Whiteburn's Wanderings

One man's wanderings backpacking around Scotland plus the odd digression

Bothy Hopping

The recent thaw in the mountains had given way to hard frosts which according to the SAIS blogs had refrozen the snow pack, time for another outing without the thought of wading through knee deep (& deeper) snow. The forecast was for the cold weather to continue (& even intensify) but high winds would make life a little uncomfortable………I decided to take a wander between some of the Cairngorm bothies, this at least would mitigate some of the pain (though I did pack the Duomid…just in case).

Day 1

A 2pm start from the Linn of Dee, +1C with a fresh southerly wind, saw me wandering up Glen Derry noting that the snow line had retreated significantly over the last couple of weeks.

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Even with the refreeze the remaining snow & ice up around Luibeg slowed up the 12km journey to the Corrour Bothy, or perhaps the winter loadout with 5 days food (~14kg) helped slow the old legs a bit, but I managed to arrive well before dark.

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Two people were obviously in residence but absent (they were out practising night navigation), three more patrons arrived half an hour later leading to a cosy night away from the ever-increasing wind & hard frost.

Day 2

A bit of a lackadaisical 9am start & out into the cold stiff wind, at least it was a southerly so it would be at my back for heading over the Lairig Ghru. The going in the lower glen was less than perfect with every other foot fall crunching through the frozen crust.

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Ben Macdui was swathed in cloud but Cairn Toul looked resplendent with a hint of blue sky beyond.

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Once up beyond the Pools of Dee the going improved immensely, continuous hard packed snowfields led down the glen making for fairly swift travel which felt all to the good as the 30+mph wind made it a pretty inhospitable place.

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The Chalamain Gap proved easier than it looked with much of the boulder field choked up with hard snow; it also provided a nice place to hide from the wind for a late lunch & a brew.

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Once down into the shelter of Rothiemurchus forest the walking became much more pleasant & it was an easy dawdle along the well made up trails to the Ryvoan bothy.

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Being a Friday night, I expected the bothy to be busier but I was only joined by a lone mountain biker, pleasant company at least while the wind howled outside.

Day 3

I finally managed to get my act together at 8:30 not really looking forward to the journey back south, head on into the bitter wind. The LRT around to the Strath Nethy foot bridge proved more sheltered from the wind than expected & with the sunshine it definitely felt like spring. The ‘spring’ was very short lived though, no further than 10mins beyond the bridge it was batten down the hatches time. All zipped up, buff, googles & face mask on; the steady plod up the hill against a 35+mph wind recommenced, only the regular harsh gusts brought forward motion to a halt; nowhere to hide just keep plodding.

Bynack More looked to be in fine condition & with more clement weather a diversion would definitely have been on the cards.

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Cocooned against the weather the crossing of the undulating plateau was proving more enjoyable than I thought it could be; with wind chill the temp was probably below -15C. Descending into Corrie of the Barns it was time to make a decision on a route, I still had supplies for a couple of days but the forecast was for no let-up in the strong winds.

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Options? Continue on the Lairig an Laoigh down to Glen Derry & Bob Scott’s or cross the Dagrum ridge over to the Faindouran bothy; I decided to head for Scotties even with the prospect of putting up the Duomid nearby to hide away from the Saturday night crowds.

The Fords of Avon refuge provided an ideal opportunity for a lunch stop out of the wind; I wasn’t amused by the abandoned sleeping bag + general detritus, there was also 5kg of coal & a bunch of logs. Reading the bothy book, it became evident that a party heading to Faindouran had spent the night there having slogged through deep snow for 6 hrs. I can sympathise with them have taken 9hrs to walk (aka wade) from Faindouran to Scotties a couple of weeks previous.

Over lunch I decided on another plan; take the coal, a couple of logs & some of the other detritus down the Faindouran. The pack felt very heavy with the additional load (~20kg) but “it’s only 6km to the bothy, downhill, snow conditions were reasonable & there’s plenty of time”, or so I kept telling myself. It took around 2 ½ hrs to traverse the 6km, including a short rest stop & the bothy was a very pleasant sight sitting there in the frozen landscape.

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By 4:30 I’d finished unpacking, lit the stove & got a brew going; it had all the makings of being a very long afternoon/ evening. Despite the stove ticking over quite well the bothy never really became ‘warm’ but it was probably 10 degrees warmer than outside & out of the howling wind! All here was to do was watch bothy TV, sip on regular cups of hot chocolate & get plugged into podcasts until bedtime.

Day 4

I had spent some of the previous evening trying to come up with a plan, I finally decided to head south over the Moine Bhealaidh to Glen Derry, it did mean a climb up to around 900m but it was a couple of km’s shorter than via Ford of Avon & variety is the spice of life!

The first step was a relatively straight forward dawdle back up the glen for around 2.5km from the bothy following large hard snow fields cutting straight across the frozen bogs to where I’d seen solid looking ice across the Avon.

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I crossed the ice bridge with a little trepidation but I was pretty confident that it should be stable as the river runs quite shallow hereabouts with a number of islands. Route choice from here was pretty straight forward, straight up the broad ridge.

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The crest of the ridge provided an excellent view down the frozen Glen Avon back towards the bothy.

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Once out of the lea of the ridge the wind picked up to ‘cocoon mode’ for the plod south. The easiest passage needed a bit of weaving around to stay on the large snowfields, avoiding the heather & rocks, to climb over the east shoulder of Beinn a’ Chaorainn Bheag & look down across the Moine Bhealaidh.

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The normally very boggy ground was frozen solid making for an easy passage across the plateau, heading south-east & descending into Glen Derry alongside the Glas Allt Mor. A fairly steep descent down hard snow led easily off the hill, across the glen Coire Etchachan looked very pretty in its winter garb.

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The relative shelter of the glen provided the ideal spot for a short lunch stop & a strip down before wandering the 6km down the trail to Scotties.

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I arrived at around 3pm, with no-one in residence. I decided not to stay the night, just brew up & have a sit before heading off down the LRT & home (a day early).

At the end of a trip I always like the muse over the equipment choices: using the bothies I was probably overly equipped but rather than die of exposure stuck somewhere I’d prefer to carry the additional weight. A few trinkets stood out, The Pacerpole Overmitts worked a treat, despite the sub-zero temperatures & high winds I didn’t need gloves once (I did carry gloves & Tuffbags, just in case).

Pacer mitts

The Bloc Spirit OTG googles & cheapo neoprene cycling mask were worth their weight in gold

Goggles & mask

On a final note I must thank all the fellow members of the Mountain Bothy Association for their tireless efforts in keeping the bothies so well maintained enabling pretty luxurious winter backpacking trips…………..also to those abandoning equipment & leaving trash….TAKE IT HOME!


6 comments on “Bothy Hopping

  1. Kirsten
    February 28, 2018

    Good to hear of your travels again, Paul. Lovely photos too!

    • Paul Atkinson
      February 28, 2018

      Thanks…sorry to have been a bit lazy in writing up trip reports.

  2. charles42
    February 28, 2018

    Nice trip and well recorded. Am way down south and due age/health don’t get out much these days. I used to do many backing trips in and around the ‘Gorms ‘ Fond
    recollections of Bob Scotts. Also used the Fords of Avon small bothy many years before it was rebuilt . Member of the MBA for many years and they do superb work
    in keeping the bothies going. Shame so many idiots are abusing them these days.

    • Paul Atkinson
      February 28, 2018

      Yeah there are a few idiots about but thankfully most folk respect the bothies & appreciate the MBA work.

  3. Richard Hacker
    March 1, 2018

    Hats off, (or on) for turning out in such conditions. What foot ware did you use?

    • Paul Atkinson
      March 1, 2018

      For winter I abandon the trail shoes & opt for the Altberg Malletstang’s to keep the toes cosy……..WM Flash down bootees for the tent or bothy…..I’ve no problem confessing to being a softie.

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This entry was posted on February 28, 2018 by in Trip Reports and tagged , , .

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