Published 17th April 2018, 17:37

    MIDNIGHT in Skye. I'm sitting on the shores of Loch Slapin watching the full moon drifting lazily through patchy sheets of cloud.

    One minute it's lighting up the dark waters, the next it's dipped behind a gauze curtain. It's the second Blue Moon of the year, and I'm resting before starting a night ascent of Bla Bheinn, the blue mountain.

    This is the fourth full moon walk of the year for my Mountains of the Moon project, and all the signs are promising that it will be the best one yet.

    The previous two days have been spectacular; a full day in Glen Coe scouting locations for a film shoot, then a leisurely spell of time management with low level walks in the sunshine of Skye in preparation for the night event.

    The first walk had a dual purpose, a visit to Loch Scavaig and the bothy of New Camasunary from the Elgol road that would also provide some clues as to likely conditions on Bla Bheinn.

    The frontal view was black and bold with white patches higher in the corrie. Further round, the South ridge was clear, a possible alternative for tonight's ascent. After all, the guide books say it is the surest route in winter conditions.

    The recce complete, I drove up to the north coast of the island on roads pot-holed and scarred by the ravages of this enduring winter. At one point a section of the road had risen like a wave requiring motoring skills more akin to surfing.

    The short stroll out to the cliff-top bothy known as The Lookout took just half an hour, and it was already occupied by a dad with his two excited young sons enjoying a family night out. Shafts of late sunlight were lasering through the darkening evening skies, spilling silver pennies on the water.

    I made it to the Slig before darkness caught up to grab some refreshment and an hour or so later I slipped off for the drive round to Loch Slapin. The moon looked huge and clear, a brilliance I was relying on for a special ascent. At one point, it really did look blue. 

    I managed to rest but sleep was impossible, a constant eye open for my celestial companion's moods. By 2am I was heading through the trees by torchlight, an hour later sitting by the stream at the mouth of dark Coire Uaigneich watching the moon spotlighting the high col. It was still with me as I made my way up the confusion of the scree path, occasionally throwing off the dancing veils of light cloud to light the way ahead. So far, so good.

    The huge gashes in the ridge were markers for my progress until I reached the first of the snows and the crampons went on. A few minutes later I was engulfed in white and confusion. 

    The mist had closed in and the line of sight ahead had vanished. The cold became more pronounced, the angle of ascent suddenly much more serious. I seemed to be rising vertically and the snow underfoot was as solid and uncompromising as iron. I could see nothing ahead, and, more worryingly, nothing behind. I knew there were huge drops on my right but I couldn't see them now either.

    I had been on Bla Bheinn half a dozen times, including in blizzard conditions, yet now I didn't recognise any of it. I could have been anywhere. I have never felt so intimidated on any mountain. 

    My watch had abandoned the cause, just a blank screen, overwhelmed by the cold, my phone battery likewise. Even the camera was flashing red, rendered useless. I was really on my own.

    I continued gingerly, making sure every step was planted firmly. I figured so long as I kept rising on the angle, I would be okay. It wasn't a pleasant experience. When I finally reached the trig pillar, I felt like kissing it. Except my lips would probably have become welded to the stone. Explain that one to mountain rescue.

    It was too cold to hang around, and there was no chance of a moon view or a sunrise. I front pointed my way down at times, a mental security blanket. When I finally came out of the snowline, I felt as though my legs were going to give way.

    The morning colours were muted, the distant sunrise just a brief flash, the mountain behind me still buried in cloud and iciness, but there was spring in my step on the way out. It hadn't been the night I had hoped for, but it still felt like a huge victory.