Tag Archives: TGO Challenge 2015

TGO Challenge feature

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/

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TGO Challenge 2015: Gear Roundup

DSC02340

Ok, here’s a quick roundup of some of the clothing and equipment I used on this year’s TGO Challenge

Clothing

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.

Equipment

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.

Any failures?

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.

TGO Challenge 2015: Reflections

DSC02291My favourite picture, Creag nan Clachan  Geala

I found this year’s TGO Challenge tougher than last year’s. Part of the reason was the route involved a bit less track walking and a bit more off piste. However, I think the main reason was the weather. We had a lot more rain than last year. While the air temperature wasn’t that cold, during most of the Challenge, there was a bitingly cold wind. After a while, it becomes energy (and heat) sapping.

The poor weather had an impact on clothing and washing. The logistics of getting clean socks began to dominate my thinking. The wet weather meant socks had little or no opportunity to dry out either in my boots or on my pack. Being able to launder them at hotels and B&Bs became a must. Hence, at Aviemore, I stayed at the Cairngorm Hotel rather than the camp site, so I could do some laundry. In future, I’d be tempted to take an extra pair (or two) of socks.

IMG_1462Sock washing obsession

The perishing wind also meant fewer opportunities to wash properly, so it was a bit more smelly than last year. I did have a small collapsible bowl to wash in the shelter of my tent, but often I just made do with a quick flannel rinse of my face and used some hand sanitising gel to get rid of body odour. I also used some lavender linen spray to mask the smell of my base layer and fleece.

Despite the more adverse conditions, I didn’t have any excessively long days and I was always finished before six o’clock. On no day did I feel shattered, so I think I paced myself well. Unfortunately, the snow conditions and weather meant I used my FWAs and stayed low, but that seemed sensible in the circumstances. Overall, I was pleased with my route, which had some outstanding walking and good camping spots.

DSC02271Falls of Glomach

It’s difficult to pick out highlights, but I think the Falls of Glomach, Glen Markie, the Dulnain, the Water of Caiplich and Glen Tanar/Water of Allachy were scenic highlights. Seeing the eagles along the Dulnain was a thrill as well. In some ways, the changeable weather actually enhanced the majesty of the landscape. It’s difficult to capture in photos just how wonderful the landscape looks in rain and low cloud.

DSC02340Glen Markie

This year felt an even more social experience than last year. This is strange because I reckon I spent around half the time walking on my own (more than last year). I think this is down to knowing more people and more time spent walking in groups (perhaps also the Cheese & Wine party).

I was particularly fortunate to walk with Emma for the first two days, who was good company. On several occasions I walked in groups with Lynsey, Carl, Andy, Gordon, Mick, Louise, John and Norma (not necessarily all at the same time). I walked with Dave and Graham a couple of times and the Rev. David. I also accompanied Bob and Rose and Martin and Keith briefly.

IMG_1372A merry band of Challengers

I think at the heart of the appeal of the Challenge is the opportunity to meet and walk with like-minded folk from all walks of life. For a solo walker like me, the ability to pick up with walking partners and swap and change as well as going solo is a great attraction. It’s not something that is achievable outside the Challenge.

I think this answers the question “why do the Challenge when you could walk across Scotland at any time?”. There seems to be a special bond between Challengers. Talk to almost anyone during the Challenge and after five minutes, it’s like you’ve been friends all your life. The best example is the night I spent in the bothy on the Dulnain with Paul and Wayne. Although we’d met very briefly, we’d hardly talked before. Yet within a few minutes we were having a laugh and a joke like we’d been friends all our lives. It was a brilliant and memorable evening.

DSC02520Cheese & Wine

The other incident that sticks in my mind was when Louise fell over and injured her knee on the way to Ballater. Everyone rallied around to make sure she was ok and that she could continue. Carl patched her up and we redistributed some of her pack amongst us. Later that evening, everyone checked what her route would be the next day so she wouldn’t be walking alone.

DSC02578The troops rally round Louise

The phrase “the Challenge family” is much used and here it was in action. I’m sure that most Challengers will have similar examples, even on this year’s Challenge. In a generally selfish world, the Challenge exhibits a different and uplifting ethos. In my view, its espoused aim of “fostering fellowship among walkers” was amply demonstrated this year (and on previous Challenges). I hope this defining characteristic of the Challenge continues for as long as the event exists.

Will I do the Challenge next year? You’d better ask my wife that question! The deal this year is that she gets the veto for future Challenges. For her, me being away for over two weeks is arguably a bigger challenge than me walking across Scotland, given her health. It may be that I have to wait three years until our daughter has finished university and is back home. We’ll see.

 I definitely hope I can do it again. I shall miss all the people I’ve met on my Challenges, but look forward to seeing them again in the not too distant future. If you’re wondering whether to do the Challenge, if you can afford the time, you should give it a go. Only by participating will you understand its magic.

DSC02857A sociable finish

TGO Challenge 2015: Statistics

For those of a statistical bent, here’s some stats on my 2015 TGO Challenge, with a summary comparison with my 2014 Challenge.

2015 Route Summary Actualclick to enlarge

 The overall distance was just shy of 300km, 26.5km longer than my 2014 Challenge. In terms of total ascent, 2015 was very similar to 2014. My original plan was for much more climbing but I had to use my FWAs because of weather and snow.

In terms of time actually walked, I walked nearly 10 hours longer. However, my average speed was very similar. I walked a bit more off piste on this Challenge, so that’s not a bad effort. All timings are approximate and are actual walking time (subtracting an estimate for lunch/snack stops).

2015 route graphsclick to enlarge

Just for a bit of fun, I’ve made some charts of key measures. Looking at daily distance, in the middle of the walk (days 4-9 inclusive), I was more consistent than last year by walking 23-26km per day. Last year, I had some shorter days interspersed. This section largely accounts for the greater overall distance. The daily time chart reflects a similar consistency. The ascent chart is remarkably similar.

This year, I definitely felt more tired, although I never felt trashed at the end of any day. I think I paced myself reasonably well. I put the tiredness down to the less benign weather, especially the sapping cold wind. It’s also possible that last year I benefited from the interspersing of short and long days, giving my body more time to recover.

 Looking at the daily distance walked, it strikes me that my first three days were sensibly modest, giving my body time to adjust. I then put in some decently long days to break the back of the walk before having a more relaxed time from day 10 onwards. That strikes me as a nicely paced Challenge.

I had six days where I walked over 25km. Of those, four I walked solo. Overall, I walked seven days mainly or totally solo. I guess it’s not surprising that you tend to walk further when going solo. You can go at your own pace and lunch/snack stops tend to be shorter.

 I don’t think there any startling conclusions to draw from these figures, but they will help with future planning. It’s interesting that my walking speed has been consistent between the two years. I might do a bit more analysis (for my own benefit) on how ascent affects speed, time and distance. On a higher level route, ascent would be a key variable.

TGO Challenge 2015: Summary

DSC02291This is a summary page for my 2015 TGO Challenge to help you navigate through the posts of my trip more easily. Each day will open in a separate window. I’ve also added some associated pages.

Getting to the start
Day 1: Dornie to Falls of Glomach
Day 2: Falls of Glomach to Loch Affric
Day 3: Loch Affric to Cul Dubh
Day 4: Cul Dubh to Ft Augustus
Day 5: Ft Augustus to Glen Markie
Day 6: Glen Markie to Dulnain Bothy No.1
Day 7: Dulnain Bothy No. 1 to Aviemore
Day 8: Aviemore to Water of Caiplich
Day 9: Water of Caiplich to near Tullochmacarrick
Day 10: near Tullochmacarrick to Ballater
Day 11: Ballater to Water of Allachy
Day 12: Water of Allachy to Tarfside
Day 13: Tarfside to North Water Bridge
Day 14: North Water Bridge to Kinnaber Links

Route Statistics

Reflections

Gear Roundup

Challenge Photos

TGO Challenge 2015: Day 14

North Water Bridge to Kinnaber Links

Distance: 11.7km
Ascent: 117m

Day 14click to enlarge

The last morning dawned with the pitter patter of rain. To the last, the weather was alternating between glorious sunshine and rain. My orignal plan was to finish at Tangleha’. However, the tea shop had closed in St Cyrus and JJ promised a sumptuous repast at the garden centre near Kinnaber Links. This proved irresistible to a group of us, so off we trooped with the prospect of food dangled in front of us.

IMG_1474 DSC02842 DSC02843 IMG_1476From North Water Bridge to Kinnaber

Mick and I struck out in the lead. It was a straightforward road walk to Hillside. The weather wasn’t too bad with some light showers. The cafe was very good and suitably refreshed, our weary band made it through the dunes of Kinnaber Links and to the sea.

DSC02849 DSC02850 DSC02857Kinnaber Links

It was lovely to finish with a crowd of Challengers. Photos were taken and congratulations dispensed. I think this year was tougher than last year, mainly because the weather was more unsettled and the almost constant cold wind, which, at times, was quite sapping. However, overall, it was a very enjoyable crossing and a very social one. I’ll post some further thoughts at a later date.

DSC02854 DSC02855The finish