The first light of the day hits Meall na Sroine
The police car came to a halt next to my Citreon. 1:30am on thursday morning and I was parked in a lay-by near Fort William eating an extremely early breakfast. The police officers took a lot of convincing that I was going off to start climbing some mountains during the only 3 hours of darkness we get during the nights at this time of year.
This year I just haven't got back my enthusiasm for hillwalking after the winter climbing season ended…instead always longing for the extra intensity and feeling of slight madness that I get from climbing alone or running in the mountains. So after work on wednesday night I decided to try and do something to rediscover my old love for hillwalking.
Looking into the "Rough Bounds" of Knoydart from Garbh Cioch Beag
Going on the hill immediately after finishing work at midnight and forgoing sleep always adds a level of adventure to a hill-day, so at 1am I left Clachaig intent on visiting arguably Scotland's most complete wilderness….Knoydart.
The road down Loch Arkaig goes on forever. You go round endless bends and corners, up and down rises, round more corners, past more forests and then round more bends and corners and it still seems to keep going. After this road you walk for almost 2 hours along a track, then climb relentless grassy slopes for an hour, and after over 5000ft of ascent and two Munros on the way you reach Sgurr na Ciche, a remarkable hill on Knoydart's Eastern edge.
Before sunrise and Bidean a'Chabhair
It was this walk that the police found so unlikely that I should be starting at half-one in the morning. But what an incredible place to spend a night and dawn. The endless approach is just a taster of what is to come when you reach the ridge crest of this superb range of mountains….a rising sense of solitude and isolation above even the usual that is to be found in the Western Highlands.
At 9am I was stood on the summit of Sgurr na Ciche looking down on Knoydart. I'm no stranger to Scotland's wild nooks and crannies, but here I had the distinct feeling of being in the most remote place I'd ever been. It is unknown to most people that one of Europe's greatest wildernesses can be found in the West Highlands, but that is indeed what Knoydart is. I don't have words for how special the view was that appeared when the cloud lifted, and you cannot convey such a sense of space in photographs.
It is said that the view from Sgurr na Ciche is as wild as it is possible to be in Britain. Sat there in the summit I hadn't been putting myself at high risk, I wasn't resting after a difficult climb, I wasn't riding the adrenaline high that comes after a strenuous run. I was simply marvelling at how good it felt to be in a such a place so early in the morning after no sleep or rest, and at just how satisfying it felt.
I did the endless walk back to Loch Arkaig in a trance along another track that seemed to go on for ever. Seventeen miles later and I was back at my car and smiling that I can still have such a great day when no climbing or running is involved at all.
And then back along Loch Arkaig's "road to no-where", fighting a losing battle with the sleep that I should have had the night before. A few other folk were driving along the road to start the walk at a more normal hour while I stopped to close my eyes for a few moments.
I still have that deep love for hillwalking in me. I just needed to feel the adventure and madness again to remind me.