IT'S not just the A-Team who love it when a plan comes together; sometimes it can be the key to success for a long mountain day.
My recent focus had been on how best to link a pair of Knoydart Grahams – Meall nan Eun and Slat Bheinn.
They sit eyeballing each other across Glen Barrisdale, but despite being near neighbours, there's a mighty drop and re-climb separating them.
Many people choose to climb them individually, but each is still a long day. Combining them, however, means accepting you are in for some hefty ascents. In both cases, the wonderful Barrisdale Path is the main artery leading to their heart.
If you tackle Slat Bheinn first, it means a much longer distance on the route in. Climbing Meall nan Eun is a shorter initial ascent, but then you are faced with two big re-climbs to get that second summit and out again. Choice No.1 is 26 kilometres and 1650 metres ascent, choice No.2 18km and 1650m.
After a good deal of thought, I decided on a third approach which would entail more distance but less ascent. I would climb Meall nan Eun, then unavoidably lose most of the height already gained for the big push to Slat Bheinn.
But instead of the forementioned second uphill struggle, I would drop down the long, slabby east ridge to emerge in Gleann Cosaidh, a glen I had always wanted to explore, then follow the shores of Loch Cuaich and finish with a couple of miles of road walking. My option was 25km but a mere 1300m in height gain.
The day before, I had done the opposite, opting for ascent over distance for another of the awkward squad, Stob Mhic Bheathain in Ardgour. I walked in from Callop on the Mallaig road to a high pass, then dropped into Cona Glen before making the steep climb to the long, undulating, rocky ridge. This was nine kilometres less than the Loch Linnhe route, but about 200m less ascent. It still felt like a long day with the mercury touching 25C, and the next day wasn't going to be any cooler.
I started from the Coireshubh ruin about a mile short of Kinloch Hourn, the early mists melting away to reveal blue, cloudless skies, the temperature already beginning to soar. The Barrisdale Path is always a joy, a twisting, turning trail along the shoreline of Loch Hourn, though in some places the rhododendron bushes are thriving so much that at times it was like walking through a tunnel and a machete might soon be needed for passage.
My initial optimism in spotting what I thought was a path rising towards Meall nan Eun was soon dashed as I ploughed into deeper and deeper heather and bracken. I should have known better: this was a Graham, after all, a peak of the pathless. The reward for a sweltering, sweating, constant incline was a spectacular 360 degree view taking in all the peaks of Glen Shiel to Knoydart to Ardgour. Among them sat Slat Bheinn, a brooding, mocking reminder of the next task.
The drop down the ridge was hindered by more fields of bracken and heather but at least there was no problem hopping across the river. I got my head down and started plodding upwards again, Ladhar Bheinn a constant companion, spread across the canvas off to the west. Directly across from the summit of Slat Bheinn is mighty Sgurr a' Choire-bheithe, a summit just short of Munro height at the end of a beautiful, lengthy ridge highlighting many rugged tops.
I had read reports suggesting the Slat Bheinn descent route could be problematic, but despite the massive slab pavements all around, it was easy enough to find a grassy way through most of the time.
In fact, that was the biggest surprise that awaited in Gleann Cosaidh. The river here has a fearsome reputation, but the glen was wide and green, and only in its lower regions when it channels in to an increasingly tighter space did it become apparent what a dangerous crossing this could be in times of spate.
The last kilometre or so to the lochside was troublesome, bracken and huge, vegetated tufts making a consistent footfall impossible and I began to wonder if I should have plumped for height over distance once again.
Just as my patience and energy were fading in equal measure, I hit a track, and despite a bridge which had been reduced to three individual pillars, I managed to boulder hop the water and hit the road for the last stretch. My feet had taken a hammering; once the boots were off the pain made its presence felt.
An 11-hour round trip into Knoydart and out again in blistering heat, and rarely a path in sight. I still reckon it was the best option, though.