The Epic Bagging of Ben Vrackie

Route: Ben Vrackie, near Pitlochry

Corbetts: Ben Vrackie

Date walked: 05/01/2012

Eager to continue gaining experience in the snow, burn off some post Christmas calories, keep walking generally, and after a fair while of having him in our sights and never getting there, myself agrubb and SMRussell set off to bag Ben Vrackie (all the while aware that the forecast was suggesting strong gusts and mobility difficulties!).

Right from the get go the breezyness (if such a word exists?) of the day was clear and the Microspikes (newly purchased after just 3 other winter walks experienced of late with so such help on slippery snow and ice!) were donned fairly early in an attempt to keep ourselves upright when the gusts were hitting - they did the job beautifully! Also early on was the reward for our finally getting there and risking the forecast..with the views behind us opening up quickly with a gorgeous sunrise to boot..
Photo not really doing justice to the colours!

As we continued up to Loch a' Choire everything increased - the strength and frequency of the gusts, the quality of the views in every direction, and all our excitements for the view we might get from the summit (if we could make it!)

With the Loch just ahead we hit a few deeper spots of snow, with some losing of limbs to it's cold depths..
Andy getting lost for a moment in the snow.

In the relative (really really relative!) shelter in the dip at the other side of the Loch we stopped for refreshments and for layering up, retrived our ice axes and goggles and decided to climb on and see how far we could go still feeling safe and able. Within 5 minutes gusts were hitting us that stopped us all in our tracks from time to time, threatening to knock us over and definately making me for one forget that it was "only" a Corbett we were tackling. As we got higher the gusts increased, and added to the mix was snow being whipped up at us from the ground, occassionally finding ourselves waist deep in snow, and a short-lived (thankfully) blizzard. It was at this point, as the slowee at the back, with visibility minimal, everything was being thrown at us and the stunning blue skies had disappeared, that I had one of the "why do we do this?" moments and wondered what the heck we were doing on this mountain side! This feeling was added to by seeing a man further down the slope turn around shortly before the weather closed in and thinking "maybe he has the right idea?!".

These thoughts were fleeting - as they usually are for me - as the sunshine quickly returned, I heard the shout of "viewpoint!!" from the other two ahead and could see they were managing to remain upright! I was quickly (as quickly as the wind and my tired legs would let me) attempting to bound up the final pull to the top and the views.

I attempted to bound and in reality I crawled part of the way! After some steps into very deep snow that knackered me trying to get out of I figured I might as well stay low to the ground, and I reckon my progress was probably about as fast as if I had stayed upright fighting the wind that there was to contend with! So after my crawl and a few minutes remaining on my front at the summit as the wind blasted me, I was able to take in the view...and boy had it been worth the slog, the battering, and the slight fear - it was stunning.

With the strongest wind I have so far (with my relative handful of hills I realise!) experienced, and with a chill setting in, we didn't stay at the summit for as long as we would've liked and soon began the slip slide trek downhill, passing quite a few going up as we did, and a couple of gorgeous dogs that all seemed a bit overawed with the conditions themselves! With more views on the return than we had on the way up the descent was great and only slightly hampered by a few more sinkings into mightily deep snow!

A wee drink by the fire at the Moulin Inn once down topped off a great day with great company, and an experience that will not be forgotten quickly!

This first winter of walking for me is so far proving to be very much an eye opener, with hills asking so much more of me mentally and physically than I had anticipated and me relishing the chance to take on the whole other ball game that it is. I find myself asking "why wouldn't you do this?!" more often than "why do we?"...as if I wasn't hooked enough already! :)

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