I am flying to Scotland in less than two weeks to participate in the TGO Challenge, backpacking across the country for 15 days. I’ll be accompanied on this hike by two teammates, Martin Rye from Northern England and Grant Sible from Austin, Texas. This will be Grant’s first Challenge hike, my second and Martin’s fourth.
Our route starts on the west coast of Scotland in a small village named Torridon and ends on the east coast on the beach at Lunan Bay. It is 224 miles long with 39,000 feet of total ascent, roughly equivalent in distance and elevation the the John Muir Trail in the United States. The only difference is that we MUST finish our hike within 15 days, regardless of the weather conditions we might face.
We plan to hike fast, do 15-20 mile days and bag some major peaks along our route. This will include camping out in pictureasque spots, called wild camping in the UK, except for two nights when we’ll spend in hostels or campsites enroute. Motorized transport of any kinds is against the rules, except for the ferry across Loch Ness, which we plan on taking to get from the western side of Scotland to the eastern half.
Environmental Conditions Assessment
No gear list is complete without first assessing the environmental conditions you are likely to encounter on a trip and planning your gear choices around them. Gear lists are not static. It pays to make one for every trip you take.
It is early spring in Scotland, after a very hard winter which saw a lot of snowfall. Water crossings are expected to be high and we expect bridges to be washed out. There may stil be lingering snow at higher elevations. The wind in Scotland is constant, so shelters and cook systems must be effectively windproof. The ground may be damp or wet. It is common to have wet shoes. Water is very plentiful and considered pure except near agricultural landholdings. We may experience snow, sleet, freezing rain, and rain, and may need to stay encamped if conditions are poor rather than walking through it. It doesn’t matter, we only have 15 days for the crossing.
We don’t expect an onslaught of bugs, but they might appear. Tick and Lyme disease are however on the rise in Scotland. Venison is a major protein source and Scottish estate owners raise huge herds of deer like cattle. That is a sight to see.
We will be traversing 3 different mountain ranges along our route. There could be whiteouts or fog and we need to be on our best navigation game. There are basically no trees in Scotland, so all mountains are effectively above treeline. The base of the mountains is close to sea level. The highest peaks are 4,000 feet tall but very rugged. Knife edge ridges abound.
Hikers are allowed to cross all property boundaries in Scotland as long as they don’t wander into fields where bulls live! May is lambing season and farmers appreciate it if hikers don’t disturb the little ones or mommy sheep.
There are 19 hours of daylight in May. There are no predetory animals to worry about and you can sleep with food in your tent or shelter. There are poisonous snakes – vipers- in the heather – but their bite won’t kill an adult or someone with a heathy immuse system.
Volume wise, I need to be able to carry 9 days of food to the start point of our route in Torridon on the west coast of Scotland. Grant and I are going to do a few days of peakbagging before Martin arrives and the actual TGO Challenge starts. After that I need to carry a maximum of about 5 days of food.
Gear Selection: a Few Highlights
My gear list will be quite similar to what I brought on the last Challenge I participated in, back in 2010, although I will need a higher volume pack, a Gossamer Gear Mariposa Backpack, to carry 9 days of food at the beginning of our trip. The Mariposa has a versatile compression system so I can reduce its volume when I don’t have to carry as much food.
In addition, I will be using a pyramid-shaped 2 person, floorless tarp which is effectively windproof, if well staked out. It has plenty of interior space for 1 person plus their gear in bad weather and good enough ventilation that you can cook inside without suffocating from carbon monoxide poisoning.
I will be bringing an isobutane stove, a MSR Reactor with a 1L pot to cook with. I like it because it packs well, it is very effiicient in terms of gas consumption, and it is windproof: the heating unit screws onto the bottom of the pot. At 14 oz, it is not the lightest stove/pot combination but I will quickly make up the weight difference on fuel savings.
We will be using compasses to navigate, but I have a small refurbished SOL gps along for position and altitude checks. I will carry a SPOT II GPS Satellite Messenger so I can send daily ok messages to my wife. She worries. I decided against bringing an iPad because I want to fully enjoy this journey without distractions. I’ll have a phone so I can plug into wireless if there is any but I won’t bother getting a UK phone card for calls.
For water purification, I’m bringing a Sawyer Squeeze water filter and Aqua Mira drops. They say that Scotland water is pure but you do see deer carcasses in streams after winter. To each his own.
Clothing. The normal 3-season layering approach with outer shell, mid-layer insulation, and a permethrin-soaked hiking layer for tick protection. The same on the bottom and a separate set of clean, base layer clothes to sleep in each night, or don if it gets really cold. Rain and high wind are the main concerns. For feet, trail runners because they dry fast and don’t produce blisters when wet, augmented by gore-tex socks if we have to walkthrough snow-melt, more as a vabor barrier liner than anything.
Isaac, the stuffed moose will be my companion on this trip. A particle physicist by trade, he will be looking for the universal particle in the Highlands. Buy him a pint. He has a lot of funny physicist and moose stories.
My 2013 TGO Challenge Gear List
|Gossamer Gear Mariposa Backpack w/ aluminum stay||27.2|
|Gossamer Gear Sitlight Pad||1.5|
|Trash Compactor Bag (Liner)||1|
|REI Keychain Thermometer||0.2|
|Dashpoint 20 Lowepro Camera Pocket||1.9|
|Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid (Cuben) + Cordage||12.7|
|Gossamer Gear Polycryo Plastic Ground Sheet||1.6|
|9 X Easton 8″ tent stakes, MLD polejack and stuff sack||5.5|
|Western Mountaineering Ultralight Sleeping Bag||30.1|
|Sea to Summit Stuff Sack||1.1|
|MLD Superlight Bivy Bag with head net||6.6|
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite (Regular)||12.6|
|Camp Clothes/Rain Gear|
|Golite Tumalo 2.5 Layer Rain Pants||8.4|
|Patagonia Capilene 1 Bottom Long Underwear||5.9|
|Gold Toe Synthetic Socks, 2 pr||3|
|RailRiders LS Speed T||7.6|
|Rocky Gore-tex socks||2.8|
|Outdoor Research Foray Jacket||16.1|
|Outdoor Research Versaliner Gloves||2.8|
|Mountain Hardware polypro hat||0.8|
|Monbell Tachyon Wind Shirt||2.6|
|Montbell Therm-a-Wrap Jacket||10.4|
|1 x 3L Platypus Bladder||1.4|
|Aqua Mira Drops||1.5|
|Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter minus plastic bags||2.4|
|1 X Qt Recycled Soda Bottles||1|
|Cut down Platypus Water Scoop||0.5|
|First Aid Kit||2.8|
|Assorted Bandages, Benedryl, Immodium|
|Locking Safety Pins, Nitrile Gloves, CrazyGlue|
|Tick key, Vitamin I|
|Gear Repair Kit||3.8|
|1 Shoe Lace, Box Matches, Tenacious Tape,|
|Mini rolll duct tape, fire starter, 4 x AAA lithium batteries|
|Precut strips of Leukotape|
|Kitchen and Camp|
|MLD Spinnaker Bear Bag||0.5|
|OPSack Odor Proof Liner||1.1|
|MSR Reactor Stove and 1.0 L Pot||14|
|REI Plastic Spoon||0.3|
|Isaac, the Stuffed Moose and his own ditty bag||10.1|
|Suunto M3 Baseplate compass||1.6|
|Panasonic Lumix Lx5 digital camera+Battery||9.3|
|3 x lithium batteries+Charger+Lens Cloth +data cards||5.4|
|UK Power Converter Plug||1|
|Spot II GPS Satellite Messenger||4.1|
|Garmin Gecko GPS||3.2|
|Digital Tape Recorder||2.3|
|Dermatone tin – Sun tan lotion||0.8|
|QiWiz Big Dig Ti Trowel||0.5|
|Total gear weight in lbs||14.66|
|Rab 2010 TGO Challenge 100 weight Fleece||10.3|
|RailRiders EcoMesh Long Pants (Insect Shield)||13|
|RailRiders Madison River Shirt (Insect Shield)||9.2|
|Pacer Poles (Aluminum)||23|
|Inov8 Terroc 330 Trail Runners||24.6|
|Gold Toe Synthetic Socks||1.5|
|Under Armour Boxer Jocks||3.5|
|Tattered Golite Team Hat||1.8|
|Total weight worn, in lbs||4.79|
Good post and interesting list. I have a few key items the same: BackPack, Sleeping Bag, compass, poles.
Have a good crossing, see you in Scotland somewhere, hopefully!
“I’ll have a phone”
I don’t see it in the list…could it also double as a camera and/or voice recorder?
Also, Tick Key…never seen that before. Is that really necessary? The knife probably has a tweezer included + you say you’re using Permethrin anyway. Are you expecting embedded ticks? Nothing much extra to carry I guess…
The moose is a cute thing I guess…personally I’d leave ’em at home (but I know you won’t). Good luck with the Challenge!
I cut a tick off with a knife on the last challenge (tweezers long gone on that knife) and it was messy. The trick is to get them out without squeezing the juice into your bloodstream. The tick key weighs nothing…
Phone..stays off. I still might not even bring it. I also left off wallet, money, passport, and toothbrush.
The moose is coming. He paid for the trip!
The moose paid for the trip–love that!
I laid the moose over my upper chest on cold nights to enhance my sleeping bag’s draft collar – he kept me warmer at night and paid for all my drinks too!
Congrats on leaving the computer home to focus on experiencing the trip. Bravo.
I’d rather laugh with Alan Sloman than read spam anyway.
Eh? What’s that?
Did someone mention pork products?
Spam fritters – it’s why God gave us our curly-tailed chums.
Remember to take a little flour and dried egg for the batter.
Good luck – enjoy the Challenge – I did it in 2011 and 2012 – hopefully you will get sunnier weather.
Inspiring; as allways.
Hope to see you somewhere on the trail.
Sorry to bother; did you seam seal the Versaliner Gloves? Just asking.
No, but I did add a second DWR coat to them.
But we’ll don’t need them…; it’s going to be nice and sunny in two weeks……
Have a safe journey and see you on Montrose Beach,
Hope that you have a great trip when you come over. Just now it’s still a wee bit chilly (40F or so) and there is quite a lot of snow on the tops. If it doesn’t all melt in the next couple of weeks I’d consider throwing in a set of microspikes and an ice axe to cope with ground over 2500 feet. Perhaps you could post them on to Montrose if there is a heatwave? Take your tick remover for sure, last month I picked up 16 ticks in one nights wild camp on the west coast.
PS Scotland does have trees (more than you can shake a stick at ?), it’s just that most of them are economic forestry and lower down in the glens.
All the best from Inverness
I like Isaac!
Have a great time!
Safe travels on your tip Phillip!
How do you travel with your gear? Do you take any special precautions when checking it in at the airport? I’m going over to Corsica in September to do the GR20 and I’ve been wondering how to pack.
Have a great trip!
I check all the pointy metal objects in a big duffle bag and pray they don’t get lost by the airlines. Pray hard.
Good luck with the TGO. Not done it myself but I know a few who have. They tell me it is tough, the weather is the main obstacle.
Re: vipers in the heather. They are called Adders. Here is some info on them https://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/Adder Very shy creatures, if you make a noise they will move out the way before you get to see them. You might see grass snakes or slow worms but they are harmless. This link tells you about them https://www.herpetofauna.co.uk/grass_snake.htm
Have a good hike!
Good luck with the Challenge. Most beautiful country in the world, although I am biased. I walked north-south in 2011, but at a more leisurely pace than you. Recommend a night out at the Kinlochewe Hotel near your start if you have the chance.
Be wary of ticks. Terrybnd got some about three weeks ago when we were on a short trip in a forest area in the Cairngorms. I didn’t think they came out that early and fortunately they didn’t latch on to me !
I’m wearing chemically treated pants – kills them dead on contact!
Good for you – kill the little blighters :)
With what chemicals did you treat the trousers?
Leaving the US soon?
See you in Scotland.
Have a great TGO walk. How do you protect your food in a treeless environment, especially one with a large variety of rodents.
Rodents are not an issue. I just sleep with my food under my tarp.