2019 TGO Challenge (Scotland)

Sunset over Loch Morar. Photo By Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes

This past May, I had the opportunity to do my very first international hike. I was completely excited and honored to participate in the 40th annual running of The Great Outdoor Challenge aka TGO Challenge in Scotland. It’s a self-supported, Scottish west coast to east coast backpacking adventure taking you through some of the most remote parts of the Scottish backcountry.  Challengers are not allowed to get any assistance such as motor vehicles once they begin the challenge. Camping in the backcountry is a large part of the experience, but if you plan your route out right you can stay in hostels, B&Bs or hotels along the way.

Looking down at Loch Nevis. Photo Taken By: Bigfoot

Speaking of routes. Each challenger designs his or hers own route. The route can consist of road walks, established trails and off trail crossing private properties. You can also hike as a team, but no more than 4 members per team. Also challengers have two weeks to complete the challenge and must check in with mission control (TGO Challenge coordinators) as the reach certain points along their routes. This is to insure the safety of all challengers.

This year I was apart of a four person team that involved some names you probably recognize from YouTube, Darwin and Bigfoot. If you don’t already follow these guys then you should. They have a wealth of knowledge and are a huge asset to the backpacking community. The Blackalachian also hiked with us for a few day.

Our friends over at Zpacks and a couple of their guests were also there and we spent most of the time hiking together in some sort of fashion. Even though we were two groups of four, we all only camped together one night. We all had different hiking speeds and styles so it was a treat to get us all together in one location for any length of time.

Both groups on the western coast of Scotland. Photo By: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes

Our hike began on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean in the coastal village of Mallaig. A small fishing port on the west coast of the Highlands of Scotland. We had typical Scottish weather for our start, cold and wet. But by the end of the first day that would change for a while.

The weather during the first week was unseasonably warm and dry. At times it felt like I was hiking out west like in Arizona or California. This type of weather definitely made hiking through the peat bogs a little easier. And our route coupled with the great weather gave us a lot of opportunities for great views.

The boat dock at Oban Bothy at the end of Loch Morar. Photo By: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes

As for our route, we began in Mallaig after we signed the official registry at the West Highland Hotel. We all dropped back down to the banks of the ocean, touched the water and began our journey east.
Our route then took us by Tarbet and along the banks of 310 m (1,017 ft) deep Loch Morar, the deepest Loch in Scotland. The first night a few of us stayed at the Oban Bothy while the others wild camped. Bothys are old abandoned houses that folks can camp in while they are out in the wilderness. Some are maintained while others are not.
Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
The next day we all continued east through a valley as we followed the River Pean. This gave us an opportunity to stop at Glenpean Bothy for a break. We finished our day with a 13 mile road walk along Loch Arkaig and we made camp on a lot along the banks of the Loch. This was the only night that both groups would all be in the same place for camp.
Loch Arkaig Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
The next day we continued east as we made our way through Achnacarry, Gairlochy and traveled along part of the Great Glen Way on our way towards Fort William. We took a break at Neptune’s Staircase, a series of locks that boats must travel through in order to get into Loch Lochy. Neptune’s Staircwase is located in Banavie which is just outside of Caol. We did our first resupply at a Co-op (a small grocery store chain) in Caol. They had everything we needed to continue our journey east.
We ended our day at the Ben Nevis Inn, located just outside of Fort William. It was more like a hostel type setting with a very nice restaurant and bar. Plus the inn was nestled at the foot of Ben Nevis, the tallest Munro (mountain) in the whole United Kingdom (1,345 metres (4,413 ft) above sea level. That would be on our agenda for the next morning.. Munros are mountains in Scotland with a height over 3,000 feet, and are listed on the Scottish Mountaineering Club official list of Munros.
The Summit of Ben Nevis, the tallest Munro (mountain) in the United Kingdom. Photo By: Trystan Bostwick
The next morning we made our climb up Ben Nevis. It was cold, windy and still had plenty snow on top. What an epic summit! On top there was a small structure used to house personnel who would observe the weather on the mountain back in the day. Ben Nevis is a very popular mountain. Once an active volcano that collapsed in on itself. Nearly 125,000 walkers hike up to the summit every year.
Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
After summiting Ben Nevis we continued our journey east through Allt Criche. Along our route were several concrete faced tunnels going back underneath the mountain. ADIT No9,10 and so on are carved in the concrete on the face of each tunnel. Each tunnel had a 24″ pipe coming out of them and the tunnel openings were gated off by iron rod gates. These tunnels were used for drainage and ventilation for a main mining shaft. There’s a gold mine near Fort William that these may or may not be connected to. Either way, very cool find.
Our route then took us through Fersit, along side Allt Cam, Loch Pattack and Loch Ericht. We took a break at the Snack Shack in Dalwhinnie. The food there was absolutely amazing. It was nice to sit down for a while and get a warm good meal.
Zpacks Duplex with a sunrise view just outside of Kingussie. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it Hikes
After our break, it was time to push for a few more miles. We hiked along a river for a bit till we made it to Loch Cuaich. We were planning to camp there and had even set up our tents, but we began experiencing extreme wind gusts which were blowing the tents down. So a few of us decided to push on to a lower elevation just outside Kingussie.
The next morning we pushed on into Kingussie and had breakfast at a little coffee shop called the Sugar Bowl as we waited for the others to catch up. The food was amazing and the owners of the coffee shop were super friendly. While in town we also resupplied at the local Co-op.
The Ruigh Aiteachain Bothy inside the Caringorm National Park. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
Kingussie was the last town we would hit before entering the Cairngorms National Park. It would be one of the most remote areas we would be in during our whole trip. Both Matt Favero aka Details and myself stayed at the Ruigh Aiteachain Bothy. Recently restored it was by far the nicest Bothy we stay at while in Scotland. But the next morning we would make our push through the Cairngorms. The forecast was for weather to move in. So we weren’t sure what to expect.
The Cairngorms. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
The next morning as we got up on the plateau we were met with fierce winds and much colder temps. Our plan was to hit the 4 tallest peaks in the Cairngorms, but we could see rain in the distance and chose to take the bad weather route and make our way out of the mountains. But by the time we got back down to the valley the skies were clear and sunny…. go figure.. So we decided to go ahead and push our way in to Braemar and take and extra zero as we waited for the others to catch up.
Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
Braemar was absolutely the most beautiful town we went in. The locals were very friendly and there were plenty of places to eat and grab a few souvenirs. The Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park in Braemar is the home of the oldest running of the Highlands Games. Even the Queen has been know to attend these games.
After the rest of the crew caught up and a few days of R&R in Braemar. We all continued our trek east to Ballater. Another town with opportunities to resupply and get local lodging. But before we made it to Ballater we had one more Munro to summit, Lochnagar. Ranking only 20th tallest Munro, Lochnagar stands at 1,155 meters (3,789′) above sea level.
Munro Lochnagar. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
Our route took us up the western side of the Munro which was steep and treacherous. As we approached the summit, a light rain and low cloud ceiling had moved in which made our visibility very limited. In fact there were several moments I couldn’t see the other guys who were less than 50 yards from me. But once we got to the summit it was time to celebrate. We had earned this one……
After a very brief celebration, we all began a quick descent off Lochnagar and continued our journey to Ballater. Once there we got a room at the Glenaden Hotel and resupplied at the local Co-op. The next morning was gonna be a gonna be a special treat as we would begin our next leg of our route on the DeeSide Way.
The next morning, before leaving town. I purchased a couple pastries to have for breakfast and to carry with me to eat later that day. But these just weren’t any pastries. There were made by Chalmers Bakery which has a Coat of Arms displayed at the business. This means the monarch (Queen Elizabeth II) grants the business to supply the Royal Household with goods or services. This also entitles the business to display the Royal Arms on their packaging and stationery by way of advertising. In short, Chalmers Brakery makes pastries for the Queen and the Royal Family. Now that’s cool!…….. While I was in the shop I also met Pamela Chalmer, the owner of the bakery.
The DeeSide Way. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
If that wasn’t cool enough we left the beautiful little town of Ballater via the DeeSide Way. It’s a “Rails To Trail” path which runs around 41 miles from Ballater to Aberdeen. We would find ourselves hiking the full length of this trail for the next couple of days. But this day was gonna end on a very wet note. Before we could make it to Banchory. It began to rain very heavily. It would be the only time we would hike in heavy rain though.
Banchory was a nice town with plenty of options for lodging and resupplying. The locals were friendly and inviting. A few of us stayed at a The Stag. A small hostel positioned above a bar much like the Glenaden Hotel that we stayed at in Ballater. We were looking forward to the next morning. It was going to be a little dryer and it would be our last day on trail. But I had no idea what this next section had in store for me. In fact it would change everything for me for the next couple of months.
Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
The next morning we all got back on the DeeSide Way and headed east. Early on that day everything was good. It was just another day on trail. But as we approached the little town of Peterculter I began getting a cramping sensation in my left tibialis anterior muscle. I simply thought I was dehydrated and needed to drink something. We still had eight miles to go to the coast and our final destination.
So after a short break we pushed on. I noticed immediately that something wasn’t right. It hurt with intense pain with every step I made. So I backed way off my speed and limped the rest of the way. The guys noticed something was up and hung back to finish the walk with me so we could all finish together. I can’t even begin to tell you what that meant to me. Details, Bigfoot and Darwin made the decision that they were not gonna finish this epic hike without me and we’re there when it mattered most. Now that is true character.
My Beardedself on the bank of the North Sea. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
But after those eight painful miles we all made it to the Lighthouse Girdle Ness. We all walked down to the banks of the North Sea and took our pictures and videos. What a feeling of accomplishment. This felt so different than any other thru-hike. I just walked coast to coast across Scotland, completing my first TGO Challenge and my first ever international hike. Oh, and to add to that I just completed the DeeSide Way as well. Wow!!! Even in immense pain, I was filled with so much joy.
Official TGO completion photo of the two groups. Photo taken by: Plug-it In Hikes
Now since the other guys wouldn’t get there till the next day. We went into Aberdeen and got a hotel room for the night and rejoined the others at the light house the next day for the official group photo and make our way to Montrose to sign the official completion registry. It was great seeing some of the other challengers that we met along the way there and knowing they had a successful completion too. And hanging out for the banquet and hearing all the stories was certainly a treat.
I’d like to thank all the folks who put this amazing event on. From the veters and mission control to all the other volunteers. It was nice knowing if something went wrong, they had my back. So thank you!!!!!! I’ll certainly be back to participate in another challenge again someday.
What an incredible hike.

LET’S BE TOURISTS

Getting to tour all the villages, towns and cities along the way was as much fun as the hike itself. We traveled my plane, trains, buses and automobiles on this trip. Seen amazing sights and architecture. Scotland is stunningly beautiful from coast to coast. Every town and city had something to offer. I made sure to eat local foods like Haggis and drink local beers. We made stops at Dunnottar Castle, The National Wallace Monument, Stirling Castle and more. Every location was filled with beauty and tons on history.
Donnottar Castle. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
Inside the Donnottar Castle grounds. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
The streets of Edinburgh. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
West Highlands Rail Steam locomotive going through Fort William. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
The flight to Glasgow Scotland. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
My Zpacks Duplex tent and Zpacks Sleeping Bag. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
Rhododendrons along Loch Morar. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
The bridge in Braemar. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
Evening walk in a Loch Pattack. Photo taken by Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
Abandoned train trestle. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
Ben Nevis. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
Sunset over Loch Morar. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
Matt “Details” Favero resting by a Loch Cuaich. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
Darwin and Details share some trail time. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
The DeeSide Way. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
My Beardedself riding the trail from Montrose to Edinburgh. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
My Beardedself and Bigfoot in Edinburgh. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
The Blackalachian taking a break and enjoying the view. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug- it In Hikes

details enjoying his time in the peat bogs. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes

Me and my buddy Trystan on Ben Nevis. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes

Me Beardedself enjoying a Tennent’s Lager up on Ben NevisPhot taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes

THE VIDEOS:

Once I have my videos posted I’ll link them here:

POST HIKE REPORT:

Treating my shin splints with Astym Therapy at Cora Physical Therapy. Photo taken by: Benny Braden aka Plug-it In Hikes
To update everyone about the pain I had in my left leg. It ended up being shin splints. I feel there were several elements that contributed to this. 1st- I took my insole out of my left Brooks Caldera due to it floating and bunching up in the shoe when I would cross a stream. 2nd – the DeeSide Way is a very flat and hard surface. And 3rd- I was pushing as hard as I could go without actually running. Those three things combined contributed to my shin splints.
Now since I’ve been back home I’ve made a big change in my footwear, switching to the Altra TIMP 1.5. I‘ll go into that detail in another blog post. Ive also started treating my shin splints with some Astym Therapy at my physical therapist Cora Physical Therapy. So far we’ve made great progress and feel I’ll be back to hiking by late July.

8 thoughts on “2019 TGO Challenge (Scotland)

Add yours

  1. Hi Benny,

    I can read from your photo that you flew into Glasgow. Can you give some details how you travelled to Mallaig? Did you travel by bus and train or just train and how many change overs and how long does it take?

    Did you buy some gas in Glasgow and was it easy to find a store?

    Did you stay at the West Highland Hotel or did you guys find somewhere to pitch close to town?

    When you re-supplied, what sort of food did you buy?

    Lastly, did you book any of the places that you stayed in or just took a chance?

    Hope you don’t mind answering, I’m thinking of doing the challenge next year in 2020.

    Regards
    Brian

    Like

    1. Hey Brian,

      I did fly into Glasgow and back home from Edinburgh. Before I left Glasgow we went to an outfitter that sold gas. Some of the guys needed it but I didn’t. I went no cook. We took a trail to Mallaig which wasn’t bad. It took a couple hours to make that trip if my memory is correct. Once in Mallaig we stayed at the Missions Hostel which cost roughly £20 per night. The West Highland Hotel was just up the street about a block. As for food, since I went no cook I purchased things I could cold soak or eat out right. Oat meal, ramen, Etc.. I also bought pastries, snickers, gummies, energy bars and tortillas and chips. Some of the places we booked ahead of time but most of the places we stayed at on the fly. There’s a lot of planning that goes into this kind of hike. The veters do an outstanding on vetting folks on their level of experience and their routes. Be prepared to make changes to your route after you submit it. They will do their best with advising alternative routes. Best of luck. It’s certainly a trip of a lifetime

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: