Quick Adventure Facts:
What - The Great Outdoors Challenge
When - May 9th to May 21st 2014 | 13 Days
The Great Outdoors Challenge isn’t a set trail but rather an event hosted by The Great Outdoors Magazine each year. It is a challenge, not a race, which involves crossing from the west coast of Scotland to the east coast on foot during a specific two week window.
Participation is limited to around 250-300 challengers each year.Length
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.Terrain
As there is no set trail, there are no markers and you’ll have to follow your maps and GPS to make sure you’re on track. Most routes are a mix of trails, dirt roads, and cross country routes. 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 cross country sections allow you to walk almost anywhere you’d like frequency passing a fair amount of ruins, castles, and other historical landmarks including places like Loch Ness, Balmoral Castle and Fort William.
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.”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. Challengers should expect to be walking in 40F rain for two weeks with night times temperatures potentially dropping below freezing.
It can be really windy on the exposed peaks, and you need to be prepared to camp in those types of conditions.
The challenge takes place during the second and third weeks of May. This particular window of time was chosen as it usually comes after the last of the severe winter weather and before the annual infestation of the dreaded Scottish midges; nasty biting flies similar to mosquitoes.
Most of Scotland is sparsely populated and many of the starting and ending points are in fairly remote areas. Luckily, the train system in Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, is pretty awesome. Sometimes the train will stop at a bench in the middle of farmland to drop off or pick up a passenger.
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. Planning your foul weather alternatives can prove to be the most difficult challenge for a lot participants.
Navigating can prove to be tricky as well as there are many times where you will find yourself hiking in dense fog with no ability to pick out landmarks. A GPS or navigation app on your phone can prove to be invaluable.Resupply
Designing your own route affords Challengers the ability to resupply as frequently as they’d like. Some routes stay low in valleys and can pass through villages every day. Other routes can venture through more remote areas with resupply taking place only once or twice per challenge. One of the best parts of the adventure is visiting quaint towns, and socializing with other challengers at the local pub or hostel.Gear
By: Joe Valesko