Monday, 9 December 2013

It does my head in, but it's worth it! TGO 2014

Decisions, decisions?

It really does do my head in!

Deciding on a start point for the 2014 TGO Challenge.

Will I take the easy options, on start points, or, go for the not so easy? A start point next to a train station does take a lot of the pain out of deciding.

Will I manage to get some more yet-to-climb-Munros in on my route?

Will I put together an interesting route?

Will my Vetter laugh at the absurdity of my route plan?

And many, many more questions.

I remember at one stage I had to stop looking at possible start points as I did get a headache!

Dercision made!

Last May I started from the most northerly start point, Torridon.

This coming May I'll be starting from the most southerly start point, Ardrishaig. It's not so easy to get to. It involves a long bus journey from Glasgow, but it is the furthest South and there's a logic in spreading out the start points.

I will try to avoid going back to where I've been before in future years. Although I did especially like the Strathcarron start point on my first TGO in 2009.

I guess your first experience is memorable!

I will finish at Dunnottar Castle, just South of Stonehaven.

Click the image to visit our 'Visiting the Castle' page.

I've finished in Montrose, once and St. Cyrus, three times and have had to sit down and write out 100 times: I must finish at Dunnottar Castle.

The perils of planning

It looks pretty straightforward on the maps. Just join up a few pointy bits and hit a few watering holes and, after a couple of easy steps, reach the finish point. 

Unless you've been over the ground previously, you have no idea. And, even if you have been over the ground before, weather conditions can change: that trickle of a burn can become a totally impassable torrent!

I cannot understate the role of the Vetters on the TGO Challenge. They have such a wealth of knowledge and their advice is invaluable. They seem to have read your mind and already done the route you submit for vetting!

I remember last year musing over a camp spot where I knew it was mainly scrub and devoid of water. My Vetter gave me a grid reference for a spot where it would be just fine to pitch.  Flat and with a spring nearby. I just hoped no one else would get the same advice! But, as it turned out, I didn't go that way.

Not all plans come to fruition!

Roughly the way

My route stays fairly southerly and is quite a long one. If all goes to plan I'll climb six new-to-me Munros and 9 that I've been up before.

This time it's the first few days that will test me - all before I climb any Munros.

The first day involves getting to and past Carron bothy. On the map it looks simple; just follow the tracks and a path. Trouble is the path is completely impassable where it hits the forest before Carron bothy! The way around this is ok if you know where to go. If you don't you can get very lost! Thankfully, a good number of the vetting team determined to test out the best way of reaching Carron bothy back in 2009 and there is now a preferred route for this first day.

I don't climb my first Munro until I leave Beinglas Farm on the 4th day. After that there are a fair few to cover as I wend my way over towards Kinloch Rannoch. From here it's on to Blair Atholl before I re-visit some of my favourite Munros as I wander to the right of Glen Tilt. I divert over towards Spittal of Glenshee to have another attempt at some more Munros that will see me very happy if I get up them and down into the hotel. For the second time I will make my way from Spittal of Glenshee to Clova, but, this time I am determined to take the high way! (ok, weather permitting).

I'll pop in to Tarfside before another I-must-go-this-way-must-do-it! decision that will get me up high and over to the Fetteresso. Not an easy opt out to St. Cyrus: much as I love St Cyrus.

My route through the Fetteresso is well trod and I will arrive at Dunnottar Castle on the last Thursday.

I haven't booked the Dinner in the Park and this leaves open my options. My thoughts, just now are to camp on the coast before going down to Montrose on the Friday.

From here on

I hope to get in some backpacking trips before May; as well as day trips and will be looking out for some decent snow too.

I'll be backpacking around the Derwant Watershed before the Snake Pass Inn TGO Re-union meeting in March.

I'll update and repeat my TGO gear list, which has proved to be my most popular post to date.

This time I'll be using pretty much the same gear, but, I'll add a few more bits about why I chose the gear I use.

For backpacking you can get away with very little, as long as you know what your limitations are, and, more, especially, the limitations of your gear.

Anyway, that's the planning and vetting over.

It does my head in, but it's worth it. 

Monday, 2 December 2013

My first TGO Challenge Strathcarron to St Cyrus in 2009

Thanks to the help of Phil Lambert who runs Doodlecat, my first TGO Challenge was given a professional polish and published on Doodlecat.

For anyone who wants to read some great accounts of the TGO over the years then Doodlecat is the place where many are gathered.

Well worth a read.

My first Challenge was memorable. It was special.

I was criticised by my Vetter for copying other accounts. Not true!

But, in those days, ok only 2009, I didn't know what I now know about routes and route planning.

I've also, now, climbed over 200 Munros: so, I'm getting to know my way around a bit.

I took what is commonly termed a "Trade Route" which basically takes all the well trod "easy" corridors across Scotland.

My planning has improved, as has my knowledge of Scotland, and I no longer do "Trade Routes".

So, here it is; my first.

I'll soon be getting my Vetters comments back on my route for the 2014 TGO. I'll be posting more on this later in the month.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

I want one

Now I bang on about PHD gear because it is the best - simple.

My collection of PHD gear covers all my needs.

But, just as I thought PHD had nothing more to offer me they come out with a limited edition

down scarf.

I want one :-)

Monday, 11 November 2013

Remembrance on Great Gable

Every year there is a Remembrance on Great Gable for those who died in the First World War.

It is a gathering of around 200 people.

They come from all directions to the top of Great Gable.
Those who came up from Wasdale Head to the Bealach between Kirk Fell and Great Gable were rewarded with an icy scramble over the rocks.

A few words are said.
Some years the weather can be atrocious.
This year the weather was magnificent.
At just after 1100 the Sun managed to break through the clouds.
For one person this day had a special significence. Ashes were being scattered.
The Sun got to work on the last of the clouds.


Wasdale is my favourite Lakeland valley.
I didn't realise about the Remembrance on top of Great Gable until many years ago when I just happened to be in Wasdale on the Remembrance weekend.
It is a special occasion, and, if you are able to get to Great Gable on the Remembrance Sunday, it is a very moving event.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Labels are not all......

Labels are not all ...................
This arrived this morning.

Now, I like good gear.

I like good down gear.

And in my opinion PHD make some of the best down gear in the World.

But, I've seen reviews of this and thought - umm .......... worth a punt.

Quelle surprise. It's good. A good DWR finish to a good feel. The finish is good and the fit is just right.

Weighs very little and has been put in the same paragraphs as MB Ex light and MH Ghost Whisperer where comparisons have been made.

Ok, I'd love a PHD Wafer jacket, but, frankly, I don't need one.

But this was too good to pass up on.

More on this later - but, very good first impressions.

Ok, it's a Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Hooded jacket. Don't sniff at the label.

I am surprised just how good it looks and feels and for under £60 - just - it holds it's own against the big labels. 640 fill power is no where near the top notch gear, but, then for the weight and price it's magic. 

For anyone who's wondering the down is sourced ethically, too. This was a big question in my mind.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

My Favourite Stove ..........and Fuel4

My Favourite Stove

Next week is the draw for the TGO 2014. So, it got me thinking about the gear I use for this
and other backpacking trips.

Here is my  - TGO 2013 MY planned Gear - which seems to be very popular for some

Not much changed for the 2013 TGO and not much will change if I get on to the 2014 TGO.

I don't do gear reviews as such, but I wanted to write a few words on my favourite stove.

Let me preface my piece here by saying that I have a very simple approach to backpacking gear: it has to work and be idiot proof.

On my favourite stoves, let me start by dismissing gas. I had a gas stove fail on me.

Let me also say that I've tried quite a few meths stoves and one - Bushbuddy - wood burning stove.

Wood burning in Scotland? Noooo.

On meths stoves: I dismissed the Caldera Cone because it was too fiddly to assemble and too bulky to carry. I dismissed the Trangia because it was too bulky. I dismissed pepsi stoves because I once stood on one. I tried a Triad Stove - sorry - useless and fussy.

So, my favourite Stove is small, easy to assemble and works ever time:

The Evernew DX Stove and Stand

I've had this for years and it has never let me down. Forget the micro measuring of meths for these things. I carry enough for the days I'm out and if I'm out for many days I arrange to post on meths to be collected. I use little 100ml plastic bottles.

It costs £45.99 for the Stove and £45.99 for the DX stand. Backpackinglight.Co.Uk sell them.

Expensive, yes, but it will last and last and work every time - even when temperatures reach well below zero degrees C. (You warm the meths in your sleeping bag).

There are some who want water to boil in nano-seconds. Then there are people, like me, who are prepared to just relax and wait. So, no boil times. I do measure meths in - you soon get to know how much to use to boil your chosen quantity of water.

The stove and stand and kitchen roll and matches and lighter and the little cross section all fit easily in to my Tibetan 900 mug. When assembled for heating it can get top heavy.

I use three titanium pins wedged around it to stabilise it - it works. I also use some radiator insulation as a wind sheild (and other pieces as insulation under my sleeping bag/bivy bag).

Here are a few pictures:

Sorry, it's not your fancy field use shots - I can't be bothered at the time. And it's not some glossy gear review. It's just a few thoughts on My Favourite Stove.

Stop press!

Ok I've always wanted to do that :-)

Could this be the alternative to meths?

There was a flurry of activity on Twitter about this after TerryBND posted this:

I'll be trying this soon.

OK I tried it. It will not work in a Trangia or Evernew DX stove or similar. It needs air.

(Update 27/10 This was my initial observation based on the DX burner not working. Terry has now done some proper tests with the Fuel4 Gel and found that the Trangia burner does work with the Gel - just not such a good a flame as with meths. My observations were based on me wanting to use what I normally use i.e. the DX stove and Stand. Terry's tests show that the Fuel4 Gel will work with a variety of stove set ups:

There's no doubt that with the right stove/stand set up Fuel4 Gel is a winner. )

But I got 1 pint of water boiling in 8.5 mins with this:

It's the top of the DX stand and a bit of foil shaped to hold just over 30 mls of Fuel4 Gel. Weight is next to nothing.

I can work up a better "saucer" for the Fuel 4 Gel. But, hey, it works!!

And, the great thing is you can improvise with anything to hold the pot above the gel.

And, as long as the gel is in some sort of container it will work. It will burn too quickly if it is just put as a blob on a flat surface.

It does need lots of air, I tried various ways with the DX top and bottom. The best way was using the top of the DX stand with the trivit. Putting the pot onto the top or bottom without the gap that the trivit gives just didn't work. It still needs a wind shield.

I think Fuel4 are on to a winner for backpackers wanting a good alternative to meths.

The Fuel4 Gel costs £5.99 a litre in GO (with discount card) and the satchet costs £2.48 for 200 mls.

This gel in the right stove set up will do the job just as well as meths.

It's easy to use and in a dedicated burner it will be very efficient.

I understand Fuel 4 are working on this.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Cannock Chase

Ronnie Corbett - eat your heart out

I can't believe that I wore a pair of Scarpa SLs when I did Lands End to John O'Groats. (My

unembelished notes on this trip are tucked away in the beginnings of this Blog).

The Scarpa SLs were resoled and last saw me walking in the Himalaya's back in 2009.

Here are the comments that I made on this trip - three from the bottom. I went with Exodus and the Company is first class. I had previously been trekking in Peru with them:

In 2009 they used tents. Now they use Tea Houses which IMHO is not nearly so good.

The boots remained in Nepal.

When Scarpa redisigned the SLs I bought a pair of the old Scarpa's - they were just so

comfortable. They are now my Winter boot of choice.

Now that Winter is approaching I decided to take my Scarpas for a walk.

Last week I had to cut short one of my visits to the Peak District.

I walked from Hathersage to Edale, via Ladybower Inn and Win Hill. I pitched in the dark at Edale.
Just before I found this:
I jumped over a brook and managed to give myself a groin strain.
I had to catch the train back as it was not comfortable in the morning - and the plan was another 3/4 days around Bleaklow and Back Tor.
Why do people pick up dog poo = good and then hang it from a  sign ........ or tree?
Cannock Chase
So, a 40 minute drive gets me to Cannock. Tamworth does not have hills and Cannock offers some good walking. I get over there fairly often.
But, this was to be different.

My walk over and around Cannock takes me around 6 hours. It includes a very good pub for a lunch break.
I don't have any specific routes. I just take off from the Visitors Centre and make sure I get to Great Haywood for lunch. Clockwise or anti-clockwise it's roughly the same time to reach the pub.
So, random walking on a good day. Not many people around.
Heading towards Milford I see a couple of cyclists. They go past me and stop.
"Do I know you? Were you in Nepal? Are you Gordon?"
Now, if you know me, you will know that my memory for names is not good. Who were they, I asked myself, while flustering and trying hard to think.
They were Paul and Mary, who live in Hurley - not far from Tamworth - but I last saw them in Nepal - in 2009. We chatted for ages and then said goodbyes.
Very spooky - they were in the Rohan shop when I was there last week (but they didn't say hello then).
What are the chances of meeting folk on Cannock Chase? Not many are there during the week.
What are the chances of meeting folk who you last met in Nepal - on Cannock Chase?
Anyway, my Scarpas were comfortable and now I'm looking forward to some decent snow.


Thursday, 26 September 2013


This is not about lightweight gear - it's about Classic gear

Extreme Pathfinder K2

Many years ago I bought an Extreme Pathfinder K2 top.

To this day I have yet to find any similar top that will beat it for comfort and value.

Extremeoutdoorclothing has now ceased as a business. It was just one man, Keith Howes,

who was very passionate about the gear he made.

The Pathfinder is a pullover top made with Karisma and Tactel (a heavier Pertex)

It is windproof, very breathable, and virtually waterproof .

It has heavy duty pit zips that go from under the arm to the bottom and it can be unzipped both ways.

It is reversable, but, I've only ever worn it with the Tactel on the outside.

It has two zipped hand warmer pockets inside - accessable only from the inside.

It also has a zipped kangaroo pocket, covered by a flap

This top is simply superb for cold conditions - think Buffalo, but, lighter.

The Pathfinder was made to measure.

I think it cost around £70.

This is classic gear.

Extreme Explorer

This is another classic piece of gear.

I looked recently at an ME Touchstone jacket. A good quality fleece with good materials. It

costs around £100.

But, ME used to use Karisma. And Karisma was ace fleece material.

I think it went off the radar when the softshell concept was more heavily pushed. There has

been softshell for ages - Buffalo, Montane, Driclime, etc., But fashion won over function


The Explorer is made to measure.

It has thumb loops, it has a good hood, it has a two way zip, it has 4 zipped pockets on the

outside and two mesh pockets on the inside. It will cope with wind well (depending on conditions, I wear a Montane slipstream vest to block all wind from my body)

The arms and shoulders are reinforced with Tactel. There is a waist draw and a hem draw.

Made to measure, it fits just so. I think it cost around £65.

This too is a classic piece of gear.

What's the point?

I look at all the new gear that's touted and can't help thinking: there really is nothing that

new any more.

Cleaver marketing will shift gear, but, get classic gear and it will work and last a lifetime.

Who cares if it doesn't comply with fashion. Function over fashion is the better way to go IMHO.

Sadly, Extremeoutdoorclothing is no more.