I recently heard a radio interview with a climber who had fallen while traversing the Skye Cuillin. A fellow climber had heard his cries for help and contacted the emergency services, and Mountain Rescue were duly despatched and called a helicopter to take him to hospital.
Several years later the two climbers met on a munro summit. They got chatting, as you do, finding out that they were both ticking off the munros. They both had a soft spot for Skye but then one of them commented that he’d had a nasty fall there some years ago. “That’s a coincidence“, said the other “because I was involved in a Mountain Rescue incident on Skye about that time as well“. Of course, it transpired that they had finally met one another, six years after the incident. Sometimes the world isn’t such a big place after all.
By now you’re probably wondering what this little story has to do with Ben Vrackie, a Corbett at Pitlochry.
Well, I was reminded of serindipity just before New Year when I climbed Ben Vrackie for the first time. You see, I got talking to a fellow hillwalker on the summit of Seana Braigh, a munro in the NW Highlands several years ago, as you do. It turned out that he was a farmer whose land includes Ben Vrackie. He was on a busman’s holiday, having driven up from Pitlochry for the day to climb Seana Braigh.
It was a cold and misty start as I headed up the well constructed path from the Ben Vrackie car park. The previous day had been gloriously sunny with snow blanketing the peaks, and the mountain weather forecast confidently predicted an 80% chance of cloud-free summits for the following day. So I happily set off hoping to see a temperature inversion (a bucket list item for me) but was sadly disappointed unfortunately. It turned out to be a pretty dismal day weather-wise although I had a good day out and blew away the Christmas cobwebs. Before long I was up in the clouds and hats and gloves were required.
It was icy. Clearly, hoardes of walkers had plodded up and down the path the previous day so by now some sections were hazardously slippy. By the time I started the climb up towards Ben Vrackie from the dam I needed my crampons to keep me upright; the steep path by this point became a series of man-made stone steps, each of which was covered with ice.
On the way I met up with a few other walkers. We chatted on and off as we continued the climb. We got to the summit ridge together, where the snow lay about three inches thick, and managed to find the summit cairns in the murky cloud. An icy wind blasted us from the north and so the summit wasn’t a place worth lingering at.
One of my companion walkers asked me to take his photo and he returned the favour. We laughed at the first photo of me. The flash came on automatically and lit up my rain-splattered glasses; we both agreed I looked like an extra from an episode of Starsky and Hutch with my ‘mirrored’ shades !
We got talking some more, as you do. He was just three munros of compleating his round and said that Sgurr nan Gillean on Skye would be his last munro. I explained that I’d climbed all of the Skye munros in a week, about fifteen years ago. I’d booked a Youth Hostel holiday, staying at Glenbrittle Youth Hostel, with the trip led by a local guide and member of the Skye Mountain Rescue Team, Richard (Paddy) McGuire. “Oh, that’s who I’m using for my last munro too !”.
Sometimes, the world isn’t that big a place after all.