Alan Sloman has started his 2021 TGO Challenge account on his blog https://alansloman.blogspot.com/2021/10/tgo-challenge-2021-shiel-bridge-to.html . His crossing this year was an amazing achievement as he did it after a second kidney transplant. I’m pretty sure he’s the only person ever to have walked across Scotland with four kidneys. Pop over and have a look.
While I wasn’t on this year’s TGO Challenge, I share the disappointment of its cancellation as I was looking forward to following the experiences on social media of Challengers as they cross Scotland. Some of us are doing a virtual crossing by posting pictures of previous Challenges day by day under the hashtag #virtualTGOC on Twitter. I’m mashing up my 2014, 2015 and 2017 crossings. There doesn’t seem much point in doing a blog post as you can find my trips on my Trip Diaries page above.
However, for a bit of fun, I thought I’d put together a gear list for a crossing. As far as possible, I’ve selected gear that I haven’t used on the Challenge so far. I’ve put a list at the bottom of the post. The bottom up base weight is just over 8kg. You probably need to add about 500g for stuff sacks and odds and ends.
For the big three, I’ve selected my Tramplite pack. I toyed with taking my Atom Packs Mo, but it might be a bit small. The Tramplite is a great pack and the extra volume has no weight penalty and is useful for carrying extra food. Although it has good hip belt pockets, I’ll take my Alpinelite belt pack too.
For a shelter, I’ve chosen the X-Mid but with the Valley and Peak Ultra Bivy. I’m really impressed with the X-Mid. I’d love if it had a solid inner, but in the absence of one, I’d use the Ultra Bivy. I think the supplied mesh inner would be ok, but I think the extra protection and warmth of the Ultra Bivy is worth it, especially if there are cold winds.
I’m going to cheat and have my As Tucas Foratata quilt, which I used on my 2017 crossing as I don’t have a real alternative. My WM Ultralite is probably overkill and 340g heavier. For a sleeping mat, I’ve just bought a Nemo Tensor Alpine mat. It provides higher insulation than a Thermarest X-Lite as well as being slightly wider at the foot end and feels more comfortable and less noisy. It also has a (much) better valve.
For footwear, I going with Inov-8 Roclite 320 boots. It’s a little bit of a risk as they let a bit of damp through when I tried them in the Lakes. However, I’ve put some Silnet on the toe mesh which should help and I’ll take some Dexshell waterproof socks as a second line of defence. Spare shoes are Saucony Hattoris, sadly no longer made. Wiggy’s waders are worth the weight for any stream crossings, a slight cheat, as I’ve taken them before. Gaiters are essential for bogs, so my new Montane Outflow gaiters come along.
I’ve never used the Paramo Third Element on my Challenges, so that’s an obvious choice, especially as it converts into a gilet. For me Paramo, is ideal for Scotland as a highly water resistant soft shell. I like having a windproof too and a Montane Featherlite smock weighs next to nothing but adds flexibility. In addition to Paramo, I like having a lightweight hardshell if there’s heavy rain and high winds as Paramo can be overwhelmed, so the Alpkit Gravitas jacket is an obvious choice, although I’ve not worn it in really testing conditions. I’ve not used my Berghaus Paclite overtrousers on the Challenge, so they are an obvious choice.
I like gridded fleeces and normally I’d take an Arc’teryx Delta LT fleece, but I’ve chosen the Patagonia R1 which is slightly heavier and warmer. A Rab interval T and a Patagonia Capilene Cool T are my thin base layers which work well in most conditions. A Rohan Union Polo is my merino base layer if it’s cold. I’d take a shirt for if it’s warm and for hotels. The Columbia Silver Ridge Lite is a great shirt. For sleeping I’ve selected a Smartwool merino crew. I like to have clean sleepwear, so it’s a luxury I’m happy to carry.
For warmth, my old Rab Generator jacket is difficult to beat. Being synthetic, damp is less of an issue than for a down jacket. I’ve been really impressed with the Mountain Equipment Kinesis trousers, which are light and warm, handy for around camp and to supplement my sleeping quilt if necessary. For walking trousers, I’d normally wear Montane Terras. However for this exercise, I cheated slightly and chosen the Terra convertibles rather than the ordinary version.
I now have an iPhone 11 to replace my old iPhone 6. As the camera is so good, I’ll chance using that rather than a dedicated camera. I swapped my reliable Snow Peak GST 100 stove for the Alpkit Kraku to save a little weight. Apart from that all the other gear is pretty much what I’ve used over the years.
A full list is below. Hopefully that’s provided a little entertainment in this never ending lockdown. Let’s hope we can get some backpacking done in the second half of the year!
To complete the videos of my TGO Challenges, I’ve uploaded a video slideshow of my 2014 Challenge from Strathcarron to St Cyrus. Hope you like it.
I’m not able to participate in this year’s TGO Challenge because I can’t be away from home for more than a week. However, I’m going to have a week in Scotland and will meet with a few Challengers for three days, with two solo days either side. On Friday evening, I’ll get the sleeper up to Corrour for Saturday morning. I’ll take two days walking through Glen Nevis, Ft. William and the Great Glen to Gairlochy. Then over Creag Meagaidh and to Garva Bridge. Lastly, I’ll take the ridge on the northern side of the Spey to Aviemore. It is just under one hundred miles and will take seven days. The weather forecast looks good, so it should be fun.
Ed over at the Trek-lite forum is looking for people to participate in a survey on how people on the TGO Challenge use technology. If you’d like to participate here’s a link to the post on the Trek-lite forum: http://www.trek-lite.com/index.php?threads/tgo-challenge-2019-how-do-you-use-technology-when-backpacking.6171/
Alex Roddie has written a feature for the TGO Magazine website on the experiences of six Challengers. I was part of the group asked to share our experiences and you can read the article here: https://www.tgomagazine.co.uk/news/digital-feature-what-makes-the-tgo-challenge-special/
Slideshow video: https://youtu.be/3Oqj-Krpngs
Day 7 25.9km distance, 235m ascent
Overnight the wind continued to blow and there was even some light rain. I didn’t get much sleep. Fortunately the wind abated somewhat by about 5 o’clock and the rain stopped. The last day of a walk is always a bit strange. Part of you doesn’t want it to end and part of you wants to get home. In contrast to most of the previous week, the sky was cloudy and threatening.
Certainly the first few miles didn’t disappoint, even though most of the time was road walking.
Up to the bridge south of Stronetoper, the walk was lovely. However things deteriorated after crossing the bridge. I stopped for something to eat near the abandoned building at Auchleum. Negotiating the path to Auchlean was a bit of a trial. Auchlean is being redeveloped and the diversion is not totally clear. Once round the buildings it’s a road walk to Lagganlia.
This was pretty boring after the walking of the last few days. As I passed the landing strip, I paused briefly to watch some people dismantle a glider. At Lagganlia, I took a footpath into the forest of Feshie Moor. Just inside the forest I found a convenient log to sit on for some lunch.
After a short section on a footpath, the next 3km was on dull forest tracks. Then I followed a more interesting footpath through forest and open ground to Loch Gamhna and Loch an Eilien. By now, I just wanted to get to Aviemore.
I stopped at the refreshment hut at the end of Loch an Eilein for a fizzy drink and a biscuit. From there it was a familiar track into Aviemore. I reached Aviemore just before 4 o’clock, so I had made good time, but it gave me a lot of time to twiddle my thumbs before the sleeper arrived. Frustratingly, the waiting room at the station was closed so I went to Costa to waste an hour before returning to the station to have a meal in the restaurant. I wasted as much time as I could there, before reluctantly leaving and spending a couple of hours waiting on the station platform for my train.
It had been a great seven days overall, with superb weather, excellent walking and some good camp sites. It was some compensation for not being able to do the Challenge this year. Hopefully, I will be able to do the full Challenge next year.
Day 6 25.8km distance, 673m ascent
I actually had a reasonable night’s sleep, maybe because my pitch was perfectly flat. It was also relaxing to be able to follow my own schedule. I was really looking forward to today’s walk, having seen many photos of the geometrically sculpted hills around Gaick Lodge.
For the third time, I walked past the sad, dilapidated buildings of Sronphadruig Lodge. I climbed up the bank and negotiated a boggy stretch to Loch an Duin. I was passed by an early morning runner who promptly turned around and went back from whence he came saying he didn’t fancy the bog. As it happens, it was only a short stretch to the path that goes along the western shore of the loch. I took a last look back at the forest surrounding the lodge and forged on.
The path along Loch an Duin was an absolute delight. While it was quite warm, even this early, there was a pleasant breeze blowing, ruffling the surface of the water.
Although the path was well-defined, my progress was a bit slow with twists and ups and downs, but I didn’t mind as I drank in the views. At the end of the loch, there was a vehicle track and a ford. As with my other river crossings, I got across without resorting to waders. The valley opened out into a boggy floor but the track kept above this and I bowled along at a good speed.
Soon Loch Bhrodainn came into view. By now the wind had picked up. Part way along the loch, I found a bit of shelter and decided to have a short rest and a bite to eat. I still couldn’t believe my luck with the weather. Was this really Scotland?
Pressing on, I passed some trees, which gave me a short respite from the freshening wind and then crossed a ford. Again, it was easy to pick a way across, although I’m sure it would be a bit tricky in wet weather.
Gaick Lodge was a complete contrast with Sronphadruig Lodge, well-kept and obviously occupied. There were even some horses in the adjoining field.
The views along Loch an t-Seilech were better in retrospect than in prospect, but it was still a pleasant enough walk. The dam at the end reminded me that not all Highland lochs are entirely natural. Part way along the road a pile of logs provided a convenient seat for a spot of lunch.
After lunch I walked down to the bridge. Four dogs came rushing out the house nearby, which was a bit unnerving. Fortunately, one of them wanted to be stroked, which calmed the others down. Beyond the bridge, I tried to find the path along the Allt Bhran but it proved elusive so I followed a deer trail above where the path was supposed to be.
Above the weir, I picked up the marked path, although it was pretty sketchy in places. Although progress was quite slow, the Allt Bhran was lovely walk. I noted there were some good spots to camp too, perhaps for a future visit. Despite the wind, it was hot work and I had another short rest at a convenient burn to fill my water bottle before taking a short cut up the slope to the woods, rather than taking the marked path.
I reached the woods after a bit of a yomp over heather and picked up the path again. Along some stretches of the border of the woods there were some uprooted trees. At the top of the woods there was a vehicle track. I was grateful to pick up an easy track this late in the day as my thoughts were turning to the day’s end and camping.
Emerging from the trees gave some wonderful views, although, by now the wind was really strong. I made my way down the track and into Glen Feshie.
In the glen there were three white horses grazing, but I figured they must be used to people and unlikely to bother me. I hunted around for a suitable pitch. By far the best was under a couple of trees. I was a bit apprehensive to pitch under trees in such high winds but it didn’t seem like any of the branches were likely to fall.
By this time the wind was quite ferocious but the Tramplite with an A frame is rock solid, so I wasn’t to concerned, even if the inner was a bit flappy. All in all it had been another great day. I hoped the wind would die down so I could get some sleep.
Day 5: 25.2km distance, 587m ascent
For some reason, again, I didn’t sleep well. However, I was up in good time to make our 8 o’clock start and I hadn’t died from ingesting any pathogens from the dead sheep. I couldn’t believe our luck with the weather; it looked like another fine day.
From our camp spot, we followed the Allt Ruighe nan Saorach down to Loch Errochty. This was an unexpectedly rewarding little walk, following the meanders and hopping over the side streams. There were also some excellent places to camp, much nicer than Saunich.
All too soon we were at Loch Errochty. We took advantage of a side stream to have a short rest and fill our water bottles with fresh water. The track along the loch made for faster progress. At the end of the loch, there was a rusty old vehicle which looked like some kind of old armoured trailer. It had some bullet holes in it. I can’t find any information on it but it looked as though it might have been from WW1.
We made quick progress through the forest until we saw the dam. I thought I’d check for a phone signal. To my delight, I found one and phoned home to let my wife know that I was OK. We made our way down to Trinafour and at the junction with the minor road, sat down for an early lunch.
This was the finish of my walk with Alan, Andy and Phil. They were going to Struan, while I was heading north, eventually to Aviemore. It was a bit sad to leave them as I had really enjoyed walking and joking with them over the previous three and a half days.
The next 5kms were along the military road from Trinafour to the A9. Although it wasn’t particularly busy, it was a cut through for some heavy lorries. About half way, in a layby in the forest, I met a guy on his motorcycle who was scoping the area for some mountain biking trips. He’d done all the Munros (walking) and had decided he was too old to do them again and had switched to mountain biking. I would’ve spoken to him for much longer but I wanted to get on, so I said goodbye and resumed my trudge.
I reached the A9 at about 3 o’clock and managed to get across without being killed. I took the track into Dalnacardoch Wood and a little way inside found some shade to sit down for a rest and something to eat. I still had a fair way to go, so I didn’t take too long.
Not long after leaving the woods, I had a nasty fall. I wasn’t paying attention and slipped on the loose stones on the track. Until I released my pack, I couldn’t get up. Fortunately the only damage was a slightly grazed knee, some small rips in the knee of my trousers and a bruised hand. It could’ve been worse. A little shaken, I dusted myself down and continued along the track with more care. If I hadn’t fallen, I would’ve enjoyed the walk along Edendon Water more.
In the distance I could see An Dun, which was near to my destination, Sronphadruig Lodge. I was a little worried about the ford that I had to cross but the water was quite low. In fact, I was quite surprised on the whole trip how dry it was underfoot and that I didn’t have to make any serious river crossings.
I arrived at Sronphadruig at just before 5 o’clock. I didn’t know whether the lodge was in use or not. I had a look at the south end of the woods for a pitch and found a decent place. I decided to walk past the lodge to see if there was anything better further on.
It turned out the lodge and the outbuildings were pretty run down and a fence and locked gate enclosed them. There weren’t any decent pitches, so I returned to my original choice having added another 2km to my day.
There’s actually very little flat ground (i.e. without tussocks) around the lodge, although my pitch was perfect with room for two to three tents. Despite the fall, it had been another good day, but I was looking forward to the next day even more.