Just what has Alan Sloman been up to?
I have absolutely no idea how I have managed to return from the TGO Challenge with a sun tan. It rained from day one and continued right through to the end, often with the wind joining in to keep the rain company. By the final Monday the weather turned from being miserable to dangerous with winds even in the valleys strong enough to rip down huge trees. I simply could not continue my planned route over the hills to Tarfside and had to purchase new maps whilst in Ballater and cobble together the final three days.
I have to admit to finding the TGO Challenge tough, both physically and mentally. I am not used to getting up and walking for 13 days in a row and it was often hard work forcing myself out of a warm sleeping bag to face another day of wind and rain. However despite the often poor conditions it was a splendid experience being able to immerse myself fully in the wilds of the Highlands for two weeks. The scenery is out of this world and I managed to pass through some really remote areas and visit places that have been on my ‘to do’ list for years. Sadly some of those areas will very soon be lost to the ever-increasing industrialisation of our wild places.
I am glad that my first five days were very sociable as motivation is a major factor when solo backpacking. I met some great people along the way, names alude me but I hope you all got across safely. I think that without that early company I would have got fed up with the rain and headed home!
The Scottish healthcare system in the Highlands is bloody marvelous. During the second week I developed a severe allergic reaction to something and needed pretty urgent medical attention. My hands and arms ended up a mass of weeping sores and blisters and I spend a couple of days walking through the wilds in agony, unsure of what to do. Reaching Aboyne I got a doctor’s appointment within an hour and emergency medication dispensed immediately. In Nottingham I would probably still be waiting.
Anyway a full write up over the coming couple of weeks along with a critique of the gear I used (most of which was absolutely brilliant). In the meantime a few photos.
The ground especially on the western side of the country was totally saturated and waterlogged. When not on tracks I was often up to my ankles in the Highland ‘soup’. Taking my Inov-8’s was one of the best decisions I made, lined ‘proper’ boots would have been hopeless after a couple of days.
The Wake for the Wild. I was pleased that I managed to join up with Alan Sloman just in time for the procession to take the coffin to where the highest turbine will be on the Dunmaglass wind farm. The Monadhliath mountains are hauntingly beautiful and it will be a sad day when they are destroyed forever.
My favourite wild camp spot on the Challenge. A remote spot next to the Dulnain surrounded by juniper and scots pines, plus the sun came out and warmed me whilst I lay in my tent. I had a big grin on my face all evening!
I felt I earned the t-shirt……………….
I am always suspicious when a major packing expedition goes smoother than anticipated. The pile of gear that was on my bed this afternoon slipped nicely into my ULA Catalyst pack. I had no idea of the weight so have just stood with it on the bathroom scales. The total weight including 4 days food and enough fuel for a week is 13.7 kg. The consumables in there (food and fuel come to about 3.5 kg) so a base weight of roughly 10kg for a two-week trip aint too bad. I am sure that many would disagree!
Anyway it’s a long day tomorrow, my first train is at 6.40am and I eventually get into Shiel Bridge at 8.00pm. A bar meal and a beer will be my reward at the end of the journey.
Unless something goes horribly wrong there will be radio silence for a couple of weeks. However you can follow me on Twitter here.
Good luck and best wishes to all the other Challengers.
Well I suppose that this is where I should put up a nicely designed spreadsheet showing all the kit that I will be taking, alongside a list of weights and stuff. To be honest I can’t really be bothered. Instead all my kit is sitting in a heap on the spare bedroom floor, looking slightly larger than the rucksack it is meant to fit in. So here is a rough list of the main stuff that I will be hauling from one side of the Highlands to the other.
– Terra Pack pants (very lightweight, fast drying and a good comfy fit)
– Smartwool baselayer (The best baselayer I have ever owned. Comfy, pong free and in a nice shade of yellow!)
– Rab Micro fleece (very lightweight and dries fast)
– X socks Trekking silver (On test from webtogs, meant to be anti-pong)
– M&S Ultra fit active long trunks (Come down to mid-thigh so stops chaffing)
– Inov-8 Flyroc 310’s (They served me well on the Southern Uplands 4 day backpack, only concern is that the inner heel section is just beginning to show signs of wear. If they deteriorate I will seek replacements in Aviemore)
– Spare smartwool baselayer (For when the other is in the wash, or when being civilised in the pub)
– Montane featherlight pants (A very lightweight pair of pertex trousers, for when my main ones are being washed or as a spare for camp. The only downside is they look like half a shell suit from the 1980’s!)
– 2x M&S Ultra fit active long trunks (To prevent chaffing I prefer to keep myself clean down there. Two days max for each pair of undies!)
– 3 pairs of socks – mix of smartwool and xsocks (Three pairs is probably overkill, probably manage with two but I do like to keep one pair for wearing in bed only)
– M&S lightweight thermal leggings (Nice to change into before slipping into my sleeping bag, also helps to keep it clean)
– Rab Cirrus windproof top (Brilliant to pull on when the wind is biting through my fleece and don’t want to wear my waterproof)
– Rab Generator smock (Lightweight warmth, don’t need to worry about dampness as much as a down jacket)
– Cheapo hat and gloves plus smartwool buff
– Rab Demand pull-on (Water beads off this lightweight beauty, love its simplicity)
– Rab Drillium pants (Not yet worn as a recent birthday present, received impressive reviews though)
– Short sealskinz socks (Hopefully will not be worn but just incase I start developing trench foot. Nice to wear in my shoes around camp)
– Integral Designs event shortie gaiters (To keep the muck out)
Camping, sleeping and cooking
– Scarp1 tent (Not the lightest but I love the two porches and the internal space. Bomb-proof in the wind, lets hope it is waterproof now!)
– PHD Hispar 500 sleeping bag (I look forward to a cosy nights sleep, may be a bit warm but not yet time to crack out my summer bag)
– Thermarest Neoair regular (I still rate this mattress, for me a full length mat is essential for a comfy nights sleep)
– Exped air pillow (The best lightweight pillow I have found, weighs next to nothing)
– Caldera cone with Tibetan Titanium 1100 pan in homemade cosy (I love the caldera’s simplicity and it is a good choice for when it is windy, the protective cover doubles as a mug saving a bit of space and weight in the pack. My homemade pot cozy means that I do not have to simmer, just boil and let cook in the cozy)
– 500ml meths in a Trangia fuel bottle (500ml of meths lasts me about 4 nights with lots of hot drinks. The Trangia bottle is a little heavy but spill proof and tough)
– ULA Catalyst (I really need to get around to doing a review of this pack which I have been using for two years now. It is simply the best pack I have ever used. Not the lightest out there but I do like a full internal frame. It is just about big enough for a backpack of this length)
Odds and Sods
– Homemade first aid kit
– Washkit, i.e toothbrush, wet wipes, foot cream, anti-chaffing gel, suncream
– Biox aqua water purification
– Book (One of the joys of wild camping is laying in a tent whilst the rain pours down with a good book, on this trip I will be reading Call of the Wild)
– MP3 player (Again not essential but nice to have)
– Spot2 messenger (keeps my partner happy knowing when I have reached my destination for the night)
– Maps for the whole crossing (3 Ordnance survey 1:50,000 plus my own print outs on waterproof paper)
– Platypus 1lt with a Platypus 4ltr bag for the evening (The four litre bag is probably overkill but means I can camp far away from water sources. Also means once in my tent I don’t have to venture out for more water)
– Panasonic Lumix LX3 camera
– Petzl Tikka XP2 Head Torch
– Microfibre towel and small amount of shower gel
– Pacerpoles carbon (I would probably fall over even more frequently if I was not using these whilst backpacking, heavy but worth it for the stress they take off my knackered knees)
I have probably missed off a few items but you should get the general gist of what I am taking. I have no idea how much my pack will weigh, probably more than I would like. Is there anything that could be left behind? Maybe a pair of socks, the book, the 4ltr water bag, a few toiletries and the Spot2, is a towel necessary?. All in all maybe 1/2 to 1 kg could be shed off the weight. However I want to take these things so I will! I am sure that the ultralightweight brigade will pour scorn! Tomorrow I will pack, add four days food and stand on my bathroom scales to see what the total weight is.
I had thought about trying some live blogging on this years TGO challenge. However the reality of attempting to write a post and then actually sending the thing via my iPhone put me off. Laying knackered in my tent there are things I would rather be doing, for example just laying there or sleeping. Therefore I am going to try something new in the world of Backpackingbongos. At the end of last week I set up a Twitter account. I am still not sure what the true purpose of Twitter is but I will continue for a while.
Whilst crossing Scotland I will be tweeting my progress, maybe even adding photos every now and then. There will be exciting messages such as, “Just got lost in a forest where my shoe was stolen by a smelly bog” or “I’m hungry and my feet hurt” with blurry photos of a mist enveloped hillside. You can follow my escapades by clicking the ‘Backpackingbongos on Twitter’ widget to the right or even by clicking here.
It will be very exciting. Honest!