The decision to go down the auto road was a good decision for us. We had a map and compass and sort of knew how to use them. (Very few people are truly expert you just don't get enough practice.) Problem is if you can only see 5 feet in front of your face it makes it really difficult -- plus the winds started really screaming and it would have been hard to even use the map without it getting ripped up/out of our hands.
Had we more intimate personal knowledge of the terrain navigating by compass might have been feasible, but at our then current level of experience and with the conditions that came out of nowhere we took the smartest decision. Better to suffer a little and get back home safely than turn into a permanent popsicle.
I've been up there a lot since then and never once caught in anything nearly as bad.
There is really only 3 compass bearings that need to be known to get from the summit back to Lions Head in 10 foot visibility... I would never expect someone to actually figure those out from a map in the middle of harsh conditions, hence the need for a “White Out Navigation Plan” before getting caught in a white out... basically I figure out the sections above treeline from the warmth and comfort of my kitchen table before heading out somewhere I might need it... here’s my plan for Lion’s Head:http://davidlottmann.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/route-card1.pdf
"Better to suffer a little and get back home safely than turn into a permanent popsicle.”
True, though the amount of exposure to NW winds while trying to descend the auto road could be deadly, when descending the summit cone in the correct direction could save a life... when it’s 80+ NW winds going down the auto road is a terrible choice, as you can be out of the wind in 200 yards if you know what you are doing (obviously experience helps here, as does preparation)...
I find solid map & compass, and actual
navigation skills, a fading lost art that many more climbers would benefit from investing some time in...