Sunday, 25 May 2008
TGO Challenge 2008
The Park Hotel, Montrose last Thursday, May 22. A row of well-worn packs lines the outside wall. In the entrance hall lie a scattering of grubby hiking boots and trail shoes. Looking somewhat out of place, weather-beaten walkers in outdoor clothing stand round drinking beer, celebrating their walk across Scotland on the TGO Challenge. Everyone here has walked from the west coast by a wide variety of routes, along glens and lochsides, through passes, over summits. Upstairs is the heart of the Challenge, the organisation room where Roger Smith and a team of volunteers has monitored walkers, taking phone calls, sorting out problems and generally being helpful. Here walkers check in, their crossing officially over. Arriving at the Park Hotel is always a little overwhelming for me as I’ve usually seen few if any other Challengers on my walk and the sudden mass of people and welter of conversations is a shock, albeit a welcome one. This year, my 12th crossing, was no exception as I’d only met a few Challengers on the train to my starting point at Lochailort and then spoken to just two more during my crossing. That evening Challengers crammed into the hotel dining room for a celebratory dinner and a series of awards and acknowledgements for Challengers and all those who help with the event both here and along the way. It’s a warm, friendly and boisterous occasion and afterwards conversations continue long into the night. Whilst I am happy to see no one whilst out in the wilds I love meeting people here and swapping stories and experiences. As well as old friends there are new people to talk with and some who I only knew through email and blogs. One of the last was Darren Christie who deserves double congratulations, both for finishing his first Challenge and just a few days later racking up 2017 signatures by the end of the final day for his petition to legalise wild camping in England. You can read about this on his blog.
And the walk itself? It was enjoyable of course, as two weeks backpacking in wild country always is. Scottish weather is always unpredictable but I think this year’s was the oddest I’ve experienced. I set off in hot, humid weather under a blanket of cloud. A few midges were biting at my first camp beside Loch Beoraid, the earliest I’ve ever known them. There were no more, which was good as I didn’t take any insect repellent. The next day I sweated upwards through the damp, enervating clouds to emerge at 800 metres into fresh, clear air and spacious views over the spiky hills of Moidart and Knoydart. Below thick grey clouds filled the glens. By evening the clouds were thinning and this was the pattern for most of the first week – clouds and mist building overnight then dissipating during the afternoon and evening. This reversed abruptly the second week with the clearest weather now at dawn and clouds building during the day. Although damp when in them the clouds produced little rain and this was probably the driest crossing I’ve made. I only wore my waterproof jacket twice and the first time was only for an hour. The second was for most of a day as I crossed Lochnagar in heavy showers. Otherwise rain only fell at night, which is how it should be. After the first few hot days temperatures were on the cold side, with ice in my water bottles on four mornings and a cold east wind that made windproof clothing essential.
The highlight of the walk was camping on the summit of Ben Nevis, which I’ll write about in the future. But as always there was much that was intense and mesmerising, full of the wonder and glory of nature. Traversing the Sgurr nan Coireachan – Sgurr Thuilm ridge above a sea of clouds, waking beside Loch Treig to a clear sky and perfect reflections in the water, winding in and out of the clouds on the Grey Corries, watching two golden eagles circling, the amazing wealth of bird life in Glen Lee and Glen Esk. All these and much more are reasons for walking across the Highlands and why I keep going back.
The picture shows evening light over Loch Eil from the summit of Ben Nevis. Photo info: Canon EOS 350D, Canon EF-S 18-55 mm IS@ 51mm, f5.6@1/125, ISO 200, raw file converted to JPEG in DxO Optics Pro.