If you are reading this you have probably been successful in your application for net year’s TGO Challenge. Congratulations. No doubt — like me years ago — you’ve brewed up a cup of tea and are now thinking — how the hell do I start?
Planning a route can be exhausting and more than a little daunting. I suspect many people never get past this stage! There is the TGO Message Board which can be interesting but this is bets used when you have an idea of where you want to command, critically, where you want to start from.
So, assuming you have an idea where you want to start, let’s run through some critical basics!
Scottish Hill Tracks
If there is one resource that new challengers will find indispensable it is this. This is a gem of a book and a quite brilliant and yet simple idea. In the over there is a pocket which carries a simple map of the Highlands. This map portrays all of the rights of way routes Highlands in point-to-point sections. If you want to go, say, from Sheil Bridge to Canich via. Glen Affric you will be able to se that route on the map. Take the route number and look it up in the book and you good a very detailed description of that stretch of the route. This description well describe the state of tracks, river crossings and so on.
As an example, the book description of that route might talk about crossing a river. It might describe a bridge or the state of a bridge or it might give you the simple advice that if river is in spate you can find a safe crossing at a certain point up river. You might take this information and then check it out on the Challenge Website, for example, asking whether the bridge at a certain grid reference is still passable.
As you get to know the Highlands you use this less and less. I haven’t looked at my copy for years but when you are new to the Highlands this is a God send!
Maps — Paper Maps and Computer Mapping
Entering the Challenge inevitably means buying a whole load of maps. These days computer mapping can help — at least in the planing stages — but you will most likely need maps to walk with.
The Ordnance Survey produces maps of the Highlands in 1:50 and 1:25 scales. The 1:50 scale is all you will need for basic crossing and this keeps the cost of the maps down! If you are looking at a very high level route in poor visibility you might want a few 1:25 maps but for most of us 1:50 will be fine.
Computer mapping has helped a lot. Good quality mapping apps are available for both Windows and Macs. I use Routebuddy (RouteBuddy Digital Map Software | Topo Maps | iPhone and iPad …) which is available for both systems but there are other systems. Most mapping systems will allow you to buy regional maps (or a 1:50 of the whole UK is always useful anyway). Routebuddy produce a bespoke map which covers all of the TGO territory.
Planning a route using one of these systems a no brainer. The app will tell you the distance of the route you have planned, give you the elevation and total height gained — all of things you need to fill in your route sheet.
It is possible to print out your route on a colour printer and to carry the printouts in waterproof envelopes — some people even print on waterproof paper. However, in my view these do no substitute for maps when you are walking on the ground. From time to time I carry a printed copy a small section of a map if that’s all I need. But be aware of the dangers of relying just on paper printouts.
A paper print out only gives you the terrain either side of your route, in essence a narrow window. However, there are times when you may need to vary your route and a map will always cover a greater area and carry more information. I’ve also met people who have had accidents, got their route sheets wet and seen them dissolve in front of their eyes!
Another factor with maps is their updating. Some places like the Cairngorms never change that much — you could operate with a very old maps. But elsewhere rights of way change, bridges change and so on. In some areas — such as the Monadhliath — new access paths are being driven through all the time. New paths will not be marked on any but the most recent maps (and then that can’t be guaranteed). I tend to renew my Routebuddy Map every couple of years. I can then compare that with my paper maps and if there is a significant change I can carry printout with me. I tend to replace my maps when they begin to fall to pieces.
All of this mounts up. The costs of maps, navigation apps and gear in general mean the first event will cost you a little! But then you won’t be doing this walk just once will you?
On my first Challenge I met a couple of great guys who were retired. They had panned their route using maps from the local library. These were more than a few years old and they found the tracks and routes and the ground had changed dramatically. However, they were always able to check the route with others as they walked. then again, there are always times when there is nobody else available!
Also, start with Hilltracks, buy your maps and as you begin to plan make use of the TGO noticeboard.