IT’S the question that crops up without fail at every book and mountain festival, every talk, every show: Which is your favourite mountain?
Truth is, as with any list of favourites, like music or films for example, I have around 20 contenders and I could spend hours wrestling with the pros and cons.
Favourite peak, favourite scramble, favourite walk, favourite winter hill, favourite hill I’ve escaped from with a mixture of triumph and relief and underpants unsoiled. You get the picture. If you love mountains, you are going to have this dilemma.
Purely in the interests of keeping it simple I have learned to have a favourite mountain, so An Teallach it is. You won’t get much argument about that. It comes high on most people’s list.
But then I add the qualification that Buachaille Etive Mor is also my favourite. You can get away with two. Much easier than, say, 18.
No matter how much my outdoor life has progressed, it always comes back to the Buachaille. This, after all, is the mountain that set it all in motion.
Seeing it in passing from a car window as a young boy left me emotionally entwined; I just knew that one day I would be one of those rugged mountain men heading off into the heart of this beautiful beast.
Many, many years later, it remains a constant companion carrying a lucky bag of emotions. There has been triumph and tragedy, laughter and tears. There have been celebrations and sadness, birthday cakes and whisky toasts.
It was used by our club as the test for budding members. If we weren’t sure of your ability or fitness, you had to join us on the Buachaille first. If you didn’t fall in love with mountains after this ascent there was no point in carrying on.
The cast list has swelled and shrunk and swelled again - some years we had upwards of 20 in the party, others just three or four but always kept its core players. This weekend, as we do this time every year, we will climb to the main peak, Stob Dearg, to remember those no longer with us.
Sometimes we will go along the whole ridge, sometimes, especially if the weather is unkind, it’s a quick dash to the main top and down again to the King’s House.
What started as a birthday celebration walk back in the late 90s, changed to a memorial one by the tragic events of 2004 when our friend Trevor died in a fall on this peak.
We always pause by the bridge where his family have laid a rose, then stop by the stream at the entrance to Coire na Tulaich to pour a dram into the running water in his memory before heading up to the top.
In the past few years the walk has evolved again, becoming the perfect moment, the perfect setting, for those who wish to pay their own silent tribute to family or friends who have been taken too soon. It’s group therapy at 3000-plus feet.
I have requested this be my last resting place, my ashes scattered around the summit cairn, watching over the landscape from this lofty perch at the gates of Glen Coe for all eternity. That will (hopefully) entail a few more ascents to come. Let’s face it, someone’s going to have to carry me up there.
This event went beyond its original remit a long time ago and hopefully will continue to do so. It’s a lovely thought that 50 years from now, the walk will still be taking place but that no one will remember exactly why they are doing it.
So there you go, two favourites, neck and neck. An Teallach may be the winner in the glamour stakes, but the Buachaille will capture the heart every time.