AS 2016 edges closer to the finish line, I don’t imagine too many people will be shedding a tear at its passing.
For so many, this really was the year from Hell, a year in which hope was overwhelmed by conflict, hate and the politics of fear, culminating in a nightmare reboot of Trumpton which horror film-maker David Cronenberg would have branded too terrifying.
Perhaps it’s for these reasons that I found myself spending even more time in the sanctuary of the mountains.
I managed to rack up a record 77 mountain days this year, my highest ever total. The final summit tally was 135, including 89 Munros, as my fourth and final round draws ever closer to a finish. There were some epic days.
A traverse of Creag Meagaidh from Beinn a’ Chaorainn in deep snow during a surprise winter reprise in April, numbingly cold yet stunningly beautiful.
A dusk to dawn circuit of the remote Fisherfield Munros, where I watched the sun set from the summit of A’ Mhaighdean, rested for a few hours in the rough stone howff at the col, then rose to catch the sunrise on the way out over the rest of the peaks.
A long day on the Ben Alders during one of the worst midge-fests I’ve experienced; an unexpected late autumn chance to visit the remote Bidein a’ Choire Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor; a day on Easains in the first serious snow and ice of the season.
There were also multi-peak days on the Ben Lui hills, the Etive and Orchy Munros, and a failed attempt to complete all ten Mamores in one outing. But it wasn’t all about mountains.
I had the privilege of spending four days with the remarkable Michael Anderson during a walk across Mull. Michael, who is 75, blind and mostly deaf, was walking from Iona to St Andrews for charity and I was one of a team helping guide him along the way.
Michael’s attitude to life was humbling and uplifting, and the need for a constant commentary on our surroundings made me look at the landscape with a different understanding.
There was the morning I awoke in Plockton to find this Scottish jewel transformed by a fresh fall of snow. And the day my six-year-old granddaughter Ava climbed her first hill, Meall a’ Bhuachaille in the Cairngorms, hopefully the first of many.
The night walking bug seemed to be spreading, and I twice led groups up Goatfell at midnight as part of the Arran Mountain Festival and another party up Ben Rinnes for the Moray Walking Festival.
I even resisted the chance to join friends on the summits of my favourite Scottish mountain, An Teallach, choosing instead to stay underneath the spires and was rewarded with the picture I had long sought, a perfect capture of the whole ridge reflected in the waters of Loch Toll an Lochain.
And as the days drew shorter, colder and darker, I turned my back on the big boys which led me to discover a new mountain favourite, Beinn a’ Chearcaill, with its alien-world summit area and spectacular views of the Torridon giants.
This new chilled mood was perfectly illustrated with a late December walk in the Cairngorms and a lunch for one in the Secret Howff, not another soul for miles.
The next few weeks will be spent poring over maps, trying to decide where I will be heading in 2017, which new routes and adventures I can fit in.
Not that the calendar is empty. I already have more than 20 hill days booked, including a week in Lochinver and the far north-west with friends, the Arran and Angus festivals and big traverses in Lochaber, the Cairngorms and Rannoch.
The mountain year is already looking good, so all we need is for the rest of the world to play along. I wish you all the best over the next 12 months.