For some years now I have been utilising my down gear as a ‘sleep system’. UK manufactuers PHD have now produced their own complete system. This is not cheap but install might appeal to new TGO challengers who have yet to compete their kit (and who have a decent credit card limit).
This is another subject I’ve covered in the past and which is worth looking at again. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary here but just some very simple things that can always be overlooked in these days of GPS navigation!
By now most first time TGO Challengers will have created their route and probably had it vetted and approved. You will probably also be well on your way to acquiring any kit that you think you need.
I’ve decided to continue this series after a couple of discussions with first timers, really about the things that sit at the back of your mind and worry you — especially is this is your first long multi day hike and wild camp.
So, let’s think about how we get through the day. As always, the rest of the team — feel free to add in your words of wisdom.
Every year I post my TGO route once I’ve finalised it. So, here is the route for 2017. This is always helpful for, firstly, those who are interested in bumping into me and,s secondly, those who want to avoid me!
I intend to look at the slightly controversial subject of footwear separately — trail shoes v. boots and so on. However, this post dwells on foot care which is very important on a long distance trek.
One of the biggest challengers facing first-time challengers, South of the border, is actually getting North! Factor this into your planning now!
When considering you kit requirements for the Challenge have a good think about layers, even if you are using the Paramo system.
Being outside in the elements for days on end can be a very different experience than a normal walking holiday, even when the weather is dreadful. Relentless wind and rain can grind you down and really dampen the spirits. In these circumstances even and little additional insulation or protection can make a big difference.
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?
I’ll start with the weather! In the Scotland you need protection so it seems proper to start by looking at shell clothing — waterproof jackets and trousers. You have to be prepared for anything on the TGO. You may be lucky and have a sunny and mainly dry crossing. I’ve certainly experienced some great weather crossings but usually the really decent weather is reserved for the last few days. But on these days the weather can be dreadful. On some years the weather never seems to let up and you can certainly find yourselves walking for two or three days through driving wind and rain. So, protection is important!
Many people planning their first TGO Challenge are not that experienced at walking in Scotland. If that sounds like you, don’t panic! I decided to tackler the TGO Challenge precisely because I realised I hadn’t done enough walking in Scotland. I figured that walking across the country would give me a taste of four or five of the Highland regions and would help me decided where to focus my efforts afterwards.
The great thing about the TGO Challenge is precisely that it introduces you to the variety and variation in the Scottish hills. When walking other trails, ion other parts of the world, you often find things are very similar day after day or, rather, that changes in landscape come on you quite slowly or gently. In Scotland things seem to change, definitively, every couple of days. There is something rather special and glorious about Scotland.
No matter how experienced you are at hill walking this event is a Challenge. The terrain can not only be tough but the same stretch tackled on a different year can seem to be very different. The weather does that to you. Scotland — or so it is said — is a place where you can experience all four seasons in one day. This is no real exaggeration. The TGO Challenge is scheduled for May as this is traditionally the best weather month in the Highlands. Or, it was. Over recent years April seems to have been a more gentle month and the extremes of May have become more Challenging. As a result of this the weather will probably feature in this series of posts more frequently than it did.
Over the last five or six years the impact of large scale wind farms — and new reservoir building — have also taken their toll. In all honesty, Scotland is not wilderness but it is wild land. You may not be that far from civilisation or from a road but it is still possible for walk without encountering much civilisation for a couple of days. If you plan carefully it is possible to avoid people for days on end. Planning routes is slightly more involved than it was twelve years or so ago mainly because of these developments. However, you still can plan a great crossing that is relatively free of such disturbances.
The days here can be epic and they are long. But this can be a good thing as long distance hikers no that distance is eaten up gently or slowly rather than at pace. The idea here is not to go at a pace but to walk at a comfortable and a consistent speed, using the length of day. In May in the Highlands the days go on forever. A long and arduous walk may worry you on paper but start early, take regular breaks, and everything is doable.
Some worry about wild camping and all that this might involve. For me the wild camping element is just the best. When I walk across on my own I not only spend every night under canvas but aim to spend as much of it camping out in the big and wild spaces. When I walk with my partner Kate things are a little less ambitious. She likes to hit a campsite out a hostel every few days. But even so there can still be great days out in the high and wide country.
So, if you are planning for your first event I can promise you one of the experiences of your life. The weather me be fine or it may be foul. You may walk high or you may walk low. However and whatever the conditions, (baring injury) you will have a great time.