Posts tagged ‘TGO challenge’

June 28, 2015

TGO Challenge 2015 – Days 7 to 9

by backpackingbongos

Days 1 to 3 can be found here.

Days 4 to 6 can be found here.

Day 7 – 20 kilometres with 680 metres ascent

Day 7

(Click map to enlarge)

I packed up under sunny skies and continued my hobble towards the east coast. The three blisters that I had acquired the previous day had hardened to little pebbles overnight. They caused discomfort rather than pain, an irritant to what would otherwise be a perfect day in the Cairngorms.

I initially followed the track as it rose above the Allt Chireachain. This soon ended and I decided that I would attempt to cross the river and pick up another track a mile away on the other side. A long set of metal steps led down into the deep gorge to what appeared to be a dam for a hydro scheme. The steps appeared to be new, the gleaming metal being out of place amongst the rock and heather. Crossing the dam the climb up the opposite bank was a tricky one involving grabbing handfuls of heather and hoping for the best. I made it in one piece and continued up rough trackless ground.



At the summit of Carn a Chullaich I sat in the sun and watched a group of hikers make their way slowly cross country, heading for no obvious destination. Probably Challengers enjoying a fine day high in the hills. I picked up a track for a while which eased progress. The views were superb, the air as clear as gin.


The track deserted me at a boggy bealach and I was left on my own to stagger and curse though the vegetation before dropping down to Bruar Water. The lodge sits in an oasis of green amongst the patchwork of browns on the hills.


Before reaching the track I had to cross a large section of what initially appeared to be ground that had been ploughed. Loose peat was making the watercourses run brown and silty. The disturbed ground continued in both directions parallel to the track as far as the eye could see.

Approaching the lodge I could see diggers in the distance and a sign prohibiting work vehicles from approaching the lodge. It was not until I had passed the lodge (with a large Union Jack flying outside) that I could see that a dam was being built just below the small lochan marked on the map. It was clearly a new hydro scheme, the disturbed earth possibly the buried pipeline?

The banks of the rocky Allt Beinn Losgarnaich provided an idyllic place to sit and make a cooked lunch and cup of coffee. My feet were wet and steaming in the heat of the afternoon and it was good to dip them in the frigid water. I had to resist the temptation to nod off.

I had not been looking forward to the steep path that would lead me eventually to the headwaters of the Tarf. It climbs high above the rocky chasm of the Allt Beinn Losgarnaich, zig zagging its way up steep slopes. It eventually levels out, the Munro of Beinn Dearg rising above to the right.

There was a real feeling of entering a wild and lonely place as I crossed the first watershed. I was coming close to one of the remotest spots from a public road in mainland UK. It was just a shame that the construction machinery had ruined the illusion of wilderness just an hour before.




There were still some sizeable snow patches remaining where the strong sun had not managed to penetrate.


The second watershed was between the Tarf and the Allt a Chuil, hard going even with perfect visibility. Initially I decided to stay high and try to contour above the bogs. However I eventually spotted a narrow path below and dropped down to follow it. This led me across short cropped and crunchy heather to the infant river Tarf.


It was pointless trying to stay on the north bank like I had initially planned. The river meandered all over the place and following its banks would have taken ages. Instead I simply followed a straight line east, crossing the river numerous times. This was bliss for hot tired feet, the cold water filling my trail shoes, the shock each time initially making me take a sharp intake of breath. At the deeper sections the water was above my knees, washing away the peat stains as I did not bother rolling up my trousers.


I continued for a while until tiredness finally took over. There were numerous flat spots on which to pitch a tent. The Tarf is a wild campers paradise, superb pitches in a wild and remote setting. It was a lovely evening in the sun and I revelled in the feeling of being miles from civilisation. As the sun sank towards the horizon all the warmth of the day evaporated into the clear sky. It turned out to be a cold night.



Day 8 – 25.5km with 220 metres ascent

Day 8

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I was up and away early as I knew that a weather front would be moving in during the late morning. The day dawned bright and sunny but cloud was beginning to build from the west. I’m always keen to do as much walking as possible before pulling on my waterproofs.

The walk along the north bank of the Tarf was a delight. Pleasant cropped grass interspersed with peat and heather to ensure that I did not get too complacent. It was good watching the Tarf grow from a small stream into a bigger more powerful river.



I spotted the ‘Tarf Hotel’ on the other side of the river and decided to cross and investigate as it had been many years since I had last visited. The crossing was easy with the water level being low but I can imagine that it would be formidable when in spate. It’s not one to expect to cross dry-shod whatever the conditions.

The bothy still sports its AA hotel sign, although it has not been awarded any stars and the service is hopeless. Inside there are several rooms suitable for sleeping along with an annexe to the side. It was cold in there but I took the opportunity to air my feet and have an early lunch, once again cooking a hot meal. A pleasant hour was spent eating and drinking whilst reading the bothy book.



I eventually closed the door and headed back across the river where I picked up a rough track heading downstream. Looking back upstream the view reminded me a bit of Arctic Sweden and the two backpacking trips that I have had there. It’s just that the scale is a bit smaller and the distances involved not so great.


Once past the old tin hut the path marked on the north side of the river soon becomes hard to follow and I lost it amongst the heather for a while. The day had turned cloudy with a few spots of rain, the views dull and flat.


Down in Glen Tilt the landscape suddenly changed. Gone were the wide open vistas of the Tarf, they had been replaced by a deep steep-sided valley which was as straight as an arrow. Apart from a pair of mountain bikers I did not see a soul on the long stretch north to Bynack Lodge.



There were a couple of tents in the lee of the ruin when I passed Bynack lodge. I decided to carry on and wild camp at a spot I had used before. The Geldie Burn was not difficult to cross but it did involve a bit of a wade, another river that could be tricky when in spate. There were a few tents pitched in the vicinity of the building on the other side of the Geldie and near Ruigh-nan Clach. White Bridge itself was packed with tents. It is a bleak and exposed spot and all the occupants were firmly zipped up from the weather. It’s not somewhere I would recommend camping.

My chosen spot was a vast flat area of cropped grass close to a forestry plantation. It was very windy and a succession of showers rattled down the glen. The Scarp as usual handled it really well and I had no worries about it standing up to the onslaught.


Day 9 – 14 kilometres with 110 metres ascent

Day 9

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I have done the road walk to Braemar a few times now, either on the Challenge or as a way into the Cairngorms when using public transport. On a previous Challenge I had gone via Mar Lodge but this time there was a wedding taking place. Instead I stuck to the road on the south side of the Dee. The scenery is pleasant all the way but being on tarmac with traffic it is a bit of a trudge. Along the way I bumped into Scott, one of the nurses who tended to my injured foot back in 2013. Sitting chatting on a bridge a guy appeared from nowhere, asked if we were Challengers, gave us a bag of cookies and disappeared before we could thank him properly. My first bit of trail magic!

The weather alternated between warm sunshine and heavy downpours, at one point turning into snow. It was having difficulty in deciding whether it was spring or winter.



The first port of call upon arriving in Braemar was the Old Bakery to fill myself with fish and chips. After three days on my own it was good to catch up with other Challengers. I then hauled my weary body up to the Moorfield hotel where I had booked a room and sent a parcel. I have to say that the Moorfield is a bit of an odd place. The owner is rather gruff and not particularly welcoming, the room was nice but rather overpriced for what you get. They were not serving food and the bar is in a dark windowless room.

I was therefore grateful when David Williams texted me to meet up for a pint. I ended up following him to the Braemar Lodge hotel for a great meal with Ian Sommerville, Toby and Vicky Green, Stan Appleton and Hugh and Barbara. I left with a stomach full of good food, a couple of pints of Guinness and Challenger love.

Unfortunately the Moorfield Hotel does not have a veggie option for breakfast. I requested beans on toast which was a request too far. I made do with fried eggs on burnt toast.

May 24, 2015

TGO Challenge 2015 – Days 1 to 3

by backpackingbongos

I initially felt pretty smug sitting alone in the first class train carriage. It had only cost a few quid more than standard and I was enjoying the extra space along with the complimentary food and drink. I made sure that I got my money’s worth. The smile however was wiped off my face just outside Penrith when there was a points failure. We sat without moving for over an hour and I became anxious that I would miss my connection at Glasgow for the Oban train. The hour and a half I had given myself in Glasgow shrank to twenty minutes and it was a frantic dash between the two stations.

It was a tight squeeze on the Oban train and it was difficult to avoid playing footsie with the young woman sitting across the table from me. There were a few Challengers in the carriage and the journey passed quickly with chat whilst enjoying the scenery as the train slowly chugged its way towards the west coast.

I had picked a hotel pretty much next door to the signing out point at the Oban Youth Hostel, a fair distance from the train station. As is usual in the Highlands my room was overpriced for what I got (I was in the Oban Best Western) and I slept badly to a cacophony of slamming doors and the sound of snoring from next door. I had the usual pre Challenge nerves mixed with excitement. I couldn’t wait to set off the following morning and head towards the east coast.


Day 1 – 27 kilometres with 550 metres ascent

Day 1

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It was nearly 10am by the time I signed out, well behind the main pack of Oban starters, most of whom appeared to sign out bang on 9am. This mean that I spent much of the day walking on my own. One thing that always surprises me is just how early other Challengers manage to be hiking by. I do like a lie-in in the morning and throughout the whole Challenge I was rarely walking before 9.30am.

I quickly dipped a toe in the water opposite the Youth Hostel and set off along the road.


A significant part of the day was spent walking through Glen Lonan along a minor road. Road walking is something that I usually try to avoid at all costs. However the road was quiet and the scenery pleasant. Best of all it headed in an easterly direction and the climbing was minimal. Gorse perfumed the verges and Highland coo’s grazed the fields. I caught up with a couple of Challengers I had chatted with the evening before, eating lunch with them on a bridge. Otherwise it was a solo yomp.




The cafe in Taynuilt provided a second lunch before I set off to find the track to the swing bridge across the River Awe. This is a great structure, providing a bit of bounce as you walk across the middle section.


I have to admit that I was tiring as I started along the track on the east side of Loch Etive. My pack was heavy with five days food and enough fuel to last me for two weeks. With very little fitness training before setting off my body was complaining. However the scenery more than compensated, the eye being drawn down the loch to the mountains in the distance.


The spot that I had chosen to camp was already occupied by several tents, one of the disadvantages of being a late starter. Instead I carried on for a mile or so and climbed up onto a wooded hill as recommended by Robin from Blogpackinglight. It turned out to be a superb spot, flat, dry and sheltered. I avoided camping close to any trees that looked like they were close to retirement, tough as they all looked ancient and were covered in moss and lichen.



I finally felt that I could relax, the travelling and first day were behind me. It was now simply a case of putting one foot in front of the other for thirteen more days without falling over.


Day 2 – 25.5 kilometres with 550 metres ascent

Day 2

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Something visited my tent at some point near dawn, there was the sound of snuffling coming from the side that my food was stored. I shouted ‘go away’ and whatever it was did.

My original route plan was to climb a couple of Munros to the south of Glen Kinglass. However it was evident that the ridges were still covered by snow. I did not fancy tackling them in trailshoes and without ice axe and crampons. My low-level alternative was just as attractive in the warm sunshine anyway. It would also give me the opportunity to build up some fitness (and lighten my pack by eating some of the food).

Loch Etive was splendid and I took my time on the roller coaster of a track as it rose and fell and twisted along the loch shore. I’m going to have to return for a hill bagging expedition of the pointy peaks on either side.




Glen Kinglass was also beautiful but it went on and on and on. Walking for hours it felt like I was not getting any closer to the lodge. The feeling of remoteness was rather spoilt by the solid track and the wooden electricity pylons marching their way up the glen. The warmth along with the hard surface soon led to hot spots on my feet, despite wearing trailshoes.


Finally the lodge was passed and the track started to climb towards the watershed. The views over the Black Mount hills were spectacular as the path gained height. Patches of snow on the higher slopes shone bright under the blue sky.



I had planned to camp next to Loch Dochard but everywhere I looked was either tussocks or bog. However it was good to sit for a while by the still waters and gaze out over the mountains.


I soon passed a Golite SL3 pitched in a spectacular spot on a bluff looking out over the glen. However it was being buffeted by a strong wind and I was aware that the weather was due to change for the worse during the night. I decided not to join what was likely to be another Challenger and continued down the glen.



Finally a flat and well drained spot was found close to where the Allt Ghabhar bridge used to be. With the early evening sun and a gentle breeze it was a delightful pitch. I was glad to get my shoes off and tend to my feet that felt battered after another long day mostly on hard surfaces. They were looking forward to getting stuck into the wet bogs later in the trip.

The first part of the night was spent with the door open, looking out to the hills to the west as I lay comfortable in my down bag.




Day 3 – 18.5 kilometres with 190 metres ascent

Day 3

(Click map to enlarge)

The rain came as forecast in the night, a thick drizzle that sounded worse than it was. In the grey morning whilst still laying in my bag I heard a ‘Good morning’ being shouted from close by, possibly the occupant of a red Hilleberg that had been pitched next to the Allt Suil na Curra the night before.

There is nothing worse than getting up in the rain to find the en-suite for the morning ablutions. I set off into the forest and bumped into the Challenger who had been occupying the SL3 the evening before. He confirmed that it had been an exposed spot (it was nice and still when he had pitched in the afternoon). Back at my tent I had a couple of coffees and breakfast before forcing myself to pack up and head out for a day in the rain.

To start with the rain was soft as I made my way towards Victoria Bridge. I was due to phone in when I crossed the A82 but was unsure if there would be a good enough signal. Luckily I came across John and Sue who I had first met at Mar Lodge during the 2013 Challenge. They were heading to the Bridge of Orchy Hotel to pick up a parcel. They kindly offered to let control know that all was ok when they phoned in there.

The rain stopped for a while as I walked along the north shore of Loch Tulla, a wood at its eastern end giving shelter for lunch. A kilometre walk south along the A82 was probably one of the most dangerous stretches of the whole two weeks. It’s a fast stretch of road and vehicles thundered past.

The rain returned with a vengeance along the track to Gorton bothy. The wind picked up and my world shrank to a small window through my hood as water fell from the sky in great gusty sheets. The last hour to the bothy was endured rather than enjoyed.

The occupant of the red Hilleberg from the night before was already at the bothy and we were soon joined by another Challenger who I had passed on the track. It was tempting to stay the night in the bothy as conditions outside were pretty horrendous. However I am a solitary creature, especially at night and it was clear that many others would be heading the same way. I therefore decided to go out and pitch close to the bothy. I got the Scarp up, fetched water and was quickly inside stripping off soaking clothing. I was soon dry and warm and decided that I would not venture out until morning. I watched another challenger pitch some ultralight contraption that simply flapped around in the wind. I was glad that I had the solid walls of the Scarp between myself and the weather.

The rain hammered upon silnylon all night.

May 3, 2015

Gear for the TGO Challenge 2015

by backpackingbongos

I thought that it would be good to briefly deviate from my ‘no gear’ blog policy for a bit and do a post on what will be accompanying me on this years Challenge. Still no spreadsheet though!


My pack will be the Aiguille Mountain Dru 50L + 10L. I have been using this since last Autumn and so far have been impressed by the way it carries. It’s a basic sack made out of old-fashioned bomb proof materials but still weighs in at less than 1.4kg. It has a floating lid which I like but no side pockets. I have therefore added a lightweight Granite Gear one to the side compression straps. Items needed during the day will fit in that and the lid pocket. A MLD Shoulder Strap Pocket on either side holds a 500ml water bottle and my Spot2 tracker device. I do like a good waterproof stuff sack so there are various sizes and models for clothes, food, sleeping bag, electronics etc. Probably overkill and extra weight but I know what goes where and whats in each one.

Aiguille produce their packs in a workshop in Staveley with a retail unit on site. It’s good to buy from the UK for once rather than overpriced packs from the US which are then subject to customs charges.


My sleeping bag is the PHD Hispar 500. Despite a recent wash it is past its best and the down no longer lofts as it should. It is fine as long as the temps don’t drop much lower than freezing.

My pad is the Therm-a-Rest Prolite regular. After using an Exped Downmat over the winter it felt a bit cold and uncomfortable when backpacking last weekend. It’s my only other mat though and don’t want to splash out on a new one.


It’s my third Challenge and the third time I will be taking along the Tarptent Scarp1. It’s reasonably light, easy to put up and proven in wind and rain. I will not be taking the crossing poles this time though. It was warm and sunny on Friday so I spent time giving the seams a bit more TLC with some diluted Silnet.


I have used a Jetboil Sol Aluminium for several years and really rate it. It is quick and easy to use and frugal with gas. I sometimes like to make a coffee and cooked lunch and this does so without much effort. To see me through the two weeks I’m going to take two 230g bottles of gas. The first opportunity that I will have to restock gas will be Braemar, one canister won’t last me that far.

I have a homemade pot cozy to save on fuel.

Clothes and footwear worn

After spending a year in leather boots I have decided to go back to using trail shoes. This time I will be wearing Salomon Fellraiser. They did a 40 mile backpack last weekend and I had no issues with blisters or sore spots. Who knows what they will be like on Scottish mountains and bogs for nearly 200 miles.

Socks will be Xsocks Expedition Short, they fit me well, are warm and dry quickly.

Trousers are Montane Terra pack Pants, a lighter version of the popular Terra pants.

Shreddies are Finisterre Keel Boxer. The Merino keeps me fresher for a bit longer!

Base layer is the Rab Meco 165. I have worn this on every backpack over the past year. Love it.

If cool I like to wear a 100 weight fleece rather than an overpriced softshell, they are also good under a waterproof shell. I’m taking an ancient North Face one.

Waterproof top is a Rab Myriad Jacket. I think its OK rather than brilliant. It is let down by not having an external storm flap. Water resistant zips are rubbish in my opinion. Very breathable though.

Waterproof trousers are Rab Xiom Pants. Not the best I have ever used, legs feel damp in heavy rain as not brilliantly breathable. Not splashing out on anything new yet.

Clothes Carried

Another pair of Montane Terra pack Pants, I like to have something clean for civilisation.

Another pair of Finisterre Keel Boxer.

Two more pairs of Xsocks Expedition Short.

A warm Arc’teryx fleecy base layer to sleep in (no idea of the model).

Finisterre Zephyr Long Johns to sleep in.

A Sherpa beanie for my head.

Finally I am taking my PHD Yukon hooded down jacket to ensure that I am toasty in camp.

Odds and Sods

My camera will be my trusty Lumix G3.

I always backpack with a Kindle and a Powergen battery charger.

Five 1:50k OS maps and two print outs will get me across the highlands. I’ll post the maps home as I go along.

Poles are Black Diamond Trail Trekking.

First aid kit is homemade.

There are loads of other bits and pieces but I think I have included the main stuff. No idea what it all weighs yet, I will find out on Wednesday when I pack it. There is nothing that I want to leave behind so there is not much point in worrying about weight at this point. Still deciding whether to take spikes though.

April 11, 2015

My 2015 TGO Challenge route

by backpackingbongos

This is a cracking route, one of the best I have vetted for the 2015 Challenge, and you have mixed big hills with lesser ones, have stayed away from the main Challenge highways and have not been afraid to go cross country, your route sheet has been a pleasure to follow and your F.W.A are spot on, good on you.

I love a bit of praise I do and the above comment from my TGO vetter made me puff out my chest with pride! Mind you they may say that about everyone’s route………..

Four weeks today and I will be on day two of a backpack from the west coast to the east coast of Scotland, with hopefully the sun shining and a cool breeze caressing my back. I thought that I would do a quick blog post outlining the route that I have decided to take.

The total distance is 309 kilometres (192 miles), plenty enough for me over the space of a couple of weeks. The plan is 8 nights wild camping, 1 night in a bothy, 2 in a campsite (one is the village green in Tarfside) and 3 in Hotels / b&b’s. I’m going to send on a couple of parcels with main meals that I have dehydrated myself (being veggie the pickings can be slim in rural Highland shops) and pick up snacks locally. I only actually pass two places that have a shop anyway. The nights in hotels give me a chance to shower, rinse out some clothes and have a proper dinner and breakfast.

When planning a long backpack I always find it easier to break the route down, it then seems less daunting. The maps below show both the main and foul weather alternatives.

Part one sees me walking from Oban to Kinloch Rannoch with the opportunity to take in a couple of Munros and a scattering of lower hills. I have never visited Gorton bothy visit so am looking forward to stopping there for a night.

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 12.06.07

(You can click map to enlarge)

The section between Kinloch Rannoch and Braemar is the wildest of the trip. I’m looking forward to exploring the Headwaters of the Tarff. Some lonely and remote country there.

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 12.08.36

(You can click map to enlarge)

The final section between Braemar and Inverbervie sees me joining the Challenge trade route. I’m hoping to take in a string of Munros around Lochnagar, the weather has never been good enough on previous crossings. From Tarfside I have decided to avoid the usual route to Edzell and St Cyrus. Instead a final push over low hills to Fettercairn before a slog along roads to Inverbervie and fish and chips.

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 12.10.02

(You can click map to enlarge)

I just now need to get a bit fitter!

January 8, 2015

My route has been sent off

by backpackingbongos

After a few weeks slaving over maps my TGO Challenge route has been sent off to be vetted.

It looks something like this on a map of Scotland. Click to enlarge.

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 20.36.24

More details when (or if) it gets approved.


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