Thursday, 13 June 2019

Decline and Fall: The TGO Challenge 2019

(With unashamed plagiarism of the great Evelyn Waugh's first novel)

Four men of revolting appearance were approaching from the glen. They were low of brow, crafty of eye and crooked of limb. They advanced with the loping tread of wolves, peering about them furtively as they came, as though in constant terror of ambush; they slavered at their mouths, which hung loosely over their receding chins, while each shouldered on his ape like back a burden of curious and unaccountable shape. On seeing the ultralight American backpacking vloggers they halted and hedged back, those behind squinting and mouthing over their companions' shoulders.

“They’re surely going to die, those fellows”, the band of four muttered, “for no-one can survive in the Scottish bogs without a decent set of nine inch gold Eastons. Or at least seven inch Groundhogs”.

“Nor without a good, sturdy gabardine mackintosh”, whispered Philbrick, doffing his recently purchased Black Watch tartan ‘I love Scotland’ cap to the hikers from the world’s only remaining superpower.

(Adapted from Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh)

Paul Pennyfeather reflected. It was supposed to have been wall-to-wall sunshine for at least the first week.  He called up the stairs of the Lochaillort Hotel to his delightful group of walking companions. “It’s peeing down chaps. Overtrousers time”.
Paul Pennyfeather at Locahaillort: A mild mannered, naive chap, and generally modesty personified, despite his somewhat narcissistic tendencies. And damned handsome to boot.
They sat in the bar and waited 20 minutes in the hope that the rain would ease. A semi-darkened hotel bar at 9.00 am is a cold and unwelcoming place. It was hopeless trying to get the team together for a group photograph. Eventually, Dr Fagan decided that they would leave.

“Typical of Grimes, he’s never ready when I say”, said the Doctor. Philbrick grunted in assent.

“Steady on Doctor”, said Pennyfeather, “he’ll be along soon. He’s waiting for Prendy”.

“Prendy’s hopeless at early starts. He knew what time we were supposed to be leaving. So did Grimes. Come on, they’ll just have to catch up. In any case, Prendy might be a decent sort, but he’s not in our team. He’s not Grimes’ responsibility”.
Sir Solomon Philbrick, a man with a mysterious past and Doctor Fagan.
According to Evelyn Waugh, who thankfully can not be sued as he is dead, Philbrick may have been the former owner of a London pub and safe cracker; or a wealthy ship owner and slayer of a Portuguese Count; or a Cambridge educated novelist. None are likely to be true. Waugh describes Doctor Fagan as the Headmaster of a third rate private boarding school in Wales, allegedly with three PHDs and an expert in many things. Only the latter is true.

Ravaged by time and a misspent youth, Captain Grimes suffers from appallingly high levels of fitness, despite Waugh's belief that he had a wooden leg. Note that Pennyfeather would fall over without leaning on those trekking poles having just managed to keep pace with him for almost a whole killer metre.

The three set off along the side of the road, soon caught up by Grimes and Prendergast. Pennyfeather was in front at this point dodging on to the rough verge every few seconds in the face of frequent, fast moving traffic; Dr Fagan and Philbrick never varied their distance from the kerb, but stared into the whites of the eyes of the drivers of the passing vehicles. The pure menace inherent in their look forced most cars to give them a wider berth. Grimes simply shouted obscenities at any unabashed motorists. Prendergast just smiled at all and sundry.

Prendergast: A rare photo this, in that he is not smiling. But he is still oozing pleasantness from every pore.
Police Constable Isla McTavish’s Volvo sped round a bend, almost wiping out the five Challengers, and skidded to a halt. She wound the window down. “Walk on the verge”, she commanded. “No”, replied Dr Fagan. PC McTavish sped off. Her match had just met her.

They reached the ridge heading for Glas-charn, at what the Ordnance Survey suggested was just 633 metres above seal level. In his exertions Pennyfeather thought this was clearly nonsense. It was quite evidently at least the height of a lofty Munro. The bog closed in. Then the clag came down, the temperature came down, the rain came down and finally sleet and hail came down. A line of old fence posts pointed the way to the summit, but via many a bog and several fierce ascents and descents. Grimes stomped ahead; Prendergast smiled throughout, matching Grimes step for step, being kind and supportive and generally coming dangerously close to stealing the sobriquet of ‘the veryveryniceman’ from Pennyfeather.

Heading up Glas-charn: Clag, bog and water. But not a drop to drink.
Pennyfeather, meanwhile, was tired. Extremely tired. That dog walking along the Shropshire Union canal towpath had, perhaps, not been quite adequate preparation for the event. He could not easily keep up with Grimes and Prendy, but to his surprise the Doctor and Philbrick were left far behind. And was he thirsty? Yes he was. He reflected that those who say there is no need to carry much water when walking in Scotland are perhaps just repeating an old canard. If enough people say something, believe something, it does not make it true.

“I’m sure we’ll start to bond as a team as the days go on”, he said to Grimes.

“Hmmm”, was Grimes’ ominous reply.

“I wonder why they’re so slow”, mused Pennyfeather, adding “anyone would think they are hatching some dastardly plot”. Grimes looked at him, pity masking his ravaged features. “You’re a good egg, Paul, but you are rather naïve”, was his reply.

The top of Glas-charn: The forced attempt at a smile speaks volumes

The day couldn’t end soon enough for Paul. He and Grimes pitched up at a spot by a new hydro scheme that was far better than its stony appearance warranted. Philbrick and Fagan arrived 30 or 40 minutes later. Fortunately, looks cannot kill. But remember. If the Doctor ever tells you where to stop for the night then stop there for the night. Or, if you do not, wait until he’s had a large scotch and is tucked up in his sleeping bag with a cuppa soup inside him before begging forgiveness.
First night camp spot
Despite team orders from the Doctor and Philbrick, Pennyfeather couldn't bring himself to sniff his own socks but he did hang them in his tent to dry out
It got better over the coming days. Much better. The weather that is. And the terrain. Not that Pennyfeather became less tired. The forty five minute stop for bacon butties at Glenfinnan Station after just an hour’s walking the following day was welcome and deserved after the privations of the first day; the second stop, for thirty minutes for coffee and cake at Glenfinnan Visitors’ Centre did not, he felt, really seem to have been truly earned.
Dr Fagan and Philbrick believe that the keys to a happy and successful TGO Challenge are regular rest breaks and sniffing your own socks at frequent intervals. By the look on Philbrick's face this sniff suggests that he's in for a rough afternoon.
Gleann Fionnlighe was rather splendid. Prendergast left the team for higher things; Grimes pointed out that the weather hardly warranted the decision of his three companions to follow the Foul Weather Alternative. He was right, of course, but wisdom and the previous day's exertions got the better of them. Grimes harrumphed and headed upwards at the speed of sound; the others trudged the glen and over the col to the Glensulaig Bothy at the speed of snails. Pennyfeather found Grimes camped and unpacked by the time he arrived. To his credit Grimes then did what he is a master at. He shovelled shit. Piles of it. The cattle variety. He cleared it from the best camping spots reserved for the Doctor and Philbrick who arrived somewhat later. And it was finally good.

The Glensulaig Bothy: A splendid spot to camp and hardly a cow pat in sight

To be continued......probably. I have a holiday to attend and a house to move.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

TGO Challenge Food Supplies: Some shocking nerdiness

Sorting my TGOC Supplies

I did something very nerdy yesterday.  Whilst I was sorting the food I plan to take on the forthcoming TGO Challenge I checked on the calorific content of a typical day’s supplies.  I have never done this before and was quite shocked by what I found.  I knew that on longer backpacking trips such as the TGOC I would usually lose a bit of weight (perhaps no bad thing in my case), and so was consuming less than I was burning off, but was surprised at just how large my calorie deficit must be over several long days of carrying a pack. In the past I have been conscious that I do not drink enough water when backpacking and dehydration impacts adversely on my performance.  I suspected that insufficient food intake was doing so as well, but not by the amounts yesterday’s nerdy exercise demonstrated. What is more galling is that I already feel that the food I carry makes a hefty addition to the weight on my shoulders, and thus to up my calories significantly would mean a serious weight penalty.

The table below shows a very typical day’s food for me on the Challenge.


Oats So Simple (2 sachets)

Sugar and Nido in oats

Nature Valley Cereal Bar

Brews *2 with Nido


Tortilla wraps *2

Primula Cheese


Trail Mix (c25gr fruit pastilles, c40gr M and Ms)

Cereal Bar

Milky Way (Fun Size) *2

Snickers (Medium)


Brews *2

Cup a Soup

Dehydrated Meal (various makes 600-800 calories)

Pudding eg instant custard or Milky Way


Grand Total

Thus, that rough and ready calculation suggests a daily intake of about 2600 calories. My Fitbit tracker tells me that this past week’s exercise (mainly dog walking) has seen me consume between 3600 and 5700 calories per day.  On the  Pre-Walk Daunder backpack in the Lake District in the Lake District recently I burnt about 6500 calories per day. I will have to re-examine my list and see what I can an add without having to lug too much more up various hills.

Of course the above is an underestimate of calories consumed on the Challenge. The occasional cafe or store will be passed on a day's walk. I will spend some nights in towns or villages in B and Bs and on those days a cooked breakfast, dinner out, and a couple of pints of Guinness will up things considerably, but possibly at not the best times of day to provide energy when on the hill or along the glens.

Finally, on another, but related, topic, I have been devastated to discover that Sainsbury’s appear to have stopped selling their Pour and Store food bags.  It was the innovative gusset at the base of these bags that helped me develop my much derided culinary technique of plastic bag cooking to a standard worthy of Master Chef. I will now have to visit the Lakeland store in Windermere to find a suitable alternative product. It is that or resort to having to wash my pot after breakfast.

Argghhh. I'm down to my last four bags 

Well that’s enough nerdiness from me for now. I have some re-supply parcels to make up.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Rambling about the Lake District, with a couple of wild camps thrown in

Slater's Bridge, Little Langdale: A Delight

The Pre-Walk Daunder (PWD) took place this week.

For those not in the know this is the world’s premier backpacking event, which takes place each year a few weeks before the world’s second best backpacking event, the cross-Scotland TGO Challenge. The PWD was the brain child of two shadowy figures of the backpacking world, Lord Elpus and Alan Sloman, the latter also being known as ‘The Stringpuller’ by those whose strings have been pulled. These two worked tirelessly to ensure that this year’s event was a success. The Stringpuller telephoned me and asked me to help Lord Elpus organise everything. I telephoned Lord Elpus who gave me the dates and suggested we walk for three days from Torver in the Lake District. He then stated that as I knew the Lakes better than he, I could be trusted to come up with a route, organise any camp site bookings, sort out car parking, reserve a table for dinner at a suitable pub on our first night, produce gpx files and e-mail the participants with details. “I’ll do everything else, though”, he assured me, “and Al and I will tell you who to invite. We don’t want any of your riff-raff mates”. Well that’s rich given that Mad ‘n’ Bad and Croydon Mick were on his list.

Baysbrown Camp Site, Langdale: The Pre-Walk Daunderers assemble 

Mick, Mad 'n' Bad and Emma, High Park Farm, Little Langdale: a simply superb cafe stop

Torver? Nah. A cunning route taking in a mixture of some of Lakeland’s finest mountain scenery together with some hidden gems that demonstrate that solitude can still be found in the heart of the National Park in the school Easter holidays. Thus, on the first day we would set off from Baysbrown camp site at Chapel Stile in Great Langdale, head round to, Little Langdale, and then climb to Red Tarn between Pike O’Blisco and Cold Pike for a wild camp. The following day would see us descend to Mickleden, head up the Stake Pass and Martcrag Moor and take in as many (or few as it turned out) of the Langdale Pikes and nearby fells as we could manage before wild camping above Codale Tarn. After which on the final day we would wind our way along the delightful Blea Rigg ridge before descending back to Chapel Stile.

Our wild camp spot at Red Tarn. Contrast the shoddy way in which Andy's Tarptent Notch (in the background) is pitched compared to the Stratospire 1, an example of Fellbound's fine camp craft

5.50 am, Red Tarn: Chilly. 
Judith -  realising that the Lakes aren't always like Piccadilly Circus
Our pitch above Codale Tarn

And that’s what we did. The weather was perfect for walking. The nights were rather chilly (water bottles part frozen, frosty tents and down jackets required). The scenery was stunning. Only the area around Pike O’Stickle was busy whilst we were walking. We had Red Tarn to ourselves for the first wild camp; we got pitched on a fine spot well above Codale Tarn for the second wild camp, only later to find about ten more tents arrive, fortunately pitching much nearer the tarn. These were some aspiring mountain leaders and their instructors. By coincidence I had last camped at Codale Tarn almost exactly 40 years earlier – on my mountain leadership course with some fellow PGCE students from Durham University.

Al 'Stringpuller' Sloman looking as if he's on a covert spying mission

The company was great.  The conversation erudite and intellectually robust, and as a result of the latter I now know much about Mad ‘n’ Bad’s bowel movements.  The traditional PWD schisms occurred each day.  As a result, a great time was had by all. Or so I am told.

Mick Croydon, the only wild camper I know who generates a black bin bag full of rubbish every single night

Fellbound demonstrating his new sartorial elegance: from the 'Grey Man' to Captain Pumpkin. And yes, a red beanie does clash with an orange jacket. I'm sorting it, alright?

Life Without Twitter

I gave up using Twitter in March. How’s it been?  Great.  Try it!  Even for a short break.  I’m convinced it’s been good for both my mental and physical health.  It has meant not being drawn into pointless or superficial arguments or discussions about politics, and stuff such as whether cats are cleverer than dogs (they aren’t), or whether Showaddywaddy was the classiest band in the history of Rock and Roll (it was).

There are downsides to not being a Twitter user. I do wonder what my Twitter friends are up to – but then I have the mobile numbers of many of them, and I have upped my usage of Whatsapp, e-mail, and pen, ink and postage stamps to contact people and, horror of horrors, have even telephoned some of them for a chat.

However, having de-activated my account  I re-activated it within the 30 day grace period before it disappeared forever. There were two reasons. Firstly, it seems to be the only way into the ‘Social Hiking’ website which I want to use during next month’s TGO Challenge cross Scotland walk; and secondly it seems to be the best way of pointing to my blog when I put up a new post. Otherwise I would be almost entirely reliant on readers of the blog sharing links to it – which isn’t that reliable. Thus, if I want to continue to blog and for people to read my posts I need Twitter.

Reactivating the account means the need for discipline to avoid the temptation to peek at Twitter. So far I have resisted the urge, and the longer I have gone without Twitter the easier this has become.

In short, I stopped actively using Twitter, I didn’t die and I feel better for it.  I’m not on Facebook or Instagram either.  I would encourage others regularly to put down their smartphones, give their eyes a rest from the screen and instead to talk to somebody, or go for a walk, or write to a friend, or read a book.  Try it. You know it makes sense!

Monday, 4 March 2019

TGO Challenge 2019 Preparations: Gear Choices

My Tarptent Scarp 1 on the Challenge in 2015 - One of my favouritist wild camp pitches, ever

My thoughts are turning to the annual TGO Challenge in May.  For the uninitiated this is a two week backpack, west to east, coast-to-coast across the Scottish Highlands.  Actually, this statement is incorrect.  My thoughts are not turning to it. It has been almost constantly in my mind since I submitted my entry five months ago.  That's one of the reasons I swore in June 2017  that I'd never do it again - it can become all consuming.

An Idiot
Only an idiot would say he was never going to do the Challenge again after experiencing this sort of setting for a fortnight.

Anyway.  The three naughty boys have invited me to walk with them.  I am still not certain why, and at the back of my mind I worry that ulterior motives will become clear on the Challenge at a time of their choosing.  Perhaps Mad 'n' Bad will suddenly tear my Montane Beanie from my head and produce a gimp mask for me to wear, whilst the Stringpuller and Lord Elpus dance around chanting "We're twenty miles from civilisation and we've caught ourselves a bitch", followed by the order "Now get our tents up and fill up our water containers.  And make it snappy or you'll be carrying all of our cheese and wine up Stob Poite Coire Ardair tomorrow ready for the evening's convivialities". 

A Stringpuller

With Lord Elpus in his natural environment

Mad 'n' Bad on a Mission to find a wild camp spot

It's a well known fact amongst less experienced Challengers such as me (this will only be my fifth crossing) that the most essential part of the preparations is using a set of scales to weigh your gear choices and then setting out the results on a spreadsheet.  Indeed, my experience of blogging about the outdoors is that any post with the word "gear" in the title gets far more hits than anything else that I write. Thus, I have set out my list below.  I am sure things will change before May, and probably choices will still be being made the day before I set off for my train journey up to Lochailort.

The list assumes that the weather forecast immediately before the Challenge is for Scottish mixed wet and dry conditions, with average temperatures, and that most of the snow has gone.  

The items most likely to be subject to further thought are:

1. Shelter - Either the Tarptent Stratospire 1 or the Tarptent Scarp 1.  The former is 500 grams lighter and has much better vestibules and headroom, but is more fiddly to orientate for a good pitch.  My Scarp 1 is, by me, more tried and tested, and has been with me on three previous TGO Challenges.
My Tarptent Stratospire 1: Palatial for a one person backacking tent, but, oh the geometry is weird for pitching

2. Footwear - Almost certainly trail shoes - either my Inov8 395 Roclites or my Salomon Ultras non-GTX shoes. But just possibly my Salomon Ultra GTX Mids.

3. Shell Jacket - I'm minded to take my newish Paramo Velez Jacket rather than the Rohan Elite Jacket I used in 2017 and 2015.  If the former, which is heavier, I can get away without taking a windshirt.

4. Sleeping Bag - I sleep very cold and normally have several uncomfortable nights on the event when using my Z Packs 20 Degree or Rab Neutrino 400 bags, and often end up in the early hours putting my down jacket on and still not being able to warm up.  I have wondered whether it might be worth carrying my Rab Alpine 600 bag despite the extra 4 or 500 grams this would involve. I could, though, then ditch the silk liner. I will probably stick to a lighter bag but...

5. Hip Flask and Scotch - it's not on the list on my doctor's orders. But then again, what do doctors know?

Without further ado, apart from apologising that the cutting and pasting of my list has messed up some of the formatting of what follows, here it is.  Oh. PS. As I have quit Twitter this week it would be rather lovely if somebody would post the link to this on Twitter or hardly anyone will see it. Humble pie is so yummy!

TGOC 2019 Gear List

GG Mariposa
Pack Cover
Shelter and Sleeping

Stratospire 1, extra guys, polycro
Tent pegs (surely I can take fewer!!!)
Sleeping Bag Z Packs 20 degree
Rab Silk Liner
Down Socks
Compression leggings
Silk Liner Gloves - Lowe Alpine
Exped REM Pillow (weight guessed)
Thermarest XTherm (large)
P Bottle
Lightload towel (for pre-pack drying tent)
Small Cuben stuff sac for tent tidy

Jetboil Minimo
Evernew 0.4 litre mug (Titanium)
Long spoon (Titanium)
Fire steel
Classic Swiss Army Knife
Water Purifying Tabs
J Cloth
Water Kit in DCF stuff sack
Sawyer Filter + Medium Pouch

Sawyer Syringe
Platypus 2 litre
Platypus 1 litre
Evian bottle
Wine Platypus
First Aid Kit
First Aid Kit Dry Bag
Elasticated knee bandage
Tick remover
Safety Pins
Plasters and compeed
Wound Dressings
Micropore tape
Hayfever tablets
Gehwol Foot Cream
Lanacane Anti-Chafing Gel

Sunscreen Lipsalve
Wash Kit in UL Dry Bag
Mini toothbrush and paste
Dr Bronner's
Mini Deodorant
Towel - Lightload Mini *2
Contact lenses
T Roll, lighter in zip lock bag
Hand Sanitiser gel + sanitiser wipes
Ear plugs
Trowel - MSR Blizzard with tent pegs
Silva compass
Ortilieb A4 Case + map printouts + 2 half OS maps (rest sent ahead)
Galaxy S7 Phone with Viewranger
Lightproof Phone case
Phone charger
Power pack
Spot Messenger
Repair Kit
Duck Tape
Spare Batteries CR2032 *3,  (watch and headtorch)
Spare Batteries *4 AAA lithium for Spot
Thermarest puncture kit
Velcro tapes *2
Tenacious tape
Thermarest sitmat
Headtorch - Petzl e lite
Midge head net
Notebook and pen
Watch - Suunto Core
Camera - Lumix DMC TZ60
Reading glasses in case
Black Diamond Trail Pro Poles (or the much better Pacer Poles if Scarp 1 tent is taken)
Wallet and cash
Rail tickets and Rail Card
Exped UL Dry Bags *3 for clothes etc
Pod Dry Bag (waste)
Z Packs CF Dry Bag (food)

Trail Shoes Inov8 395 Non-GTX
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Pants Under Armour Boxers
Pants Helly Hansen Boxers
X Socks Exped (2 pairs)
Bridgedale Coolmax Liners (3 pairs)
Seal Skinz Socks???
Trousers - Montane Terra
Rohan Merino Shirt
Rohan Silver Core Zipped Base
Berghaus Extrem 7000 Hoodie
Montane Prism Gillet
PHD Minimus Down Jacket and Hood
Rohan Silver T??
Montane Beanie
Outdoor Research Cap
Montane Prism Gloves
Waterproof Overmits
Paramo Velez Jacket
Berghaus Paclite Overtrousers
Hi Tec Zuuc Shoes

Total Base Carried
Total Non-Pack
Food, Drink and Fuel
Dehydrated Main Meals (3 days)
1500 (Estimate)
Total other food (3 days):-
1500 (Estimate)
Packets custard and semolina
Tea bags
Nido dried milk
Condensed milk(luxury item!) - tube
Instant porridge
Cereal bars
Trail mix
Primula and wraps
Food bags
Total Fuel, Food and Water
Total Pack Weight,at start