Starting with a spot of roadside parking at Seathwaite, you'll follow the River Derwent up the valley past the waterfalls at Grains Gill and the cliffs of Great End before making the summit. The best views are still to come though as you head down the dramatic Corridor Route, past the waters of Styhead Tarn and finally cross the picturesque Stockley Bridge as you head home. Make sure you pack the camera for this one.