Ben Vrackie

The Fatdog…on the “Piste”

I was left in charge of Friday evening’s weather forecasts and thus Saturday’s destination . G was hoping to head for the Cobbler and I wasn’t too fussy one way or the other. Fatdog couldn’t care less . The only criteria was the weather – minimum precipitation (preferably none) and a general absence of wind. That shouldn’t be too hard to find at this time of year . There was also a rumour of snow. This fact seemed to have the denizens of the forum in a state of near bliss. I awaited developments with interest.

Conflicting reports from the BBC and mwis led to much head scratching but the laws of probability dictated that the east was going to be a better option. Ben Vrackie had been mooted during our e-mails during the week and seemed the sensible way to go……….so Saturday morning found us chugging up the A9 heading for Pitlochry.

Easy to find. In the middle of Pitlochry main street follow the sign for the Moulin Hotel, turn left at the hotel and follow the signs for Ben Vrackie (841m) up a narrow country road. There is a little car park (294300, 759700), which was full when we got there……….a testimony to the popularity of this hill.

The signed path took us from the car park through a short forest section. This pleasant amble led us to a gate onto the open hill.

SNOW

The surrounding heather covered slopes had a light dusting, but the peak beyond was in brilliant white. The clouds stuttered fitfully across the sky. Ben Vrackie was clear one minute, the next shrouded in white mist.

The panoramas to Pitlochry and the south opened up as we climbed. The Tummel gleamed with the sun reflecting off the swollen river.

We passed through another gate, rounded Meall na h-Aodainn Moire ( a very big name for a very little hill – 633m) and caught our first sight of Loch a Choire sitting at the foot of the Ben.

The motley crew for the day comprised 4 members. Myself, G, Fatdog and G’s retriever, Star. Star likes water…..in fact we have sometimes difficulty getting past water. Star will suddenly divert course and head for the nearest stream. He will then proceed to lie down and it can take a considerable amount of coaxing to get him to move again. Today was to be no exception. Faced with a reasonable expanse of water in Loch a Choire, Star headed in, promptly lay down and refused to budge.

We had met a few people on our way up and could see a few walkers heading up behind us. Then in front, just starting to weave upwards from the lochan like some giant hillwalking “python”, a club expedition began slithering its way up the steeper section of the hill. We watched it slowly stretch out and then quickly compress as the head waited for the tail to arrive.

With Star still observing his daily bathing ritual in the lochan, G and Fatdog led the way upward in hot pursuit of this multicoloured “reptile” of the mountains.

As we followed the path up its well formed rock staircases, the snow became deeper and the views to the south and west just kept getting better. With the snow being well compacted on the steps underfoot I anticipated a much faster descent…….mainly bum first.

Looking back down the path with the edge Loch a Choire on the right

Loch a Choire with Meall na h-Aodainn Moire in the background

The edge of the crags

The view west with Schiehallion hiding behind the cloud to the left

No one is alone on a Scottish Hill, even Fatdog makes a new friend

The last 100m of ascent was marred by cloud. We arrived at the top with the “python” which led to severe summit overcrowding. The head of the “snake” started to coil up around the concrete pillars… ………….waiting for its tail to arrive.

The appearance of a brocken spectre, albeit small and faint was a welcome distraction from the biting breeze. For a few seconds the cloud blew off allowing a 360 degree panorama, but before I could dig the camera out of the pack it had vanished and the dank gloom had returned.

A trick of the light? A brocken spectre?

Mission complete, the fully assembled club group started its descent followed by our intrepid little band.

Star suddenly decided to up the pace to catch up with our erstwhile companions. G hurtled after him in hot pursuit. Fatdog and I just eased our way down at the back taking in the views as the cloud cleared. The anticipated slipping on the descent thankfully didn’t happen.

In front, the multicoloured procession had stopped just above the lochan to gorge itself.

Cue Fatdog.

In snow, faced with the prospect of extra lunch rations, there is no faster downhiller than the Fatdog. Slaloming her way down the slope past the rocks the Fatdog descended, arriving in a swirling blizzard of snow. In the blink of an eye the Fatdog had come, pillaged and left, before the bewildered group could draw breath.

As happens on most descents (so I’ve noticed), the cloud cleared, the sun came out and the views returned…..but it was time to head home.

Ben Vrackie is an excellent beginners hill. The paths are good even in snow. The start gradients allow an easy warm up and the steep sections are well built and fairly non-taxing. The lack of boggy ground is a huge plus. On a good clear day the views are superb. There is hardly a time on the hill when there is little of interest to see. All in all – a worthwhile 4 hour jaunt (including lunch).

As we trundled back down the A9 G and I pondered on our next trip while, in the back, Star dreamed of large puddles and Fatdog spat out the last piece of red Goretex that had been stuck irritatingly between her teeth……. and chuckled quietly to herself.

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