Ben Vrackie - 841m
Saturday 10th December 2011

Weather/Conditions: Calm clear weather. Lots of snow! Cold at the summit but more temperate elsewhere... Some sheets of windslab on southeast slopes, which I spent some time digging up...
Distance/Ascent/Time: 11.6km / 850m / 4h 05m
Accompanying: Alone

For a period of a few weeks my friend Dave was working for the theatre in Pitlochry. I went up to stay with him and it turned out to be more eventful than expected. On the 8th December, Scotland was hit by Hurricane Bawbag (Google that one if you don't know...) and the power in Pitlochry went out for a few days. The upshot was that Dave and I were in Moulin (just up the road from Pitlochry) without power, light, heat and no chance to escape because the trains were off. The end result were long, dark, cold nights with nothing to do. The novelty had worn off in a couple of hours and then time stretched out into dark, cold boredom.

The next day, the 9th, Dave was off work and we drove down to Dunkeld and climbed Cuticle Crack. For starters, it passed a day but we also had a great adventure. I led up the 10m crux crack at the bottom (although getting the gear in had definitely been a team effort) and belayed Dave up from the little cave. He led the 15m pitch to the top and we abseiled out by moonlight - we had one torch between us and a long abseil below. When you abseil, you have to double up the ropes, so a 25m abseil requires a 50m rope, which was what we were carrying. Our abseil from the trees was 27m, which created some unexpected 'delights'. The fulfilment of climbing a 25m route together was irrepressible.

All in all, Cuticle Crack had been a great adventure and that passed another day of nil power. I don't remember when exactly when the power came back on (I think it was that evening. I was boiling water on the hob in the kitchen, and when the lights came on by themselves we laughed as if deprived of light for years!)

But on the 10th, I decided to go for Ben Vrackie. The weather had cleared and settled and Dave was working. I left the house in Moulin and walked up the road to the car park. I remembered back to the first time I'd done Vrackie on a white, cold, windy day last February with Dougie in the mountaineering club. How different today should be - should the weather hold.

And it did hold. I was never very cold either and got to the top wearing a t-shirt - albeit with red numb forearms. But a breeze was blowing across the top, not strong but very cold - and I chilled accordingly! I remembered how Dougie talked about the great views from this hill. Last February we couldn't see more than five metres, but he was absolutely right. You can see right up and down the course of the River's Garry and Tummel.

But it was the Grampian plateaus that caught my eye, all the way from Drumochter to Beinn a' Ghlo, sweeping along the skyline in perfect white edges. Staring at the snowy plateaux of the east give me a feeling of looking at immense distances, looking at a place that hasn't changed in time. Especially at dusk, when the snow becomes part of the darkening sky. (It was shame to climb A' Bhuidheanach Bheag and Carn na Caim at Drumochter a week later to see the other - testing? - side to these hills!)

And to the east, Glen Shee was clear, swamped among the hundreds of flowing snowy domes. I think it will probably always be that place that Michael died, I know the spot too well without having returned enough in the meantime to banish the bad memories. It was hard to look in that direction with the high pap of Cac Carn Beag glowing at the far end of the plateau, a beacon among the pack. Knowing that was his last Munro. There is something deeply eternal about the eastern Grampians that is to be experienced on a clear winter's day. And if that sounds like airy cac, then I can only suggest you go and look for yourself.

I hung around the summit region of Vrackie long after all others had come and gone. I didn't want to leave this immense place yet. I spent a lot of time digging snow pits. The previous days' storms had created some impressive windslab and I wrenched square sections out to make blocks. I was getting to understand the snow, I suppose. But my gloves were fingerless, and I had a continual ritual of blowing hot air back onto them. I did fear the onset of hot aches, but they never came.

The fading light decided that I eventually leave. But I'd had a good time - I made my way down quickly, partly because I was hungry and had brought nothing to eat. For this reason I didn't climb Meall na h-Aodainn Moire (a prominent Top of Vrackie) which had been one possible plan.

But all in all, a very spectacular day. It gave me a real craving to visit the high Atholl plateaus, which I eventually fulfilled in February 2012 by crossing from Beinn Dearg to Carn a' Chalamain - a very different experience. Less of the sunny plateaux and more miles of beautiful snowy desolation.

360° Panorama

Ben Vrackie
Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 11.45am Moulin
(1.35) 1.20pm Ben Vrackie
(3.05) 2.50pm Ben Vrackie (left)
(4.05) 3.50pm Moulin

Written: 2012-02-17