Published 27th September 2021, 14:54

    I SHOULD have been tip-toeing along the spiny crest of Liathach but a wavering weather forecast convinced me to leave it for another day. That was my choice.

    Seven days later, and I was standing on that crest in silent reverence, gazing along the full length of this magnificent ridge. This time there was no choice. This time it was a necessity.

    Like so many, I want to be out on the hills as often as I can, but it's been a long while since I have so desperately felt the need for mountain therapy. It had been simmering away for the past few weeks, an overload of commitments and requests competing with obligations to family and friends. It was starting to again feel like the good bad old days when ridiculous working hours dominated my life. 

    I needed to be in a landscape that would overwhelm the senses, a mountain traverse that would demand full attention and reduce every other thought to insignificance. Anyone who has travelled through Glen Torridon will recognise the allure of Liathach, its great wall sweeping straight up from the road to tower over the landscape, an air of majesty and seeming impregnability. It is simply impossible to resist.

    The ascent to the ridge on the path by the Alt an Doire Ghairbh is simple and fast. It is also very steep. At times, it feels as though it's impossible to stand up straight. An italic stance is needed when you take a breather. It was hot work, the constant uphill effort suddenly apparent when I hit the ridge and the temperature dropped sharply. I wandered out to the eastern top, Stuc a' Choire Dhuibh Bhig, a wonderful viewpoint to the sprawling, multi-summited Beinn Eighe.

    This was my fourth time up here, yet the first in which I had perfect clarity all around. My first traverse was conducted under guillotined summits, a grey mass which refused to budge an inch all day, the third under blue skies but with that continually shifting wispy cloud which frustratingly failed to render a complete view. In between, I had climbed both the Munros separately. 

    A winter skills course saw us clambering up to the snow-and-ice-scoured summit of Spidean a' Choire Leith from gullies on the northern side. We were then left above Pyramid Buttress to find our way down in pitch darkness. My knees remember that descent well. Mullach an Rathain was a fast run up and down the scree-filled Toll Ban as a warm-up to a few bigger days in Skye, but again the grey ruled the heights and kept views of the depths under wraps.

    Ironically, the best views I had had of the ridge until now was from the outlying Munro Top of Meall Dearg when I concentrated solely on that summit in an ascent from the rugged and lonely Coire na Caime on a blisteringly hot day.

    Now I was standing at the centre of a realm of calm, mighty peaks and lochan-studded terrain in every direction, rivers like silver ribbons woven into the fabric of this ancient landscape. It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment this feeling of almost hypnotic reflection kicked in, but it had an inbuilt familiarity.

    I turned my attention west, picking out tiny figures on various parts of the rollercoaster skyline ahead. Beyond Spidean a' Choire Leith lay Am Fasarinen, the ragged pinnacles which form the centre of the ridge. They are a serious prospect, but the scrambling is never as hard as it looks. Those who decide to opt for the bypass path along the south faces may be in for a shock though – it's narrow and eroded, and there are several places where the drop-off is sheer and unprotected.

    The crossing of the pinnacles was now the sole focus. All other problems were wiped from the mind as the placing of hands and feet became the priority, the exhilaration of the problem solving taking over. The thought of a slip or fall is never entertained. It may be a sign of age, but these days I have come to be more afraid of not living than dying.

    The final stroll to the terminal peak of Mullach an Rathain was almost an anti-climax, but there's no such thing on this mountain. The fractured dark teeth of the Northern Pinnacles running off to the right make sure of that. Someone had taken the time to arrange the stones into a finely balanced pillar on the normally untidy summit cairn, but its time will be fleeting in this exposed spot.

    I sat for a while watching stray beams burst through the flat evening sky to give the waters of Upper Loch Torridon a metallic sheen, a fitting metaphor for a day where I had come in search of some much-needed light.