I applied for this year’s TGO Challenge but was put on the standby list at number 37. Today I was offered a place which I gratefully accepted. Being an efficient chap, accommodation and travel to Scotland has all been booked. I’ve started my training too, although I actually feel reasonably fit. I’ve already sorted out my route which will be Plockton to Stonehaven. It’s a bit more ambitious than my previous Challenges but should be achievable if the weather plays ball. I’ll fill in some details in a while.
Although I’m not going the TGO Challenge next year, I’m pondering whether to do a 4-5 day trip to coincide with the Challenge where the route might overlap a bit with Challengers on their way across Scotland. While it won’t be quite the same as doing the Challenge itself, it would be nice to bump into a few Challengers for a bit of social.
I’ve been mulling over three possible trips. The first is to revive my Attadale to Beauly trip plan that I had a few years ago. The nice thing about this route is that it is coast to coast, just a bit shorter. The second idea is a circuit of the Monadhliath. The third is Fort William to Dalwhinnie with a couple of side excursions.
One thing I want to be careful of is not to crowd out Challengers from train seats or hotel beds. The number of places on the Challenge for 2016 has been increased, so that could mean more pressure on travel and accommodation.
Not that I’m going to Montrose, but I had a quick check on hotel bed availability and there’s hardly anything left. If the camp site is out of commission, it’s going to be a disappointing end for some. Anyway, my plans can be quite fluid and it depends a bit on the plans of other Challengers I know.
I won’t be applying for the 2016 TGO Challenge. I gave my wife the veto and she has exercised it. I’m hoping I’ll be able to apply for the 2017 Challenge or failing that, 2018. This almost guarantees that the weather next year will be fabulous, so apply while you can.
I’ve added an album on my Picasa account for my TGO Challenge 2015. You can find it by clicking here
Ok, here’s a quick roundup of some of the clothing and equipment I used on this year’s TGO Challenge
For me, the real star of the Challenge was my As Tucas Sestrals 2 insulated trousers. At 185g, they provide an amazing amount of warmth and wind protection. They were wonderful to put on at the end of each day when I was camping. The new Schoeller material is like silk and lovely against your legs. They are thin enough that you don’t overheat but plenty warm enough, even in cold and windy conditions like we had for the Cheese & Wine party. The snaps at the hem mean you can cinch them at the ankle to keep warmth in. They also have a good DWR coating so they shrug off light rain. For wearing around camp in cool or cold conditions they are brilliant. I also used them on a couple of nights in my sleeping bag for some extra warmth. Highly recommended.
The Challenge was the first prolonged test for my Marmot Essence waterproof jacket and trousers. At just under 170g each, they are astonishingly light. I wore the overtrousers more than the jacket. The jacket was used extensively on two days, once over my Paramo Velez Light and once on its own. I was very pleased with the breathability. It doesn’t feel quite as good as three layer eVent, but I think that’s down to being a 2.5 layer rather than 3 layer jacket, where the moisture is “hidden” by the inner fabric. The material is certainly waterproof and the DWR effective with no wetting out. The thinness of the material makes the garments cooler than more substantial waterproofs. They are also quite delicate, so I’ve had to patch a cut on both the jacket and overtrousers. If you want a good value, very breathable lightweight shell, the Essence jacket and overtrousers are worth considering. The jacket is quite a trim cut, so if I were buying again, I’d go a size up. Also don’t expect them to put up with rough treatment as the material is quite delicate.
The two other things to report on are the Outdoor Research Sunrunner cap and Spectrum Sunsleeves. I liked the Sunrunner cap a lot. The vents make it more comfortable when warm and I like the detachable neck screen. I also used OR Spectrum Sun Sleeves. These convert a short-sleeved T shirt into a long-sleeved one. They have a SPF of 50 and can be pulled over the back of your hands. At 38g, they weigh nothing, but are brilliant for using on sunny days instead of sun screen. They are also quite cool (as in temperature, not looks). I really liked them.
Virtually all the equipment I used as the same as last year. Given the wind and some poor weather, I was glad I took my Scarp 1. Talking to Bob and Rose, about the evening that we were camped in Glen Markie, they couldn’t cook inside their Vaude Power Lizard because it was flapping so much. I had no problems in my Scarp. I love being confident that it can handle anything. It also has a compact footprint and goes up in a jiffy. I used my GG Mariposa rucksack. My only criticism is that one of the shoulder straps slips and has to be tightened regularly and the material is not very water-resistant. Other than that, it’s a great rucksack.
My sleeping bag was my modified Rab Neutrino SL 200. It’s just right for the Challenge. Most nights it was fine on its own. On a couple of nights I had to supplement it with my PHD Minimus down jacket and As Tucas Sestrals 2 insulated trousers. I used my Thermarest Xlite short sleeping mat, which was very comfortable and had no issues with deflation.
My boots were Ecco Biom Hike Mids, which were perfect. Very comfortable and robust. They also were very waterproof. Sure I was occasionally a bit sweaty and I wished I’d taken an extra pair of socks, but I had no blisters. It’s a shame they’ve stopped making them.
In the end I took my umbrella and waders. I was really glad I took my umbrella. I used it for most of the day on two days. On the day to the Water of Allachy, I even rigged it so it was hands free. It made two of the days of heavy rain much more bearable. The waders were useful as well, particularly on one day when I had to wade a river when it was raining hard. If I was being super-Spartan though, I’d leave them behind.
I had no failures. The only disappointment was the new style Rohan Ultra T, which doesn’t seem to be as smell resistant as the old style. As a result, I wore my Montane Sportwool Terra T (polyester/merino wool blend) most of the time, which was impressively smell resistant. I might get another merino/synthetic combo base layer as they seem to combine smell resistance with fast drying.
DIsclaimer: all items mentioned were purchased with my own money.
With the adverse weather we experienced on this year’s Challenge, I thought it would be worthwhile to share my experiences of my Paramo Velez Adventure Light smock.
To recap my previous experiences, I’ve worn Paramo jackets and smocks for probably twenty years. Over that time, I’ve come to regard them as highly water resistant soft shells. Like many, I have experienced conditions (heavy, sustained, wind-driven rain) where the material gets overwhelmed and ceases to be water resistant. As a consequence, I’ve tended to carry a hard shell in addition to a Paramo jacket.
I’ve never experienced total failure, but have been quite wet occasionally. This is partly a function of how the Paramo material interacts with the material of rucksack straps and hip belt. If the strap material is absorbent, then failure through wicking is more likely. The strap material soaks up water which is then forced through the Paramo material through pressure and rubbing. Also, there are just times when the quantity of rain overwhelms the fabric and pump liner.
On last year’s Challenge, I used my Vasco jacket, which is my favourite Paramo jacket. Unfortunately, I washed it before the Challenge, but didn’t re-proof it. The result was that the outer wetted out in several places. It was ok in light rain or showers, but I didn’t trust it in heavier rain where I used a hard shell. This was my fault, not the fault of the Vasco, but illustrates that care needs to be taken in maintaining Paramo clothing.
This year, I took my Velez Adventure Light. I took the VAL instead of the Vasco because it is about 200g lighter and packs smaller when not in use. I also took a Marmot Essence waterproof jacket as a hard shell. Although the Essence is a trim fit, it still layers over the VAL if needed.
Prior to the Challenge, I took a lot of care in re-proofing the VAL. I rinsed the washing machine with a hot wash. Then I used Nikwax Tech Wash to clean the VAL. Next, I disregarded the normal Nikwax proofing instructions. Instead of using the washing machine to rinse in the proofer, I filled a bucket with water. I mixed in the required amount TX proofer and soaked the VAL in the bucket for 24 hours (agitating it a couple of times to make sure it was completely soaked). I then spun it dry in the washing machine (without rinsing) and tumble dried it.
So how did it work? Well, the weather was pretty testing. On the first Sunday, we had heavy (though not torrential) rain with a strong wind. As I was walking up the Allt Garbh and over the Bealach an Amais, the rain stung my face when I turned into the wind. At the top of the Bealach, I was nearly blown over a couple of times. Down in Gleann Fada and along the River Doe, it wasn’t as ferocious, but most of the time it was still raining, although not as heavily.
The VAL coped superbly! Apart from a little bit around the wrists, the fabric showed no signs of wetting out at all. The rain just beaded and dripped off. Apart from dampness from sweat, I stayed dry all day. My base layer was a Montane Terra Sportwool T and an old Arcteryx gridded fleece jumper (no longer made). I have to say, I was very impressed.
The next day, there was heavy rain until early afternoon, but I was using an umbrella most of the time (a good combination!), and I stayed dry, with no wetting out. The following day, from Ft Augustus to Glen Markie, it wasn’t as wet, but was very windy with squally wintery showers. For the first part I used the VAL on its own (again no wetting out).
As we got higher, it got colder, so I layered the Marmot Essence jacket over the VAL. Despite the VAL being wet to start with, this combination worked well. Within an hour, the VAL and the inside of the Essence were dry. I was also a comfortable temperature despite the biting wind.
With my faith restored in the water repellency of Paramo, I used the VAL a lot of the time. The next significant test was the very windy and sometimes wet weather from Bynack More along the Water of Caiplich. Again, the VAL shrugged off the rain.
I’ve always liked using Paramo in cool, showery conditions. The venting options and breathability make it much more comfortable than having to wear a hard shell. It also means you don’t have to keep swapping between a hard shell and wind proof.
The Velez itself is a great smock. I still slightly prefer the Vasco jacket as a design, as the floating yoke provides better venting for your back. However the Velez has better venting at the front, has a better hood and is lighter and has a smaller pack size. The VAL in combination with the Marmot Essence jacket is a similar weight to the Vasco, but provides more flexibility and warmth.
Would I use Paramo without taking a hard shell? That’s a tough one. I can still envisage situations where Paramo might fail, but with my new proofing method, I suspect these would be very rare. However, the VAL/Essence combo weighs the same as my Vasco and less than some other Paramo jackets. For walks like the Challenge, it seems a good choice to cover all eventualities. While there are lighter soft shell jackets out there, none have the water resistance of Paramo, so I think the VAL is a winner for most conditions outside summer.