As I've mentioned before, the TGO Challenge is a 14 day coast-to-cost walk across Scotland running from May 14th – May 29th, 2010. I've been accepted into this year's event from a field of international applicants and plan to raise charity during my hike for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to fight blood cancers. I'm in the final stages of planning my cross-country route, but before I submit it for approval, I plan to write a narrative for each day to make sure I haven't overlooked anything along my route. Backpacking along a cross-country route in a foreign country is very different from hiking a well defined path like the Appalachian Trail.
Getting to Shiel Bridge
I plan on starting my Challenge hike in Shiel Bridge, on the west coast of Scotland. To get there, I'll probably fly from Boston to London Heathrow and then catch a shuttle to Glasgow. From there, I can take a Citilink bus to Shiel Bridge which is along the route to the Island of Skye.
Before I commence my Challenge hike, I need to sign in with Challenge administration which will track my progress during the event for safety reasons. I don't know exactly where I have to go to do this, but it's probably at some hotel or pub in town. Last year, about 20% or 60 of the walkers participating in the Challenge started in Shiel Bridge, so I doubt I'll have a hard time finding someone with a backpack to ask.
Due to flight restrictions, I will have to pick up some canister gas before I leave Shiel Bridge so I can cook during my first week on the trail. I should probably ask one of the other challengers who is in-country to get a large EN417-compliant canister for me and meet me in town. I'll buy the first drink if you want to volunteer!
I also have to stock up with about 4 days worth of food to make it to my first resupply in Fort Augustus, at the base of Loch Ness. I should probably bring some staples with me from the states for this first stage like pasta, nuts, granola, and dried fruit to make sure I don't get stuck in town on my first day. I can then add some local bread, cheese, chocolate, and sausage.
I haven't decided where I want to stay when I arrive in Shiel Bridge. It probably makes sense to book a room at a B&B that's close to the sign-in location. I might also want to send them some gear for safekeeping so that the TSA doesn't take it away and the airlines don't lose it. With the latest round of terrorist incidents, it's not clear to me how much carry-on luggage I'll be able to bring or what items I'll have to check.
I've already decided that I'm just going to buy post-hike clothing to fly back in rather than carry it around with me or forward it to a B&B on the east coast. I expect that my Challenge hiking gear will be in sad shape and smelly after 14 days of hiking in weather and sleeping outdoors.
Reading the Maps
You can trace the route of my first day by clicking on the thumbnails at the top of the post. What you are looking at are 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey maps displayed in a mapping program called Quo. Fellow blogger Martin Rye introduced me to this mapping software last February when I started dreaming of applying for the Challenge and it's been an invaluable root planning tool. The program is free to download, but you have to buy the electronic maps. A working knowledge of Gaelic mapping words and place names is also useful.
Walking, At Last
The area around Shield Bridge is famous for Munros and there are something like 29 in the immediate area including the famous Five Sisters of Kintail, one of the most photographed ridges in all of Scotland. This ridge walk requires 8-10 hours of hiking and just under 6,000 feet of ascent. I'd love to climb some of these, but I'll probably be horribly jet-lagged from my US flight on that first day, so I'm not planning on it.
Instead, I'll start my walk in Shiel Bridge heading northeast along the eastern shore of Loch Duich and circle around the foot of Sgurr na Moraich (876m), the 5th and northernmost sister. This will bring me through the tiny hamlet of Morvich at mile two and to the Scottish Activity Center at the head of the River Croe, known for brown trout and salmon fishing.
This is the point where I leave civilization for a few days, starting in a wild highland glen called Glen Lichd, which means Glen of Slabs in Gaelic. It is surrounded by high mountains with the Five Sisters to the South and Beinn Fhada to the north. From here, the track runs along the south side of the Glen to GlenLicht House (NH005172) at mile 6. This house is maintained by the University of Edinburgh, but not open to the public.
From here, I have two water crossings, one on the south bank (NH009171) and the other across the Croe (NH009172) to reach the north bank. Both appear to have bridges. There is a path heading south before the first crossing which leads to a nearby waterfall fed by Allt a Choire Dhamdain and Allt an Lapan, both on the north side of the sisters. It's a short detour and should be worth a visit.
After the water crossings, the track become much rougher and the glen narrows and ascends several hundred meters, passing under crags to the north and south. The track continues past more waterfalls fed by Allt Grannda at mile 7, coming to Cnoc Biodag at the head of Fionnglean (White Glen) near mile 9. At mile 10, I arrive at the Camban Bothy (NH053183) and have the option of stopping for the day or continuing on for another 1.5 miles at Alltbeithe Youth Hostel at the head of Glen Affric. There are two stream crossings along the path before the hostel over Allt Gleann Gniomhaidh (NH070197) and Alllt Beithe Garbh (NH073198). The first definitely has a bridge, but I'm not sure about the second.
Unless the weather is absolutely horrific, I plan to wild camp on my first night instead of staying in the bothy or the hostel. Bad weather is a distinct possibility in western Scotland, especially this close to the sea. Ideally, I'd like to pitch my tent about a half mile beyond the hostel on Carnache Mor (NH095209), but I'll have to see how jet-lagged I still am before I commit to where I will stop for the night.