IT was 2.30am and we were sitting listening to the rain pounding on the roof of the car.
This was not in the script. The forecast had been for warm, dry weather but when we arrived at Glenfinnan ready for action, the heavens unleashed an alternative plan.
The silence between us said it all, the fear that today was going to be a wash-out instead of a high-level tramp in glorious conditions.
But the rain was short-lived, a passing summer thunderstorm, and 15 minutes of fretting was wiped away as the drumming gradually eased and a damp, misty silence descended. It was time to get going.
The rail journey from Fort William to Mallaig is one of the best in the world. The road journey’s not bad either, with stunning scenery and new joys round every bend and along every sweep of the A830.
There are many fabulous mountains on this stretch, from the Rois-Bheinn circuit above Inverailort to the wonderfully-named Streap, which means simply ‘Climbing’. But we were heading for another of the area’s highlights, the Munros of Sgurr nan Coireachan and Sgurr Thuilm, a round known as the Corryhully Horseshoe.
The route starts across the road from the Glenfinnan Monument and the trench of Loch Shiel behind us could be seen only as a pale passage between the silhouettes of steep mountain walls as we set off up the tarmac road. The track leads under the huge arches of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a wonder of Victorian ingenuity, where carriages packed with Harry Potter fans are regularly given a photo stop.
Just past here we managed to disturb some stags foraging in the trees. We were downwind so they hadn’t smelled us coming and we hadn’t spotted them in the darkness. It was difficult to say who got the biggest surprise.
As the first glimpses of early light appeared we reached a bothy. This is one of the better models, complete with electric lighting, and it’s a welcome break point before the climbing starts. The wisdom at this time was to tackle the route anti-clockwise, so we were soon plodding our way up the steep, grassy slopes of Sgurr Thuilm.
It seemed to take forever, every false summit - and there are many - dashing hopes of an early reprieve from the brutal upward push, but the rewards were exquisite. As we reached the summit cairn the promised sunshine began to coat the slopes with gold and the steaming light cloud rose, thinning all the while before being dispersed into nothingness.
The hard work isn’t over though as the walk over to Sgurr nan Coireachan is a series of ups and downs over some smaller peaks. Plenty of excuses for picture breaks on the way, with the full depth of the glen on our left, before the final stiff climb.
Here was the perfect alfresco breakfast spot, a circular cairn with seating in the sunshine. It was 7.30am, we had done two big mountains and now we were sunbathing before the day had really properly wakened.
The night-time rain storm now seemed from a different lifetime, the thought of descending from this paradise the only cloud on the horizon.
It takes a few hours to get back to the car, and when we arrived around 11am it was to find hundreds of American tourists, loud in voice and attire, swarming all over the place. The peace was well and truly at an end.
(First published Daily Record, April 24, 2014)