IT will be enough for many just to note that Second Man on the Rope has been republished and thus make immediate plans to replace a battered/lost/loaned but not returned copy.

The rest of the book-buying public falls into two categories. For those who climb mountains or walk hills, this book is compulsory. For the rest, it is merely necessary.

Second Man on the Rope, first published in 1992, is advertised as a celebration of Scottish mountains. It is that, of course, but it is also much more. Mountains, swollen rivers, glens full of midges, bothies with nibbling rats and slabs slick with rain provide the compelling backdrop. However, the importance of Mitchell’s ruminations rises far above any mountain.

This may seem a grandiose claim, a Himalaya of hyperbole, but it is made all the more stark and authentic by the self-deprecation of Mitchell. This is a series of essays of travels through the Scottish wilds with Davie Brown, a renowned, singular climber. It could sink under the weight of consciously lyrical writing or under the burden of jolly japes. But it soars because Mitchell is a fine writer and the humour of his stories is always of the darkest hue, in truth the only brand of wit that can survive the wilds of Scotland, whether that be on wind-striped hill or lie-strewn barroom.

The descriptions can be breath-taking. Here is Mitchell taking a break for lunch: “One minute there was a blank sheet of mist.

Then suddenly a warm uplift breeze tugged at it and subsided. Then it ripped again, and tore some fleeting rents. Minutes later we were sitting marooned by mist on one of an archipelago of peaks. A Cuillin atoll floated above Coire Lagan filled with a white evanescent sea of cloud.”

This evocative scene is immediately shattered by Davie pushing to go on, to sample yet another experience. And this is the hub of the book. Mitchell and his partner are relentless and reflective. They drive on through snow, ice, rain and occasional sun, using humour to protect them against the self-inflicted wounds of days on the hills. A fellow traveller is placed depleted and shivering into a sleeping bag to regain both warmth and the will to live. Davie remarks, with all the consolation he can muster: “Aye, and your wife is probably like mine: thinks I come here to enjoy masel.”

Mitchell is aware of the danger. The tales are peppered with moments when he and Davie decided that it was better to turn back. This caution, this valued experience does not inoculate against injury or death. There is an awful plunge beneath a glistening cornice. Mitchell survives unscathed but Davie cuts himself with an axe. The severity of the injury and the awful fate it invited is summarised thus: “It was 400ft to the loch, then four miles to the car. It took us six hours.”

This invites the tedious question as to why intelligent men proceed with such endeavours. Mitchell is brilliant at investigating this and, indeed, his personal failings and strengths. Crowberry Curfew would demand a place in any collection of Scottish short-story collections, brushing off protestations about its non-fictional status by proclaiming its inherent greatness in examining friendship, selfishness and shame.

Its honesty is brutal, yet ultimately generous. One does not have to be a climber to have experienced the sulk, the Caledonian huff, whose only use is its invitation to look at oneself with a self-loathing that, mercifully, can become self-acceptance.

The brilliance of Second Man on the Rope is that one does not have to have clambered up a Munro in snow or slid down a slope in ice or attempted to cross a river in spate to appreciate it. These experiences, of course, will all enhance its allure to the reader as will a familiarity with Barrisdale Bay, Corrour, Carbost, An Teallach, Loch Hourn and other spots that form the shorthand to Scottish mountain tales.

But Mitchell’s writing has an accessibility that is irresistible. This is discourse about friendship, the awful politics of the Thatcher years, the necessity for compromise with both nature and other members of mankind, and the sheer essence of life itself.

Addressing the question of why one attacks a ridge or a rock face, he writes: “The experience is the experience, there’s nothing hidden behind it.” He can’t remember whether he or somebody else said this first. It does not make it any less true.

Second Man on the Rope: Mountain Days with Davie by Ian R Mitchell is published by Luath Press, priced £7.99