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Winter run: Ben Vrackie, near Pitlochry, Perthshire

Written by Fiona

February 22 2022

I have run and walked the Perthshire Corbett Ben Vrackie at least four times before – on this occasion it was Corbett 27 – but this weekend it proved to be the most stunning outing with lots of snow beneath a bright blue sky.

Ben Vrackie

Ben Vrackie from Moulin

I started the route from Moulin, just above Pitlochry, with a steady climb on a tarmac road. There is a car park just above the village to the north-west and closer to Ben Vrackie and this is where most people start from.

From the car park, you can choose to stay on the road for a bit longer. The road turns into a track and then heads through a gate and on to a woodland path. Alternatively, from the car park you can head straight on to an ascending path (at the rear of the car park), which joins with the woodland path a little higher up. It is all very obvious when you get there and there is signposting.

As I ran up the road I caught up with another runner. It turned out to be a man who makes, sells and hires yurts for a living. Dave is from Pitlochry – he runs Dragonfly Yurts – and he told me he’d had a bit of a mid-life crisis, which involved growing his hair long and learning how to make yurts. That sounded pretty cool to me!

As Dave and I chatted, he showed me an alternative, and quieter, route to the lower slopes of Ben Vrackie. I am not going to tell you about our route because he likes being away from the crowds! Suffice to say, the “tourist” path arrives at the same place and when Dave and I reached a bench at a viewpoint looking over Pitlochry on the lower path of Ben Vrackie we parted ways.

I was focused on a summit, while Dave was keen to run other trails and paths.

Ben Vrackie
Ben Vrackie
Ben Vrackie
Loch a’ Choire below Ben Vrackie summit.

Running solo on Ben Vrackie

I already knew the route to Ben Vrackie summit was on a well-trodden path. However, with a sudden dump of snow I ensured I’d packed the safety kit I might need if I had an accident or fall. Running on your own has its risks, especially in winter conditions but I try to mitigate this by taking my time and making sensible choices.

There were two things that surprised me on Ben Vrackie on Saturday: First, the depth of snow from above the mid-way point at the loch; second, the number of people walking and running.

I was able to run most of the snow-covered path to Loch a’ Choire. I fast-walked the steeper ups, or the places where the snow was too deep to easily run. I wasn’t looking for a record-breaking time. Rather, I was keen to enjoy being outdoors on a beautiful day.

I stopped to chat to people whenever I fancied and it was great to see how happy everyone was, even as many struggled uphill.

Ben Vrackie
Ben Vrackie

At the loch – a truly picturesque area of water below the steeper slopes of Ben Vrackie summit – I added my Snowline Chainsen miscrospikes to my trail running shoes. I was already wearing Dexshell waterproof running lite socks. The socks keep my wet warm on cold winter runs.

The microspikes helped immensely with traction on the snow. At times, the snow was thigh deep and I was rarely able to run uphill between the loch and the summit at 841m elevation.

I was wearing one of my Flanci running skorts and I thought about adding a pair of running tights to my bare legs (I had tights in my pack) but in the end I felt warm enough in the winter sunshine.

The views from the summit were superb and it is possible to see Beinn a Ghlò and the Cairngorms in the distance. I love a snowy vista, especially when contrasted with a blue sky. There is a cairn with a viewpoint plaque and a trig pillar on Ben Vrackie.

Ben Vrackie
Ben Vrackie
Ben Vrackie
Ben Vrackie

Descent from Ben Vrackie

I didn’t hang round at the top because a chill wind was blowing and I was looking forward to the snowy descent. There are other route options for the return to Moulin. I had considered these but it seemed more sensible to stick to a route where many others had compacted the snow.

The microspikes proved to be really useful for the descent. While other people were slipping and sliding in the snow, I made confident steps downwards. It was great fun moving quickly over the snow and it seemed like no time before I arrived back at the loch.

I stopped for a bite to eat on a large rock at one end of the loch and then set off at a decent running pace back along the winding and descending path.

Ben Vrackie
Harrier Kinder 10l vest pack.

Around half way down, I stopped to remove the miscrospikes. When the terrain becomes more hard ground than snow/ice, it is easier to run without the spikes. My Hoke One One Torrent HIs had enough grip to keep me upright on the soft snow.

Surprisingly for a winter’s day, I’d worn the same clothing up and down and felt no need to take layers off or put any on. It was my second time testing the Montane Spine Waterproof jacket and Montane Prism Ultra gloves and a fourth outing with the Harrier Kinder 10l race vest pack. (See my review.) All proved to be excellent kit items. (I’ll be writing reviews of the Montane Spine jacket and Prism Ultra gloves soon.)

The final couple of kilometres were a delight. The slope was slightly descending and the snow was easy to run on. I headed back through the woodland path towards the car park. This was a bit slushy with wet snow and muddy I places but it was only for a short while.

I ran out through the car park and back on to the tarmac road to make an easy descent back to Moulin. A friend has a cottage in the village and I was enjoying a weekend catching up with her, plus two other Glasgow pals. When we met for a late lunch, we swapped snowy stories of my run and their mountain bike outing further afield. It was a day of Scotland at its winter best.

Winter running kit list

I was wearing Hoka One One Torrent II footwear, Dexshell waterproof running lite socks, Flanci skort, Runderwear pants, Adidas sports bra, a synthetic baselayer and a lightweight merino long-sleeved baselayer, Montane Spine waterproof jacket, Montane Spine Prism Ultra gloves, a buff as headwear. I also wore a Garmin Enduro watch with the route uploaded.

I carried in my Harrier Kinder 10l pack: Running tights, OMM waterproof trousers, emergency bivvy bag, insulated jacket, spare gloves, spare headwear, spare socks, Snowline Chainsen microspikes, food and water, as well as my phone with the route uploaded to OS Maps app.

WalkHighlands has details of the Ben Vrackie route.

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