Challenge Gear 2018

Preparations for the TGO challenge are well underway if not a little delayed by me having twisted my ankle and damaged some ligaments. Thankfully these are healing quickly.

What gear am I using? I still get asked this a lot. There’s no much too for improvement this year. I do need a new pack but I’ll get another year out of this one before I go setting off for a replacement (probably in the direction of Colin Ibbotson).

The big change this year will be shoes. This year I hope to be using the Altra Lone Peak 3.5 shoes. These are shoes that Chris Townsend has been raving about for a while now. Shap McDonell — fellow Challenger — has also been using them for a few years. These are zero drop shoes, in other words your heel is at the same distance to the floor as the front of your feet — you are walking very naturally.  I picked mine up this morning and haven’t had a chance use them yet but they are very comfortable. Altra suggest sizing up one size from the USA size, so my 9.5 becomes a 10.5.  they are have a nice wide fitting for those of us who have wider feet and there seems to be enough room min the toe box.  Apparently walking in them seems a bit odd for a mile or so before you adjust. i shall report back as seen as the ankle is properly back in action.

I’ll be wearing the Altras with X Socks Trekking Lite — still the best socks I have found for trail shoes. X Socks are currently available on Amazon for a ridiculously cheap price. As backups I will also carry a couple of pairs of Tekko merino socks.

My waterproof will be the PHD smock which has served me very well for three or four years now. My waterproof trousers are the minimalist and very light Berghaus Pac Lites. Underneath this will be a Rab mid layer, merino base layers, Jack Wolfskin walking trousers and my PHD down gilet for added warmth. I’ve damaged the gillet a bit over the winter and it will probably be patched with masking tape!

The tent will be the my Tarptent though it has to be checked over yet. This has a small walking pole hole in the roof that was patched with a bit of spare fabric and seam sealant — it just needs checking over.

I’ll probably put the final list online at some point but for now I’m engaged in industrial food production!

Se you soon.

History of the Clearances — In Our Time

I think that if you walk in the Highlands the experience is heightened my a knowledge of local history and culture.

The wonderful In Our Time programme (BBC Radio 4) has this morning broadcast a programme which talks about the history of the Highlands, the clans and the clearances. Fascinating stuff.

Those of you walking the TGO Challenge for the first time will be walking through a landscape that can tell many, many, stories. 

You can hear the programme here:

The Highland Clearances

In a day or two this will be listed in all of the popular podcast aggregators as well.

Well worth listening to.

Calling All Photographers

Coming up in tend days or so is The Photography Show in Birmingham. Bob and I will be there, covering the show for the Outdoors Station.

This time we’re trying to be well prepared and have asked the major manufacturers to highlight for us gear that they think meets the needs and the profile of the outdoor enthusiast.

Bob, of course, will be doing all the exciting stuff. My job is to scour the NEC for accessories that might be really useful.

So, are there things you want to know more about? Are there challenges in outdoor photography that you’d like some advice on tackling?

Let us know what you are interested in.

Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year — Paul Webster

It’s not unusual to see the work of Walkhighlands featured here in these pages. For over a decade Helen and Paul Webster have built up one of the most genuinely useful businesses aimed at supporting outdoor people exploring the Scottish Highlands. If you want a walking route — high, low, hard or gentle — or a place to teach for a book accommodation, Walkhighlands should be you starting place.

The Walkhighland’s website has become something of an online magazine with news and features. The site also has a major focus on photography with articles not he art supplemented by Paul Webster’s stunning photography.

When they are not in the office, Helen and Paul are out walking their routes and creating new ones.  Paul always has his camera with him and records the Highlands in all their splendour, at all times of the day and in all weathers.  Even at home I can vouch for the fact that Paul strolls around the house with huge lenses attached to his Nikons. No squirrel is safe from one of Paul’s snaps.

To call Paul’s photos snaps is a bit of an insult.

If you want to spend some time reconnecting with the Highlands (particularly those of us who live in the flatlands to the South) get on over to the site.

Walkhighland’s Paul wins Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year

Iolo William’s Snowdonia — BBC TV

Even more of our UK mountains are now being featured on the BBC . This latest series focus on Snowdonia in North Wales and — if you haven’t seen it yet — is well worth watching.

In this series Iolo Williams will be exploring Snowdonia in each of the four seasons; episode one focused on Spring.

Like the Grand Tours of Scotland this mini series mixes walking with history and a focus on local wildlife.  The photograph is stunning and there’s an interesting focus here on the successful reintroduction of Pine Martins to the national park.

If you only really know the most popular parts of Snowdonia this series will give you a good insight into some of the quieter areas of the park — both high and low.

Iolo’s Snowdonia Home Page

Those TGO Route Vetters ….

A few days ago I got my TGO route notes back from the TGO Vetters. These are the folks who review each route, suggest modifications, route alternatives and make sure you know about things like disappearing bridges and so on.

It is always fascinating to see what the betters say about your route. This route is very similar to the I put in last year and it came back with a no changes necessary tag. So, far so good — until you start reading the vetter notes.

My vetter this year is the legendary Bernie Marshall, or ‘Super Legend’ as some of us know him (see the journal of my first TGO challenge).  It is, of course, the job of the vetter to put the fear of God into you. What seems like an innocuous route — or a stroll around the park — suddenly becomes a great challenge, which I suppose is what it should be!

Now, as this is my tenth crossing I have put together a route of my ‘favourite bits’. So I’ve walked this route before either on the Challenge or on other trips to the Highlands. Memory is an odd thing. You think you remember things well but seen through the eyes of the letters you begin to wonder whether this is completely different country!

A particular speciality of Super Legend is to point out dangerous streams tat have to be crossed, when you can’t remember streams at all!  He gets you pouring over the maps. Oh, yes, there’s a stream!  And be careful of the snow and ice on routes where you haven’t previous encountered such hazards.

It is another reminder that in Scotland you can have four seasons in one day. ‘This group can be very difficult to cross in wet conditions’. Well, surely it was wet last time I was there? Surely, it can’t get wetter or boggier than that?

If nothing else the letters do make you think again and to be aware of the alternative routes available to you even if they have not been used for a Foul Weather Alternative.

It is a reminder that in the Scottish Highlands nothing is as it seems or nothing is necessarily how it was.

I’m reminded of a walk down Glen Affric a couple of summers ago. I had spent a couple of nights at theatric hostel Munro bagging with a mate. On our last evening a storm came in. The wind and rain lashed the little wooden hostel all through the night. Surely, the rain would let up? Well, no it didn’t. In the morning we looked you of the windows and our gloom and depression returned as the rain kept falling. In the hostel were a few walkers who were going our way, walking down the glen to the car park. The warden was a little worried about a couple of these folks and said he would come with us, at least until the head of the Loch where he kept his car parked. I appreciated his concerns for his walkers but thought it was a bit overkill as we were just to walk along a good path.

How wrong I was. Each little channel of water that flowed across or under the path had become a torrent. On a couple of occasions we simply couldn’t get across the flow of water to reach the rest of the path. We had to splash uphill along the water flow until we found a safe place to cross. One or two of the other walkers looked pretty terrified. A journey that is usual straightforward, even in bad weather, suddenly became long and very hard.

So, thanks to Super Legend I’m looking again at those streams. You know n certain conditions, he might right!

Outdoors Photography @ The Photography Show

The Photography Show at the National Exhibition Centre will be held, for the 5th time, in March. Bob and I will be there to cover the show for the Outdoors Station. We are working with the Press Team at the show too ensure that we get access to the gear that you want to know about!

It’s a few years since I have been at one of these shows and I have to admit I’m a bit out of touch with recent developments in photography. I’m really looking forward to this.

If there’s anything in particular that you want to see then just let us know as we’ll try to ensure that we can cover it. And, hopefully, there will be some interesting photographers to talk to!

Scottish Highlands on the BBC

This has become something of a dead week for the flu virus has hit the household hard. Still, it has offered the opportunity to catch up on some TV stuff that I’d missed. If you are currently planning your TGO Challenge route, or Munro bagging trip, there’s quite a lot to inspire.

Grand Tour of Scottish Lochs

This series follows Paul Murton travelling by canoe around the Highlands. There are four in the series so far which look at Knoydart, The Rough Bounds and some other great places.  Each of these programmes mixes local history, interesting interviews and stunning photography. If your planning a TGO crossing from Malaig seeing the walk up and through to barrisdale looks rather dramatic when seen from the air!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b094ndf8


Highlands — Scotland’s Wild Heart

Another series (though I have only watched one episode). Highlanders, looks at how humans are now working to protect and to re-introduce wildlife. I really enjoyed this. beware, this features an interview with Paul Lister!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03pjc9p

 

Both of these series will help you get in the mood for walking in the Highlands!

Backpack Light — My Trail Update — Oh Dear

A reader has been in touch to tell me more more about the My Trail company. I have to confess to not following the lightweight gear scene in the US that closely these days.

My Trail is a company owned by owners of Golite, a company which collapsed pretty spectacularly a few years ago. My advice to anyone is to avoid them like the plague!  Why?

The financial collapse of Golite came about following some pretty weird business practice and attitude to export. The company effectively pulled out of Europe. They then pulled out of retail, but before that they offloaded a load of surplus stock at rates that completely screwed their retailers. When they moved to a web only operation they adopted a policy that only USA credit cards could be accepted — effectively ignoring the rest of the world. If this seems odd the background to this is even odder.

For a while the folks who had the distribution contracts in Europe tried to keep things going. They looked at taking a container load of products from the Asian producers. They touted this around to UK online retailers, effectively looking for orders or cash upfront. Unsurprisingly this didn’t work. I did feel sorry for these guys as they had been effectively left in the lurch as well.

I was told that after the banking crash the GOLITE people in the USA had been ‘advised’ that the European economy was collapsing. Yes collapsing. So, they pulled out. Then it became apparent that the company had over ordered, had too much surplus stock and were in real trouble. Whether they really believed Europe was a basket case or whether this was an excuse, it was pretty sure behaviour.

As my reader says “This is a new company formed by the people behind the old one. Seems a typical phoenix company situation – leave all the debts and losses behind in the old one and start a fresh with something pretty similar”.

I’ve left the original post up as, to be fair, it looks like a good product and other readers have recommended it.  But me. I don’t really ant to now anymore …

… these are the attitudes that saddled us all with Trump.

TGO Planning: The Importance of Sleep

Today I am pondering the importance of sleep. I’ve not thought much about this before but this came up in a conversation with a walker who hopes to enter the TGO Challenge next year.

We know that —  for a number of new entrants to the challenge — this walk will be their first multi-day trek or hike. While folks are planning routes and thinking about transport to their starting point it is worth them thinking of sleep.

This may be just me but I really hate walking long distances when I am tired and haven’t had enough sleep. Of course, there is often no way of avoiding this. Lie in your tent at night and a gentle pattering of rain can be a lovely thing; it seems to rock you to sleep. But a night in a full on gale is not a pleasant thing. It’s even worse if this is followed by a horrible day’s weather and more high winds the next night.

So, I like to consider sleep as part of my event and route planning!

It’s worth thinking hard and long about your accommodation just prior to the Challenge. Expense allowing, book yourself into a decent hotel or B&B the night before walking and also consider if that might be needed on the journey up to your starting point. I have traditionally used the Caledonian Sleeper Train to journey up to Scotland — on the Challenge and off. But this isn’t always the best preparation. The motion of the train can every pleasant. But other journeys can be less so, especially if you are sharing a berth! On my off Challenge trips up North I like to start walking the moment I have got off the train and all too often I’m walking when miserable. I’ve learnt that, for example, it is best to have a leisurely breakfast in Aviemore than to simply set out immediately into the Cairngorms.

Some people cope with these problems, let’s be honest, through drink. That doesn’t always work for me, especially waling the next day.

If sleep is important to you consider options before you start talking and also, perhaps, options for a proper bed along the way. Otherwise experiment with earplugs and sleep masks before you leave for Scotland!