TGO Challenge 2017

I’ve already told the story of the actual walk, but also wanted to wrap up some comments on the planning for the trip, route and general experience of the whole thing. So here’s an index to the individual blog posts and some general thoughts on this year’s Challenge…

 

Day What Happened Distance (km) Ascent (m) Stuff Climbed
-1: Wed 10 May  Meet at Euston, Sleeper to Inverness, Bus to Dornie, Killing time  0  0  –
0: Thur 11 May
1: Fri 12 May  Dornie to Camban Bothy  25.24  844
2: Sat 13 May  Camban Bothy to Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin  20.19  270
3: Sun 14 May  Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin to Cannich  19.06  262  –
4: Mon 15 May  Cannich to Drumnadrochit  22.30  456  –
5: Tue 16 May  Drumnadrochit to Glen Mazeran  28.37  956  –
6: Wed 17 May  Glen Mazeran to Allt Steallaig  18.66  498  –
7: Thur 18 May  Allt Steallaig to Aviemore  21.44  521  Geal-charn Mor (Corbett, Marilyn)
8: Fri 19 May  Aviemore to Corrour Bothy  23.25  663  –
9: Sat 20 May  Corrour Bothy to Braemar  22.57  184  –
10: Sun 21 May  Braemar to Glen Isla  25.15  1030 Carn an Tuirc (Munro),

Cairn of Claise (Munro)

Little Glas Maol (Munro Top)

11: Mon 22 May  Glen Isla to Balintore  31.51  445  –
12: Tue 23 May  Balintore to Forfar  29.47  227  –
13: Wed 24 May  Forfar to Lunan Bay and Montrose  27.46  119  –
14: Thur 25 May  9.50  90  –
15: Fri 26 May  Killing time in Montrose waiting to go home  0  0
Totals  324.17 (201 miles)  6565 (21,500 ft)

Route Choice

When I planned my Challenge, I wanted to balance an overall conservative approach with getting a reasonable flavour of what the TGOC has to offer. I wasn’t looking to do big high-level days as getting across without huge diversions was very much my goal. However, I did set myself the target of bagging at least one Corbett and one Munro, subject of course to conditions making it feasible. All in all, my route card had 2 Corbetts and 6 Munros on it, but I was unsure whether I’d manage to do all of them.

Recognising that this would be the longest continuous walk I’ve ever done, I needed a pattern that would enable me to last the distance. That meant not overdoing it on the first few days, and leaving any big stuff for the end when the motivation to get over the line would (hopefully) be there. I soon latched onto the Affric Kintail Way as the ideal candidate for the start – it was roughly where I’d decided to spend the first few days, and a look at my good friend Lonewalker’s experience of it last year was enough to convince me it was ideal for my purpose. This would give me relatively gentle days on mostly defined tracks.

With such a start, this meant I’d have to go through the Monadhliath and I chose as straight a course as I could between Inverfarigaig and Aviemore, whilst ensuring those 2 Corbetts were on it. Here in plotting the exact route I focussed on tracks marked on the map wherever possible and also researched blogs and the message board. I also cautiously plotted a foul weather alternative right around the top of the area. It was this section that changed the most as a result of vetting. My vetter found nothing he wanted changed apart from a spelling mistake and some missed daily stats, but he did suggest a whole new strategy for bad weather in the Monadhliath. This involved shortening/lengthening days to ensure sheltered pitches, and only taking my full foul weather alternative in the event the whole 3 days was horrific. This made the route card look quite busy but gave me the flexibility I wanted. As I set off, I’d already decided that I would adopt one of the foul weather options as my main route – essentially going long on day 5 to get the Glen Mazeran camp rather than stopping at the top of Allt Mor.

I initially looked at the Lairig Ghru for my route to Braemar, but changed my mind when I considered foul weather alternatives. I’ve wanted to experience Glen Feshie anyway and so decided to plump for that as my main route, obviating the need for a foul weather alternative in the process.

With the intention of a finish fairly near Montrose, my route from Braemar naturally developed as being based on Jock’s Road and Glen Clova, picking off my Munros around Lochallater. when I saw the Cheese & Wine Party was due to be at the Fee Burn, a mere half mile further along the ridge from where I was due to descend, I tweaked things so I could attend. This then saw me decide to continue with the ridge and eventually descend into Glen Prosen rather than Glen Clova. The route to the coast from there was then largely dictated by the layout of roads.

All in all I was happy with my route – it gave me enough variety, took me to some places I’d heard about, gave me some exposure to the main social hubs, but was also, crucially, manageable on paper. I was confident that the daily distances and ascent I could handle, and it would only be weather and injury that could cause them to be a problem. I hoped the social side would effectively compensate for the long walk malaise I tend to fall into (it did).

Actual (blue) and Planned (brown) routes

Choice of and Travel To/From Trailheads

Right from the outset my starting point was going to be somewhere easy to get to. Ideally this meant somewhere on a train line, or at worst a single bus ride away. So I obviously looked at Mallaig as a popular first-timer’s start point. Oban was too far south for what I wanted to do (ah, but quite likely next time), and Strathcarron and Plockton were a bit too out of the way for me. I soon focussed on Dornie, a bus ride from Kyle of Lochalsh or Glasgow or Inverness.

Since I’d be returning home from Montrose anyway after checking out, that bit was easy. I just had to find somewhere on the coast to finish that wasn’t overly difficult or time consuming to get back to Montrose from. My thoughts very much focussed on being walking distance from Montrose in case I finished at a time of day when buses were scarce. After initially dallying with St Cyrus I opted for Lunan Bay as my finish point.

Travel was straightforward – the sleeper to Inverness and bus to Dornie on the outward journey and simply the sleeper back from Montrose.

Accommodation

Whilst I love wild camping, every so often it’s good to have a fixed roof over your head, to have a shower, a decent meal, and charge all your gadgets up. Since my route divided neatly into 4 sections of 3-4 days, I simply looked for fixed roof accommodation at the start/end of each section – at the start at Dornie, at Drumnadrochit, at Aviemore, at Braemar and Montrose. Braemar proved to be a problem and I found myself booking the hostel in Glen Prosen. The final accommodation plan (and what actually happened) was:

  • Start (Thur 11th) – Dornie Hotel (as planned)
  • Night 1 (Fri 12th) – wildcamp (actually Camban Bothy)
  • Night 2 (Sat 13th) – wildcamp (as planned, but not where I originally intended)
  • Night 3 (Sun 14th) – Cannich campsite (as planned)
  • Night 4 (Mon 15th)  – Number One Glen Nevis Hostel, Drumnadrochit (as planned)
  • Night 5 (Tue 16th)  – wildcamp (as planned)
  • Night 6 (Wed 17th)  – wildcamp (as planned, but not where I originally intended)
  • Night 7 (Thur 18th)  – Mackenzies Highland Inn, Aviemore (as planned)
  • Night 8 (Fri 19th) – wildcamp in Glen Feshie (actually Lairig Ghru / Corrour Bothy)
  • Night 9 (Sat 20th)  – wildcamp near White Bridge (actually Braemar campsite)
  • Night 10 (Sun 21st)  – Lochallater Lodge (actually wildcamp at top of Glen Isla)
  • Night 11 (Mon 22nd)  – Fee Burn wildcamp for Cheese & Wine Party (actually B&B near Balintore)
  • Night 12 (Tue 23rd)  – Glen Prosen Hostel (actually Foresterseat campsite)
  • Night 13 (Wed 24th) – Originally a B&B in Forfar, then changed to Foresterseat Campsite just outside Forfar, then campsite changed to day before leaving me with nothing booked (actually Lunan Bay wildcamp)
  • Night 14 (Thu 25th) – Star Hotel, Montrose (as planned)

Aviemore was a critical booking as I was also sending a re-supply parcel there, and had to make that. After Aviemore, the accommodation plan went awry as my shortcut through the Lairig Ghru got me a day ahead of schedule. Overall I ended up with 6 wildcamps (8 planned), 3 campsites (2 planned), 1 bothy (none planned), and 5 fixed roof stays (5 planned). Next time I’d probably adopt a similar strategy, but maybe cut one fixed roof stay out.

Services

This was the hardest part to get a feel for before the walk. I could look at maps and google to find out where there would be shops etc, and where I could send parcels, but it was no substitute for the accumulated knowledge of Challengers. Without reading every post on the message board I could never hope to absorb all of this lore, so I played it safe with my provisioning, sending a parcel to the halfway point and ensuring I always carried a bit more food than I needed. Actually this worked well, but I’d go on a further Challenge feeling a bit more confident about the ability to source stuff en route, and about where I could send parcels to.

Was the walk any good ?

Yes. The Affric Kintail Way was perfect for my needs. It warmed me nicely for the higher ground later on. The Monadhliath was as expected, albeit it seemed on a bigger scale. This was probably my favourite part of the route and I’d happily adopt the exact same route through the Monadhliath again. The decision to take the Lairig Ghru due to benign conditions was a good one, although in doing so I missed out on Glen Feshie (next time). My Munro section south of Braemar was fine apart from the weather and it is regrettable that I had to curtail it. This decision also landed me further west than I intended and resulted in a lot more road walking at the end. I’d certainly reduce that on a future Challenge, and indeed would go so far as to say I’d let that dictate my route to the coast at the end. Having said that, if the weather had been dire, I’d probably have appreciated the security and certainty of the road.

Altitude profile of the walk

All in all, the walk gave me the flavour of the Challenge that I was looking for. The mix of solo and accompanied days worked really well, and effectively prevented Long Walk Malaise setting in. I did, however, opt to omit the socialising at Lochcallater and the Cheese & Wine Party (which was cancelled anyway due to poor conditions) in the interests of getting the walk done without distractions. This was the right decision at the time and still feels right now, given my primary objective was to complete the walk. What I did learn on the Challenge was that I prefer the smaller more intimate social gatherings with a handful of people rather than the big raucous affairs.

Concluding Thoughts

I’ve already said that I think I’ll have another go at the Challenge. I felt that I was unnaturally blessed with good weather and consequently may have fluked getting across. There’s only one way to find out. This aside, it’s very clear that having company at points during a long walk is key to me completing it. The Challenge offers this.

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