When my endurance athlete friend Jamie Aarons asked if I might like to walk a Corbett or two with her this festive season, I was definitely keen. Jamie was visiting the area from near Glasgow and she had a goal of walking to multiple Corbett summits. Her suggestion on December 27 was Beinn a’ Chaisteil (Strath Vaich).
However, this would be my third day of walking mountains in a row. In addition, the route looked fairly long and committing for a winter’s outing. While only around 800m of total ascent, the distance would be 24km (15 miles).
Still, I couldn’t resist the call of another Corbett, as well as the chance to have a proper catch up with Jamie. The weather looked promising later in the day, too.
Who is Jamie Aarons?
Jamie is an impressive athlete, originally from America and now living in Scotland. She has completed many ultra and endurance races. She is often on the podium and has won plenty of events. Among these, she was first female in the West Highland Way Race in 2015, first female (twice) in the Ultra-Trail Snowdonia and second female in the multi-day Tors des Geants.
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Jamie has also completed two Munro rounds: The first time in less than a year with her partner Andy and the second time with her two dogs, The Fluffies. She is well on her way to finishing a round of the Corbetts.
Winter hike: Beinn a’ Chaisteil (Strath Vaich)
The weather looked fairly promising for a winter walk of the Corbett, Beinn a’ Chaisteil, and Jamie and I decided we would set off a bit later than normal so we could enjoy a wee lie in. On my way to meet her in Muir Of Ord, where she was staying, I hit some black ice.
The road close to our home on the Black Isle was a treacherous ice rink and I found myself unable to go up a hill, then scarily slipping backwards.
I thought my day was over until Hubby G and neighbours came to my rescue. After salting the road, G was able to gently turn my van around and drive back home. He then kindly gave me a lift in his car (he has 4WD) to meet Jamie and her dogs, Hope and Pirate, aka The Fluffies, closer to the Corbett.
This meant that we didn’t start the walk until late morning. We were both equipped with winter kit, including a head torch, and so we decided that even if the walk took us past sunset, we’d be fine.
After a couple of days of strong winds, the conditions were much more settled in Strath Vaich and within an hour of walking north through the glen and along the eastern shore of the reservoir, Loch Vaich, the sun came out to warm us.
By the time we headed uphill, from close to a number of lochside buildings, we were stripping off outer clothing layers and removing our gloves. It felt like one of the warmest winter days of many weeks.
As we walked, we chatted and the distance seemed to disappear. Although I had worried about tired legs, I felt fine and only when we started the climb did I notice some fatigue in my leg muscles.
The push to the summit
We were in no particular hurry though and the expected deep snow (both of us had encountered a lot of snow on previous outings in recent days) didn’t materialise. The first push uphill was quite steep but there was a trod to keep us generally in the right – north-easterly – direction.
After a kilometre of steeper climbing, the gradient eased and we walked again side by side over a rockier terrain. Where there was snow it was consolidated and, as so often happens in the winter, the ground was actually easier to walk over because it was hard rather than wet and boggy.
By now the sun was starting to set and there was a lovely winter light bathing the snowy top mountains in our view. Winter in Scotland provides some of the most spectacular vistas, in my opinion.
It was easily possible to enjoy a sit down at the summit thanks to an almost windless top. We were thrilled with the weather and chatted about how fortunate we were to be on the Corbett, especially after the icy start to the day. (Jamie’s morning walk in Muir of Ord had been on very icy pavements.)
There is an option to complete a circuit to the south of Beinn a’ Chaisteil and over another high point but we knew the sun would be fast setting at this time of year and so we simply retraced our steps.
In the end, we didn’t need our head torches. After a quick descent, we rejoined the main track along the loch shore and enjoyed stunning views through the glen as we strolled back to the car.
Corbetts bagged: 70.