Totally ‘Challenged’

by backpackingbongos

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……………….

16 Comments to “Totally ‘Challenged’”

  1. You definitely earned the t-shirt, James – I think you should be awarded a fine suit of iridiscent beetle wings for your Stakhanovite efforts.

    The suntan is probably just windburn by the sounds of the weather; in fact, it’s been so appalling even here in the Clyde Valley that I’ve been worrying about your safety on a regular basis. Still, you’re a robust and resourceful lad…

    Doing it all again next year or are you really going for the sea, sun and san miguel experience on the Costas?

  2. James, well done. Your first and probably one of the toughest TGO’s for many a year. You certainly have staying power, particularly after the problems you had with your allergic reaction !!

    I look forward to you trip reports.

    I would have this weekend off :o)

  3. Well, done James. Bet you felt right proud of yourself at the end. You should as it is a long haul across Scotland. It also changes your perception of kit and what it takes to make a success of a walk of that scale.

  4. The forthcoming account should be an absorbing read, crikey, what with the ferocious weather and that terrible allergy thing as well. Very well done on completing!.

  5. Well done.James. Tough weather and medical problems – you did well to complete the challenge.. I admit I’ve being worrying about all the TGO challengers out there in the wilds over the past couple of weeks of bad weather . The wind speed reached 114mph on Cairngorm on Mon or Tues, but with gust of over 100 down in the glens! That’s tough conditions for anyone to endure and a test for any equipment.

  6. Just a quick thank you for the twitter updates. It was great to tune in and emphasise whilst stuck in a london office!

  7. blimey. have to confess have been out of the loop a bit with work, but sounds like a challege al right. Very well done and hope the allergy is better now

  8. Well done, you certainly earned the T shirt! Hope the allergy symptoms have calmed down now.


  9. Hi James,

    First well done and well done all Challengers in horrible conditions. April was so good up here and oh boy did the weather go downhill and it is still raining up here.

    I followed your brief Twitter reports but not being signed up to Twitter (I can’t see myself having much use for it other than this once trying to follow the Challenge) I was not able to contact you. I tried to contact you via Martin about your rash but that obviously got lost in the ether.

    What I said was this: I suspect that your allergic reaction may have been due to contact with Giant Hogweed – At this time of year the plants can be quite small and not recognised as such. They are common beside water and parts of the Findhorn, Dulnain and Spey are infested with them. One of the most common symptoms is a rash and blistering.

    The Giant Hogweed is out early near our rivers up here in the NE of Scotland – adjacent to both the River Findhorn and Muckle Burn near Forres I can always find it out in April. Away from the microclimate of the Moray Firth it appears slightly later and it is possible that near your camp on the Dulnain or on your walk out to the Boat of Garten you came in contact with it. Serious allergic reaction to the plant is swift and as you found out it gets worse!

    It is always worth carrying Piriton (chlorphenamine maleate) on day hikes as well as backpacking trips as it is a excellent anti-histamine. It is possible taking one or two tablets immediately you noticed the rash may have helped (it can’t do nay harm). I carry it for insects bites and stings and also I carry it in case my dogs get stung by a bee.

    Yesterday I got a midge bite on my eyelid and is rapidly started to swell – I took a piriton and within 15 minutes the itching and swelling had gone. As I said, it is always worth carrying some.

    I think I missed you by 24 hours: I had been bird watching on Carn Bheadhair and as I came off the hill on to the Landrover track I bumped into Norma and John Keohane on their ninth and seventeenth crossing as they were looking for their evenings pitch. They’d stayed in the Boat the previous evening and had bumped into another Challenger who also was coming this way and down to Glen Lyon and onto Ballater – I guess that was you?

    Anyway, very well done and I hope the rash and the blisters diminish rapidly.

    Oh, and you are right – we do have an excellent health service up here in the North of Scotland – I can always get an appointment with my GP on the day I phone for one.



  10. Pete if you hear of me applying for the challenge next year stop me, I am sure that in a couple of weeks I will forget about the hardship and will be raring to go again. I hope you enjoy your trip to Eigg it is a splendid place.

    Mark, a couple of weeks away from the hills I think, lots to write about in the coming days and weeks.

    I was relieved to reach the end Martin, the last couple of days trudging through the lowlands was not fun at all, long and dull! Well done for getting across mate, shame that we could not meet for that curry at the end.

    Thanks Geoff, the weather was awfull!

    The wind was ferocious on the Monday Sheila even down in the glens, I am glad that I did not attempt to climb the hills that day. A shame because I missed out what I had planned on the final three days.

  11. Cheers Steve, good to know that someone was reading the Twitter updates!

    David / Ian – thanks, the rash has calmed down now and finally stopped itching and burning. I will wear the t-shirt with pride!

    Hi Rob, after reading your comment and doing a bit of googling my rash and blisters do look very simular to that of Giant hogweed. The rash started when I got to my b&b at Boat of Garten so could well have brushed past something on my way down the river. I have a habit of grabbing at vegetation as I walk past! Reading the symptoms, ie getting worse when exposed to sunlight I think you could be spot on. The doc said that my skin had become sensitive to the sun. Luckily the sterioids that he gave me started to kick in after a couple of days and I only have a few spots left now. Damn it was painful at the time, odd that a plant can do so much damage eh? Glad that nothing got in my eyes. Cheers for the info. It looks like that you may well have missed me on my route out of Boat.

  12. welcome back jimbob
    if your weeping sores have healed you may get a hug

  13. Well done, James 🙂 Well bloody done! That rash, mate – blinkin’ ell – fair play to ya for carrying on. Reminds me of when I bust my knee on my C2C

  14. ….last year (dunno what happened there – comment posted on it’s own!).

    Anyway, look forward to your report mate. Speak soon

  15. Very well done James. I was keeping an eye on your twitter feed and saw that rash. I’m suprised it didn’t drive you mad. Anyway, get writing. I want to read this report!

  16. Cheers Dr Rich, my weeping sores will be helping to make your curry!

    Bust yer knee Terry, when was that mate?

    Charlie, the rash did drive me half mad it itched and burned like hell. Luckily it has gone now. Maybe I better start writting?

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