Published 30th September 2020, 19:20

    IT felt like my very own Groundhog Day; trying to grab a few hours' sleep in the forest car park at Achnashellach with a rainy tympanic accompaniment.

    There have been other nights in other places with the same rhythm but on virtually every occasion at this secluded spot I have had to drift off with the full range of pings echoing in my dreams.

    It's not unpleasant. Just the opposite, in fact. But it has become a little unsettling that no matter what the weather, it always seems to be raining in this clearing. I had only ended up here because of predicted dry conditions and it seemed a good opportunity to tackle a long day on the West Monar hills. I had expected it to be cold, and was prepared for a little snow on the tops. Earlier rain had been forecast to be long gone. Instead, it decided to hang around for the night.

    Sleep, as it usually is in a car, was fitful. So were the drips that filtered through the towering pines to do a sound check with varying force on the roof. At times, the darkness was absolute, but as cloud shifted around there were glimpses of starlight, one so bright that at first I suspected it could have been a squirrel high on a branch with a head torch.

    There was also an interlude of piercing screeches, likely an owl finding an evening meal. A long lie was never going to be an option. I set off in the morning gloom, waterproofs at the ready, pleasantly surprised they were not to be called into action. The light rose quickly and I was over the water crossing without the need for any balancing act on the wire bridge. The rise to the Bealach Bhearnais was steady, the turn and climb up the series of rocky steps to Sgurr Choinnich accompanied by the distant roaring of stags.

    The promising early views had been swallowed by rolling grey from the north, so the summit remained an in and out affair, as did the continuation to the highest point of the day, Sgurr a' Chaorachain. I was greeted here by a cairn coated in white, the first snow of the season, but the day had started to turn, and the surrounding hills made themselves known again.

    The vast bulk of Maoile Lunndaidh, my next objective, filled the horizon. It's a fair drop to the lochan resting under the northern crags, and then a wet walk across to the Drochaid Mhuilich where the big re-climb begins. I suppose you should know what to expect when you are heading for the 'bare hill of the wet place'.

    There are three prominent high points around Maoile Lunndaidh's curving plateau, and over the years debate has raged over which is the main summit. Sir Hugh Munro named Maoile Lunndaidh as the summit according to the 1881 six-inch map which showed it to be a fraction higher than Creag Toll a' Choin to the south-west.

    After Munro's death, revised mapping showed Creag Toll a' Choin to be the higher point and it was promoted in 1921 where it remained the main attraction until 1981 when Maoile Lunndaidh was again awarded the status after a newer map gave it a spot height of 1007 metres. More modern maps give both summits a height of 1005m, and in 2014 a survey clarified that Creag Toll a' Choin was the highest point. Although this is now the accepted ruling, it has not yet been officially ratified so we have the confused situation that Maoile Lunndaidh is still the Munro in name only.

    The nature of the mountain means that anyone climbing it is likely to sweep round all three tops on the horseshoe anyway, the big selling point being the spectacular corries which bite in on either side rather than the summits. If you have chosen to visit just the one cairn then sympathy will be in short supply.

    And while we are on the subject of Munro status, it's worth putting to bed any whispers of independence for Bidean an Eoin Deirg. Its soaring peak and plunging faces quite rightly make it the most spectacular summit on this round, but looks are deceptive and the drop between it and the higher, more rounded top of its parent, Sgurr a' Chaorachain, are not enough for it to qualify as a separate mountain. Just enjoy it as it is.

    The escape from the bare hill of the wet place inevitably involves more squelching. Once off the high parts of the ridges, there's a tiring trudge across a couple of kilometres of runnel-filled ground before the track is reached. The long trek out doesn't seem so bad after that.