Stag Rocks – “Final Selection” a three star classic diff a day with pals. The St Valery Refuge a Cairngorm lost shelter.

I had wanted to do this short climb for many years; sadly for some reason when I climbed at bit I had missed it always climbing the nearby Afterthought Arete and a few others climbs many years ago. We had spoken to several pals about this climb and though a short Diff of 60 meters it has 3 stars in the Guide. Pete and Dan were keen and Pete had done it beforeand raved about it. All we needed was some good weather. The situation high above Loch Avon is wonderful and all the pictures I had seen made it look impressive. It’s a steep slab on Cairngorm Granite on big holds and last year we had a good look at it after a day on Afterthought Arete.

The views of Loch Avon the great glaciated slabs, the waterfall and Hells Lum Crag was looking very wet and the nearby hills these big Munro’s make this special. It is a place to cherish and we all have so many memories of these cliffs.

Walking to the cliff with Ben MacDui in the background.

Two years later we set out in a not to great forecast with this summer’s usual rain forecast and not to warm temperatures. They were forecasting frost that night on the plateau. We set off a bit later with Dan driving and managed to meet pals in Boat of Garten where we stopped for a brew caught up with Fiona and Mick Morris and Mull the black lab then headed off. It was late about 1130 when we got to the Cairngorm Car Park. It was busy so we paided our dues and headed of up the hill. Pete and Dan chatting on the way up to spot height 1141 me coughing as this bronchitis is still with me especially when going uphill.

It was a lovely day a few midges in the car park but once onto the plateau we headed round and a breeze we lost them heading for Stag rocks. It’s a bonnie place and off the path hard to believe you are up in an artic environment. We were soon at the top of the cliff and the guide says you can descend the gully but to me it looked wet and loose. We headed for the top of our route had some lunch and then abseiled down into gully.

On the way down I spotted an abseil on the West side that would have been a bit easier. Our double ropes got us down and it’s amazing how out of practice you are if you have not climbed or abseiled for a while.

The Abseil in.

Down in the Gully below out route the midges were out in the Gully Dan had his Midgy net me and Pete suffered. We had left ours with the bags. The first short step onto the route was wet and slippy but after that it was superb climbing.

The damp start with the route above.

Dan ran out the rope to a huge belay and Just when he was on the main slab a jet flew past at our eye level what a noise it was. In the Gully it was at our height and scared me and Pete. The Corrie rebounded with the noise echoing round then his mate flew by at first we thought it was thunder. I forget what a noise they make. This was “Thunder in the Glens “ Which is on in Aviemore this weekend.

The only folk we saw opposite us.

Then we saw another pair of climbers on a route opposite the only folk we saw all day. Dan was soon belayed and we followed. I took lots of photos once away from the midges and it is a superb line. There was great gear but in places the rounded Cairngorm granite makes you think at times.

Dan up there.

Once on the belay we were away from the midges In the breeze and enjoyed the views. We could now see even more the sandy beach at Loch Avon looked magical and then we had a we shower of rain that lasted a few minutes.

The final scramble.

We were soon on the last short climb of our and back at the bags. We had a break put the gear away and sat for a few minutes. It’s a place to sit and enjoy. We then set off back not far from our route heading back is the plaque to the St Valery bothy on the small granite boulder. I have memories of the wee bothy that used to be here and the granite plaque could do with a clean. I must come back and do that one day.

It’s a place I have used to take folk navigating and can be interesting finding it. Then we headed back me a bit behind then another short shower came in but went very quickly. We saw the Reindeer at the shoulder of Cairngorm.

The Yellow man on the route.

It also got me remembering the St Valery bothy that was on the cliffs above Stag Rocks above Loch Avon. The bothy was built-in 1962 and was used mainly by climbers on the nearby Loch Avon Cliffs. It was a small bothy very like El Alamein made of local stone and turf with a few pieces of framework to build the basic structure.

It was taken down after the Cairngorm Disaster in 1971 and was a real difficult time with various organisation’s who were for keeping the high Cairngorm bothys and others who wanted them taken down including Mountain Rescue Teams, the Police and the public.

It was a huge time of upset for many; It was not sorted out till 1975 when the Curran and the St Valery were taken down after a huge discussion and several years of difficult negotiations by all concerned.

  John Duff the Ex – Team Leader of Braemar Mountain Rescue Team tells his account in a wonderful book ” A Bobby On Ben MacDui” This book tells  much of the politics of this sad period after the tragedy.

St Valery Refuge now gone.

The St Valery Refuge was above the Stag Rocks Grid reference NJ 002023. There are many tales of epics on Rescues trying to find the hut which in wild weather was never easy. On a great day it was a marvellous location but it was incredibly exposed and very near the cliff edge in the days before GPS and other navigational aids.

St Valery granite in need of a clean.

In 1971 Bill March & Chris Norris were to search the St Valery Refuge on night of the Cairngorm Disaster and though great mountaineers failed to find it spending the night at the Shelterstone with Alan Fyfe and Reg Popham who were searching another area. This is how difficult an area it was in and so tricky to find. I was on one search A few years later just before the bothy was knocked down. We were told that there was no room for us on a wild night by some ensconced famous climbers. It was not at all a diplomatic discussion that occurred. Yet we soon got in and shivered the night away. I remember nearly being blown away as we left in the morning, the wind was incredible.

The bothy was very near the cliff edge and in a wind and whiteout it could be a wild place to be.

St Valery bothy was removed with help from the Royal Navy, Police and Mountaineering Council Of Scotland in 1975 and still those who used it or were involved in the debate have differing views. The engraved stone with the name was still there as the only remaining piece of the remains of the bothy left. Aug 2019.

Any stories and photos would be greatly appreciated.

Pete and Dan

We were soon heading home another shower and then back to 1141 that place that means so much. How many times have I been glad to see it.

Here we had a wee stop then head down the ridge through the Ski Centre back to the crowds. It was great to get back to the car, the midges met us again and then the drive home. There were superb rainbows just near the Dava Moor and I was back just before 1900 pretty tired but what a fun day. We had missed the heavy rain and it was warm and so good to be away from the crowds. Thanks to Dan and Pete and of course the Cairngorms for an amazing wee climb in an incredible situation.

At 1141

The older you get the more you appreciate this place and places like it. How had I missed this wee gem for all those years but how good to go and climb again even on an easy route on amazing rock.

Today’s tip – always check each other before you abseil or climb it easy to make a mistake no matter how experienced you think you are.      

 Stag Rock – Crag features

This is the large collection of cliffs on the north side of Loch Avon between Coire Raibert and Coire Domhain. The cliffs face south and can be a real suntrap allowing for rock routes to be done both early and late in the year. This does pose obvious problems for some of the winter routes but there are some good lines which have a very different feel to the nearby norrie (Northern Corries.)

Approach notes

Approach to the crag is usually via the Goat Track or 1141. Descent to the base can be done via Coire Domhain, Y gully, Diagonal Gully or Coire Raibert. There is an abseil  point into Diagonal gully a little way down from the plateau on the gully’s west side which gives access to the routes around Final Selection.

2019 Aug – We abseiled in from the other side down the route as I did not fancy the wet loose gully.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Friends, Gear, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, Recomended books and Guides, Rock Climbing, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Stag Rocks – “Final Selection” a three star classic diff a day with pals. The St Valery Refuge a Cairngorm lost shelter.

  1. Jim Fraser says:

    Who’s going to clean that granite? I’m Clerk of Works for El Alamein 😇 already.


  2. Janet Pooran says:

    That must have been a boost for you! Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Allan Moore says:

    Good to read of an old climbing pal of mine, Chris Norris. I remember him telling me of that fateful night and the following day. there were six in the Shelterstone that night including John Cunningham. Chris now lives near Southhampton and no longer climbs, but now sails instead. Last met up with him in North Wales around ten years ago.


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