WE were promised a day of clear skies and spectacular views on Beinn a' Bheithir but what we got was so much better.
Instead of consistent clarity we had revelatory glimpses through veils of drifting, dancing cloud; instead of an accordant colour palette we were treated to rainbows. We even got a Brocken Spectre.
It was one of those wonderful in-between days, where we were kept guessing as to what was going to be round the next corner.
The journey was a taster menu: fiery sunrise full of promise, then blue skies and clear summits all the way to Rannoch Moor, churning dark cloud and wet bullets ricocheting off the road in Glen Coe. By the time we came out the other side, it seemed a compromise had been reached.
From our start point at Kentallen on the fringes of Loch Linnhe, the mountain was still hidden away in layers of grey and white but the gloom felt transient and the silver reflections on the water suggested this could be a day of inversion.
The ascent from this side is steep and pathless, a constant push through long grass, thick heather and little outcrops, using a tumbling stream as a guide to outflanking a band of crags en route to the ridge. Despite being over this mountain many times and in many weather moods, this was new territory for me. Every other approach had been from the north or the east, following the horseshoe. This was a chance to do a full traverse from west to east.
The rise to the ridge brought many false promises, every undulation merely a prelude to another. There was false promise with the cloud as well. It rose and fell with every new bump, clearing the way ahead at times, closing in at others. It felt flimsy, yet there were always enough reinforcements to close ranks.
The tipping point came when the outlying top of Creag Ghorm, which had looked hugely impressive for so long, began to shrink and we were faced with massive brooding shapes in the swirling mists dead ahead.
Beinn a' Bheithir is the mountain of the monster or demon. One tale tells of a serpent which lived in the loch and devoured passers-by, but the distinctive shape of the twin summit prongs as seen when travelling south over the Ballachulish Bridge conjure up visions of a towering, demonic head. The devil is always in the detail. It wasn't long, however, until the monsters in the shadows were transformed into visions of awesome beauty, handsome sculpted faces rearing above the bubbles of cloud now forced down into the troughs far below.
The lochan that signals the start of the final steady push to the first Munro, Sgorr Dhonuill, reflected clearer skies which stayed with us to the summit, but outside of this little pocket things were not so defined. The Glen Coe factor was still afflicting Sgorr Dhearg and beyond, and the grey had started filling in sneakliy behind us. Until now, we hadn't seen anyone else but as we sat at the cairn, there was a constant parade of walkers arriving over the lip from the more conventional route.
The light alternated incessantly during the drop down the ridge and all the way up to the shattered remains of the trig on Sgorr Dhearg, walking partners framed by blue sky one minute, invisible the next, the only hint of their existence the sound of clinking scree.
The route to the final summit, the elegant Sgorr Bhan, had vanished again, the corrie beneath our feet a grey void. It was easy to imagine stepping off the edge and falling for all eternity, but this was a day of alternative delights, and the compensation this time was a Brocken Spectre, a sight which never fails to thrill even the most cynical.
I had high hopes of capturing that classic mountain vista from the scimitar-shaped ridge linking Sgorr Bhan, but the dispersal of the mists ironically also took away the shadow which serves to enhance the beauty of the curve. The angle of the final descent over Beinn Bhan doesn't relent much until the very last turn, rendering the buildings of Ballachulish with a Lilliputian quality.
The light show continued with rainbows over Loch Leven while diaphanous puffs of cloud seemed to bob along on the water, while behind us, Schoolhouse Ridge rose dark, jagged and serious, reviving memories of an exciting ascent back when breeches and high socks were the dress code. It's definitely a route for going up, not down.
Monsters and spectres, light and shadow – we got the best of all worlds.