IT felt like a homecoming, a stunning weekend amongst the mountain giants of north-west Scotland.
The past six weeks have been spent tramping round the lower hills of the south, some enjoyed, some merely endured. The contrast could hardly have been greater. I felt like a child given the keys to a sweetie shop.
On Saturday, I was sitting at the top of Slioch enjoying cake and Champagne in celebration of a Munro 'compleation'. Sunday, I was on a solo trek into the heart of mighty Liathach, taking one step closer to a big finish of my own.
I seem to have been at a lot of Munro parties recently, but this was one with a special twist. After all, it's not everyone who can claim to have walked to a final summit with Hugh Munro.
Despite being regarded as the father of the list of Scotland's 3,000-ft mountains, Sir Hugh Munro never managed to climb them all before he died in 1919, and the name remained conspicuous by its absence from the list of 'compleaters' recorded by the Scottish Mountaineering Club. Now, 128 years after the first publication of the tables, and fittingly in the centenary year of Sir Hugh's death, there will finally be a Hugh Munro on the roll of honour.
Hugh William Munro may be better known to all as Willie, but there was no chance of him getting away from using his Sunday name. The buzz around the walk was high, media outlets constantly calling for words and pictures. Slioch is a wonderful mountain with breath-taking 360 degree summit views, but Willie's reasons for choosing it as the final piece in his long journey were also pragmatic and sentimental.
He had special memories of a photograph of a long deceased dog taken at Loch Maree with Slioch in the background. There was also the fact he could base the final party at the Kinlochewe Hotel, where an old photo of Sir Hugh and his contemporaries hangs on the wall. We tried our best to recreate this historic picture after the event, and despite the obvious lack of bunnets, plus-fours and handlebar moustaches, I think we did a decent job.
However, it did make me wonder what a similar group will look like 100 years from now. Will they be wearing hazmat suits and gas masks to cope with the inevitable descent back into some sort of primordial ooze, or perhaps they will need gills and webbed feet to survive the rising water levels? The next Hugh Munro may well have to be half-human, half-fish.
Willie was an ideal host, and his easy-going attitude fed into the walk, a leisurely circuit in good company. Three days of heavy rain had left the streams raging and ramped to full noise levels, and care had to be taken at the bridge where there are slats missing and others ready to collapse, but we enjoyed a mostly dry day with superb views. If there was a criticism, I would point to Willie's over-optimistic arithmetic when it came to figuring out the croissant ratio per person. Had we piled them up, they could have qualified as a new Munro.
Next day, we woke to blue skies and bright sunshine and went our separate ways. I made the short drive to Torridon, my target the northern outlier of Liathach, Meall Dearg. This was the penultimate summit to complete my Munro Tops and the key to a Full House finish at the end of September. That should take place on the south-west peak of Ben Nevis, a top I have avoided for years in the anticipation of a grand finale on our highest mountain.
The route involves taking the path round the back of the walls of Liathach and then entering the confines of Coire na Caime, a wild and wonderful refuge of lochans, rock pavements and tumbling scree, with ragged towers high above all along the enveloping skyline. The crumbling spires known as the Northern Pinnacles branch out from the main ridge, and the access point for Meall Dearg lies to their right.
Foreshortening suggests this will be a steep ascent, but the closer you get, the more the angle eases, and the reality is less fraught, although there is a lack of reassuring holds on mostly outward sloping rock and the ground has a tendency to crumble beneath your feet. Friction has to be your best friend here. The reward far outweighs the effort and any angst, and it's hard to drag yourself away from the summit eyrie and its spectacular vistas.
I had intended continuing on to the main ridge, but the heat had taken its toll and I had been enjoying the views so much that time had simply run away. Never mind, the mission had been accomplished. Some days it's better to keep it simple.