It is one of the most famous landmarks in Scotland. Buachaille Etive Mor stands at the north-west corner of Rannoch Moor, a dramatic mass of stand-alone rock. Its immense stature is a pertinent indicator to what will follow. As the road passes by this monster into Glen Coe its eye seems to follow you, sending you into the threatening walls – The Three Sisters and the Aonoch Eagach.
Despite its clarity of line against the sky giving it a wild and untamed look, and yet an elegance created by the draped look of its buttresses, I was not interested in going there. Every time you pass, there seems to be so many people parked up and ready to go hiking or rock climbing. No, I did not want to go there it was too busy, too popular.
Then I sat in my wee bed in Fort William and read over the route in the SMC book. The weather forecast was sun and more sun and some heat; the clouds would be floating high above the mountains until the evening. There was not a chance I was going to start off and do one summit and then descend. Tomorrow was mine. I wanted to go into the heart of the mountain.
Even on the flat lead-in to the hems of the rock faces, the heat was already blistering. On entering Coire na Tulaich the temperature rose higher. I put my hands into the cool clear waters of the wee burns that run into Allt Coire na Tulaich. I brought the cold liquid up to my mouth again and again. I thought of the metal cup that my dad has clipped to his rucksack. I placed my palm on a huge rock that was covered by a thin skin of running water.
I managed my recovery in the heat by stopping several times to turn my back on the mountain and look out on the world. Facing north I was looking onto the pointed summits of the Mamores and the huge humpback shape of Ben Nevis; the only peak that caught the base of the clouds.
Near the top of the well-laid stone steps, the path is reduced to rubble and scree. I enjoyed scrambling up the jagged rocky outcrop to avoid the erosion, easier to move on all fours – pre homo-erectus. Up here, the shadows created by the walls of the deep corrie are missing and you are exposed to the heat.
Up on the ridge the sunlight brought another surprise to the eyes. Stob Dearg, Buachaille Etive Mor’s north-east summit, is pink. This amused me. A mountain that looks silver or graphite from the road below is otherworldly under my feet. Along this shattered hump I walked the last several hundred metres to the top point at 1,022m. A couple of steps from the cairn has you looking down into unnerving clean air.
The smooth, dark green Glen Etive lies to the south; darkening as we headed south west along the ridge. The next summit, Stob na Doire, only ranks as a Munro top despite its impressive height of 1,011m. The climb up to it and the surprisingly narrow and steep descent makes this difficult to believe. Stob na Doire is the most impressive peak along the 4km of high ridge.
I thumped along this high line. I was invigorated. I looked over to the twin peaks of Buachaille Etive Beag (the little shepherd) that I had climbed with my father years ago in the first year that I had come down to work in the Borders. The next top of Stob Coire Altruim and the second Munro, Stob na Broige are easily reached. The day had dulled but it meant the air was cooler and up on the heights I soared.
I never sat down for almost six hours. I had a fight with the mountain, really the fight was with my own weakness. In my bed my memory is flying over the mountain ranges with the eyes of the raven.