Garbh Choire Refuge

Garbh Coire Refuge, Cairngorms

The rebuilt Garbh Coire Refuge

The Garbh Choire Refuge is a small structure at NN959986 in the Garbh Choire between Cairn Toul and Braeriach in the Cairngorms. It sits on the south bank of the Allt a’ Garbhchoire about 1.5km from the Lairig Ghru.

It was substantially rebuilt by the MBA in June 2018 and now comprises a rectangular frame built from angle iron, filled in with steel reinforcing grid and covered with waterproof butyl membrane, sandwiched between protective layers of hessian and geotex fleece, with a substantial outer shell of boulders. It is small inside, with floor area 2820x2200mm and an inside height ranging from 1020mm at the sides to 2060 at the apex of the roof. There is now a damp-proof membrane under the wooden floor and a field drain around the perimeter will help reduce dampness. There is room for 4 to 6 people to sleep inside.

It is designated by Mar Lodge Estate as a refuge rather than a bothy, and should be used as an emergency shelter rather than as a planned destination.

It was built by the Aberdeen University Lairig Club in 1966 to facilitate access to the ice climbing potential then being opened up in the Garbh Choire complex, which comprises Garbh Choire Daidh, Garbh Choire Mor, Coire Brochain and Coire of the Chokestone Gully. It has been used since then as the only reliable accommodation for a considerable distance in a remote area of the Cairngorms which is nevertheless accessed regularly by both walkers and climbers.

Compared to the main Cairngorm bothies, usage of the Garbh Choire Refuge is light (although far from negligible) and even after over 50 years of existence there is no continuous path leading to it, either from the plateau and corries behind or from Glen Dee.


For a number of years the building was in a poor state of repair and not very watertight, with numerous ‘temporary’ repairs to the weatherproofing giving no real improvement and contributing to a shabby appearance outside to match the damp and decaying appearance inside.

However a long campaign to have maintenance handed over to the MBA eventually bore fruit and after extensive planning and organisation, with a good deal of work by dedicated volunteers, the bothy was stripped back to the bare metal frame and rebuilt to the same model as the original but with modern materials.

There is no fire, nor any fuel in the area, and no furniture. Lovely, pure water is available from the nearby stream, which is, in effect, the infant River Dee.

There is no mobile phone signal.

Garbh Coire Refuge in the Cairngorms, looking towards Ben MacDui

From outside it still looks like a pile of stones – but now without the multi-coloured detritus of countless repair attempts.

Interior of Garbh Coire Refuge, Cairngorms

Inside, the renewed refuge is clean and dry, and no longer bulges inwards from the pressure of the rock shell.


Agreement has been reached with Mar Lodge Estate that the MBA will take over future maintenance of the refuge..

Historical background

The Garbh Choire refuge owes its origins to climbers.

The Cairn Toul/Braeriach amphitheatre is the most remote of the major climbing areas in the Cairngorms. Although the first recorded scramble in the Cairngorms was an ascent at the side of the Dee where it falls into Garbh Choire Daidh, development of climbing in the amphitheatre was sporadic until the 1950s; even then, most routes were done in summer, with most winter climbing visits being restricted to the less inaccessible Choire Bhrochain. Sustained development began in 1964, with one of the foremost activists being Jerry Light, who was instrumental in the building of the Garbh Choire Refuge by the Lairig Club of Aberdeen University. Its construction, by providing a base within relatively easy distance of the cliffs, did much to facilitate the development of both rock and ice climbing in the area.

The origins of the Garbh Choire Refuge are described (p163 and elsewhere) in Greg Strange’s ‘The Cairngorms: 100 Years of Mountaineering’, the definitive history of mountaineering in the Cairngorms.