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Onto a New Challenge!

Western Scotland near Glen Feshie
Western Scotland near Glen Affric

Big news last week – I got onto the TGO Challenge for May 2013, a coast-to-coast cross-country backpack across Scotland. This is an annual event where 300 hikers cross the country during the same 15-day period using different routes that they’ve defined themselves. About 200 miles in length, this hike is a significant challenge given Scotland’s fickle mountain maritime climate, where it can snow or rain for days at the drop of a hat. Pretty much what I’m used to in the White Mountains, actually.

This will be my second time hiking in The Challenge, which I also completed in 2010. During that hike, I mostly walked solo, pairing up with other Challenge hikers for a day or two when their routes happened to intersect mine.

This year I’m walking with two teammates, Martin Rye  from Northern England and Grant Sible, president of Gossamer Gear, the ultralight backpacking gear manufacturer. Martin, you may recall, hiked the 100 mile wilderness with me in Maine this summer, and Grant is a good friend of mine. They are also very experienced hikers: Martin has hiked all over England and Scotland and this will be his 5th Challenge, and although Grant has never hiked in Scotland before, he’s hiked and climbed all over South America, the western US  and thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.

The Great Outdoors

The ‘TGO’ in the TGO Challenge stands for The Great Outdoors, a popular hiking magazine in the United Kingdom that’s roughly equivalent to Backpacker Magazine in the US. They, together with gear manufacturer RAB sponsor the Challenge, which is managed by the outdoor journalist John Manning and frequented by another TGO writer, gear reviewer and photographer, Chris Townsend, who gave me very useful advice and helped me plan my 2010 route. I hope to finally meet Chris in person next May since he was hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail during my 2010 Challenge hike.

Philip's 2010 TGO Challenge Coast-to-Coast Route
Philip’s 2010 TGO Challenge Coast-to-Coast Route

Planning Our Route

Now that we’re in – only 300 are picked per year – we need to plan our coast to coast route, write it up, and submit it for review by a group of expert hikers who are familiar with the Scottish mountains and country side. They help keep hikers safe if they pick a route that is too dangerous and suggest alternate routes or good places to pitch camp for the night if the hiker has never been to a region before. This is a very useful process, especially for first time challengers or foreign participants without previous Scotland hiking experience. If you’re interested you can read the comments I got back on my 2010 route submission.

Martin, Grant, and I plan to start from a remote village on the west coast of Scotland called Torridon, home to the famous Torridon Hills. For Grant and I, one of our greatest challenges will be getting from Boston/Austin to London, Inverness and finally Torridon, which may take the better of 2 days transit by plane, train, bus, and foot because it is so remote.

Liathach from Beinn Eighe, Torridon, photo by Mick Knapton
Liathach from Beinn Eighe, Torridon, photo by Mick Knapton

Our goal this year, weather permitting, is to climb a lot of mountains along our coast-to-coast journey, something which Scotland has an abundance of. This event is not a race, but more of a social celebration among like-minded hikers who hike cross country at the same time and have a big party at the end.

We are still early into our planning process, so I’ll keep you posted as we figure out which peaks and mountain ranges we plan on climbing enroute, as well as what gear I’ll be taking and so forth. This will be a challenging hike requiring a combination of winter/spring mountaineering equipment and ultralight backpacking gear.

Onto the next Challenge!

For more information about the TGO Challenge, especially if this hike is something you’d like to try, see the Complete 2013 Event Details. 


  1. It is going to be a great trip. There are some big mountain areas between us and the end. Long days at times. Mountains day: one, two, and three so far on the draft route. I am sure the plan will change at times. Final route is not due for a while so we can fine tune the walk making sure its a great route and great time had.

    • You know how it is. You stick to the first few days of the route and then you start to improvise a bit as the conditions change. Good to plan out the different possibilities, but the weather is the ultimate decider. Nice to do a walk for a change where there is no “trail” and you are free to roam cross country.

  2. I’m looking forward to reading this trip. Especially with coming from differing walking areas. It will be good to read what each think.

  3. Congrats! I’m looking forward to reading about this trip.

  4. I’ll definitely be watching out for this!

  5. Exciting! Congratulations!

  6. Congrats on getting in again! That is going to be a wonderful trip, I’m looking forward to reading about the difference between the first go from 2010 and next Spring. It will be interesting to see how your routes have changed and your planning and gear choices in 3 years time.

  7. Beware the Munro bug! It’s expensive.

  8. Congratulations. Comedy’s hope to hike there. My wife is a Scot.

  9. I see you’ve turned Martin into a Northerner!
    He’ll be nipping out to buy a whippet then.

    It will be great to bump into you again, Philip.

  10. I noticed that Alan. ‘I wish’. True son of the east me. East Anglian based. You start south at Oban and we are far north as it can be on the Challenge. So I reckon our paths bump if we go to Braemar.

  11. Most excellent! Looking forward to reading all about it. It’s a hike that’s on my wish list!

  12. Excellent.

    Snap! I was on the 2010 Cahllenge and have managed to get a place on the 2013.

    See you there. I’m considering Glenelg or Dornie as start points, but lots of planning to do yet.


  13. I didn’t get the good news yet, but since I’m #12 on the standby list I’m hoping that will change in the next few weeks. If I get on, it will be my third (fourth start) – I did it in 2007, started in 2009, and completed it again this year. It’s a great experience, with wonderful and challenging country and lots of wonderful people, so I’m ready for another shot at it next year if that works out. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to meet up.

  14. Good to hear your standby number is so low, Rob.
    Where do you think you’ll be starting? It’s Oban for Phil, Andy and me.

    • Oban is a possibility for me, as well, Alan. But it will be a Saturday or later Friday start, as I’ll be at a meeting in Atlanta until Thursday late afternoon or evening. So I’m looking for a start point with relatively easy and quick rail (or air) access – Lochailort and Morar are also still on the list.

  15. Hi Philip,

    Be warned:

    The Bree Louise is a real ale pub near Euston – where TGO reprobates meet prior to catching the overnight sleeper to Inverness.

    The pub in Torridon is likewise.

    So, I guess I’ll see you in both places!

    I look forward to meetin you, Grant and Martin in May.


  16. Have some friends we met on our 2012 thru-hike of the PCT that I just discovered are doing TGOC (Mick & Gayle). Thought you might be interested in their: “Completely Unnecessary TGOC Age, Crossings and Location Analysis” found at:


  17. After reading the above blog, my decade (the 60s–no, not the British Invasion ’60s… although I thoroughly enjoyed that!) is the most common age for the crossing. It’s good to know people my age are good for something other than complaining of various and sundry aches and pains that youth cannot relate to. I have a standing invite from my nephew’s wife to cross the pond and backpack with her cousin. Is that vague enough? The TGO challenge is intriguing and I just may have take up the invitation and do it in the next couple years or so.

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