WHEN I was asked if I would be an auction prize for a big night out, I jumped at the chance.
Dinner and a show perhaps? Nah. The lucky winner would have the pleasure of my company on a night walk in the mountains.
The bigger prize was that the Mend Our Mountains paths fund appeal would benefit from the generosity of anyone adventurous enough to take up the offer.
Step forward Carles, and take a bow. It was a grand gesture. It was also a pleasure to have fine company for a midnight circuit of Bynack More and its attendant summits.
We had first been in touch around Christmas, and had been liaising since then on suitable weather, venues and time. We finally managed to pin it down to the Cairngorms, three days after the April full moon.
Carles lives and works in Edinburgh, and he has climbed all the Munros, probably the only Catalan to have done so. His love of the Scottish hills seems to have passed on to his two sons, who at the tender ages of nine and seven, already have a good few under their belts.
Curiously, this was not our first meeting. That was last year in a bothy in Skye, although it didn't click at the time. He was staying overnight with his sons, and their excitement was infectious, their line of interrogation thorough.
Now here we were, just before midnight, suited and booted for a night circuit. I was slightly puzzled; it was a perfectly clear night, and the dark sky was peppered with stars, yet the moon was nowhere to be seen.
We set off through the trees, walking in the narrow beam of our head torches. We took a look in at An Lochan Uaine, but its normally bright green waters were black and invisible, merged into the greater darkness.
Night walks tend to involve more planning than those in daylight hours. It's all about timing. We had some restraints, so the plan was to walk by moonlight, and arrive at the best possible venue to catch the sunrise at 5.47am.
We started walking at 23.58, two minutes before midnight, so I suppose I could technically claim it was a two-day walk. As this meant we would have arrived at the summit of Bynack More three hours too early for the fireworks show, we decided to reverse the route and ascend neighbouring Creag Mhor first.
As we rose towards the first horizon, I thought I saw a glow ahead. When we crested, there was the moon. It was low on the skyline, and it was a deep yellow, bright yet blurred, as though we were seeing double. Two moons for the price of one. Brilliant. The explanation was likely that dust being blown from the Sahara was affecting the colour setting, the lively, swirling winds affecting our optical alignment.
It was a simple, undemanding climb to the rock tor of Creag Mhor, and our timing was slotting in nicely. Bynack More would take more thought. It's a steep pull to the ridge, and there was a significant tonsure of snow stretching across the slope.
We took our line from the north end of little Lochan a' Bhainne and set off through deep heather. As we neared the snowline, the ground became steeper and slippier and it required some delicate balance and careful avoidance to find a way through.
The light had been rising with us, and our arrival on the plateau was accompanied by a distant red streak on the far horizon, and the moon switching to its more regular white. We passed the Barns of Bynack, the rock tors sitting like a row of broken teeth backlit by the coming day, to arrive at our main summit in time to settle in for the sunrise.
First we had the prelude, the pinks, the yellows, the oranges and the purples. Then there was the first crowning, the star of the show glowing an intense red, impatient to reach its goal. We watched for half an hour or so, then dropped down to take in the view from another top, Bynack Beg before traversing back over the bigger sibling to regain the inward path.
The heat of the new day was now beginning to be felt, and there was a minor strip show down by the bridge, a discarding of the heavier gear for a more comfortable approach to the final leg of the walk. It never fails to surprise how much longer the track seems on the way back, an expectancy that the finish is just around the next corner dashed so often.
There were a few joggers and dog walkers on their way in but no real sign of anyone else yet heading for the high tops, and it was comforting to see the little green lochan had changed back from obsidian nightwear to its brilliant emerald best.
It's not every night you can be an auction hero, and it was doubly rewarding that we had got the timing spot on for our own three peaks challenge.