THERE’S nothing quite like being on a Scottish mountainside to watch the sun rise.
The sight and sounds of another day coming alive swells your heart and lifts your spirits.
What more reason do you need to become hooked on regular excursions into the mountains in the wee, small hours?
My passion for nocturnal hill walking began back in the early 1990s during a quest to climb all the Munros, Scotland’s 3,000-foot peaks.
There were 284 of them scattered the length and breadth of the country, from Ben Hope in the far north to Ben Lomond in the south; from Mount Keen in the east to the island peaks of Skye and Mull in the west.
To do them all requires a lot of travelling. My problem, like that of most people, was trying to fit in these expeditions around a busy working life and family commitments.
I had to find extra time - and that’s when the idea of night-time walking struck me.
No one who works a nine to five job comes home from work and goes straight to bed. You need time to unwind, to chill out. So why should it be any different for me finishing at midnight?
My mind was still buzzing when I got home and sometimes it could be five or six in the morning before I went to sleep.
I figured that if I could use these dead hours after midnight I could get through these mountains in good time. So began a regime of leaving work after midnight, jumping into the car and driving two or three hours away to the likes of Fort William or Ullapool.
The original idea was to grab a couple of hours’ sleep in the car when I arrived at my destination. But with the anticipation of what lay ahead, sleep of any kind was impossible.
Instead, I would set off walking at 2 or 3am, sometimes in darkness, sometimes in the rising light, doing all the lead-in work to reach my target hill.
A head torch was a necessary piece of equipment but most of the time it became redundant, my eyes adjusting to the route ahead quickly, especially it there was a good moon.
The first night expedition went like a dream, a beautiful night on the Easains, twin peaks near Spean Bridge, the sun rising as I rose with every step, bathing the slopes in bright light.
Sitting at the summit of Stob Coire Easain having breakfast I felt I was the only soul on earth.
But my second night out, in the Mamores, near Fort William, was the opposite. The weather forecast was wrong by about six hours and I spent the night in various shades of grey looking for my summits.
In the end, I only bagged Na Gruagaichean before retreating with my tail between my legs.
But that didn’t matter. That first wonderful night nearly 20 years ago had whetted my appetite and I have never looked back. The Munros were finished and then it was on to the Corbetts, the next category of mountains which range from 3,000 feet down to 2,500.
There’s no doubt it’s an acquired taste. Not everyone will be happy to upset their body clock by heading off into the hills after midnight. But with the clocks going forward I’m raring to go again.
(First published Daily Record, April 18, 2013)