Posts tagged ‘TGO challenge’

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.

November 18, 2014

I’m on

by backpackingbongos

I received a welcome letter on Saturday. I have been accepted on my third* TGO Challenge, a Coast to Coast backpack across the Scottish Highlands next May.

I have already started playing around with routes and have decided on a southerly crossing this time round. The next few weeks will be spent looking at both paper and electronic maps, whilst trying to work out how to get across Scotland without expending too much energy. No heroics from me really as I’m approaching it as a fun relaxing holiday.

Those of you that enjoy spreadsheets detailing how many pairs of socks I plan to take along with lengthy posts on the benefits of different types of tent pegs** should look elsewhere. Life is too short.

I have to say that I am mildly excited. This may change to moderately excited come February and my route has been submitted.

*It’s actually my fifth but the one I completed in 2001 from Aviemore to the east coast during the Foot and Mouth Epidemic sadly does not count. I did get a nifty baby blue t-shirt for my endeavours though. I then took part again in 2003 but after four days I said ‘Sod this for a game of soldiers’ and went home. I was not allowed a t-shirt that year.

* *My tent pegs are grey by the way, but I do also have a few red ones.

June 29, 2013

TGO Challenge 2013 – Days 13 & 14

by backpackingbongos

Day 13 – 26 Kilometres with 300 metres ascent

Day 13

One peculiar aspect of the Challenge is that most participants are always eager to pack and set off super early.  I could hear the occupants of nearby tents packing at some ungodly hour, concerned they would not be first in queue for breakfast at the nearby Retreat .  By the time I had enjoyed lazing in a warm tent, had breakfast and started to pack the campsite at Tarfside was almost empty.


Dave Pickles was also in no particular hurry either so we decided to join forces for the day for the long walk to the campsite at North Water Bridge.  I had initially planned to immediately cross the river on the rickety bridge and follow the path on the south side of the North Esk.  Dave however persuaded me to have a second breakfast at the Retreat so we set off down the road instead.

The early wave of Challengers had already passed on by the time we sat down and ordered breakfast.  After an earlier bowl of super noodles I was not that hungry but still managed a large fry-up.  My rucksack hip belt was on the tight side when we set off once more.  The walk along the road was pleasant in the sunshine with good views across the Wirren hills.  However it was tarmac and tarmac is never much fun.


I was pleased when we took the first vehicle bridge across the river, hard tarmac giving way to a nice soft grassy track.  A succession of heavy squally showers meant that I was constantly stopping to put on and take off my waterproofs.  In the end we both gave up and kept them on even during the sunny interludes.  With the wind being so strong, even with blue sky overhead there was always the risk that within minutes it would be hammering it down.

Track soon turned to tarmac once more, the hills left behind.  The rest of the challenge to the coast would be through an agricultural landscape.


The Tuck Inn at Edzell let me indulge in another plate of fried food and it was good to get my pack off and sit on a proper chair.  A quick visit to the shop and then it was head down for one of the worst sections of walking on this years Challenge.  An arrow straight road filled with lorries and fast moving traffic means a demoralising walk.  There is nothing to do but get your head down and get on with it whilst trying to avoid getting run over.  David took me along a pleasant alternative track for the last mile or so, a relief to escape the speeding traffic.

The campsite was filled with an array of lightweight tents.  The grass is flat and the facilities ok but I can’t for the life of me think why anyone would want to go there for a holiday.  For a start it’s right next door to a dual carriageway, not the best neighbour when sleeping in a tent!

A mighty downpour had everyone hiding in their tents for a while.  It would have been a wild evening to be camping in the hills, even in this sheltered spot the wind was rocking my tent.  Once the rain had passed through it was surprisingly cold so I headed to the reception area with Dave and had a few games of pool until we were kicked out.

Fully wrapped in all my clothes I sat on the benches with a few others celebrating the last night of the Challenge.  The cold soon had me heading to my tent and a warm sleeping bag.


Day 14 – 14 kilometres with 270 metres ascent

Day 14

Once again I was one of the last to pack up in the morning.  Dave had originally planned to walk directly to Montrose.  However my company must be fantastic as at the last minute he decided to accompany me to the coast at St Cyrus.

The dual carriageway of the A90 was a frightening barrier to cross, its hard to judge timings when everything is moving so fast.  Once safely on the other side a collection of minor roads took us in an easterly direction.  The final climb over the hill of Morphie feeling like a bit of a slog.

The wind throughout the day was exceptionally strong when exposed to it.  Heavy showers were blown through with a violent intensity.  On the hill of Morhie we took a right old battering.  The hills in the distance had once again turned white.  We later learned that the road above Braemar had been shut due to snow.  The only photo I took of this section manages to make it look all warm and spring like though.  It was actually the coldest day of the whole two weeks.


Walking into St Cyrus a car slowed down and we were told well done, we were nearly there.  Though the village, past the church and we were at the top of the cliffs.  The view from the top is stunning, the sea and sandy beach below looking inviting.  We set off down the steep path to dip our toes in the sea.



As a small wave dampened my shoe I’m not really sure how I felt to be honest.  A week ago I would have simply been relieved, the fear of failure was the only thing driving me on.  Now along with the sense of achievement I felt a bit sad that the walk had finished.  A few days and I would be back at work.  The simple pleasure of getting up day after day and walking was now over.

St Cyrus is a fantastic place to finish a coast to coast walk, the sandy beach backed by dunes and gorse covered cliffs.



After the obligatory posing for photos by the water’s edge it was back up the cliff path.  This really is hard work considering that the walk is officially over.  It was the thought of a good lunch before the bus to Montrose that spurred us back up. The village cafe was full of familiar happy faces, all with the satisfied glow of reaching the east coast.

The bus dropped us off in Montrose where there was a short walk to the Park Hotel to sign in.  The place was buzzing with Challengers and it was good to meet with familiar faces once again.  I walked to the campsite, pitched, showered, dozed and then returned to the Park later that evening for the Challenge dinner.  A great end to my second TGO Challenge.

Reflecting on the Challenge

It’s easy to have a romantic vision of a backpacking trip before setting off.  For the TGO Challenge I imagined myself following a high level route each day, camping on the summits with fantastic views.  I would be climbing the peaks with little effort and spending long lunch breaks brewing up in the sun, a gentle breeze cooling me down.

Obviously I’m no fool and did not really imagine that I would spend two weeks like that, but it would be nice!  The realities of Scotland in May is a certain amount of bad weather, ticks and the fact that you are nowhere near as fit as you had hoped.  This year I had to add into the mix a foot injury, which was very painful and put a big black cloud over a few days, along with doubts I would finish.

I have wondered how my enjoyment of the Challenge could be represented in graphical form.  Therefore I have carefully constructed the following bit of art just for you (just to prove that my Humanities Degree did not go to waste).

Graph 001

As you can see, it started off very well.  There was a slight dip in the enjoyability factor due to the first weeks weather but I perked up after a comfy bed for the night.  It then went a bit wrong which culminated in me standing near Kingussie station thinking about catching a train home.  During the final week things got better and better and better.

I’m not a naturally outgoing or particularly social person.  However I found that the more I made an effort (which can be difficult after a 16 mile day) when in civilisation the more I enjoyed myself.  It has now dawned on me that I could go and walk across Scotland at any time I please.  It is the social side of the Challenge that makes it much more than just a walk.

Will I do it again?  Yes.  Will I do it next year?  Undecided, there are so many things I want to do!


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