Into the Ghru with Rob Ferguson FRGS

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How many men can you fit into a Bothy?

...quite a few as it turns out…


At first, we are three

Of course, where better to go for an inspired VALLON photoshoot, than into the Cairngorm Mountain Range for 3 days in one of the best and most isolated environments that Scotland has to offer.

At 400 million years old, the Cairngorms are older than the Himalayas (40-50 million years). You know, I can never get over how geologists must view time.


Partner: ‘you’re an hour late’

Geologist: ‘……..’


Into the Ghru_Bothy Hike_Rob Ferguson and William Jones-Warner


Heading out into the maze of glacial carved summits and passes in February needs a good plan and a good knowledge of what gear to take and when to use it. Luckily, we had both.

With me was Adam Alvarez (@liendoadam) who, like myself, is most at home on any mountain from Europe to the Himalayas and Will Jones Warner (@wjwtravel), who has taken images in pretty much every environment as a professional photographer. The idea was to trek the days walk into the range from the Lin of Dee. This would give us the opportunity to check out Bob Scott’s Bothy on the way to our end destination.

February and March in Scotland are snow months and the good news was that there had been regular and heavy falls for the days preceding followed by freezing temperatures and low winds. Checking the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS), the conditions were perfect for seeking out some more adventurous terrain once we arrived. If you are heading into the Scottish ranges in winter, this is a ‘go to’ essential for trip planning. Easy to navigate it gives that extra layer of safety and awareness for live snow and aspect risks.


Into the Ghru_Bothy Hike_Rob Ferguson and Adam Leindo


The sun was bright and low as we made our way up through the Caledonian Pine Forests and within an hour of breaking the tree line, we were at Bob Scott’s. Nestled in a small copse of trees and a stone’s throw from the Lui Burn (a ‘burn’ is a small river), it’s perfectly placed for a quick rest stop and gear check as the next opportunity for shelter is 5 hours into the range.

Bob’s is probably one of the best bothies in the area. There’s a good amount of room and since a recent refurb, there is a stove and usually a decent amount of ‘spare’ beer left by previous hikers and climbers as a welcome in the various storage areas. It’s actually that nice that there was a Winer’s, Diners and Climbers group that formed and helped look after the building for a while!


‘Its actually that nice that there was a Winer’s, Diners and Climbers group that formed and helped look after the building for a while!’


Saying goodbye to the pooch that had come along for the first part of the journey, we headed off. And that’s when the weather arrived. There’s a reason why the Scottish Mountain Rescue are called to this area more than most. The remoteness of the trails means you are a good 1-2 days walk out from the central plateau if the weather comes in, (and especially if you are carrying any injuries). Most rescues from this area take a minimum of 12 hours, even if you are only 3 hours from the trail head.


Into the Ghru_Cairngorn Winter Hike_Rob Ferguson and William Jones-Warner


Head down and donning goggles (or in my case, a pair of glacier glasses) we pushed on. Now, I’m sure the reason I fell over more than the other two was because I am so fast and my pack weighed more(?). Fresh snowfall over glass-like ice that has frozen to bullet hard is nature’s way of checking your ego. Needless to say though, it got to the point that we had all slipped so often, that a Gangnam Style ‘Whoopp” followed by a thud and then laughing became a sort of weird theme tune to the next 5 hours until we reached Corrour Bothy.


The Magnificent Seven

When we finally got to the bothy it was hard to tell if it was occupied. Normally you can see light or movement through the small windows but ‘seeing’ the front door at all was proving a problem as we strained to peer through the horizontal snow whilst not getting blown over. Opening the door, we found four.

I’ve spent a lot of time in mountain huts and I've got to say that this was going to turn out to be one of the best 2 days.

Will P, Gilbert, Frank and Sam had all travelled up from London for their yearly lads outing into the mountains and had walked in from the North via Aviemore the day before. Will was just off to the burn for a water run and offered to take our Nalgenes, and by the time he had returned we had cracked out our whiskey, added it to theirs, and that was the rest of the evening sorted.

The outdoors does something to us... If you take away the stress, input, stimulation and noise, it gives you space and time to remember other stuff. Like others, and yourself.


‘The outdoors does something to us. If you take away the stress, input, stimulation and noise it gives you space and time to remember other stuff. Like others, and yourself.’


Corrour Bothy can handle seven people pretty well, plus gear, so the night was comfortable even with the wind howling outside and some howlin' inside as well (if you get me).


Into the Ghru_Corrour Bothy_Rob Ferguson and Adam Leindo


The little hut sits in the Lairig Ghru. The Ghru is an impressive glacial cut pass that cuts through the Cairngorms from one side to the other (North to South). In places, it is the perfect ‘U’ shape and more visually impactful by the fact that, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th highest summits in Scotland (Ben McDui, Brairaich, Carn Toul) make up the skyline over the top of the pass - and all are easily accessible from the bothy for a day out and back.

For our shoot we were intending on heading to Carn Toul, but low cloud would have given us no backdrop for the shoot, so we headed out to Devils Point.


Devils Point_VALLON Bothy Hike_Rob Ferguson


So, for those who may not know - the English, wherever they went, changed the name of things if they didn’t like it.. - No, it’s true. And Devils Point is no exception. Queen Victoria came for a visit and decided she preferred that name better than the Gaelic original of Bod an Deamhain, which means ‘Penis of the Demon’.

For the purposes of this article, I am happy to say that we successfully climbed up ‘Devils Point’. The Point is steeped with legends of ghosts and ghouls, and a great point for a Broken Spectre if the conditions are right and provided an amazing backdrop for photo content.

The valley stretching out beneath us looked like the plains from an epic sequel about ‘The Noooorth'.


‘The idea of the game is to get 10 fully grown men with fully grown rucksacks into a bothy not made for 10 fully grown men without offending anyone with your feet or worse.’ 

Then we were ten

The shoot complete, we headed back down the Corrour. Whilst we had been busy, three more people had turned up.

Levelling up yet again, the guys were visiting from Glasgow. Two of the group were Hari Krishna followers and had walked in bringing firewood (lots of firewood!). It was an amazing, eclectic mix that you could only ever put together at random. More whiskey flowed. Great conversations were had, until the fire light started to die down and then we began the game of ‘sleeping bag Tetris’.

The idea of the game was to get 10 fully grown men with fully grown rucksacks into a bothy not made for 10 fully grown men without offending anyone with your feet or worse..

I’ve got to be honest, I’m not sure we did it. I woke at one point with my face next to someone else’s. He smelt kinda ‘smokey’. The sun through the window signalled an early start to ensure we had plenty of wiggle time in case of more weather on our way out and we decided to pack up outside and eat breakfast to watch the sun break the pass and give the other teams some space to move.


Into the Ghru_Corrour Bothy_Rob Ferguson and William Jones-Warner


As we walked out, I looked back for a last view of our little refuge and remembered a comment from one of the guys from Glasgow. As we prepped gear, I asked him if he had slept ok.

“I was at peace”, he said.

I don’t think you can ask for anything more. 

Into the Ghru_Rob Ferguson

Rob Ferguson is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, published photographer and writer who uses human powered, adventurous journeys to explore the world and our need to maintain our connection to it. A specialist in extreme environments, he has brought stories back from the Himalayas to the deep deserts and beyond.
Follow Rob on Instagram: @robferg_frgs


Images: Rob Ferguson & Will Jones Warner (@wjwtravel)

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