Published 24th May 2024, 18:31

    THE night was filled with light, a brilliant waxing gibbous moon sitting in an endless carpet of stars, the dying embers of sunset still burning on the distant western horizon.

    Amid that orange glow was a scattering of curious cigar-shaped clouds which hung in the sky in the way that bricks don't. 

    For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen. I decided to get a move on.

    This was a night excursion into the mountains for Towel Day, an annual celebration which takes place on May 25th for the late, great Douglas Adams, creator of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

    I was a few days early, but it seemed the best option considering the weather was about to take a nasty turn for the worse. I was also a few days short of a full moon, but again I refer to the previous sentence. This was all about flawless skies, dark mountain silhouettes and shiny celestial objects. And the number 42.

    Those who have the read the books know that the answer to the meaning of life is 42, so it followed that the hills I was tackling had to be on the OS sheet of that number.

    Now here I was, heading up into the Drumochter Munros at 1am, head-torch picking out the way ahead. I had a second in my bag as always, and I'm sure even the twin-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox would agree that two head-torches are better than one. Although for safety reasons, he should really be equipped with four if he ventures out in the hills.

    Time and distance tend to be reduced to illusions when you are walking in the full darkness of night. With the moon hovering above, the black outline of the col between A' Mharconaich and Geal-charn always seemed close enough to touch but I never seemed to be making any real progress. It's enough to make your improbability drive wane.

    Far below, I could pick out shimmering silver snakes of streams and hear their hissing as they slithered through the darkness, the only sign that any height was being gained. I plodded on, still feeling I was getting nowhere. The first thousand steps were the worst. The next thousand were also the worst, then it went downhill from there (even though I was going uphill).

    Space is big, but so is our mountain landscape. Sometimes you can't take in just how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to your nearest Tesco, but that's just peanuts compared to the mountains.

    And when it comes to planetary favours, it seems we Earthlings have been given a raw deal. For example, it took around 150 days for my first Munros completion, but had I been doing the Munros on Saturn where a year lasts 10,759 Earth days, I could have had it all wrapped up in the first few weeks. 

    The angle of the ascent eventually eased and I found the narrow path stepping up A' Mharconaich. If my timing was right, I could summit this hill and then make it over to Geal-charn to sit and watch the sun come up.

    The fires were already being lit, an intense orange stretched across the horizon where the tiny dark pyramidical outline of the summit cairn of this first mountain stood out on the skyline. Meanwhile, in the opposing corner, the moon was now a deep yellow and had retreated behind a venetian blind of blue. 

    Forty minutes until sunrise and the light was coming fast. All around, it was changing by the second. Across Loch Ericht, Ben Alder and its acolytes had made a rather sudden appearance capped by the bars of pink, purple and blue of the Belt of Venus. I hit the summit with 20 minutes to spare but it was virtually daylight already. It was time to take my seat and wait for the fireworks show.

    I was glad I had followed the sage advice of the author and remembered to pack a towel. He always reckoned that this was the one item that the savvy traveller should never be without. I found a suitable flat area out of the chill wind amongst the rocks of the shelter cairn then produced a cotton rectangle of practicality and pure loveliness to spread over it.

    When the warm-up act had finished and the sun finally burst through into the new day, it was as life-affirming as ever. The temperature immediately rose a few degrees, physically and mentally. It's hard to imagine a more invigorating feeling than coming through the darkness into the light. 

    Or as Zaphod Beeblebrox would say: It wasn't just amazing ... it was amazingly amazing.

    The one minus point was the fact I had to be satisfied with water to quench the thirst after an increasingly warm walk out as it was too early for the pubs and coffee shops. 

    Never mind, I suppose the chance of finding anywhere that served a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster was nigh impossible anyway.