Photos Courtesy of Martin Rye
Walter Underwood left a great comment last week on my book review of the NOLs Wilderness Guide, where he was critical about the book's lack of time control plan (TCP) examples. A TCP or Route Plan, as they are called in the UK, is a critical planning tool for the long distance walker.
In the US, many of us can get away with minimal route planning because we walk trails like the Appalachian Trail where blazes mark the way and there are shelters conveniently spaced a day apart from one another. I'm certainly guilty of this myself. When I plan an AT section hike, most of my effort is spent figuring out where I'm going to park my car and how I'm going to run a shuttle. I then look at the terrain and identify likely camping spots or shelters, based primarily around the availability of water, the kind of pace I feel comfortable hiking at and how much daylight there is in a day. Not counting food provisioning, that's about the extent of planning I do.
Now imagine what it would be like to walk across an entire country without the aid of a blazed trail. You'd have to plan out many more things, like where to cross rivers and streams, property boundaries, bad weather bypasses, what the most scenic route is, how hard the terrain is (mud, boulder fields, desert, etc) and so on. Without a pre-blazed trail, a walk like this gets much more complicated and important to plan out.
I'm feeling this difference myself at the moment, since it's finally come time for me to nail down the route details of my hike across Scotland next May, on the TGO Challenge. The cornerstone of that planning effort is a Time Control Plan that I've been finalizing for the past week, but actually started last February, 2009. I'll be publishing a near final draft of this plan sometime this week, but I wanted to describe some of the information and considerations that have gone into it.
The event itself is 15 days long, but it's customary for people to finish in 14. The distance of my route will be close to 165 miles, starting on the west coast of Scotland and ending on the east. I'm planning on spending most of my nights camping in unprepared places as I find them (wild camping), but also plan to spend a few in towns at small inns to wash up and resupply.
Finding water in Scotland is not an issue, but water crossings are, and I expect that I'll have to ford dozens of streams over the course of my walk. There are also cases where I have to go a bit out of my way to find a bridge over some of the larger waterways. This has footwear implications and will probably mean no leather boots.
My route is also heavily dictated by geography, weather, and local experience. Let me explain that last factor first. I have had some previous experience hiking in Scotland, but none solo. So my hike will be what is called a low level route, mainly staying under 600 meters in altitude. The maximum in Scotland is about 1100 meters. This means I'll mainly be walking down river valleys and across open moors. I have planned some high peak ascents, but whether I do them or not will depend on weather conditions.
The main geographic determinants of my route are mountain ranges, mountain passes, rivers, and lakes. That's not surprising I guess, but the extent of their influence is profound. This section of Scotland has hundreds of mountains and bodies of water in it and I have to weave my way around, over and through to safely get from one coast to the other. This means avoiding certain routes, which are too dangerous or require too much daily ascent to complete in the required time frame.
The weather is almost certain to be challenging. Temperatures will be relatively warm only dropping to the mid-twenties (F) at night, but high wind and rain are very likely, particularly on the western half of the walk where the ocean has a stronger effect on weather patterns than the east.
Thankfully, property boundaries are not an issue in Scotland. Anyone is allowed to hike across private land, although courtesy is always appreciated. This is a culture where walking and rambling is a time honored tradition!
One thing I do always plan very carefully on my hikes in the states is daylight because it dictates how far I can hike per day. I'm told that daylight in May in Scotland lasts from 3am to 10pm, making it possible to hike long days or take significant breaks. Since, I plan on hiking 12-16 miles per day, not counting rest days, I'm hoping that these long days will make it possible for me to hike my miles while taking the time to socialize with any fellow walkers I run across, climb a few unplanned peaks, or admire a view.
So those are the main variables that I've had to make explicit in my TGO route planing process, so far. I should be publishing a candidate time control plan a bit later this week.
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