Published 17th July 2020, 18:15

    I STOOD alone at the mouth of the corrie in suppressed evening light watching damp curtains of grey sweep across the glen.

    The only concession to colour, a handful of pink foxgloves and the odd splash of purple heather, the only sounds the chatter of the stream charting its enduring course over the boulders and the whispers of the wind.

    The moods may be different each time but Buachaille Etive Mor is a constant, a reliable companion for an annual pilgrimage to remember lost friends. It seemed appropriate in these strange times that this impressive, silent sentinel which has sculpted so much of my mountain life should host the first ascent for nearly four months.

    Uncertainty and logistics meant the usual group trek was out of the question, so it also seemed fitting that this would be a solo affair. And with that followed the reasoning that a night climb was the correct choice.

    I had hoped for a summit by the rising of a near full moon, its light and presence growing in stature against rainbow pastel stripes on the horizon. I had also hoped to catch the bonus of a fiery western vista with the sun's final hurrah. I got neither, but it didn't matter.

    Weather conditions hadn't been suitable over the previous few days and the advance forecast wasn't much better, but squeezed in between was a glimmer of hope. It wouldn't be a full night walk, but I would arrive early evening to give myself options.

    The journey across country was promising but it didn't last. My first sighting of the Buachaille: a looming phantom swathed in ominous grey rising out of the landscape. There was no point in waiting. I set off into the approaching drizzle gaining the customary amused and puzzled expressions from the last stragglers of the day shift heading for their finish line.

    The gloom lifted as I poured the traditional dram into the tumbling stream, blue patches appearing above as if the offering had won me a limited concession. 

    I was pleased to find the legs still worked going uphill after so many days without an ascent. Yet it all felt a little strange. I had been looking forward to this night with a confusion of excitement, relief and nervousness, reminiscent of a teenage first date. The crunch and jangle of loose stones under every upward step was a reminder of what had been missed, a lone raven's call from somewhere high on my right echoing round the enclosing walls like a welcome home.

    I emerged at the col for the final push east to be greeted by vertical swirls of mist rushing across the gap, the constantly changing levels of density rendering the adjoining peak of Stob na Doire a doubtful landmark at times.

    There were occasional glimpses of a view at the summit cairn, but with no good reason to think it would improve greatly, I didn't hang around. The requisite photos were taken of Freddo, my lone climbing partner for the evening, and then I started back down. This chocolate frog has been the only valid currency in Glen Coe since the early days, and no Buachaille walk would be complete without him. 

    There was an curious trick of the light on descent. Despite the clinging grey all around, the pink granite rocks ahead of me were glowing, deepening in colour by the second. Yet when I turned to look back at what I had just passed, the burning oranges and reds had reverted to lifeless, muted tones. 

    This was my very own twilight zone, a landscape more akin to the red planet of Mars than Scotland. It was eerie, yet also therapeutic, another example of the joys of walking during the later hours. 

    I had the mountain all to myself and yet I never felt completely alone. This peak has become a sanctuary over the years, a place of home comforts. If I had heard the footsteps of my lost friends, the evening would have been complete. I reached the car just as darkness descended in earnest, damp with exertion and the fractured spells of light rain that had largely gone unnoticed. 

    The long road home was quiet and as I neared Perth the moon finally showed up in spectacular fashion, its bulbous, deep yellow face beaming through a Venetian blind of dark cloud and then emerging fully to light up the waters of the Tay.

    This was the ideal way to restart, a walk with old friends. There was one sad note though – Freddo didn't make it back. It's a hard life in the mountains and unfortunately I had to resort to eating him. Still, it's what he would have wanted.