I HAD it planned to perfection. I would be sitting at the highest point in Mull watching the sun rise to celebrate the “compleation" of my third round of Munros.
The ferry was booked, the route picked out for maximum impact and all my gear stripped and then repacked to make sure I wouldn’t leave anything behind.
My two previous finishes had been celebrated with friends. This time, however, I wanted to go alone.
I wanted to ascend in the darkness, the light rising with me, just as I did so often over 15 years of solo night walking.
I wanted to sit in silent contemplation drinking in the rising day, thinking about all the hill days that had led me to this point, all the great memories of lost friends who never managed to make it this far. It was to be the closest I had come to a pilgrimage.
Ben More, however, had other ideas. I should have known better; it seems every time I set out to climb this mountain there’s a drama.
Like the time I made a flying winter visit and managed to hit a massive pothole which turned what should have been a pleasurable day out into a stress-filled race against time.
Or the time we were on our way to Oban when we heard the boat was cancelled and had to make the long diversion to the alternative ferry port in Lochaline, a 60-mile dash of rally proportions along single-tracks roads with the clock ticking.
So there I was, checked in at the terminal in Oban with time to spare, when I was injected with a massive dose of déjà vu - the ferry would not be running because of mechanical failure. The only way to get to Mull that night was the Lochaline route.
Suddenly the mood of relaxation was wiped - it was a race against time. I was back in Wacky Races, a Dick Dastardly without the consolation of having Muttley alongside for comic cuffing.
I arrived in Mull slightly frazzled, two hours later than planned. A visit to the Mishnish provided some chill-out, refreshments and music on tap. By this time I had also abandoned my route. I had wanted to do the horseshoe over Beinn Fhada and A’Chioch but decided I had had enough drama already.
I drifted off to sleep for a few hours on the shores of Loch na Keal, the sky a blanket of stars. When I woke, the stars had vanished, there was no moon and the wind had picked up.
The walk was done in pitch blackness, especially higher up when I was enveloped by mist that meant I was having difficulty seeing the route ahead more a foot or two. I wouldn’t have fancied the A’Choich round in these conditions. The roaring of stags somewhere off in the darkness added an unsettling touch.
I huddled in the shelter of the massive cairn out of the wind and waited for things to blow over. There must have been a sunrise but it was overwhelmed by the driving cloud. Forty minutes later, I gave up the ghost and headed down. I consoled myself with the tick and the end of another round.
The first time you tackle a round of Munros, it feels like a great adventure. It’s all new, uncharted territory, surprises and delights in every expedition. The second time round feels more relaxed, a chance to catch the view you may have missed first time or to soak in the atmosphere you loved so much first time round.
Round three is different again. You are revisiting old friends, and it feels as if you should go on repeating this forever, a mountain lover’s Groundhog Day.
Much of this round has had the feel of the great farewell tour, a la Sinatra. I made a point of treating every summit as if it were my last visit, bidding au revoir with the mantra: Well, this is the last time I’ll ever be up here.
Whether I have the drive (or the legs) to do all them all again is open to question, the likelihood of another finish naturally diminishing with every passing day. Not that I’m slowing down. Far from it. In fact, I feel I have been fitter during this third round that at any previous time in my climbing days. But there is a growing realisation that age will start to take its toll, maybe not for another ten years or so, but it will at some point.
This Ol’ Blue Eyes accepts that his swansong may be just round the corner. But then there’s still the small matter of the Grahams, the Donalds and the Munro Tops to finish as well.