Published 3rd October 2019, 15:41

    IT had to be Nevis. My mountain life had started with an ascent of the Ben so it was only fitting the latest chapter came to its conclusion here.

    Reaching the cairn of the Munro Top, Carn Dearg South-west, completed the six lists of the Scottish hills known as a Full House.

    A combination of fate and, more recently, design, had left this outlier as the perfect finishing point. I've on the Ben many times, but had never made it out to this top, and a few years back, I decided to keep it just for this moment. It meant the Munro Tops remained unfinished for what seemed an eternity, but I reckoned it would be worth the wait.

    There are many factors to take into account when planning an ascent of the country's highest mountain, not least of which is the sheer number of walkers heading up. This seemed likely to be a particularly busy one. The glen was buzzing, several big charity events simultaneously colliding with a promise of decent weather conditions.

    The Carn Mor Dearg Arete is one way to avoid the crowds, but I had long had my eyes on a climb up from the south by the waterslide above Glen Nevis. This route rises some 900 metres in just over two kilometres, a continuous push in two steep sections. 

    The scenery is dramatic all the way, the perception of depth from such a precipitous gradient immense. An added attraction is that it avoids any need for the huge drop and subsequent re-ascent required from other directions.

    The initial forecast had been gloomy, but it continued improving in the countdown to the big day, and as we left our base the mist was burning off to reveal a mountain which had been invisible only a hour or so earlier.

    By the time we were ready to start, a bit of neck craning provided views up to the col from which the waters of the Allt Coire Eoghainn tumbled forcefully down the polished, obsidian bedrock of the chute. 

    The steepness begins immediately on a rough path through the trees. We were being filmed for a BBC Alba news slot by my friend Debby, and she had hinted we may have to do a couple of takes. A thumbs-up from below suggested we had got it right first time, much to the relief of some of the party. As one said: “Good, if she thinks we're going back down there ...”

    Once you've fought through some deep vegetation and hidden boulders, there's a path most of the way, sometimes obvious, sometimes ambiguous, but so long as you stay to the right of the water there's no problem.

    The banks of languid cloud which hung around at various levels enhanced the vistas up the glen and over the Mamores. These are big mountains, yet with our accentuated height gain, they appeared to shrink with every footstep. The plunging waters of Steall Falls started as a long lace of sliver and reduced to a sliver, then a teardrop, always glistening amongst the dark claustrophobia of their surroundings.

    Our constant companion had been the waterslide, thundering waters hypnotising at times, its beauty unchallenged, but it would be foolhardy to be tempted into any crossing. At one point, there was a cairn in the midst of the deluge, a curious marker with no obvious purpose.

    Once safely over the water above the col, we began the second steep push, this time vanishing into the mist to reach the cairns on my final summit. Three hours, and we had not encountered another soul, but the push to the final heights of the Ben changed all that.

    We could make out shapes shuffling along ahead in the mist, a conveyor belt of ghostly figures determined to keep going. The roof of Scotland was rammed, and there was a queue to get a summit picture. It was a timely reminder of why I often prefer to walk at night.

    There were topless walkers (male), near topless walkers (female). There was happiness, there was misery, there was pain. There was a Roman centurion – Summus Maximus, I presume – and his dog, Thor. And, inevitably, there was lots of rubbish. We picked up bottles and cans, and continued to do so on the way down, but it was a token gesture. You would need a skip to make any real impact.

    You have to walk a narrow line to avoid sounding like a mountain snob. The vast majority of these walkers were doing it for admirable reasons, and it would be a real achievement for many, but some are lacking in outdoor etiquette and I wonder whether we should show the mountain a little charity of its own sometimes and give it a break.

    As the day drew to a close, the mountain gave us a final, unexpected salute, courtesy of the retreating sun, the slopes turning a burnt umber for a few minutes as though they had caught fire. It was a fitting finale to a memorable day.