When high pressure weather systems dominate the Highlands and calm conditions prevail, a combination of cold air and moisture trapped under a layer of warmer air can bring about one of the most magical spectacles in the British mountains. Like islands on a sea of cloud, the mountain peaks thrust above a gorgeous, broiling sea of sun-lit cloud. This phenomenon is known as a cloud inversion. With blue skies above and white on the horizon as far as the eye can see, it is an achingly beautiful sight. So when such conditions coincide with a day on Britain's highest mountain, it is fair to say we have something very special indeed on our hands.
Ben Nevis' summit was the only mountain in all of the Western Highlands to rise from the cloud on January 4th 2019. Due to its prominence over its neighbours, it seemed a lonely vessel cast adrift on a glorious sea. To the east were a flotilla of rounded Cairngorms, also riding the heavenly waves. Overhead, the sun shone down on these lucky few summits, basking in the glory of a stunning inversion. To stand on such a podium, on a day such as this, is something I will never forget.
Such a throne was not easily won that day. Chris and I had decided to traverse the Carn Mor Dearg Arete, a sumptous arc of shattered rock that leads to Britain's highest. Initially dissapointed by the lack of snow as our days in the Highlands drew near, we soon caught hints of the potential of inversion conditions on the Mountain Weather Information Service website. Buoyed by this, The Ben was our chosen mountain. We stayed in the newly refurbished Glen Nevis hostel the night before and gleaned that the ridge was free of snow from fellow mountaineers. However, there was ice on the ridge, described to be hazardous but not impassable. Days earlier, a student had slipped and fell to her death on the nearby Ledge Route, so we set out with appropriate caution but also excitement about the ridge in such a condition. We donned our axes, but left our crampons in the car. As it turned out, the CMD was a delectable starter to the sumptous main course to come. As we scrambled its crest in the thick cloud, we dared not hope for what greeted us at the end of our journey. Possibly the greatest prize hillwalking.