Garbh Choire memories

Garbh Choire Mhor in May 2010

Looking into Garbh Choire Mhor in May 2010, from the eastern shoulder of Coire Bhrochain

Talking about the Garbh Choire Refuge the other day brought to mind other days in the Cairngorms’ most impressive choire complex.

Depending on how you count them, there are maybe five or six choires in the great cirque between Braeriach and Cairn Toul, encompassing a huge area that can take many days to explore and still not uncover all there is to see.

The Garbh Choire is most famous, of course, for the ‘everlasting’ snowfields of Garbh Choire Mhor, which rarely melt.

Garbh Choire Daidh, too, is the scene for the earliest recorded rock climb in the Cairngorms, in 1810, when Dr Keith climbed the side of the Dee Waterfall from the choire out onto the plateau. Ostensibly it was so he could trace the source of the Dee and he followed the course of the falls so that he would make no mistake. But, come on! It’s not hard to check that the burn that disappears over the edge of the plateau is the same one that lands at the bottom and flows down to Aberdeen. Dr Keith was at it – he just fancied a bit of a scramble. And who can blame him?

A rock 'armchair' on Braeriach

Armchair viewing: a strange rock 'seat' on the east shoulder of Coire Bhrochain, with views across the Garbh Choire and down Glen Dee

I enjoyed a memorable weekend in Garbh Choire Daidh once, kipping under the Smith-Dey Bivouac, a sort of mini Shelter Stone just before the cliff turns the corner into Garbh Choire Mhor. It’s supposed to sleep two, but my friend and I discovered that it definitely helped that one of us – him – had been caving before and didn’t mind sleeping with just about six inches headroom.

After a lazy afternoon lounging on the lush grass beside some pools and reading a book, I ‘enjoyed’ a rather sleepless night with my head at the ‘door’ and what I thought was a boulder sticking up through the floor. As it turned out, the boulder wasn’t embedded at all and could have been lifted out easily, giving me a sounder night’s sleep, but it’s hard to regret a night which ended as this one did.

I was having an odd dream about watching a red hot-air balloon rising over the horizon of Ben MacDui – only to waken a little further and realise I was seeing the sun rise, big and red against a cloudless sky, bringing out an intensity of colour in the pink granite that was breathtaking – all without moving out of my bed! I watched for a time and then slid back into my fitful sleep before waking to a day that fully lived up to the promise of the morning.

That day we exited the choire by climbing the nose between Garbh Choires Daidh and Mhor but, in truth, it’s pretty chossy and rubbish underfoot near the top and a much better route in or out of the choire system can be found via the Crown Buttress Spur, which reaches the plateau just west of the summit of Angel’s Peak (Sgorr an Lochain Uaine).

Of course the queen of all routes out, without resorting to a climbing rope, is Angel’s Ridge, the north east ridge of Sgorr an Lochain Uaine. But that’s maybe for another day…

Angel's Ridge and Garbh Choire Mhor

Garbh Choire Mhor from the Lairig Ghru, with Garbh Choire Daidh on the right. Top left is Sgorr an Lochain Uaine, showing the magnificent Angel's Ridge on the skyline

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8 Responses to Garbh Choire memories

  1. Gavin Macfie says:

    A fine post about a very special place. Every time I visit I vow to return and it has been too long since I last stood within the great cirque of Garbh Coire. One to add to the list for this summer……

  2. andy says:

    Thanks for fixing the background issue, Neil, now the site works perfectly. And what a magnificent site it is!

    I’m always a bit ambivalent about sites that show the beauty of these places because it must end up encouraging more people to go there and then the sense of wilderness is gone (and of course it puts pressure on the wildlife and the vegetation).

    But on the plus side, here I am, sitting at my desk in Fife and I can travel across the ‘Gorms as if I was there. I love them, my favourite place of all.

    So thanks for all the info and stories and pictures. It sure does add to the experience, once you know all the stories you’re telling us, never knew that loch was called Roger’s loch, for instance.

    Weren’t you hanging about the forum about the Cairngorm bothies a while back?

    • Hi Andy,
      Thanks for the praise – but I wouldn’t worry too much about the Cairngorms getting trampled into the ground over the heads of this blog – the readership is pretty ‘modest’, and could probably fit into a couple of cars rather than need a tour bus!
      That very likely was me hanging around the Cairngorm bothies forum a while back, and ukbothies even yet. More to the point, it’s me hanging round the Cairngorm bothies themselves – be heading up to Scottie’s this weekend, rain or no rain.

  3. andy says:

    I’m sure you’ll pick up a good readership soon enough, Neil!

    Have fun at Scottie’s at the weekend, should be a good one.

  4. Bill Linton says:

    Ha, ha, Neil,
    I can honestly say that I’ve never set out with the intention of spending the night in Garbh Choire shelter… but it has come in very handy on a few occasions!

    It’s a good few years since I was there but it wasn’t much of a shelter then, the hap and various fertilizer bag roof covering having succumbed to UV radiation and had given up trying to keep the light out, let alone the weather. I did what I could by sacrificing a brand new orange survival bag to it.

    Fond memories though, lying outside with a mate and a bottle of whisky one glorious afternoon, “Here’s tae us, wha’s like us….. ” followed by synchronised drunk swimming in the Pools of Dee; clearing out a couple of kilos of mouseshit fae the howff before settling down for the night; watching mice perform on the parallel bars by torchlight:

    My most memorable visit has to be after setting out from Corrour one stunningly bright morning, stopping for a brew at the Wells, dozing off in sunshine and waking in fog… I did the unmentionable and put my compass in my pocket after the danger of Coire Bhrochain had passed, being forced to suspect I’d wandered off the line when the descent quickly changed from being suspiciously steep to being past the point of no return. That suspicion was confirmed when a momentary swirl in the fog revealed Lochan Uaine slightly below eye level, and boy is it green! The boulder-field indicated that I hadn’t given the coire as much clearance as desirable, and just what a close run thing my contempt and good fortune had brought me.

    The night in Garbh Choire shelter was spent in reflective mode, and I can’t say the affair never crossed my mind again.

    I wish I had a roll-call of those who’ve spent the night in Garbh Choire howff. It is part of our Scottish mountaineering heritage and deserves to be recognised and preserved as such. And after all, it’s no eatin a piece sitting where it is!

    Cheers, Bill.

  5. michael George says:

    It was interesting to read of your time at the Smith-Dey Bivouac. It brought back memories of 4 days and nights spent in that bivouac in July in the mid 60s with jim Mcartney and Jim Innes, trapped by bad weather. The three of us had to interweave ourselfs together to get some shelter from the rain which lasted for four days and nights, we were finally driven back to Derry by hunger as we had already been staying at the Hutchison Hut for 2 days beforehand. We were so famished we had to go round all the tents at the Derry flats begging food. Happy Days.
    Mike George.

    • Three folk under that stone doesn’t bear thinking about, Mike, even for one day! Great memories though. And you wouldn’t recognise the Hutchie Hut since it was done up. Well worth a look if you’re still getting up that direction.

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