Friday, 4 October 2013
A walk up Glen Derry always has interest - and normally has great views too. A long and wide glen, it nevertheless has twists and turns which allow the scenery to reveal itself slowly. The glen also takes the traveller from the rich Caledonian Pinewoods of the lower glen through montane scrub to true mountain habitats.
Above the pinewood proper are occasional "sentinel" pines; either colonisers, or as in the case of this tree, survivors. Until recently these woods were in decline with any regeneration being browsed away by deer. A controversial but effective policy of culling large numbers of deer on the NTS Mar Lodge estate is now reversing the decline with healthy regeneration of pine, birch and rowan evident across the area. In the medium and long term this is good news for the deer too as their habitat will be more akin to the natural state of things.
My destination for the night was a bothy in one of the high corries near the head of Glen Derry. Climbing away from the main Lairig an Laoigh (pass of the calves) track, a small path leads over a footbridge and up towards the lip of Coire Etchachan, the hill of Stob Coire Etchan beyond.
Tucked into the corrie at about 700 meters and in a quite spectacular position is "the Hutchie" - or The Hutchison Memorial Hut to give the place its full Sunday name. Behind the hut rises the grand 120 meter face of Creagan a' Choire Etchachan.
Theis crag contains some of the best mountaineering style climbing routes in the Cairngorms including Corridor (on the left), Quartzvein Edge, Djibangi, The Dagger and the obvious Crimson Slabs. The northeasterly aspect of this crag and the seepage lines from the high ground above makes for an outstanding winter climbing venue too with classic routes - the main issue being that it's 15km from the road! This is when the Hutchie comes into its own.
Constructed in 1954 as a memorial to Dr A.G. Hutchison of Aberdeen who was killed in a climbing accident, this bothy often seemed cold and draughty, the bare stone walls did little to insulate and it was a regular battle to keep snow from drifting under the door. A night at the Hutchie could be a cold experience.
But not any more. A truly remarkable renovation project was undertaken in 2012 to repair and improve the bothy and the results are really impressive. an enclosed porch facing away from the weather has been constructed in place of the open porch, the roof has been replaced and the interior......
...would be worthy of a feature on one of the television restoration programmes! Dry lined and insulated, floor replaced, proper window fitted (with curtains!) and a stove installed - it's a really impressive piece of work.
All who use the hills and frequent bothies either by design or out of necessity due to foul weather owe the Mountain Bothy Association work parties a huge debt of gratitude. All volunteers, their "payment" for toil and effort in a harsh environment is simply the satisfaction of putting something back into the hills. All the materials have to be obtained and transported by an organisation which has no employees or "business" and who don't own any of the buildings they look after so diligently- a truly unique institution.
The story of the renovation and the somewhat trying conditions in which it took place are told on Neil Reid's excellent "Cairngorm Wanderer" blog here, here and here - really well worth a read.
The setting for the "Hutchie" could scarcely be more dramatic. My goal for the evening was to get over to Loch Avon by the path leading to the bealach (col), then climb back over to spend the night at the bothy. It was well past dark when I arrived back at the Hutchie to cook my dinner and sort myself for the night. I can report that it was warm, comfortable and the view of a star filled sky was beautiful, as was the one from the window as the morning sun streamed in.
A huge thank you to all who were involved with this project :o)