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Ben Vrackie: 3 very different mountains

Ben Vrackie: 3 very different mountains


Postby Stefan1 » Fri Nov 03, 2017 12:20 am

Route description: Ben Vrackie, near Pitlochry

Corbetts included on this walk: Ben Vrackie

Date walked: 21/10/2017

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A couple of weekends ago, a friend of mine came to visit. He said he was keen to do some hillwalking, having never done it before. I decided that we should go to the Isle of Arran - easy to get with (given the lack of a car) and some wonderful mountains. Unfortunately, the weather had other things to say, with constant heavy rain forecast for the West... most unusual! Checking the forecast, it looked fine in Edinburgh on Saturday, and the hills up the A9 looked fine for Sunday. Well that was that then, a long wander around the Pentlands on the Saturday, which would be followed by a trip to Pitlochry on the Sunday. I had been up Ben Vrackie twice before, making this the third time. Ben Vrackie has long been a hill I have recommended to others who have little or no hill-walking experience. It is a very pleasant walk, offering no really difficulties, but pleanty of pleasant variety. It is also rather more dramatic than many of it's larger and less rocky neighbors in the South Eastern Highlands. It is very accessible from the South East of Scotland too, be it by car or by train. It really is a great little mountain.

Ben Vrackie the Third: A nice introduction

Pitlochry has the advantage of containing a distillery, which was the other thing my friend wanted to see in the hills. So, on Sunday morning we jumped on the train up to Pitlochry, and after a largely sunny journey soon arrived in Pitlochry. We nipped to Blair Athol distillery first; I had been before, but non the less enjoyed it, especially thanks to the excellent tour guide who had most enthusiastic whisky-based chats with me.

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Not convinced this is the best way to start a walk, but... it worked for me this time.

The next step was to head up the mountain, an easy walk along the road to the start of the excellent path. We made good progress through the trees and then across the more open moorland higher up. We made a detoured round the back side of the loch, where the path was much less well maintained, and surprisingly boggy in places. This boggyness was not something I'd ever experienced on or near Ben Vrackie before...

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The summit, just as the cloud gave way to a spot of sunshine!

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There's a little bit of rocky character up there.

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Sunny enough to give us shadows!

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Making the hill look more rugged than it really is!

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Evening light on the way down.

A brief stop for lunch, curtailed by the sharp wind was followed by the final slightly rocky ascent up the steep, but very well made path, and in no time we were on the summit. The obligatory photos were soon taken and my friend could celebrate his first Corbett. (I did, of course, have a couple of celebratory pork pies for summit consumption!) For a first hill, I think my friend rather enjoyed it. I too had found it a rather interesting contrast to the last time I had been there. After a nice dinner in the pub, it was time for the train journey home, during which I told my friend about my previous climb up Ben Vrackie...

Ben Vrackie the Second: Walking in a winter wonderland

The previous time I climbed Ben Vrackie was at the end of November last year. And oh how different it was! In truth, my most recent trip was rather interesting as it was the first time I'd actually seen the path and the real character of the mountain. I'd previously only seen it blanketed in snow! Just under a year ago I had just started working in Edinburgh, and was yet to really know anyone there. As such I was keeping even more of a close eye on the weekend weather forecasts than usual. Should it look promising, I would nip off to the hills and go for a wander. Well... The weather forecast was for solid, albeit freezing, sunshine. I picked Ben Vrackie for my walk, again, mostly for it's easy of access. Small patches of snow lay on the platform in Pitlochry when I arrived, and my breath froze on the air. Good. That means no mud!

Of course, given the excellent conditions, the hill was busy and the paths, though snow covered, were mostly well trampled, not that that really mattered. The snow blanket on the gentle hillside provided an inviting canvas for aimless wandering. This was my second time on Ben Vrackie, so I knew that I needn't rush, knowing how long getting form A to B took and how much daylight there was, I proceeded to happily wander around rather aimlessly for almost an hour, not really heading up the main path, but simply enjoying not heading anywhere in particular.

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Beautiful conditions.

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There's the top! But no need to go up there yet...

Eventually however, I got bored. Or cold. Yes, cold, I think. In any case, I decided it was time to push up to the top. Plenty of people were on their way down already, and many of them were falling over. A lot. The problem was that the path was so well trodden than the snow had become compressed into sheet ice, and here, on the steep, stony path, that was proving treacherous, particularly for those descending. Having slipped a little myself a few times as I approached the summit, I considered this a little and decided that I was definitely going to avoid the path on the way down. The hillside to the east was covered in nice, grippy snow, presumably covering a nice heathery hillside, and though steep, was sure to be a better route down.

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Icy steps...

Once on the summit, having eaten my pork pie, I had to decided what to do. Fortunately, there is excellent Internet coverage at the top of Ben Vrackie, so I was able to check the train times and plan. I was in no hurry, and sunset was about one and a half hours away. Well... might as well wait around for it. So that's exactly what I did! Wandering between Ben Vrackie and one of the side peaks just to the North East every 15 minutes or so to keep warm. I had a wonderful time pointing my camera here and there and eventually watching the sun slip away.

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Snow everywhere!

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A long chilly wait for the sun to disappear begins!

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One of the smaller summits I wandered to to keep warm.

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Some serious frost on top of the snow.

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Keep walking back and forth... got to stay warm!

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Some late autumn colours clinging on below,

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A walker rests on the summit.

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The sun is starting to get some nice colour to it.

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Down it goes.

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Making faces with the ice.

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Some wispy clouds drift in below.

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Reflecting the sun nicely.

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As the sun gets low, the snow really contrasts the colours nicely.

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Looking across to Ben Vrackie - not many more circuits needed now!

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A few people gather on the summit in the distance, also there for the sunset.

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Darkness falls in the valleys, but up here we still have some sun!

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Some of the snow covered hills catching the last rays of the sun beautifully!

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There it goes.

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It's gone, a group still gathered on the main summit, laughing and enjoying a drink. Myself and one other walker stand off the summit, admiring the views.

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Not a bad spot to end the day.

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Time to descend.

A group of young men had reached the summit about 20 minutes before sunset and were merrily chatting away and passing out beers to each other. I left the summit to them and enjoyed the last bit of the sunset from just off it. The other other solitary walker who had been up there had done similarly to me. It was now time to head down. Bother. My head torch was right at the bottom of my bag. Oh well it was light enough for now, I'd grab it later. I headed not for the path, but for the untrodden slope as I had planned. The other walker had decided on a similar course of action and we soon found ourselves side by side. We got talking and congratulated ourselves on enjoying a lovely afternoon, and on selecting this far superior path. It was very easy, and neither of us slipped at all. We were soon down at the lake and chatting, slightly concerned about the group on the mountain top, who we could still hear. It was too dark to see them, although the white snow reflected enough light to see the path, nonetheless it was getting rather dark. My new companion soon pulled out his head torch, which was powerful, and cast more than enough light for me to not bother pulling mine out. We were soon back at the car park, where he kindly offered me a lift into town. I wasn't going to refuse. It was a short journey, but plenty of time to talk more. He told me about some of his other walks, and I told him about my previous (a couple of years earlier), very different experience on Ben Vrackie...


Ben Vrackie the First: Blizzard

I imagine that in general, when people have climbed a mountain more than once, they generally start with the best conditions, and then perhaps on the second or third time, once they know it well, decide they don't mind less good conditions. That's certainly what I have done with a few other hills. Not Ben Vrackie however. Betrayed by the weather forecast, which was for partial sun ,I had driven up the A9. My original intention had been to climb Schehallion, but the roads were covered in too much snow for my poor car, so I decided not to risk it. Instead I retreated to Pitlochry, and up to Ben Vrackie. The snow level was about 50 meters above the car park there, so I had no problem. Boots on, and off I went. It was snowing. Hard, although not settling at this level. 5 minutes into the walk, however, and it was a different story. Snow was everywhere, and the wind was blowing it straight into my face. By the time I got through the Forrest, my glasses had frozen to my hair, and I couldn't get them off to wipe the buildup of snow away from the inside of the lenses. I soon bumped into a living snowman. Actually, it was man dressed all in black, but coated in so much white snow that you could barely see that. He informed me that it was horrible up there, and that the wind was even worse whipping across the frozen lake. I would never make it. I told him I wasn't really bothered about making it or not, but I certainly wanted to see the lake, and maybe snap a photo or two.

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On the way to the lake... probably.

I did soon reach the lake, although, the conditions were far too bad for me to risk taking my camera out. A few snaps on the phone would have to suffice. I managed to shelter below a little back on the far side of the lake for a bit and thought about what to do. I was on my own, so didn't want to do anything stupid, however, there had been plenty of cars in the car park, so presumably there were some people up here. The blizzard briefly blew to the side, and I spotted two figures high up on the path ahead. Feeling rather well rested after this breather, I decided that I'd follow them up there, for a bit at least.

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Ok, up we go then.

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De-hatted to investigate my frozen hair...

The going was far easier than I had expected, and visibility improved. I was also surprised at how clear the path was despite the snow. Just before the summit I caught up with the couple I had spotted ahead. I reached the summit just as the next bit of blizzard blew in. I was glad there were two other people up there! I definitely would not have gone if they hadn't been there!

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The summit, all the snow blown away!

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One of my new companions on the summit.

The weather was probably at it's worst, and so I ask the couple if they minded me sticking to them for the descent. Of course, they didn't mind, and so I set off following them.

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Down we go, stick close!

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A hah, I can see something more than 10 meters away!

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Easy enough.

The visibility soon started to improve, the wind eased, the snow stopped, the cloud lifted, and even threatened to break in places... maybe the forecast had been right after all. I cannot blame my new companions for going slowly, the conditions were tough. But despite their poles, they seemed to slip and fall over every few meters. Eventually I thanked them for their company, decided to press on ahead. A rapid descent saw me at the Loch soon enough as some genuine sunshine broke through!

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Here comes the sun.

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Footprints!

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Shoo, cloud, I've had enough of you!

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Almost nice weather now.

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A little chilly for a picnic on the bench this time maybe...

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Easy going from here.

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Beautiful frosted plants.

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Trees

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More trees, I guess?

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Yet more trees!

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And the final little bit of the path through the wooded area.

The rest of the walk was very easy, and I particularly enjoyed the plants and trees, all coated on one side where the snow had been fiercely blown into them. Overall, a somewhat unconventional, but definitely very memorable first walk up a mountain that I was sure to climb again!
Stefan1
 
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Re: Ben Vrackie: 3 very different mountains

Postby wilkiemurray » Fri Nov 03, 2017 10:03 am

nice one - think I may have been the other walker near the summit- I remember a "party on the top having a party!!"

took this snap - sure it must have been he same day :)

ImageSummiteers on Ben Vrackies summit by Scotland's Mountains, on Flickr
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Re: Ben Vrackie: 3 very different mountains

Postby Stefan1 » Fri Nov 03, 2017 10:45 am

Ah, yes! Looks very much like it! Thanks for the lift!
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Re: Ben Vrackie: 3 very different mountains

Postby grey-heron » Fri Nov 03, 2017 9:12 pm

Great photos, particularly your sunset series. Clearly a mountain to add to my list!
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Re: Ben Vrackie: 3 very different mountains

Postby rockhopper » Sat Nov 04, 2017 12:50 am

Nice set of winter photos from the middle trip - great when you get conditions like that - cheers :)
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Re: Ben Vrackie: 3 very different mountains

Postby Alteknacker » Sat Nov 04, 2017 10:53 pm

A really entertaining report: a somewhat unusual format, and some superb pics. :clap: :clap: :clap:

I really enjoyed this read. Thanks for posting.
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