Liathach – the grey one – is a mighty and imposing mountain in the Torridon region of Scotland. From all sides it appears impregnable, especially from the north, where a succession of rock buttresses tower above the surrounding moorland giving not a glint of access for the walker. Only by one unrelentingly steep path on the south side can the ordinary walker get to the ridge and, once there, must negotiate a series of rocky towers, a narrow ridge path and vertical drops on either side to reach the two main summits. Like its giant neighbour Bheinn Eighe, Liathach’s summits are topped by quartzite, a pale rock that glitters in the sun like snow.
A mountain is always perceived differently after it has been climbed. Before, it exerts a powerful hold, a beckoning that challenges and excites, perhaps for many weeks – even years – beforehand. Once climbed, restlessness gives way to reflection and the view from below is personalized, where ones own encounter with the mountain is now bound up with its larger being, no longer remote or impregnable. Climbing a mountain offers the opportunity to be part of a reality that exists undisturbed without us, one that irresistibly draws us into a world beyond ourselves.