The track up Mount Keen from the north starts innocuously enough: a well-graded surface with excellent cross-drains, and today, the Angus glens were looking so fine that I wondered why we had gone anywhere else. Now she tells us - Doogs.
The boys were fittingly 'keen' - there is no doubt that they knew exactly where we were, as they stomped cheerfully up the inviting track.
As you have no doubt come to expect from these adventures, it was too much to hope that this would continue -and guess what? As we climbed higher and higher, the track got steeper and much rougher - in fact, it was easier in places to make our way up the side than to pick through the ankle-turning boulders.
The weather was also starting to deteriorate somewhat: although not actually raining it started to become quite clammy as we puffed our way up into the cloud which covered the top of the mountain.
In one way it was a benefit as it kept us cool (you certainly wouldn't want to linger though), although how sad to lose those stunning views towards Lochnagar and the Cairngorms.
One of the most isolated of the Munros (its nearest neighbour is 17 km away), it is generally considered one of the easiest. We still found it tough enough (it would be less so for walkers than with horses - the rocky terrain as you near the top was a mite challenging in places) as there is a relentless climb to its conical summit.
The cloud began to thin as we neared the summit, allowing Doogs to pose manfully as he stopped for a breather, claiming altitude sickness.
The higher we climbed, the more dramatic it became. The view became like a Chinese painting, as tops of surrounding peaks shone above the cloud around us.
The path, which is easy to see and follow, splits near the summit, giving you the option of following the old Mounth drovers' road, or climbing to the summit. As this was to be our last major 'up' on this trip, there was no contest - the summit it had to be! Other free-range riders I know claim that once you've been 'high', nothing else quite matches up, however pretty it may be - and I tend to agree.
As we huffed to the top, we disturbed a couple of large groups of ptarmigan - just magical, and well worth our panting effort. Oh, really? - Doogs.
Just as we reached the summit, the last of the cloud cleared and suddenly we could see for miles and miles, including many of the places we had been on this journey. I sat down beside the ponies and together we gazed and gazed at this wonderful land spread out before us.
I haven't yet quite found the words to describe this moment (no doubt you will - Doogs). It truly did seem to be the summit of all we had achieved together. I sat on in the now-warm sunshine and thought about the places we had seen, and the people we had met, as well as all the challenges we had faced and overcome. For an ordinary, middle-aged (and hardly athletic) woman, this was the best of times. I looked at the boys and almost burst with pride (not forgetting the brave little Ladybird too). How blessed I felt to have had this opportunity - and how lucky to have shared it with them.
You're not going to leave us here, are you, while you drivel on? We want to go home! - Doogs
Ah, yes, boys - home it is...now how do we get off this mountain...?