Thoughts on An Teallach's Evening

The difficulty of a night-time descent is always forgotten by the time you’re slumped in pub’s fireside armchair, reflecting on the unique light-play of dusk and twilight, the dance of colours amongst clouds, crests and heather-clad slopes... High up on a towering ridgeline as light fades, you feel part of time as you watch it pass in shades and tones.

To be on or near a summit at sunset is to have lived a complete mountain day. The truly perfect one slowly crescendos to this boundary, then enchantingly retreats across it, fading out through ochre to orange to pink and mauve and stars. It begins with a bleary-eyed, too-early-o’clock breakfast, a ten-minute struggle to de-ice the windscreen, a tenterhooks drive to a frozen layby. Then comes the walk-in and that first lung-busting slog of an ascent leading to a glimpse of jagged winter ridge. You rope up and teeter tentatively along, weaving the cord between its pinnacles, sewing and unsewing yourselves into the landscape: like tailors fleetingly joining two vast horizons, blunting your crampon needles to thread the mountain’s.

The towers, you turn on the left and right and on occasion startle a raven who launches into the gulf and rises, peeling off and gliding motionlessly away on the wind, its croak as abrasive as the rock. It scours your senses and leaves them raw and tingling; it sensitises you to the wild and rugged.

Sometimes the beguiling views are enhanced by natural edits, like the sepia filter of burning-heather smoke drifting in that near-windless sky. Falaisgeir. It veils the crags across the valley and places you in a golden-age photograph of climbers training for the Greater Ranges. It’s a timeless landscape and our sometimes need to conquer is left cast in snow for days only, to be recast with the foehn. Those raised footprints are a petrified reminder of our temporary presence.

There’s so much beauty in these clear winter days, but it’s when you at last come to a halt on the summit, and the still blue sky instead sets to moving, that you reach the real pinnacle. Now you’re part of the landscape, a solitary gendarme, as sunset dances through its sequence of colours; and it’s as though you can see time in its march, and you realise that this is how it is for the stark still mountains, laid dormant while our Anthropocene age scrambles by. In that moment lies true perspective, thought as clear as the chill air. 

And now, you feel night arrive with its shadow - its universe. You strap on your headtorch, contented, smiling, flick the switch and start the long descent, a star on the skyline.