Laura, Ryan, Jon and I had a good time walking up Ben Nevis today. It was a bit windy to start but on the summit there was very little wind, and we had the summit to ourselves. The cloud was down to Lochain Meall an t'Suidhe so the views were not great from windy corner all the way to the top and back down again. It was quite wet in the cloud and the guys did a great job of staying motivated. We got to the top in a very good time, imagined the views, and headed back down before we got too cold.
There are patches of snow on the trail from corner number two, and continuous snow on the trail from corner number five (1050m) to the top. This means the snow is covering the trail and it is not possible to see it to follow it. There were several other groups out trying to reach the summit but very few actually made it. Most decided, very sensibly, that they should turn around once the snow covered the trail completely and go back down.
If you want to get to the summit when there is snow on the ground and cloud on the summit, you will have to do some careful navigation. The skills of navigation you will need are to follow your location on the map so you know where you are all the time and to be able to use a compass to make sure you go in the correct direction. For this, you need to be able to work out the bearing, put it on your compass and then be able to use your compass to walk in that direction. In addition you will need to be able to measure the distance you travel, probably by counting the number of paces you take. If you already know how many you take to walk 100 you can measure the distance traveled.
These are core skills of navigation that can be learned by studying books, looking online or by hiring a good instructor. Without these skills, you should not expect (or even try) to reach the summit of Ben Nevis in the mist with snow on the ground. If you get the navigation wrong you are likely to go very badly wrong - all the sides of Ben Nevis apart from the one where the trail is have very steep ground or very big cliffs. It susprised me today how many people didn't expect the whiteout on top and didn't have the navigation skills required to deal with it. It was reasuring, though, that all these people turned back before they got too far into the white room to turn back.
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.