Sunday 18 January 2009

PLanning for the 30th TGO Challenge

In the autumn of 1979 a small piece in TGO magazine advertised the first TGO Challenge (then called the Ultimate Challenge after the gear company who were the sponsors). I applied and in May 1980 set out on my first coast-to-coast crossing of the Scottish Highlands. Twenty-nine years later, to my great surprise, I have just sent in my route for the 30th TGO Challenge. This will be my 14th crossing and I still look forward to it with excitement and pleasure as well as astonishment that the Challenge is still going and has grown to be a major event in the outdoor year. Planning the route is still enjoyable too and the big problem is still the same. There are too many possibilities! I can spend hours studying maps and working out variations. As those planning a high level route, as I’ve always done, are required to submit a low level bad weather one as well I effectively plan two routes anyway. One change is that where I used to spread paper maps out on the floor and trace routes on them in pencil now I sit at the computer and draw lines on maps on the screen. The software gives the distance and ascent too so I no longer have to count grid squares and contour lines. Computer mapping has made planning much easier.

All those years ago my route started at Lochailort and finished at Montrose. This year I’m starting at Glenelg and finishing at Stonehaven. On the way I hope to climb 37 Munros stretching from Beinn Sgritheal to Mount Keen plus 5 Corbetts. Back in 1980 I climbed 55 Munros but for that year only the Challenge was three weeks long rather than two. Surprisingly when I looked at my 1980 notes I discovered that 21 Munros I climbed then are on this year’s route.

I haven’t really thought much about the gear I’ll take on this year’s Challenge but I think maybe I’ll be a little adventurous and avoid the safe choices from previous years that I know will perform well such as the Hillberg Akto tent and Primus Micron gas stove. To get my pack weight even lower I’m considering a single skin tent such as the GoLite Shangri-La 3 and for interest rather than weight saving a burner in which I can use meths or wood. In 1980 I used an Ultimate Tramp ridge tent, which weighed some 500 grams more than the Akto, and an MSR XGK liquid fuel stove that weighed as much as five mini gas stoves. Most shocking to me now though are the boots I wore – hulking great lumps of leather weighing 5lbs called Scarpa Bronzo. I haven’t walked in boots like that for over 20 years. The last two Challenges have been done in Inov8 Terroc shoes and I’ll probably wear those again this year. Where I did cut weight in 1980 was with my sleeping mat, which was just a piece of 3mm closed cell foam. I won’t be going that Spartan again. A thicker foam pad provides so much more comfort and warmth.

Photo info: Camp on the 2008 TGO Challenge looking towards the Grey Corries. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS@28mm, f8@1/50, ISO 100, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.


  1. As a fellow Akto lover, I was similarly interested in the GoLite Shangri-La 3 I saw at the BPC AGM last year. It'll be interesting to see how it works out on the Scottish Hills if you do take it along

  2. It is interesting how things change over time, yes I used to wear boots, carry a white gas stove and a double skin tent. My biggest problem is finding the right mattress some how nothing is ever as good as the bed at home, oh well. My question is are you using some form of bug protection with the Shangri la? Or are you camping high enough to avoid such problems? Such challenges are where computer mapping is unhelpful and instead we rely on experience to guide our decision making.

  3. i just wondered which thicker foam mat you use and or recommend thanks david

  4. John, I've used the Shangri-La 3 and it's almost identical predecessor the Hex 3 in heavy rain and 60mph winds so I'm pretty sure it'll cope with the weather. I've only used these tents for short trips however. On a 2 week trip I'll be interested to see how easy is it to find adequate pitches (non-waterlogged as there's no sewn-in groundsheet), what condensation is like when the tent can't be dried before reuse and whether I find any niggles that become real irritations night after night.

    Nielsen, I still mostly use double skin tents, occasionally wear boots and very occasionally use a white gas stove! I still think double-skin tents make most sense in the UK. In hotter, drier climates it's different. When I hiked the Arizona Trail, a 2 month trip, I took a tarp and didn't even pitch that most nights. I won't take a bug shelter with the Shangri-La 3 and I will have some low level camps (and I've had big midge problems at over 3,000 feet in the past!). I've never found midges a problem on the Challenge. & I've not found any sort of small bug shelter that isn't a hassle. In midge season I use the Akto.

    David (and Nielsen), last year I used the Gossamer Gear NightLight 3/4 foam pad on the Challenge and found it comfortable. It weighs 213 grams. I'll probably use it again this year. The most comfortable lightweight mat I've tried is the new Therm-A-Rest NeoAir air bed. This weighs 390 grams in the Regular size and 260 grams in the Small. My review of it is in the February TGO.

  5. Thanks Chris, yep I use the Nightlight pad and am interested in the NeoAir, but I suspect it will be expensive by the time it lands (if it lands) in Denmark.
    Enjoy the challenge(s)

  6. That looks a very energetic route, Chris - can you divulge km and metres ascent data, or is that between you and your vetter?
    Which camera are you thinking of taking?
    Mats - an interesting topic, but different people will surely get on with different strategies. Last year I pensioned off my old (330gm) Karrimat in favour of a Multimat Adventure mat (165gm). Together with a RAB Quantum 400 (920gm) the combination served well on a 2 month Alpine trip, so should be fine for the Challenge. Meanwhile Sue will be carrying her Prolite 3 (630gm) - and her RAB Q 400 to secure a good night's sleep.
    Martin B

  7. Martin, I hadn't actually added up the total distance and ascent! I've done so now and it comes to 351km and 20,725 metres.

    I'll probably take the Canon 450D plus the Sigma DP1 as a backup. The question for me is what lenses to take and whether to take my lightweight tripod or the Gorillapod. Last year I took 11-18, 18-55 and 55-250 lenses. Maybe this year I'll just take the 18-55.

  8. Very impressive stats, Chris. Hope you can keep your feet in good condition in those shoes (I'm only jealous - I'd get foot rot in no time with wet feet - though I found Roclites ok for days out, until they disintegrated after less than 300km), and I hope you find time for lots of photos.
    Best of luck, anyway.

  9. Martin, I've worn the Terrocs on similar routes on the last two Challenges so I'm pretty certain they'll be okay. This will be the third Challenge for this pair and they have had a fair bit of other usage. I'm quite surprised at the durability. I have glued one seam that was coming apart but otherwise they are fine.

  10. That's interesting. Maybe I was unlucky with the Roclites. For something like the Challenge I really don't want to risk constantly wet feet, so I may be taking Asolo Fugitives - not last year's pair, nor their successors, but my 3rd pair of these. They don't last long, but are supremely comfy. And the current pair seems waterproof! But if I was planning a route as energetic as yours, I think I would choose lighter shoes...
    No wonder you look shattered at the Thursday dinners!

  11. Martin, if I look shattered at the dinner I think it's due to bad planning! This year I have planned a short last day and not a 40km road march to the coast.

  12. You'll spot us from a distance then. We'll be the shattered looking pair at the bar, being tended to by The Austrian.
    But we should recover for the Friday dinner!