Published 6th October 2022, 08:48

    THE line snaked up through the forest and on to the open hill, red, orange, yellow jackets standing out against the pallid backdrop of a misty morning in Torridon. 

    Oliver's Army was on its way. The target: the beautiful and dramatic Beinn Damh, one of the higher Corbetts and the final summit in our friend's 11-year quest to climb them all.

    Any 'compleation' is special, but there's little doubt it takes extra effort and a huge dose of dedication for anyone based outside Scotland.

    Oliver lives in Hampshire and for most of his Munros and Corbetts rounds he had been holding down a full-time job in London. It meant regular long trips by train, lots of logistical challenges when he arrived and the largesse of friends and fellow walkers. Only on rare occasions did he drive.

    Over the years there were a few frustrations; delays and at least three aborted trips through signal failure, train breakdowns, collapsed bridges and strike action. Even when he made it north on schedule, wild weather forced abandonments on more than a few ascents. 

    Beinn Damh was one of those failures, a day of heavy rain and no views when he was persuaded by wife Catherine to call a halt and return another day. She felt this was a mountain that deserved better. The decision was made there and then for Beinn Damh to be a fitting finale. And to add to the celebratory feel, the date chosen was Oliver's birthday, a weekend when the Munro Society was holding a meet in Torridon.

    The forecast was promising but slow to get started. Ribbons of gauzy cloud wrapped themselves around the hills, the lochs were flat and leached of colour, there were drops of rain in the wind. By the time we reached the col, there was some encouragement but anyone who walks regularly in the north-west knows putting your chips on grey is a more likely bet.

    The threat of the wet continued to the col and beyond, the overhead invisible with mere glimpses of the surrounding landscape the only consolation, brightly coloured jackets occasionally emerging from the gloom.

    Then suddenly, it all became clear. As we rose through the boulders for the final climb, brightness started pouring in from the north, lighting up the soaring faces and revealing the long line of figures threaded out along the skyline. Oliver's Army was still on its way.

    There was no Checkpoint Charlie (our very own Charles had stayed behind), but we had counted the numbers out at the offset. There was, however, our incredible sprightly octogenarian trio of Munroists, Elsa, Stewart and Nick showing that age is no barrier if you determined – and lucky – enough to keep yourself mountain fit. 

    Nick was a welcome guest: having recently celebrated his incredible Munros round, he and I had planned a walk together when I was next in the north-west, and the mention of joining a 'compleation' party appealed to him. 

    He admitted it was a slightly strange feeling to be one of those holding the poles aloft for the traditional walk-through this time out. He was also chuffed that for once he wasn't the oldest person on the hill, that accolade falling to Stewart, 84 and with ten Munro rounds under his belt.

    The weather just got better and better, perfect for hanging around on the high summits, blue skies showcasing the 360-degree mountain vista with the Coire Lair horseshoe and the Maol Chean-dearg/An Ruadh-Stac combo looking particularly fine.

    There was Champagne and cake, and apologies to the two young couples who had wandered up what they hoped would be a quiet mountain only to discover a party in full swing. Oliver's Army was here to stay (for an hour or so at least), and I'd rather have been here than anywhere else today.

    Once the party-goers did start to drift away, it reduced to small skirmishing groups, some heading out to other summits, the rest taking their time on the descent, enjoying the last of the unexpected upturn in the weather.

    By the time I hit the top of the outlying Sgurr na Bana-Mhoraire for the unobstructed view over Upper Loch Torridon the colour had flattened again, but the fact we had enjoyed so many hours of wonderful after such an inauspicious start felt like a mighty triumph.

    One small word of caution though: if you are part of a 'compleation' guard of honour but don't have any walking poles, don't be tempted to instead use a single arm in salute. It's a gesture that may well be misconstrued!