Reflections on the TGOC 2014, in preparation for 2015

Not lost.....just checking....honest !

Not lost…..just checking….honest !

Entering for the TGO Challenge last year was, of course, meant to be a one off. If only life were so simple, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that.

So here at the start of 2015 I find myself reflecting briefly on last years crossing as I plan to do it all again in 2015.

I’m not one for repeating life experiences (Pennine Way excepted), and the TGO Challenge was intended to simply be a tick in the box. Done it, now move on. But the experience hits you with an unexpected dimension, the people you meet and the connections that last well beyond the Park Hotel in Montrose.

So when the call came for applications for the 2015 Challenge I can’t say that it was much of a struggle to decide to do it all again. Go on then, just one more.

When I left Montrose after the event last year I can’t say that I gave much thought to what I might have done differently, it didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to do it again and the whole thing had been a blast anyway. But faced with planning for a second crossing I did dig out my route and kit list and reflect on what worked and what didn’t.


2014 TGO Challenge Route

2014 TGO Challenge Route

As a first timer I took the sound advise of keeping things simple and well within my capabilities. The route stuck mostly to the Glens and passes with only minor excursions onto the tops (1 munro, 1 corbett). In fact the total altitude gain was a mere 9,236 m.

It did quite a sweep south in order to prolong the time I spent in the west, but also to tick off a route I’d had pencilled on an old map for almost 30 years. It was a good decision, I enjoyed the scenery in the first half as far as Dalwhinnie more than the latter half. I also seemed to cut across everybody else’s route during that first week which meant I was never following other challengers. The route had almost no tarmac until Tarfside.

The west was extremely wet underfoot (no surprises there), and true to the vetter’s comments it did appear I’d chosen to cross a fair few flood plains and watersheds, mostly during the first three days.

Distance wise I did 342 km (212 miles) in a little under 12 and a half days. That was a full 2 and a half days ahead of my plan, at an average of 28.5 km/day during full walking days. I found the distance no problem at all. I had 4 FWA’s planned and used 2 of them, mainly due to being sociable rather than the weather..

Daily distance

Of my 11 nights under canvas, 6 were wild camps and 5 were either on camp sites or lawns (Dalwhinnie and Mar Lodge). Best wildcamps were above Glen Garry Forest and besides Loch Ossian.

As a first route I don’t think I’d have changed much if anything at all. I really enjoyed meandering across rather than taking a beeline east. For a second crossing I’ll plan to go high more often however as I missed those differing perspectives and views on the first crossing. I’ll also push myself and increase the altitude gain.

Gear   <- link to full gear list

The Good

  • Vivobarefeet Ultra Trainers : These were a revelation, and the star of my kit. Ultra light, ultra fast drying, and still comfortable enough to walk in. I took them for water crossing and evenings but ended up wearing the outers shells for several km at a time in watersheds. They will definitely be standard kit for Scotland for me.
Vivobarefoot Ultra

Vivobarefoot Ultra

  • MYOG Trailstar Door : This was a last minute job on a sewing machine, but I’d have been less comfortable during some of the evenings without it. It wasn’t the last word in ultralight, but did a grand job.
  • Multimat Superlight Air /  Gelert Reflective 2mm Mat : At a total 400g, these two mats worked very well together.  The Air is very light but non-insulated. The  reflective mat provides that insulation, protects the Air matt from punctures and gives you a back up. It’s warm too.
  • Pack, camp kitchen, clothing worn, waterproof shell : All tried as tested and worked well.

The Not So Good

  • Trailstar / Bearpaw Pyranet combo : I place this under ‘Not So Good’ by fault of my choice of sleeping bag. I found some of the nights a tad chilly. I love the space and room to spread out under the Trailstar, and it’s a bomber in the wind. But the lack of a door did show itself on a few occasions when the wind changed direction and a chill blew through the doorway. I’ll continue using it extensively, but perhaps not for the longer trips outside of summer
  • Golite Adrenaline 1 Sleeping Bag : Not man enough for the job in May. I had at least 3 nights when I was cold, which perhaps unfairly tainted my enjoyment of the Trailstar.
  • Spare clothes : Put simply, I didn’t use them, not even the spare socks. I’d continue to carry spare socks of course, but the spare shirt and a pair of shorts can be ditched. I was able to launder clothes at Spean Bridge and Braemar.
  • Vivobarefeet Ultra Trainer Inners : Yes I’m listing these twice, but only because I never used the inner sock until Montrose. I would have been fine just carrying the ultralight shell.
  • Karrimor KSB Brecon Boots : After a promising few test walks before the TGO, I liberally impregnated these with Grangers Wax befor the start. They kept my feet dry for 3km and then leaked like a sieve. After that the goretex liner and wax prevented them drying out for the best part of a week. They also proved a bit narrow over the toes. They’ve since been relegated to mucking out duties at the stables.

The Downright Ugly

  • In a word, Tech : I took a radio for a bit of light entertainment in the evenings. and got no signal all the way across until North Water Bridge. A complete waste of time carrying it. Perhaps with a higher route I’d have had more luck. I also took a Power Monkey and Solar Charger which I never actually needed to use. I was able to recharge at campsites, and in future I think a simple recharger that can work off AA batteries would be simpler.

 Consumables and Resupply


I sent two resupply parcels ahead, to Spean Bridge and Braemar, with about 3-4 days supply in each. This was overkill in know, especially for the second parcel as I could have picked up supplies in Braemar and as it turned out I was also able to grab an evening meal at Mar Lodge and Tarfside.

I was lucky at Spean Bridge. I’d not bothered to phone ahead to the PO and ask if they accepted Poste Restante, and as it turned out they didn’t (claimed they had no room for storing parcels). In fact they were going to post it straight back, but I’d not printed a return address on the package so they had to keep it. Lucky.

Lesson – Check with the PO before you send Poste Restante

Fuel (gas)

I’d planned to pick up a new cartridge at Spean Bridge knowing that I was unlikely to find one in Dalwhinnie and didn’t know how long that first one would last. There were none for sale in Spean Bridge, but luckily a challenger dropping out there gratefully passed his over. As it turned out that first 250 size canister didn’t actually run out until Tarfside so I could have picked up a replacement as late as Braemar. I’d carried a spare unnecessarily for almost a week.


So there we have it. A couple of things I’d change completely, the odd tweak here and there, and I think I could easily shave 1kg off last years weight carried with no impact on comfort. And that 1 kg will make all the difference this year as my route will go higher and be more challenging.

Link : 2014 TGO Gear List

5 thoughts on “Reflections on the TGOC 2014, in preparation for 2015

  1. Hi John I’m interested in the Ultra trainers. Did you wear socks with them when you were walking across the watersheds, did they rub?

    • Hi. They come as a three part shoe; The outer shoe, an inner sock and a detachable tongue. The inners are like a sort of neoprene sock with their own solid sole and are in fact designed to be worn alone if you want to.
      For river crossings I just used the outers without the inners or tongue. They grip rock well and a quick flick after wards is all that’s needed to dry them. After my first river crossing I just left the outers on for the next 5km…no socks. They didn’t rub at all and to be honest I really quite liked the feeling of cold water sloshing through them. I wore them again the next day for about 5 km. Most of that walking was through flooded grass areas and bog. If I was walking on hard ground I’d probably want to use the inners as well, but still without socks.
      They’re really a barefoot running shoe, meant to be worn without socks and don’t provide any real cushioning, but for water crossings and wear in evening they can’t be beat. Weigh abut as much as a butterflies wing.

      • When i saw these shoes at Sheilin of Mark i was hooked. I have not changed my opinion. They have Scotland written right through them. If anyone can come up with a better shoe i would be amazed.
        I agree with you on Tech. I took two light phones, one on EE network and the other on Vodafone. EE never worked until Montrose but i had better luck with Vodafone in a number of places.
        I wouldn’t take my camera charger again as i only charged the battery in Braemar and i also had a spare one which i never got round to using. For the weight of say 2 spare batteries its far better than carrying all the charging gear. (this goes for my phone as well, although iphone users have to take chargers).
        I noticed that my Lumix camera when taking panoramas used lots of power so i didn’t use this mode at all on the challenge to conserve what power i had.
        I also took a 2mm underlay mat which was brilliant. It wasn’t reflective but it didn’t suffer because of it. The warmth was great.
        For fuel i used Meths. I emailed the Pharmacy in Drumnadroichit a couple of weeks before and they had a 500ml bottle waiting for me under the counter. I shared this with another challenger and my supply lasted me.
        Poste Restante is dodgy to say the least. I am loath to advice peeps to use it.

      • Cheers Alan. I take a spare battery for the phone and I’m probably going to take a Gomadic portable charger for the camera. It just uses AA batteries, so I can pack it empty (weighs nothing empty) and just buy a couple of duracels when I need them. My issue this year will be that I’m not passing through many places where I can charge up.
        The 2mm matt is great. Gives me more confidence about carrying a lightweight air matt, and to be honest just sitting on the 2mm matt you can feel the warmth.
        As for poste restante, never again. I may have to plan a walk in Scotland in late April and cache a couple of supply parcels somewhere.

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