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2014 TGOC Scotland Cross Country Hike


What is it:



The Great Outdoors Challenge is an event hosted by The Great Outdoors Magazine each year. It is a challenge, not a race, to cross from the west coast of Scotland to the east coast on foot in two weeks. TGOC is a really unique event in that there is no defined route. There are many possible starting and end points. Challengers must create their own path on existing trails, jeep roads, and cross country through the Scottish highlands. Scotland is a wide open country with few trees, so you can walk almost anywhere. You can even walk across private property legally in Scotland. The only limitation is your route must be vetted and approved to make sure it is safe and realistic. Practically no two routes are exactly the same, but you will still cross paths with many other challengers along the way. The average route length is around 200 miles. Participation is limited to around 250-300 challengers each year.

When:



The event is held in May each year. I hiked it with Matt Favero, and our friend Steve Kaiser from May 9th to May 21st 2014. We completed in 13 days.

What it is like:



The hardest part of TGOC is probably planning it. Since you have to create your own route it takes a fair amount of time pouring over maps, Google Earth, and prior year challenger's blogs. Matt did all of our planning so Steve and I got off easy!

The hike itself was alot of fun. Our route was a mix of trails, dirt roads, and cross country high routes. There are no markers or anything, so we were just following our maps and we occasionally had a peek at Matt's GPS to make sure we were on track. On the cross country sections we could walk almost anywhere we wanted. The landscape is wide open with grass, soft shrubs, and 'peat hags' which are like muddy pits where the soft ground has eroded away. The ground is very wet and squishy most of the time. A fellow challenger suggested that Scotland is not a country, but rather a giant sponge floating in the North Sea. Our route passed a fair amount of ruins, castles, and other historical landmarks including Loch Ness.

Logistics / Resupply:

Our route came down into villages to ressuply every 2-4 days. Part of the adventure is visiting quaint towns, and socializing with other challengers at the local pub. The main logistical challenge is planning it all out. Navigation is all up to you since there is no trail. Water is everywhere so you don't have to carry much.

Physically

TGOC is what you make of it. We did alot of high routes including summiting Scotland's second highest peak, Ben Macdui. Our route involved peat hag jumping, fence climbing, and steep ascents, however it was broken up by less strenuous sections through scenic valleys. Some challengers try to stay up high and bag as many munros (peaks) as possible, while others road walk the valleys and stay at Bed and Breakfasts almost every night. If your planned route is up high you have to also plan foul weather alternatives down low in case the weather is too bad.

Weather:



May in Scotland has notoriously crummy weather. A typical day might be between the 30's and 50's F, and it is often rainy or even snowy. I was expecting to be walking in 40F rain for two weeks, but we lucked out and it only rained about half the time! We even had a couple bright sunny days to dry out. It can be really windy on the exposed peaks, and you need to be prepared to camp in that. It can be foggy making route finding difficult. It went below freezing a couple times at night. Other years they have had snowy days.

2014 TGOC Gear List:

OuncesPacking System
2152L Arc Blast Backpack
1Pair Shoulder Pouches
1.5Pair Belt Pouches
OuncesShelter System
14.6Solplex Tent
1.76x 6.5 inch Tough Stakes w/ stake sack
.72x Titanium V Stakes
OuncesSleeping System
18.0ZPacks 20F Reg, Long Down Sleeping Bag
1Medium-Plus Dry Bag
8Neoair Xlite Pad, size small
OuncesCooking System
3.3.6L Evernew Pot
.2Titanium short handle spoon
.5Lightload Towel
.4Mini-Bic Lighter
.2Homemade Alcohol Stove
.58 oz fuel bottle
1.4Roll top Blast Food Bag
OuncesWater Storage
1.51 Quart Powerade Bottle
1.51 Quart Powerade Bottle
0No water treatment.
OuncesMiscellaneous Items
5Pentax W60 Waterproof Camera
12x Spare Camera Battery
1.5Pak-Light w/ homemade headband
.7Wenger Esquire Pocket Knife
.5Silva Compass / Thermometer
.3ZPacks Travel Toothbrush
.8Travel size toothpaste tube.
.3Credit Card, License, Cash in Wallet pouch
.950ft 1.75mm Z-Line cord (repairs, bear bag)
.44x Mini-D Carabiners
.2Mechanical pencil, paper for notes
.3Chap Stick
.01Ear plugs
.8Sunglasses
.1Ibuprofen
OuncesGear Repair
.63x strips of Cuben Fiber Repair Tape
.16x Large safety pins
.1Sewing Needles, dental floss thread
OuncesCarried Clothing
4.5Challenger Rain Jacket
3.8Challenger Rain Pants
1.0Challenger Rain Mitts
.9ZPacks Fleece Hat
1.9ZPacks Wind Shell Jacket
8.9ZPacks Climashield insulated Jacket (coming soon)
2.0NRS Hydroskin Socks
1.7Medium Pillow Dry Bag
OuncesWorn Items (Not part of base weight)
10.2Columbia Silver Ridge II Zip off pants
7.3Champion long sleeve, breathable shirt
.9Ultamax Triathlete low cut socks
3.5Patagonia boxers
3.9ZPacks Pointy Hat
1.5Velocity Visor
23Teva Grecko Sandals
7.3ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff
OuncesTotal Base Weight
114.37 lbs 2.3 ounces (3.2 kg)
Comments

The 52L Arc Blast backpack was more than large enough for the 3-4 day carries on this trip. I store most of my small miscellaneous items in the shoulder pouches and belt pouches.

I used the Solplex tent because it was relatively new at the time, but I would probably go with the Altaplex tent next time. A little extra space is nice in the wet windy weather, and the Altaplex is easier to set up with my walking staff.

A 20F sleeping bag was the right choice. It hit freezing a couple times and the air was often damp and cold.

We tested the Challenger rain gear on this trip, and it was awesome. We wore the challenger jacket, pants, and mitts frequently in the cold wet weather, and it was good for warmth even when it was dry out.

I normally don't use any water filtration, and Scotland was no exception. Many of the locals also drink straight from the mountain streams.

My clothing system is arranged such that I can and do wear every item at once when needed. All my clothing is synthetic, quick drying, and stays warm when wet. I do not carry any "change" of clothes and I sleep in the same clothes I hike in.

I do my hiking 100% in sandals. Sandals aren't for everyone, but they keep my feet comfortable and they dry fast. I brought Hydroskin socks on this trip which are thin neoprene. The added warmth was helpful against the cold wet spongy ground. It was not uncommon to sink ankle to knee deep in the muck from time to time when going cross country.