It’s strange how things that you know are just perfect sometimes don’t feel that way when you first go back to them.
This was very much how I felt wearing my cumbersome, winter boots again, stumbling up the icy trail from the top of Glen Nevis by torchlight. Ungainly and clumsy, I slipped on the frozen streams that criss-cross the path up to Steall Bridge, the torch just picking out the boulders and grasses at the top of the waterfall.
The next day as we reached the snowline the perfection clicked back into place. Fully stiffened boots were once again the very best solution to boshing over frozen tussocks and heather clumps, and onto the icy neve on the mountainside.
Then, when later we strapped on our crampons for the final slope onto Aonach Beag, all was exactly as it should be – and as I’d known all along it would be, deep down.
It was the same with this whole trip – a stolen weekend, away from the normal routines of the office and home.
When the idea to get away came up we were fully up for it. Weekend passes gained from our loved ones, transport and logistics sorted, rucksacks packed. But it still seemed a bit wrong as we set off.
Writing this in a refrigerated tent after the most perfect mountain day, staring out the door at a million stars, it is now just – as it always was really – so right.
We set off at a reasonable hour from our camp. It could have been earlier but the Jura malt had gone down a little too well the previous night. Working our way onto the first shoulder of the hill we emerged into the crystal sunlight of a stunningly clear day.
As we (slowly) ascended – those boots again, not to mention out-of-condition legs – the Mamores ridge rose into full view, the tops backlit by the sun, the valleys infilled with curling fog banks.
Breaking onto higher ground, someone had alchemically transformed the snow into beaten gold.
Onto the ridge – and the summit of Ben Nevis heaved up, startlingly near and riven by gullies. The east side of Aonach Beag heavily corniced, like a surrealist’s version of an iced Xmas cake.
Stopping at the foot of the main slope we clicked on the crampons, unshipped an axe each and crunched up the immaculate neve to an intense, azure blue sky.
From the summit every detail of the Carn Mor Dearg arête and the north face of the Ben framed the landscape to the west. To the east the Grey Corries were laid out below us for detailed inspection. In all other directions, glen after glen, summit after snow-tipped summit. Not a wisp of wind as we caught our breath.
Although Aonach Mor beckoned further on, age and experience regretfully told us to start making our way back off the hill if the plan was still to be back at camp before dark.
A rapid traverse down to the bealach at 830m, followed by a painstaking, delicate descent as we picked our way down steep snow, through rock fields to the head of the valley.
Away with axes and crampons and out with poles, and after a welcome snack on a sunlit boulder we flogged down to the stream.
Bottoming out into a broad valley floor we bypassed wide meanders of the frozen stream to reach another brow.
A steep and by now painful descent into the cold shadows, passing a secret waterfall that could have it’s own coach park anywhere south of the border.
The finally as the light faded down, back to the tent and a still half full bottle of scotch.
Much later, after hot chocolate and shortbread a million stars put in their reappearance.
Even the freeze dried mealpacks tasted wholesome and nourishing.
Perhaps we actually had been transported to an alternate reality.
Tomorrow will be an early rise and pack up in the dark, and then back to the car for the drive south to Glasgow and home.
Days like these are there for the taking.
It may sometimes seem the right thing to stay with the routine and take a pass on the opportunities.
But always take the other chance – perfection is there all along, just waiting for you to arrive.
Tim Jasper, December 2009