TGO Challenge 2010

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I first became aware of the TGO Challenge last year while searching online for reviews of a tent I was interested in. I kept tripping up over reader’s comments such as “will you be using it in the challenge?” In due course, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to find out what The Challenge was all about. That was the beginning of my journey.

The big attractions for me are that it involves self supported long distance walking; it is a non-competitive event, anyone who completes the walk is a ‘winner’; it will be a personal challenge to prepare for and complete the walking and navigating in what is (for me) an unknown country; and it’s held in a part of the world that I would like to visit.

To save you reading through masses of webpages and blog posts, here is the precis of what the walk entails:

  • It is a walk across the Scottish high country from West to East
  • Entries are limited to 300 challengers. Places are determined by ballot
  • There are many (12) defined start points on the east coast
  • The distance walked varies by chosen route, but it is around 300kms
  • Challengers have 15 days to complete the walk
  • Challengers must submit a route for ‘vetting’ by experienced walkers
  • Any high country routes must be submitted with foul weather alternatives
  • Accomodation is open. Challengers can tent the whole way across, and/or stay at B&B’s or Hotels. Most seem to spend at least a few nights under a roof in a comfortable bed
  • The finish on the East coast is anywhere between Fraserburgh and Arbroath with an official report-in centre (and Challenge HQ) at Montrose.

    Resources: Maps and Books
    At this stage, I have everything in front of me: I have ordered a bunch of maps (1:25k and 1:50k) from Dash4it in the UK (arrived August 19), and have also bought Scottish Hill Tracks and the Lonely Planet ‘Walking in Scotland’ Good bedtime reading!

    Getting there
    Current plan is to fly into Heathrow, find my way to Euston station and board the Caledonian sleeper train that night for Strathcarron, changing trains in the morning at Inverness. Hopefully I can make my way there a day or so ahead of schedule so I won’t be rushing off the plane and train to the start of the challenge.

    Nov. 13, 2009: Flights are booked. ScotRail doesn’t take bookings beyond 22 weeks, so will have to book the Caledonian later.
    Feb. 12, 2010: I’ve canned the idea of the sleeper, partly because of the unnecessary expense, but also having to waste the whole day in London waiting for the night train. So, EzyJet to Inverness, last minute shopping and touristing, B&B, then train to Strathcarron in the morning.

    As far as route is concerned, I am leaning towards a Strathcarron departure point and would like to cross via Loch Ness at Drumnadrochit, but there are many details to be worked through. Planning 2-3 tent nights to one B&B/Hotel night.

    Nov. 13, 2009: Accommodation in Strathcarron and Montrose booked. In between points not coming along so fast. 🙂 Am thinking to spend a little more time between B&B’s thinking up to 4 nights now. Route is looking like Strathcarron, Monar, Cannich, Drumnadrochit, Dalwhinnie, Glen Feshie, Braemar, then Undecided 🙂 The organisers would like firstimers to use a low level route and I’m attempting to comply with that, but I’ll also be looking to go higher occasionally if the weather is good and I can find someone to walk with that day.

    Feb. 12, 2010: Route Completed and submitted. Strathcarron to Stonehaven. I have gaps of at least 3 nights between B&B stops, and the last week looks like it will be all camping unless I can get a bunk in Tarfside. If not, hopefully I can get a shower there… Have confirmed bookings in Inverness, Strathcarron, Drumnadrotchit, Mar Lodge, Montrose.

    Not having any local knowledge, I’m doing my best to plan my route but I will need to rely on the experience of my route vetter at TGO HQ to steer me around pitfalls and dead ends not shown on the maps. (and hopefully the odd bog) I’m using Where’s the Path for my route planning because it displays UK mapping alongside and synchronised with Google Maps. My tracks from there are saved into GPX files which contain the track points along with information regarding elevation gain and distance of the track. Compatibile with my GPS too.

    Feb. 12, 2010: Moved to Grough Route for my online mapping. It’s pretty new, but it also works very well, and isn’t expensive at all. I can use it for online planning, printing route cards and map sheets, and downloading the route to my GPS.

    I am investigating the best option for GPS. It seems that UK maps are both extremely well detailed and frustratingly difficult to have on a mapping GPS such as the unit I use on my Hikes in Australia. It looks like I will have to upgrade to be able to use any of the Ordnance Survey digital maps currently available. I’m certain that I will find a good solution, but it will take some time. And before you panic, I will be carrying paper maps, compass and GPS.

    Sept. 9, 2009: I have sourced some useful UK mapping suitable for loading on my GPS. It also comes with a non-restrictive license so I can use it here on the blog, for trip planning, and on the GPS without fear of copyright violations.

    Feb. 12, 2010: The GPS I had planned to buy and take to the UK has been beset with continual delays in availability, so I have abandoned that unit. Instead, I have procured a SatMap Active 10 to use on the challenge. For mapping, I will avail myself of their Trail Map 300 which is 25k and 50k OS mapping centred on the GPX trail I will send them once the route has been finalised and vetted.

    Training will have it’s own challenges for me, as I will need to maintain walking fitness through our hot summer as the event occurs in the northern spring.

    Gear List
    Gear is something I already have, but I will need to refine my pack list to make sure I have all the essentials but am not burdened by unnecessary weight. My body weight is in the lightweight category (around 72kg unless it’s immediately after Christmas) 🙂 and heavy packs are out for me if I want to enjoy (and complete) the walk.

    Oct. 29, 2009: I have published my Gear List here looking for feedback from other walkers, especially seasoned TGO Challengers.

    Nov. 13, 2009: Updated gear list to include changes since first published. Suggestions from Mike Knipe, Phil Turner and others. Talking to Aarn of Aarn Packs on email about pack options for the TGO revealed that there are a couple of new packs to be released early in 2010 which are both lighter and about the right capacity for my TGO gear. The new packs are based on the design of Aarn’s successful Marathon Magic running pack.

    Still plenty to work through in the gear list.

    Photography Gear
    I will definitely need to do something about my photography gear, as I normally carry several kilos of camera, lenses and tripod, so I am quietly watching the market expand around the new Olympus E-P1. Hopefully something light, small and with great image quality will become available in time for the challenge.

    Sept. 9, 2009: Panasonic has announced the GF1, (due out October) which seems to be the pick of interchangeable lens compact cameras at this point. Watching with interest, I think I could carry that one.

    Oct. 29, 2009: The GF1 is yet to become available in Australia, but should be here soon. The rumor sites are suggesting that Olympus is about to announce another camera at the end of this month, possibly an EP2.

    Nov. 13, 2009: Managed to have a look at a GF1 in a local camera store. Weight and size is ideal, quality is quite good given the compactness. Cannot expect reasonable stock until after Christmas, so no hope of a good price till then. No matter, in the meantime Olympus has announced the EP2 which might also be worth a look.

    Feb 12, 2010: Stopped waiting for the next thing to be announced. Bought a GF1 with 20mm lens and EVF. Weight saving over my normal gear: 3.5kg! I may spend a couple of hundred grams of that saving on another lens, but not decided on that yet.

    I’ve researched phone coverage, and it seems that there is somewhat patchy 2g coverage from Orange, 3, and Vodaphone in the highlands. A prepaid sim bought on arrival in the UK in my unlocked handset looks to be the way to go.

    There is a local dehydrated food I would like to take on the trip (within UK import restrictions – no meat) Investigating the food import restrictions and it seems they will comply. I will want to send a couple of resupply parcels ahead before the challenge, so some logistics to sort out there.

    Sept. 9, 2009: After more discussions with the import/export people, I’m giving up on taking food with me. It might get through, but it is sounding increasingly more likely that it will get stopped and binned at customs. Changing plans to freeze dried dinners, probably Adventure Food from Outdoors Grub.

    Oct. 29, 2009: After investigations following comments from Mike Knipe, I’ve moved Real Turmat meals to the top of the list. Thankfully, also sold by Outdoors Grub


    The plan is to keep this page up to date between now and the departure date and update the blog when I am able to whilst actually on the Challenge, so do come back every now and then to see how I’m going.

    Page Created August 14, 2009. Last Update February 12, 2010

  • 12 Replies to “TGO Challenge 2010”

    1. Hi Michael – I’m envious! Having spent a little time in Scotland, and being a mad walker, this seems the ideal way to kill lots of birds at once (as it were). If you haven’t found them already, you might be interested to hear the Outdoor Station podcasts about the Challenge. They’re at


      Peter (aka “whynotwalk” from Bushwalk-Tasmania)

      1. Hi Peter.

        Thanks. I’ve been following podcast bob’s TGO series, upto number 11 on the iPod. It’s a great resource for anyone who has not done the Challenge before. Happy to recieve any and all suggestions regarding my efforts preparing for the Challenge.


    2. Hey Phil, thanks for visiting, and thanks for collecting all those diaries!

      Yes, I have been reading your collected works, you might have noticed a bit of activity from Australia in your logs recently. Interesting to see the various routes taken and the changes (or not) in challengers over several crossings.


    3. Don;t give up on the dehydrated food thing – I expect that if you get on the Chally (you must start calling it this…!) and I expect you probably will, you could have your order from outdoorsgrub delivered to a British address – one of the challengers or a vetter maybe – to be collected when you arrive or perhaps sent on to your start point.
      Try Real Turmat foods – much better than the other stuff, but more expensive.
      Note that you can also buy food in villages on the way, so you shouldnt need to carry more that three or, at the most, four days supply of food.
      You can buy gas or other fuel when you get here.

      Mine’s a pint, by the way….

    4. Thanks Mike. I found outdoors grub via the Sept TGO Mag and I’m thinking I will get them to dropship a couple of parcels along my route. 3-4 days load sounds good to me. One of my pet peeves with commercial dehydrated foods is the salt content, and after reading the TGO article Adventure Foods looked like the go, but they didn’t test Real Turmat for some reason. What’s the saltiness like? I’ve had some dehy food locally (from the US) that I just couldn’t eat it was so salty.

      Enjoyed your 2009 Chally report BTW 🙂


    5. Its a Norwegian company and the food tastes like traditional Northern English cooking – seems to have lots of potato and ?swede, plus bigger chunks of meat than the other brands. I didn’t check the salt content, although maybe I should have done as I have a dicky ticker and I’m usually a bit obsessive about salt.
      However, it didn’t taste particularly salty.
      I tested various brands back in August on a week’s walk across Cumbria and I did a bit of a write up on northernpies just the other day.
      The company is small and they’re very approachable and helpful – I expect that if you asked them, they’d check the labelling – and probably deliver your order to your start point.
      They’re definately a step up from Adventure Foods (In my opinion) – and Alan Sloman thinks so too!

    6. Ok, I’m convinced. 🙂

      The way I look at it, the cost of the food will be the least of my worries (or expenses) so I might as well get some of that stuff 🙂

      I didn’t realise you had a blog Mike, just spent a couple of hours reading it. Good stuff in there. Reminds me I need to update mine – I’m a couple of trips behind the action…


    7. Howdy Michael

      Just found your site – all the very best with your preparations.

      I will be walking with Phil Lambert – who I see has already found you on here – this year (most years, in fact) and you can find out a ittle more about the Challenge on my blog.

      Good luck

      1. Hi Alan,

        Thanks for dropping by.

        Sorry for the delay in responding, I’ve been preoccupied with my route, but it’s done now and is with the vetter.

        Yes, I have found your blog and have made good use of the information therein. I’m not sure how I would be able to do this without the internets – I wouldn’t have found out about it for a start… So thanks for your posting here, and your postings there, they have been a great help!

        Hopefully we will cross paths in May.


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