I ARRIVED at the summit of Beinn Resipol in search of a sunset spectacular but instead had to settle for the merely beautiful.
No fiery red or orange skies, no horizontally aligned bars of pink or violet, just the intense white light of a sun bidding farewell by turning each and every drop of water to sparkling silver as stacks of wispy cloud drifted and danced around the hillside.
It was a fitting finale to three mountain days in Ardgour that had once again defied the forecasts, three days of stepping out between the rains and finding light where there should have been none.
There are no Munros to be found in Ardgour or the neighbours that make up the West Highland Peninsulas – Moidart, Morvern, Sunart and Ardnamurchan – but this is prime mountain landscape nonetheless, hills for the connoisseur. The walls are high and rugged, the terrain is tough, the ridges lengthy and undulating. You have to work for every upward step, and the ground between each peak can be complex and time-consuming.
The whole area has the curious feel of being compact yet spread out at the same time, a scattering of small settlements divided by long stretches of emptiness along twisting roads. Where every burn is signed and named with a grid reference included, a possible lifeline for anyone unfortunate enough to need assistance. And no matter how well you think you know the place there always seems to be somewhere new to explore, fresh mysteries and delights tucked away in hidden corners.
The journey there was all about timing, travelling through the morning wetness to reach the quiet start point for Sgurr an Utha shortly after passing the stacked shelves of campervans and hordes Pottering about at Glenfinnan. Two miles, yet a world of difference.
My last visit to this Corbett had been in early morning darkness of winter with deep snow, so it was hardly surprising that this seemed like a new experience. I had forgotten just how high the track had gone, almost forgotten how I had abandoned the attempt to continue to Fraoch-bheinn due to struggles in the waist-deep white.
No such worries this time. The dark skies occasionally tried to make a comeback but were easily vanquished by the blue, the heat of the sun building with every step. The summit cairns revealed the long blue slash of lonely Loch Beoraid, the elegance of the Corryhully Horseshoe, the dramatic multiple pyramids of Streap. All this, and it was only the warm-up.
Next morning we awoke to grey at Strontian, but the forecast deluge had not materialised. Instead, the rain charts pointed to clear windows of opportunity, a constantly shifting picture that would provide clarity and drama in equal measure.
Carn na Nathrach is equally satisfying under most conditions, an elongated ridge of much interest which switches continuously with height, from mixed vegetation to little knolls, from outcrops to bolder faces glinting in sun or rain.
The waterproofs had been on from the start but we only encountered a couple of brief showers on the way to the cairn. Our touchdown triggered a heavier burst and we spent ten minutes sitting beneath the summit in a drookit circle waiting for the skies to clear, but the reward for this atmospheric cleanser was the whole ridge in re-invigorated colour and views of the surrounding hills through holes in the drifting cloud sheet.
We made it down before the serious rain swept in bringing a five-minute soaking but smiles of satisfaction. The downpour continued right through the afternoon and night and into the morning, but its force soon diminished and the predicted sunshine moved forward by a few hours. I had already planned on a dry evening stroll up Beinn Resipol but the earlier than scheduled change in the weather meant I could go for an even later walk to catch a sunset and still enjoy more of the day.
We headed over the road towards Lochaline, the first half bleak and barren in any light, then into greener territory and finally the even more manicured ground at Ardtornish, where we walked out to Leacraithnaich bothy. A few hours later it was sunglasses and protective head gear as I left Ariundle and crossed into Sunart, taking the old Corrantee mining track to its highest point then contouring west to Beinn Resipol.
The last time I had tackled this hill by the western approach from the camp site at Resipole. It was the middle of the night and it was raining, but the forecast suggested fine weather following on. It was wrong. It just got wetter and wetter, no views at any point, the path on the descent turned into a small river with water running up to my ankles. I was as close to drowning as you could be while walking upright.
The rain was so relentless that I couldn't even get changed out my wet gear – it was like driving home in a wetsuit. Needless to say, I ended up with a chill. The contrast couldn't have been greater. The brilliance of the retreating sun and the oscillating cloud illuminated the shapes and shadows of the final walk along the bumpy ridge to the massive cairn.
The view down to the rugged slopes between Loch Sunart and Loch Shiel revealed a myriad of diamonds, but also a realisation that there would be no fireworks in this sky. This light show would stick with its bleached intensity before shutting down. By the time I was halfway down the ridge, the summit had been swallowed by cloud.
It didn't matter – I had caught the sun from the summit of Beinn Resipol and, for the third day in a row, had outflanked the elements.