Friday 8 May 2020

The TGO Challenge: In the Beginning

The TGO Challenge has been run every May since 1980. This year would have been the 41st. Covid 19 has seen to that though and for the first time there will be no Challenge. Having done the 40th last year (my 16th) I wasn't taking part this time. I had other plans, also cancelled of course. But whether I'm taking part or not May is always TGO Challenge month for me. This year I feel really sorry for those who would have been setting off this weekend. I hope they all will be next year.

Before the 40th Challenge I wrote a post about my first Challenge and my plans for last year, with photos of pages of my 1980 journal. I didn't say anything about the role of The Great Outdoors in promoting the event though. This year I've retrieved the issues of the magazine that launched the Ultimate Challenge (as it was then) from my archives (sounds better than the reality -piles of magazines in boxes).

The Challenge was launched without fanfare or even editorial comment in the January 1980 issue. There was just the rather discreet quarter page promotion pictured above. It was enough to excite me though and I wrote off for details, filled in the application form, and in May set off across the Highlands. 66 others took part of whom 56 finished. Today hundreds apply, there's a draw for places, and around 300 start. The Challenge has come a long way.

That autumn the Challenge began to assume its place as a significant part of The Great Outdoors. In the November issue it was the only cover line. The cover photograph by Nigel Lane was taken on the Challenge too. Inside there were accounts of the event from Challengers who'd entered a writing competition. I was one of them and came third in the Mountain Route category (early Challenges had high and low level routes, long ago scrapped). I remember I won an Ultimate Equipment synthetic gilet. My article wasn't published though and has long ago disappeared (which is probably a good thing).

In the same issue the details of the 1981 Challenge were published, with dates this time and a rather more distinguished appearance, though still only a quarter page. The event was up and running. However it would be many years before it became clear just what had started with that little promotion in a corner of The Great Outdoors.


  1. Wonderful that first Challenge, the unknown was spectacular, and we were extremely fit and able to challenge ourselves as well as the hills, we made new friends and today I still give them a call, well those who are still with us; we don't walk as far or as fast but our memories are long, thank you Hamish, Roger and the new organisers, Ultimate may be no more but The Great Outdoors Challenge remains as stated, it will always retain its followers. Bob

    1. Yes, it was wonderful. I think the unknown was the big thing for me. Most of the country I crossed I'd never visited before. That made it a real adventure and a real challenge. Those places are familiar and much-loved now, which is wonderful in a different way.