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The Mountain Bothies Association has taken on responsibility for repairing and maintaining the Garbh Choire refuge

Deep in the heart of the Cairngorms, beneath the perennial snowfields of Braeriach, there is a tiny and well-hidden mountain refuge. It doesn’t look like much – just a pile of stones until you’re right on top of it – but it plays a small yet significant role for visitors to the Cairngorms’ remoter places. Thanks to a determined campaign, the emergency shelter is to be repaired and made weatherproof again.

The Garbh Choire refuge has suffered from years of neglect and the ravages of mountain weather. Although ad-hoc repairs have been carried out at irregular intervals by visiting walkers, it’s long been in need of more organised repair work.

‘An unsavoury hole’

The future of Garbh Choire refuge has been an open question for some years, but the estate did not come to a decision about its future until late last year. The public announcement came in the Mountain Bothies Association Journal. Further details emerged in this blog post by Neil Reid, Communications Officer for Mountaineering Scotland and closely involved with the management and maintenance of bothies in the Cairngorms.

In his blog post, Neil said: “Towards the end of 2017, in a meeting with Mar Lodge Estate, which owns the refuge, I was told that the estate had finally been persuaded that between removal and renovation the better option, all things considered, was to allow a renovation.

“This will probably be late spring or early summer. Until then the refuge remains an unsavoury hole which doesn’t keep the rain out.

“Thanks are due to the NTS and Mar Lodge Estate, who have agreed to the renovation despite very understandable reservations, and placed a considerable amount of trust in the MBA’s ability to work in such a sensitive location. It is hoped that this trust will be repaid, with the renovated structure being less of a multi-coloured eyesore, and that future users will respect both the shelter and the environment.”

Garbh Choire refuge in August 2017 © Neil Reid

The interior of the shelter is in a bad way © Neil Reid

© Neil Reid

In a statement yesterday, Neil Stewart, MBA Press Officer, added some more details: “There will be no rebuild as such with the original structure being retained and a new weatherproof covering being fitted. The door and small window will probably need to be replaced and perhaps a new wooden floor laid as well.”

A significant role in Cairngorms mountaineering heritage

The campaign to save Garbh Choire refuge has been surprisingly vigorous, with many individuals and organisations offering their support.

Neil Stewart said: “There has been strong feeling amongst local walkers and climbers that it should be retained as a shelter, particularly for heritage reasons, but also because it may save lives in an emergency.”

Andy Nisbet, former president of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and a renowned pioneer of winter climbing in the Cairngorms, told The Great Outdoors a bit about the refuge’s history:

“The refuge was built because in the 1960s, the Braeriach to Carn Toul corries were largely inaccessible to winter climbers. So local climbers built one. Other Cairngorm corries had a nearby bothy, so it was a local tradition that bothies were allowed to serve the remote corries.

“Despite the argument that high shelters were inappropriate for environmental reasons, this one had caused minimal damage and a lot of pleasure, so it was thought on balance by SMC members that it should be repaired.”

We also got in touch with David ‘Heavy’ Whalley, who was vocal in his support for repairing Garbh Choire refuge. Heavy has decades of experience in Mountain Rescue and is an active walker and climber in the Scottish mountains.

© David ‘Heavy’ Whalley

“It is a bit out of the way for most, but it was invaluable for Mountain Rescue call-outs over the years. We sometimes stayed there after an epic battle coming back from a call-out search in the Lairig Ghru or in the wild corries. One night six of us in the shelter – a survival job for us! These were great days and the place became a good friend.

“I took many young Mountain Rescue team members to it for a bivy outside and shared a few drams inside with the odd bothy gangrel. The views, the light, the landscape – on a clear night what a place to be.

“The bothy was so basic but what a situation! I am so glad it has been saved. Many of us kept on the case for keeping it. I remember one young lad who took all the paper out of the gaps in the wall and we were covered in spindrift all night. Great memories.”

Header image © and reproduced with kind permission by David ‘Heavy’ Whalley