TOM wouldn’t think of himself as being disabled. He’s one of those people who’s always had a glass half full outlook on life. He and I have shared many a great day climbing or walking Scotland’s hills in all four seasons and all weathers.
There have been any number of memorable times, which we recall fondly whenever we meet up, and I count Tom among the best hill companions I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.
Tom has two stand-out places he loves most in Scotland – the rugged Skye Cuillin and The Cobbler, the distinctive Corbett above Arrochar, which he has endeavoured to climb on or around his birthday for years.
Last year was special, though, not only because it was Tom’s 90th birthday but because he now has only part of one leg after an amputation.
Contemplating getting up The Cobbler with two decent legs would be daunting enough for most pensioners, let alone a man of 90. But Tom Webster is made of sterner stuff.
There’d been a party in Oban the night before to celebrate the milestone, but everyone was ready for the walk next day, including the birthday boy himself.
We couldn’t have wished for better weather. If anything it was too hot as we set off from the car park on the north side of Loch Long.
A new track winds up through the forest these days – much easier than the original route which followed a line of concrete blocks that supported a cable railway used during the construction of the Loch Sloy hydro scheme.
For the able-bodied the new track presents no problems. For Tom, in the August heat, things were different. But determination, as I’ve discovered in his company on the hill over the years, is something he doesn’t lack.
So on two sticks, with a bevy of willing helpers there to see him through, he made his way slowly up the hill with his little Jack Russell terrier running alongside, wondering what on earth this was all about.
On such a wonderful day, half the population of Glasgow seemed to have turned out to go up The Cobbler and Tom was getting plenty of encouragement. He got some strange looks, too, when he sat down for a rest and took his false leg off!
His goal was to reach the Narnain Boulder, so called because it sits under Beinn Narnain, the Munro that forms part of the group colloquially known as the Arrochar Alps. And of course, he made it.
While some of the party stayed with Tom the rest of us went on up The Cobbler by various routes.
Getting to the true summit on the central peak involves "threading the needle" – going through a narrow rock arch on to an exposed ledge and scrambling a few steps to the top. The moves then have to be reversed, with a yawning drop on one side.
Tom will never manage that again, but this year he has plans to camp near the summit so he can at least get on to the central peak. Indefatigable as ever, it’s not just a pipe dream either.