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.
Everything is packed. This is the second iteration of packing. After packing the first time, the full weight came in at a stupid 15.5kg on my luggage scales. Consumables (i.e. food, gas, and lotions) was 4.5kg, giving a rather mysterious discrepancy of 1.8kg between the bottom up and top down totals. I decided to have a bit of a gear cull, ditching my waders, windproof, and a few other things. I swapped my Mayflys for Vivo Barefoot Pures for river crossings. As a result, I reduced the base weight by 1.5kg and took 200g off food.
This has reduced the top down weight to a more reasonable 13.8kg of which 4.3kg is consumables, giving a top down base weight of 9.5kg. The bottom up base weight is 8.4kg, so still a discrepancy of 1.1kg. Some of that is stuff sacks, but some must be due to the luggage scales. If we take an average, my base weight is around 9kg, which is comfortable for a two week trek.
I’ve had the confirmations of accommodation and food parcels. I even had an email reminding me that I’m catching the sleeper tonight. I’ve also booked a taxi from Kyle to Dornie rather than travel on the bus.
The weather forecast looks a bit mixed but ok for the first couple of days. However, there’s been a lot of snow at higher elevations, with more forecast tomorrow. It looks like I’m going to be taking my Foul Weather Alternatives rather than going high. Most other Challengers seem to be taking the same view.
I feel a lot calmer than last year and I’m looking forward to getting on the trail. There’s a good bunch of people starting at Dornie, so there should be some enjoyable socialising at the start. My guess is a number will be going on the same initial route. I suspect that I will be on my own on Sunday, though. If I can get a decent signal, I’ll do some brief posts along the way. Toodle pip!
Zzzzzzz, I was in two minds as to whether to publish this. However, it might be of interest so here goes.
Essentially it’s the same as last year, with some changes in clothing. I felt that my gear last year performed really well, so there was less incentive to change things around. In particular, the Scarp was great. Ok it’s a bit heavy, but it’s quick and easy to put up. There’s next to no fiddling to get a good pitch, even on poor ground. It’s got plenty of room and you can sleep safe in the knowledge that it will cope with anything that the weather can throw at you.
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa is perfect for me for the Challenge with plenty of capacity and flexibility while being quite a light pack. I’ve added the Laufbursche hip belt pockets as they are far superior to the existing ones on the pack. I was tempted to take a warmer sleeping bag but I’m sticking with the Rab Neutrino SL 200. Now that I have some As Tucas Sestrals insulated trousers, I can boost the temperature rating significantly if necessary.
Last year I took a NeoAir short, this year I’m taking the Xlite short. The Xlite doesn’t deflate like the NeoAir. I wish it was rectangular, but the compensation is that it’s lighter. As usual I’m supplementing it with a thin 150cm closed cell foam mat, which folds into my Mariposa back panel. This provides not just insulation but backup if either the Xlite punctures or the GG Airbeam back pad fails.
My cooking system, wash kit, first aid kit, toilet kit and repair kit are all basically the same. I’ve slimmed some of them down a touch as they had got a bit bloated. I’m taking my new Sony RX100 camera, which is double the weight of the WX100, but takes much better pictures. I’m taking the Tecknet iEP360 battery extender, which is better than the PowerMonkey one I took last year, so there’s a slight increase in weight under Technology.
Under miscellaneous, I’m taking the same as last year. I’ve got at least three proper stream/river crossings, so the waders are coming. TBH, it’s not the wet that gets me, it’s the cold. For a small weight penalty, they just make wading so much easier. The brolly is coming as well. The weather forecast looks quite benign, but a brolly is great for showers and heavy rain (if it’s not windy). I’m taking my venerable Nike Mayflys as spare shoes. Unlike the lighter alternatives, it is possible to walk in them with a pack for a decent distance, if needs be.
In terms of clothing, I’ve swapped a number of things around. Instead of my Paramo Vasco jacket, I’m taking my Velez Adventure Light, which is a bit lighter and more packable. I liked my Marmot Essence jacket and overtrousers in the Lakes, so they are coming instead of the OMM Cypher and Rab Drilliums, saving a bit of weight.
Although a windproof is not strictly necessary, I found last year that it added some welcome flexibility for not much weight. The Arcteryx Squamish has become my favourite and is going instead of my MontBell Dynamo. While the Motane Oryx jacket is a good fleece, I was disappointed how smelly it became and it wasn’t very durable, so, instead, I’m taking an old Mountain Hardwear Microchill fleece.
For base layers, I’m taking two Rohan Ultra T’s and an old Montane Sportwool Terra T. Strictly speaking I only need two T’s but the Rohan Ultra T is so light, I thought the flexibility of having an extra was worth it. The Ultras and Terra have good anti pong resistance. The Long sleeve Montane Terra is for sleeping, as are the Rohan Ultra longjohns. If we get some sun, I will have my Rohan Pacific shirt, which also doubles up for a bit of style for civilization.
For warm wear, it’s difficult to beat the PHD Minimus jacket, which hits a sweet spot in terms of weight and warmth. Last year I took some light running tights (Arcteryx) and some wind trousers (As Tucas). This year, I’m taking my As Tucas Sestrals insulated trousers. These should be nice to wear around camp as well as supplementing my sleeping bag if necessary.
You will notice that I’m taking two caps and two beanies. Surely, overkill! Actually the extra weight is small, so to have a bit of insurance in case I lose a hat is worthwhile on a longer trip. I did toy with taking some warmer gloves as well, maybe I will take some at the last moment! I’m taking three pairs of walking socks as this gives more flexibility in terms of washing and drying.
If I wanted to be Spartan, it wouldn’t be too difficult to knock about 1.5kg off my pack weight. However, I like a bit of comfort and allow a margin for error. I know that these items and combinations work and that they will cope with whatever the conditions. It means that I can relax and enjoy the walk, rather than stress about whether I’ve got the right gear or not. In my book, that’s worth a lot.
2014 has been a bit of an odd year. I’ve not been able to get out as much as I would have liked, with only four trips. However, with the TGO Challenge, I have managed a total twenty one days backpacking, so not too bad overall.
The first trip of the year was in April to the Monadhliath with Alan and Andy. It was a lovely introduction to the area, with a gentle walk along the River Dulnain. Despite not particularly brilliant weather, it was very enjoyable. Hopefully, I will be revisiting a short section on next year’s TGO Challenge.
If you haven’t yet been to the Monadhliath, I suggest you try to visit next year as the area is under very serious threat from planned wind farms. The Loch Ness side is already being despoiled. Unless there is a change of mind, Stronelairg and Allt Duine are next in line. If they go ahead, it will largely destroy the Monadhliath as a wilderness area.
My second trip was a two day pre-Challenge shake down on Dartmoor. I’ve really grown to love Dartmoor over the past few years. In terms of backpacking and wild camping, it’s possibly the finest area in England. Although it lacks spectacular hills, I love the openness and the ability to wander wherever you want (assuming there’s no firing on the ranges).
Strong winds and heavy rain proved to be a good test for my Challenge gear. It persuaded me to take my Scarp rather than the Trailstar. It didn’t rain all the time and there was some enjoyable walking. For me, the great joy of Dartmoor is the wild camping. If you know where to look, there’s some brilliant places.
Obviously, the highlight of the year was the TGO Challenge. Although the weather for the first three days was not great, for most of the rest of the time it was good. While it was quite windy, it was generally mild, especially compared with the previous year.
Once I got into the swing of the Challenge (about day 4), I relaxed and really enjoyed myself. I was very pleased with the route I chose, which had a decent amount of wilderness walking and camping, but wasn’t too arduous. All in all, everything went exceptionally well.
If I had to pick some highlights, the first two days from Strathcarron and along Loch Monar were terrific, despite the weather. Crossing the Monadhliath via Glen Mazeran was excellent. I enjoyed the traverse through the Cairngorms both for the scenery and the company. I thought nearing the end might be disappointing, but Mount Keen was a highlight and I loved the camaraderie at Tarfside.
What makes the TGO Challenge special is the people you meet along the way. As a solo walker, I had the best of both worlds. I had times of solitude and times of enjoyable company. It’s good to meet with like minded people from all different backgrounds. I had so many interesting conversations on a whole variety of topics.
I had intended to do some trips in the summer. In particular, I wanted to do a week on Dartmoor in August, when there’s no firing on the ranges. However, due to circumstances beyond my control, it didn’t work out.
My final trip of the year was to the Lake District in September. This had a dual purpose of getting our daughter to university at Manchester and giving me a well earned break on the Far Eastern Fells. Despite taking the wrong inner for my Trailstar, I improvised and had a great trip.
I achieved a long held ambition of camping in Deepdale, which must be one of the finest wild camping locations in the Lake District (perhaps not quite as good as below Scafell, though). Although I only had two full days of walking and not very arduous ones at that, it was a good trip. I was blessed with good weather and some fine walking.
I made some preparations to visit Dartmoor in October/November, but, again, for various reasons those plans had to be abandoned. The only thing fixed for next year is the TGO Challenge in May. I’m hoping to start my walking year with a February visit to the Lake District and get a couple more trips before the Challenge. With a more ambitious route, I’m going to need to improve my fitness levels.
Wishing everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
Every Challenge participant has different goals. For me, when I planned my route, I had a number of parameters in my mind:
1) I wanted to do a more challenging route with some ridges and Munros. My focus on 2014 was for an interesting, low route, which I could be confident of completing. In 2015, I will be more dependent on good conditions to complete my intended route.
2) I wanted to spend at least three days in the mountainous west. For me, too many of the routes I’ve seen rush through the west, where the scenery is simply stunning. One reason for starting at Dornie rather than Shiel Bridge is to give me a gentle first day to soak up the scenery.
3) I’m not a “bagger”, but I wanted to do some more Munros. My count at the moment stands at three. If all goes to plan, I will more than treble the count.
4) I wanted to go through Stronelairg before any more damage is done to the area. The reservoir is bad enough but the wind farm will be the end if built. I also wanted to walk along the Dulnain again for similar reasons.
5) I’ve not been to one of the famous Cheese and Wine parties, so, if possible, I wanted to include it in my plans. If the Cheese and Wine hadn’t been at the Water of Caiplich, I would have taken a different route through the Cairngorms.
6) The Cheese and Wine location dictated that the next day had to be over Beinn a’ Bhuird and Ben Avon. It also meant that the following day is basically the same as I did this year to Ballater.
7) I’m going to Ballater on the Sunday because I like it and and I wanted to avoid the crowds in Braemar.
8) After Ballater, Dinnet and the Firnmouth to Tarfside means I do a different route than this year, even though the Mount Keen walk is probably better.
9) I enjoyed Tarfside this year, so going back was an easy decision. Hopefully I’ll bump into a good number of people that I already know. I really couldn’t be bothered to plot a ritzy route to the coast from Tarfside, so I’m happy to follow the trade route to the coast. My one concession is to finish at Tangleha’, rather than St Cyrus. Tangleha’ is not very picturesque, but it’s only a short walk back to the tea shop in St Cyrus.
That was the thought processes behind my route. One of the enjoyable things about the Challenge is the mixture of solo walking and walking in company. For the first four days, I will probably be on my own. Through the Monadhliath and up Beinn a’ Bhuird, I will be walking with Andy Walker.
I’m guessing that I will be meeting others along the way. This year, quite unintentionally, I walked three days with David Hale, which was an unanticipated pleasure. Thanks, Dave. The unexpected friendships that are formed on the Challenge make it something special. I’m looking forward both to meeting new people and seeing those that I’ve met before.
My route for the 2015 TGO Challenge has now been vetted and approved. A big thank you to Bernie Marshall for vetting my route. My 2015 route is more ambitious than 2014. It is 21.5km longer at 301.2km and the total ascent is 9,078m compared with 6,992m.
I’ve scheduled seven Munros and one Corbett to climb. Of course, this is very weather dependent. If conditions warrant, I will have no hesitation in taking my Foul Weather Alternatives. I won’t be carrying crampons or an ice axe either, so if the tops are under snow, I’ll be taking a low route.
Here’s a summary of my route:
Dornie to Fort Augustus
Fri 8th: From Dornie, I follow the River Glennan, then over the bealach to Glen Elchaig. I’m going up the Falls of Glomach and camp somewhere beyond the top.
Sat 9th: I need good weather for this day. I’m intending to walk the ridge comprising Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan and An Socach, then descending to Glen Affric to camp somewhere near Athnamulloch.
Sun 10th: This is a big day, taking in the ridge with Sail Chaorainn, Sgurr nan Conbhairean and Carn Ghluasaid, before descending to Coire Dho to camp.
Mon 11th: After two hard days, this is a little easier. After a stroll to Torgyle Bridge, it’s up the military road and through the forest to Fort Augustus. The main challenge will be route finding around the power lines. I’ve booked a B&B in Fort Augustus, where, hopefully I’ll be meeting Andy Walker.
Fort Augustus to Aviemore
Tues 12th: From Fort Augustus, Andy and I are heading up to Coire Doe and the reservoir and then to Stronelairg to camp somewhere along Glen Markie.
Weds 13th: From Glen Markie we follow the River Eskin to Dalbeg. Near Coignafearn Lodge we head south along the Elrick Burn and up and over to the Dulnain. We have the option of staying at the bothy or pushing on a bit further along the Dulnain to camp.
Thurs 14th: We follow the Dulnain to bothy no. 3 and then cross the Dulnain to the ridge with Geal-Charn Beag and Geal- Charn Mor. Then we take the Burma Road down to Aviemore. I’m staying at Coylumbridge, Andy is pushing on to Glenmore.
Aviemore to Ballater
Fri 15th: I start with an easy walk to Glenmore (perhaps stopping there for brunch), then towards Ryvoan and Bynack Stables. On the shoulder of Bynack More I turn to An Lurg and then down to the Water of Caiplich and the famous Cheese and Wine party.
Sat 16th: From Water of Caiplich to Glen Avon, crossing bridge to climb Beinn a’ Bhuird, then Leabaidh an Diamh Bhuide and down to the Gairn to camp nr Loch Builg Lodge. I need good weather for this day as it’s quite a long day with a fair amount of ascent.
Sun 17th: I’m more or less repeating the route I took this year down the Gairn to Ballater.
Ballater to Tangleha’
Mon 18th: Cycle track to Dinnet, then South to Glen Tanar, turning off to follow the Water of Allachy and camp somewhere before the Firnmounth Road.
Tues 19th: Firnmounth Road to Tarfside.
Weds 20th Trade route down the Esk to NW Bridge camp site.
Thurs 21st: Stroll on minor roads to finish at Tanglha’. Cafe in St Cyrus then bus to Montrose.
The really hard days are days 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9. However, as long as the weather is OK, I think they are not too ambitious. With the exception of Fort Augustus to Glen Markie, they all have FWAs.
Now the route is established, I need to do some meal and supply planning. This year I took a minimalist approach with only one supply package of two freeze dried meals. Next year, I think I might need to forward a bit more to Fort Augustus. Aviemore has a good Tesco’s but Ballater doesn’t have much, so I might do a bigger package this time.
Travel arrangements can’t be made until three months before the start. In terms of gear, I’ve decided most of what I’m going to take. I need to test the ZPacks Arc Blast, but assuming it’s big enough, I’ll probably use that. I have an interesting shelter on order, which should arrive in February, when I will be able to tell you more. I’m also veering towards taking a warmer sleeping bag as I can’t believe it will be as mild as it was this year.
I’m hoping to go to Dartmoor at the end of the week for a final leg stretch before the TGO Challenge. I’m trying to finalise my gear for the Challenge. Here’s what I’m taking to Dartmoor. This is more or less what I shall be taking on the Challenge.
This is overkill for a couple of days on Dartmoor, but I want to get used to what I shall take on the Challenge. Some things may change. Most noticeably, I’m not sure whether to take the Nemo Zor sleeping mat or a Thermarest XLite. I found the Zor a bit hard when we slept in a bothy in the Monadhliath.
I haven’t received delivery of the Marmot Essence overtrousers yet, but they have had some good press and they are nearly 100g lighter than the Rab Drillium overtrousers. If I was being really Spartan I could probably lose another 500gms, but I’m happy with this list. It will probably creep over 8kg with a few minor bits and pieces like insect repellent (bad midge forecast).