This time last week I was checking the forecast and to my delight a cold spell was in prospect. The snow would arrive Friday and it would remain cold for four days, with temperatures of about -6C on the summits and wind speeds of about 30-40 mph. I headed to the garage and got some new winter tires and made a plan to spend three days in the northern Cairngorms using Hutchison Memorial Hut in Core Etchachan to explore the area.
On Friday I drove north and arrived at the Linn of Dee about 6:30pm. It was just above freezing and the skies mostly cloud free. Heading out to a bothy on your own after dark is always exciting and sometimes scary. The 5km walk to Bob Scott’s bothy near Derry Lodge is however an easy one and in about an hour I was in a warm bothy and making noddles for dinner. Bob Scott’s is managed by the Friends of Bob Scott’s and is a really comfortable and popular bothy. It has a fantastic stove and its setting is wonderful, set admist handscome Scots Pines.
Early next morning Glen Derry was frosty and the hills cast in a beautiful yeallow light. I set off north to walk the 7km to Coire Etchachan and another bothy: Hutchison Memorial Hut. There was ice on the path on the way in and the snow line – just a light covering of snow – was at about 700m.
About lunchtime I reached the hut. It’s a small bothy, about 6m x 4m with three chairs, a bench / sleeping platform, small woodburing stove and thermometers inside and out to let you know just how cold it gets up there. I would say it comfortably sleeps 4 but have have heard of stories of 13 folk overnighting there! It must be one of the highest bothies in Scotland at an altiude of 700m. It was built in 1954 in remeberence of a Dr A G Hutchison of Aberdeen, who was killed in a climbing accident in Pembrokeshire in 1949.
After some food and chat with passing walkers I donned my ski goggles and warm gloves and walked up to Coire Etchachan. It was cold with lots of wind blown snow but with all my winter kit it was pretty comfortable. Loch Etchachan is a big loch at a height of 900m that will freeze over in the winter. With this first cold spell of the winter only the margins had a build up of ice.
Next stop was the summit of Derry Cairngorm, which, with so many snow covered boulders on it, was awkward and difficult to get to. After that I went to look for a snow hole site at a point where the easting 00 and northing 00 meet. Unsurprisingly there was very little snow there so early in the season, but it was fun to explore the corries and find this remote spot.
Back at the hut I had company, two guys from London who were visiting the Cairngorms for the first time. We had nothing to burn in the stove, but it turns out three people and some candles can increase the temperature of a bothy quite a bit, from about 4c to 10c!
Overnight more snow fell and there was more ice about. The wind was stronger and the visibility a good bit worse too. I walked up Beinn Mheadoin, to the north of Coire Etchachan. It was hard going, bitterly cold with 50mph winds – the kind of weather where your perspiration turns to ice on the inside of your waterproofs. Next I visited the Shelter Stone, then the Fords of Avon Refuge and ended the day walking up Beinn a’Chaorainn to the east. I got back to the bothy about 4ish just before dark.
Being on my own this time, it was noticably colder, about 3C inside the bothy. I got into my sleeping bag about 5:30pm and stayed there for the next 14 hours!
Overnight there had been more snow again but the wind had settled down and the visibilty greatly improved. I spend a lovely morning walking to Beinn Bhreac across a high plateau called Moine Bhealaidh. The views all around were stunning and I felt very lucky to see the Cairngorms in such fantastic conditions. Hopefully this cold spell will linger and we can get more winter days like these.