EVERYONE else was heading for the ridge. Hardly surprising: An Teallach’s spine of castellated towers and spires has few equals.
It is a favourite mountain of many and normally I would jump at any opportunity to be scrambling along its crest. But this day was different, I had something else in mind.
I had often peered down the sweep of these mighty faces into the dark waters of Loch Toll an Lochain nestling in the hollow below.
I had also seen many photographs of the mountain taken from that point, through all seasons, colours and moods, and I had envied those who had been there first-hand to witness them.
For years, I had intended seeing for myself, but on every occasion the pull of the mountain tops had proved stronger. This time, I would conquer the urge to head for the high tops.
So, as my companions started up the hill path from Dundonnell, I travelled further along the road for the Corrie Hallie approach track to the bothy at Shenavall, then picked my way through bands of rock above Coir a’ Ghiubhsachain before dropping off down the other side.
The route into the heart of the mountain was on massive slabs beside the tumbling stream from the lochan, the water spreading wide over these pavements at times in its rush to descend.
At one point, I had the feeling I was being watched. Behind me, on the skyline, were dozens of feral goats watching the stranger in their territory, lined up like Apaches in an old Hollywood film considering whether to launch an attack.
The angle of ascent eased and suddenly I was in the corrie. I could see the lochan, but unfortunately the mountain was invisible, hidden behind a solid line of grey just sitting above the water.
I laid down my pack and walked round both arms of the loch in turn without success. I sat on the barrier at the lip and had a leisurely lunch. Nothing changed. I contemplated climbing up one of the gullies to the unseen heights above, perhaps catching up with my friends on their lofty traverse, rather than waste more of the day.
I had given it my best shot. I had been there for over an hour, deliberately taking my time, hoping for a dramatic change of luck. I got my gear together and was about to head out when at last it happened, that small chink of hope.
The buttresses to the left began to loom out of the gloom and take shape. Ahead of me, the grey horizon had started lifting. Another turn of the head and more of the mountain was showing. Now things were improving fast.
The light cloud was burning up rapidly, turning whiter, sections of blue sky appearing. The crest of the ridge was lightening fast; first the pinnacles of Corrag Bhuidhe pushed through, then the outrageous, leaning tower of Lord Berkeley’s Seat and finally, the Munro summit pyramid of Sgurr Fiona. Then I had it, the shot I had come here to capture, the ridge in full panorama from the lochan.
But there was a bonus. Not only did I have now have full visibility, I also had a perfect reflection of the whole mountain in the water, every patch of greenery, every hint of blue sky, every streak of old snow still lying in the creases of the faces. Two An Teallachs for the price of one. My patience and persistence had paid off.
I had waited for more than an hour more in hope than expectation. I had sat around in the mist cursing my luck and wishing I had just gone for the mountain like the rest of the group.
But I also knew from experience that An Teallach is a notorious cloud magnet, clagged in while every other mountain around is clear and that there was always a chance it could change in a heartbeat.
Sometimes from a distance it appears almost like a volcano, a dark pall rising into otherwise clear skies. Even its name, The Forge, conjures up visions of smoke and fury. From the ridge itself, the lochan is often blanketed in mist, visible only faintly as through a layer of gauze.
In the end I had been rewarded with 20 minutes of perfect visibility that had given me the view I had wanted for years. And that was my time slot all used up. The cloud started to gather again and make its way back to swarm the rock towers, caressing them at first then clinging on tighter and tighter, squeezing like a massive multi-headed boa constrictor.
By the time I had started dropping down out of the corrie, the blue skies had been completely swallowed and normal service had been resumed, a battle between warring clans of dark cloud.
I counted myself fortunate to have been given that brief moment of clarity. Right place, right time.