Garbh Choire Refuge

Garbh Choire Refuge, Cairngorms

Garbh Choire Refuge in August 2017


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 comprises a rectangular frame built from angle iron, filled in with steel reinforcing grid and covered with hessian and (originally) tarpaulin, with a substantial outer shell of boulders and turf. 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. The ground is covered with wooden planks for about three-quarters of the floor area, with bare earth at the door. There is room for 4 to 6 people to sleep inside.

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 accommodationfor a considerable distance in a remote area of the Cairngorms which is nevertheless accessed regularly by both walkers and climbers.

Current condition

For a number of years the building has been in a poor state of repair. It is no longer fully watertight and numerous ‘temporary’ repairs to the weatherproofing have used polythene sheeting placed under the stonework, which deteriorates quickly and gives a shabby appearance outside to match the damp and decaying appearance inside. By the latter part of 2010 the door had fallen from its hinges, but during the winter of 2010-11 two climbers on their own initiative took measurements of the doorway and constructed a replacement door which they fixed in place on a subsequent visit following completion of a climb in the choire, thereby making a substantial improvement and demonstrating the strength of feeling generated by this refuge.

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 choires behind or from Glen Dee below.

Interior of Garbh Choire Refuge, Cairngorms

This image, taken in August 2017, shows the deformation of the side walls and the rubbish currently left in and built into the structure.


Agreement has been reached with Mar Lodge Estate for a renovation of the refuge.  The existing rubble cladding of loose granite boulders will be removed and stockpiled for reuse. The existing hessian and tarpaulin lining will be stripped and laid aside for removal. A new, custom-made tarpaulin ‘jacket’ will be placed over the existing angle iron frame (which is still sound) and the polycarbonate triangular fan light will be replaced over the existing door. The existing wooden floor will be renewed. The boulders will then be replaced as per original construction to match the original unobtrusive appearance. Any rubbish and materials removed and not re-used (eg hessian) will be transported away from the site for appropriate disposal.

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.