A diary of the 40th TGO Challenge 2019 – Part 1

The TGO Challenge is a self-supported coast-to-coast backpacking walk across Scotland. Established in 1980, it has earned a unique reputation in the UK’s long-distance walking and backpacking tradition. Over 400 backpackers apply every year from around the world, with more than 350 completing what is now considered one of the toughest challenge events in the calendar. This year is its 40th anniversary.

The first three days…

Friday 10 May
Torridon Youth Hostel to Gerry’s Bothy at Craig

We start this year’s Challenge in Torridon, a part of the west coast in the Highlands of Scotland I had never been to before. It’s stunning. The vastness of the landscape, the towering mountains and sheer beauty defy belief. I live and work in the English Lake District World Heritage Site and even though its beauty surpasses many areas of the UK, this is, quite literally, on a different scale.

Our group of four, Tim and Heather, Dave and I, emerge somewhat bleary-eyed from the full day’s travel the day before into crisp air and sunshine. The mountain forecast posted in the hostel warns of changeable weather. Scotland’s traditional four seasons in a day looks very likely. We sign out in the usual TGO manner and, after a short walk, dip our toes in the bay and each collects a pebble to carry to the east coast at St Cyrus – our chosen finish point this year.

2019-05-10 09.18.02-1The very well appointed Torridon Youth Hostel.

59947540_10218609056074660_3703101939114835968_n (1)Sunset on the mountain we will be walking tomorrow.   Photo: Dave Glenn Hewitt

2019-05-10 10.19.08-1The bay at Torridon where we dip our feet and collect our pebbles.

2019-05-10 10.09.49Dave Glenn Hewitt with far too much adrenaline.

Our walk takes us south to Annat – a confusing moment for my wife, Alex, who, for the first time, is tracking me on a Garmin InReach attached to my pack. A text message received later, says: “I thought you were going east to Montrose, not south back to Cockermouth!”

The first day of any long-distance trek is usually the hardest. And it takes a few days to get hill fit. The mind is constantly playing tricks, providing you with every plausible excuse to turn back and order a taxi home. Your pack is the heaviest it will be on the whole trip with, in our case, five days’ of food and fuel to take us to our first re-supply at Auchnahillin, east of Inverness. A reassuring thought is that it will be lighter every day until that point. I try telling my legs that, but it’s not working!

I am not an ultralight backpacker by any means but I do consider myself in the lightweight category. My pack is lighter than last year at 23 pounds, or a little over 10 kilos, with 2.5 kilos of that being food and fuel. So, for those interested, that’s a base-weight of 7.5 kilos or 16 pounds. Any long-distance walker will tell you that as your body tires, your pack gets heavier. Of course, it doesn’t but your mind thinks so. However, the Silverback 55 rucksack I’m carrying this year as part of a review for the company, Gossamer Gear – kindly sent to me for that purpose – is a comfortable weight and carries really well. (Review to follow shortly.)

2019-05-08 Rucksack and ShoesGossamer Gear Silverback 55 and Altra Lone Peak 4 trail shoes ready to go.

Our first climb begins after a mile or so of road walking, where we turn east (my wife will be so pleased) passing by burns and lochs on a well-trod mountain path. After a steep climb over and around the Stuc a’ Choire Ghrannda, we stop to catch our breath and, while admiring the spectacular view, we meet an Australian walking the Cape Wrath Trail who very kindly takes a photo for us. He is walking with a Belgian ultralighter who raced passed us moments earlier carrying little more than a daysack. Not sure how that partnership works but, hey, what do I know?

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Alongside me, on the right – Dave Glenn Hewitt, Heather Jackson Brooks and Tim Jayes, with the spectacular Torridon Hills in the background.

Out first rest and brew stop comes just ahead of a sudden temperature change and a shower of sleet and snow. Perfect timing. Twenty minutes later, we pick up the climb again and within minutes are sweating in our waterproofs, as the clouds move away leaving us bathed in sunshine for the descent into the corrie to the flat valley floor. I love Scotland!

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We continue down to Auchnashellach Station through the shade of a beautiful wooded area – a relief from the sunshine now on our backs – and, after some rather tedious and unavoidable road walking, we arrive at Gerry’s Bothy. There is no camping allowed now in the hostel grounds, so we decide to continue on for another 2 kilometres to pitch in the tranquillity of a forest nearby. At least the mileage will be a little shorter tomorrow.

Distance: 25km
Time: 9hrs 28mins
Total ascent: 1030m
Max elevation: 659m

Saturday 11 May
Gerry’s Bothy area to pitch near Scardroy Lodge

After a chilly night under clear skies, we wake to frost on the tents. We have all rehearsed this many times in the run-up to any long-distance section hike, but it takes a few days to organise yourself into the morning routine. Eventually, with breakfast done and bags packed, we set off, once again in beautiful sunshine with the smell of pine in our nostrils from the logging nearby.

Willie Todd, who joined us in the shared taxi from Inverness, and was pitched in the wood when we arrived, makes his farewells and peels off on his chosen route as we continue upwards once again through the Achnashellach Forest, a steady climb on a landrover track with amazing views back to the Torridon mountain range.

Along the path, we meet up with Kate Kowalska, another of the taxi companions from Inverness. Her fitness belies her age – let’s just say her bus pass is rather dog-eared.

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Hills of Torriden in the distance walking throughLogging operations and looking back to the Torridon mountains. Seems a long way now.

Our first stop of the day is at Glenuaig Lodge, now a holiday home, with a small shelter next to. A welcome rest stop as the intermittent showers and sunshine continue for most of the morning.

All these strategically placed huts and bothies serve to protect and shelter the traveller from the elements. In winter, the temperatures can be well below zero and, even in the corries and glens, whiteouts, driving rain and gales are common.

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qrf_vividGlenuaig Shelter, Scardroy. A welcome rest for us all including Kate and Heather.
Bearing information is on most huts and shelters.   
Photos 2 and 3: Dave Glenn Hewitt

Kate leaves us after about a mile, then seems to disappear without a trace. Eventually, we spot her and, reassured, continue on through Gleann Fhiodhaid following the intermittent path along the River Meig. This area requires the crossing of many fords and gullies. It’s trickier for me as this year as I am wearing Altra Lone Peak 4 trail shoes instead of boots. I will later find this was the best kit decision I ever made.

Nearing the end of our day, the house at Corrievuic comes into view as we walk the estate road. We had intended to finish a little further along at Scardroy Lodge, at the head of Loch Beannacharain, but the open grass area near the river close to the house is just too inviting – and we stop for the night.

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2019-05-11 20.42.00My Tarptent Notch, Dave’s Hilleberg Akto and Tim and Heather’s MSR Hubba Hubba

Distance: 22km
Time: 7hrs 37mins
Total ascent: 633m
Max elevation: 343m

Sunday 12 May
Scardroy to Hydro Bothy near Orrin Reservoir

After a pleasant start through the Scardroy estate on the scenic path along Loch Beannacharain, we find ourselves on a frustrating bog-trotting trek to our eventual destination. Digital mapping is fine coupled with paper maps and compass (we always carry both) but when you arrive at the Orrin Reservoir – to find it’s gone – it can be a little confusing even for experienced walkers who know what they are doing. Apparently, the reservoir was drained some years ago, yet it’s still shown on the OS map.

Up to that point, our walk is amazing. Loch Beannacharain is beautiful. Crystal clear with fish jumping, with the mountains and clouds reflecting in its glass-like surface.
A photographer’s dream. We pass by the spectacular Scardroy Lodge with its clipped lawns and ornamental gardens, including a GPS controlled lawnmower, which we watch track up and down with amusement, at one point referring to it as ‘Knight Rider’. Further on as we climb away from the loch, we see a herd of deer watching us from afar, several stags standing proudly nearby. We spot many herds of deer and solitary stags on our journey and we soon almost felt the scenery is incomplete without them.

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Today is the hottest so far. Could this be a repeat of 2018 with its nine consecutive days of crazy temperatures? We wait to find out. Just beyond Carnoch, we cross the River Mieg south to Inverchoran into the cool shade of Blarnabee Forest. However, the steep climb to the top proves worthy of our first, much needed, stop of the day.

After 4km we arrive at the bothy at Luipmaldrig, once again turning south crossing the River Orrin at the suspension footbridge to continue along the pipeline path towards the Orrin Reservoir. If you have never encountered a cable footbridge, you should know two things. First, they move up and down and side to side – all at the same time. Second, they are very narrow with just a 12-inch wooden boardwalk to step on with a sheer drop either side to the waters and rocks below. We each gingerly made our way across with videos taken to prove our skill and courage, all worthy of a certain Special Forces TV programme.

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Then it begins… From the footbridge and for what turns out to be the next 5km, the path vanishes. Our instincts tell us all to follow the south side of the river walking east to the head of the Orrin Reservoir – which incidentally, we couldn’t see at that point. Sound planning you might think. Or not? Occasionally, the path reappears for 50 metres, then disappears again. We all agree that as long as we keep bushwacking through the heather and gorse heading east, we will eventually pick up the pipeline track to our destination at the hydro bothy.

We decide to walk on the shoreline of what we think is the river. It isn’t – it was the Orrin Reservoir – which had been drained, we eventually realise, for the construction of the hydro. It is like the final scene from Planet of the Apes as we turn the corner to be greeted with a desolate landscape of white stumps of long-submerged trees, smooth boulders, dry cracked mud with the fine re-growth of vegetation. A quick look at our digital GPS mapping shows us walking through water. Surreal.

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Finally, we pick up the pipeline track and head to the Hydro bothy. On arrival, quite late in the day, we are greeted by two bikepackers who arrive almost as we do and inside is Bert Hendrikse, a Dutch TGO Legend on his 19th crossing. We pitch outside, as all we care about by that time is food and sleep.

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Distance: 24km
Time: 8hrs 48mins
Total ascent: 794m
Max elevation: 438m

A diary of the 40th TGO Challenge 2019 – Part 3

The TGO Challenge is a self-supported coast-to-coast backpacking walk across Scotland. Established in 1980, it has earned a unique reputation in the UK’s long-distance walking and backpacking tradition. Over 400 backpackers apply every year from around the world, with more than 350 completing what is now considered one of the toughest challenge events in the calendar. This year is its 40th anniversary.

Days 7 to 9

 

Thursday 16 May
Insharn to Nethy Bridge

This has been the best night’s sleep so far, so much so, that I nearly miss breakfast. Collapsing into my bag at 9.30pm and waking at 7.30am – 10 hours – that’s a very good sleep indeed.

img_20190516_080604-e1563975226143.jpgEmerging from the long sleep, woken only by the sunshine.

Today, we continue to Nethy Bridge and the Lazy Duck Campsite. Andy, who joined us last night, has a pitch already booked. The question is whether we can pitch too. We were told before we started that the campsite was almost fully booked with one place left, so we resigned ourselves to wild camping nearby. Hopefully, the unwritten rule of not turning a backpacker away will still apply.

To start our day, we head back through the farm, disturbing the dogs yet again, to pick up General Wade’s military road. Most of the morning we will be in forests and on landrover tracks, much to the relief of some of our group’s feet, which are starting to show blisters – yesterday’s road walking taking its toll. I’m feeling quite smug at this point. My choice of Altra trail shoes has, so far, proved the right one. Not even a hotspot, let alone a blister.

The trail shoe debate will, no doubt, run forever. (Excuse the pun.) The ultralight fraternity swears by them. The hardened backpackers’ prefer boots. Last year, I wore mid-boots and my toes and ankles were trashed. I carried one blister on the sole of my foot for the whole trip and eventually lost two blackened nails from bruised toes some months later. As it was my first TGO, I focused on finishing each day rather than the pain in my feet, vowing not to wear boots again. I have broad, flat feet like a hobbit (but, thankfully, not as hairy). While the Altras took a little getting used to, with zero drops, wide toe box and a full size and a half larger to allow my feet to swell, I seemed to float along, making them the most comfortable footwear I have worn so far. Walking 50 odd miles in them before the event helped too. However, time will tell, as we are only halfway through our trek. More on that later.

With the forested Inverlaidnan Hill on our left, we eventually arrive at Sluggan Bridge on the C7 cycleway. This spectacular single-arch stone bridge is just eight-feet wide at the top. It’s high too, probably to avoid being washed away by the River Dulnain it spans. I don’t know the bridge’s history but the grass and shrubs growing on the expanse imply it’s been there a very long time – a testament to its construction as a packhorse bridge.

Day 7 Insharn Pack BridgeSluggan Bridge on the C7.

From Sluggan, and still on General Wade’s road, it’s a very pleasant walk on the forest tracks of Beananach Wood and towards Kinveachy Lodge Estate. After 9km we reach civilisation, once again crossing the A9. A fast main road comes as quite a shock after the tranquillity of the forest and it takes a few minutes to adjust. The prospect of more tarmac on weary feet and tired legs is beginning to sap what energy a high-carb breakfast gave us that morning. A quick check of the map points us to Chapleton, east on the A95 en-route to Boat of Garten, where we plan to stop for lunch. This year we are travelling about 6km north of Aviemore – our stop in 2018.

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2019-05-16 13.39.31-1An homage to Rennie Mackintosh on the main street in Boat of Garten and a curious garden ornament. 

Following the main street to the end, we arrive at The Boat Country Inn and Resturant, a rather plush affair with black and white checkered flooring and tartan accessories – you get the picture. The hotel is a splendid building and we suspect a lot older than it looks. Pints are ordered along with many bags of crisps. The hot food is rather expensive so we all agree to pass on that, planning to shop elsewhere in the village. Ordering drinks and table service is interesting. The person behind the bar, who took our order and our payment, explains she can’t serve us with the drinks. Somewhat puzzled, we sit and wait to be served by a very apologetic senior staff member, who seems rushed off her feet. She explains that underage staff can’t serve clients in the bar area.

Pints consumed, we are still hungry, so after a short walk back down the main street, we find the post office and local store. Alladin’s Cave doesn’t cover it. We could have spent a lot of time and a lot of money in there. Sandwiches, sticky buns, chocolate and all things that are known to be bad for you. I finally find a hip flask size bottle of whisky to share with the group – something I have been promising after having drunk most of Tim and Heather’s. A small ‘sitooterie’ in a well-tended communal garden, opposite the hotel, allows us to eat our fill and, while there, admire the steam engine of the Strathspey Railway chugging away from the station platform. Over an hour passes, so well-rested, if slightly stiff in the limbs, we continued our journey.

2019-05-16 15.34.37-1Hotel complete with a Classic car which we later found out was a Singer whose owner was travelling across Scotland. 

Here we pick up the Speyside Way, which passes through Boat of Garten and various forest paths to Nethy Bridge, to our planned stop at The Lazy Duck at Badanfhuarain, east of Nethy. Following a minor road north of the river, we endure more tarmac and head east. After nearly missing the entrance, we arrive at a quiet and apparently deserted campsite. A bell hangs from the corner of a woodshed with the instruction to ring on arrival. This done, we are eventually greeted by our host, who turns out to be Canadian and has just joined the staff at the site. We explain we have no booking and would there be a chance of a pitch for four very tired backpackers? Much to our relief, we are shown to a beautiful grassy area that looks like a bowling green, where we are told, “I’ll come back later and give you all a tour.”

What follows is, to be fair, unusual in backpacking. A tour!  This campsite is not your usual run-of-the-mill caravan and camping park. It has a bush shower constructed from upright willow planks forming a spiral pathway, at the end of which is a metal bucket on a string suspended from a central post. You carry hot water from the kitchen, empty it into the bucket, hoist it to the correct height, turn a tap valve underneath and shower – simple. You even get a certificate if you are brave enough to do it! There is an ornamental lily pond complete with Japanese bridges, a forest sauna and hot tub, private waymarked walks, wooden lodges of various sizes, hammocks slung between trees, chiminea to keep you warm, a covered outdoor eating area complete with tea lights, communal table and comfy armchairs, slate-covered cooking areas, rare breed sheep and lambs and, of course, some very lazy and pampered ducks of all shapes and sizes.

All the charms of The Lazy Duck campsite. A pitch worth every penny!

When our host returns, she is carrying a small tray with a very ornate teapot surrounded by glass cups and bowls of dates. The pot is filled with mint tea. It transpires, the owner of the Lazy Duck, who we meet later in the evening, ran a trekking and tour company in North Africa and this is the traditional Bedouin greeting for travellers.

The Lazy Duck TGO19 2 (2)The team. A wonderful, if slightly surreal, end to another tiring day.

Photos: Dave Glenn Hewitt, Trevor Morgan

Distance: 23.5km
Time: 7hrs 54mins
Total ascent: 359m
Max elevation: 399m

 

Friday 17 May
Nethy Bridge to Glenmore Campsite, Loch Morlich

Today takes us on yet another pleasant tree-lined walk, this time through the Abernethy forest, to emerge onto moorland and eventually Glenmore Lodge (The National Outdoor Training Centre). This area is bustling in the Cairngorms winter – providing there is snow of course.

Another blisteringly hot day, t-shirt weather for most, and the first of our two short days on this trip. Unusually, we are travelling south for most of the time to Glenmore Lodge, then west to the static campsite at the head of Loch Morlich. After 7km of easy walking with a few gentle, if tiring climbs, we arrive at a cluster of small buildings at Rynettin. It’s not uncommon on the TGO to bump into fellow Challengers who you thought you might not see again until the last day at The Park Hotel in Montrose. This is one of those days. After leaving Rynettin and approaching a junction in the path, who should be standing there but Backpacking Club member and Challenger Legend*, Mervyn Redshaw. The chances of meeting someone you know at a junction are about the same as being struck by lightning! It transpires that Mervyn had not been well, has lost a day and has had to re-route to make up time.

sdr_vividMervyn Redshaw on the right on his 11th crossing.

We part company as he takes the opposite path when we head south again to Ryvoan Bothy. We have to keep reminding ourselves that these bothies are maintained and supported by Mountain Bothies Association members’ who are all unpaid volunteers. It is a tireless and sometimes thankless task carried out by people who care enough to provide a haven for the weary traveller. I would urge everyone to support them by joining the MBA. Your membership fee provides some of the funding to make this work possible. In the coming days, we will find out how valuable this work is.

The very comfortable Ryvoan bothy. The plaque makes interesting reading too.

Continuing on our path south, we pass what is known locally as the Fairy Loch. Its Gaelic translation is An Lochan Uaine or Green Loch. For tourists, it’s known it as the Emerald Loch. It doesn’t disappoint. Never have I seen water with such a striking colour of turquoise. It’s dazzling. It’s beautiful. A place to take a breath, to ponder and stare unbelievingly.

sdr_vividThe Emerald Loch – stunning.

We now follow a well-trod cinder path turning to a metalised road past the Reindeer Centre, to Glenmore Lodge where we collect our resupply parcels – one of the main reasons for taking this route south. Once collected, we head west to the campsite, spotting on the way a sign saying fish and chips – a mental note made for later. On arrival, we book in and still struggling to believe how hot it is, search for an area to pitch – the ground is harder than it looks. The wind is picking up, a hint as to what is forecast. The weather is due to change for the worse.

2019-05-17 15.53.25Re-supply number two at Glenmore – some very happy campers!

After showers and a rest, we decide to explore the area for food. Heather and Tim find ice creams in the nearby cafe and all is well. Then we hear of an eatery down the road at the edge of the campsite called the Pine Marten Bar – the rest is history! Thoughts of fish and chips disappear as we enter. Dave is already seated in the bar area. We book a table for four and order. Burgers and chips. Very good burgers it has to be said and much-needed protein. Well, that’s my excuse anyway.

The evening entertainment arrives to set up as we sit down for our meal. A duo called Zetor in the Kailyard, they play some pretty amazing traditional tunes and jigs. We are still there at 11pm after more than a few pints.

Food and fun at the Pine Marten Bar. A great night was had by all

When we finally emerge, it is pouring with rain. It rains all night with a drop in temperature of some ten degrees. The forecast is right – the change has arrived with a vengeance.

*A Challenger Legend is one who has completed ten crossings.
Blog photos: Dave Glenn Hewitt, Trevor Morgan.
Ryvoan Bothy photo: Joyce Low, courtesy of the Mountain Bothies Association

 

Distance: 16.5km
Time: 5hrs 46mins
Total ascent: 377m
Max elevation: 412m

 

Saturday 18 May
Glenmore Campsite to Faindouran Lodge

A wet night, a wet start, a wet tent and miserable walk into the wind. We return to the junction just before Ryvoan Bothy where we stopped yesterday for a brief rest. One of my daughters, who is following our track from the InReach Mini I am wearing, later comments that she thought we were lost, as we were on the same path as yesterday. Our route east will now take us on a steady climb, 800m out of the corrie and around the lower shoulder of Bynack Moŕe (1090m).

We had planned to break off this path at about 600m and make our way directly east over the saddle to the right of Dagrum (848m), then down the gully, directly to Faindouran Lodge. But the weather has become worse so we decide this is a day to stay on a distinct path, not bushwack across unknown territory.

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Having planned not to go near the Fords of Avon – a wet and bog-ridden area on the best of days – we do just that and head for the famous Avon Refuge. The path to the fords seems to have been upgraded and takes us directly to the shelter. A hard downhill slog, adding 3km to the day, but worth it for the comfort and welcome we receive from its two occupants who arrived earlier and are planning to stay the night.

2019-05-18 15.40.43-1The Avon Refuge – a welcome sight. Yes, the stones are to stop it from blowing away!

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I, of course, fall foul of the low beam entrance not once but three times, much to the amusement of the others. This is quite common for newbies to the shelter. I’ll know next time to duck! My fingers are so cold I can’t undo the zip on my jacket. We all squeeze in and brew up, staying out of the wind and rain until we warm up enough to venture out again. At this point, Andy, who had been with us for the last few days, makes the decision to leave us, as his back is just too sore to continue. It sometimes takes a lot more courage to make that decision than to carry on in pain. He eventually makes his way to Braemar and the train home. To our relief, we later get a message to say he has arrived safely.

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When we eventually emerge, we set off east following the River Avon (pronounced A’rn), by which time the rain has become patchy showers. True to the area, this riverside path is not so distinct and I am very glad to be wearing waterproof socks with my trail shoes. Torrential rain through the night and most of today hasn’t helped underfoot. Eventually, the Fandouran Lodge bothies come into view and, by a stroke of luck, the rain stops allowing just enough time to pitch our tents. Both bothies are full so we join several other challengers outside.

Once fed, with just the sounds of gentle snoring breaking the stillness of a clear night, we fall asleep, hoping for a dry day tomorrow.

Distance: 21.5km
Time: 8hrs 16mins
Total ascent: 805m
Max elevation: 793m

Blog photos: Dave Glenn Hewitt, Trevor Morgan

A diary of the 40th TGO Challenge 2019 – Part 2

The TGO Challenge is a self-supported coast-to-coast backpacking walk across Scotland. Established in 1980, it has earned a unique reputation in the UK’s long-distance walking and backpacking tradition. Over 400 backpackers apply every year from around the world, with more than 350 completing what is now considered one of the toughest challenge events in the calendar. This year is its 40th anniversary.

Days 4 to 6

Monday 13 May
Hydro Bothy to Newtonhill

After some restless sleep, we rise to bright sunshine again. What’s strange is there’s no wind, which considering the remoteness and altitude, feels a little worrying. Bert, our Dutch TGO Veteran, sticks his head around the bothy door, says good morning and, returning inside, packs expertly in the blink of an eye. Our bikepackers were up before 6am and raced off into the sunrise. While we cook up our calories and arrange and re-arrange our packing, a spritely Bert emerges to set off and wishes us well for our journey.

img_20190513_063626.jpgOur tents pitched just before sunset.     Photo: Dave Glenn Hewitt

Our walk today seemed on paper straightforward. Nothing ever is, of course. Our journey will be a mix of road, off-road trails and detours but at least we’re confident that the route plotted, unlike parts of the journey to the Orrin Reservoir yesterday, are still there.

Legs feel strong as we depart in good humour. We continue east on the landrover track following the hydro pipeline. This is quite a feat of engineering. A concrete pipe some two-feet in diameter sitting on plinths. It snakes its way, sometimes disappearing underground, then reappearing like some mad sea monster. We speculate its age as some sections have been replaced with modern materials. Other ancient parts drip from forgotten cracks and rotted seals. Intake drains and service manifolds are dotted along its route every so often where the thunderous rush of water can be heard.

img_20190513_092939-e1560024372518.jpgHydro pipeline with newer sections added.   Photo: Dave Glenn Hewitt

We decide to stay on the hydro service track, as good paths are a rarity. However, it will take us slightly off route. At some point, we will have to navigate cross country to pick up the main track. We skirt the base of Beinn Bheag Fhada at 396m and arrive at Loch Ballach. Plotting a straight bearing to join another service road, we stride out across gorse and moss, aiming for a point on the distant ridgeline and, after a short brew stop and further bog trotting, we hit the track and make for civilisation, something we haven’t seen since our TGO started. At this point, we are starting to think about food and beer!

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fznor_vividStopping for tea and a water refill. A typical tarmac stretch and some rather comical signage.   Photos: Dave Glenn Hewitt

May I introduce our first Trail Angel. Arriving in Wester Balblair we meet a woman on her way to an exercise class. She, apparently, overheard us asking a passerby if there were any pubs in the village where we could get some food. She asks to see our map and shows us. In fact, a hotel, The Old North Inn at Inchmore, some 5 kilometres away, is the nearest place. Sometimes Trail Angels just pop up. Thanking her, we head off. Suddenly, there she is again, waiting at the top of some steps, in case we go the wrong way. She even offers us a better route, which turns out to be quicker. People are so helpful and really restore your faith in humanity.

Passing the splendid Moniach Castle, we arrive at the hotel to find we’ve picked the day new ovens are being installed – so no food. Beer, crisps, chocolate bars and more beer will just have to do. We also take the opportunity to recharge our various devices – the barman says: “Oh, just unplug the Karaoke machine; it’ll be fine.”

Much refreshed and very slightly inebriated, we head south-east to our destination for the day. After a short climb into the forest beyond Newtonhill in The Aird, as if by magic, we find a clearing and flat ground with deer hiding some distance away in the long grass. A perfect, sunset pitch for the evening and much-needed sleep. Tomorrow is our assault on Inverness along the Great Glen Way to Auchnahillin Holiday Park, our first static camp, re-supply parcel collection and much-needed showers!

2019-05-14 07.11.41Sleeping bag lofting in the evening sun in our secluded forest pitch.

Distance: 28.5km
Time: 9hrs 54mins
Total ascent: 617m
Max elevation: 394m

 

Tuesday 14 May
The Aird to Auchnahillin, Inverness

We wake refreshed to a crisp sunny morning, the deer long since departed, and we pack for the day ahead. Our route takes us via the picturesque Great Glen Way, to the outskirts of Inverness and on to Auchnahillin. We climb gently along forest paths and, following the well-marked route, we emerge onto a GGW footpath. It feels like rush hour, with walkers and backpackers, family groups and bikers making their way to and from Inverness.

2019-05-14 11.19.30On The Great Glen Way heading for Inverness.  

2019-05-14 11.23.34Inverness looms before us. The mock-baronial apartment complex in the centre.

The forested part of the Great Glen Way is bliss. Parts of it are like walking in the garden of a stately home, with tunnelled canopies of trees – very welcome as the temperature begins to soar. As we descend and the city appears below us, we see what looks like a castle. As we get closer, it appears to be a massive renovation. Closer still, it becomes apparent it’s neither: this is a hugely expensive, mock baronial apartment complex with what appears to be a renovated kirk in the middle. Eventually, we emerge onto the Caledonian Canal where we pause for a while before continuing across the River Ness’s islands and parks. For anyone into river kayaking, this is paradise.

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2019-05-14 13.25.30The Caledonian Canal. The river Ness and a take on Nessie from a fallen tree in the park.

Our next section is a complete contrast and sadly, unavoidable. We walk through the built-up areas of Lower Drummond and Hilton, south of the city. Let’s just say, and with no offence intended, it’s an area where you wouldn’t want to dally. We come out the other side and head towards General Wade’s military road. Sometimes you just have to down packs in the most unlikely places. Pausing on the grass verge of a busy roundabout, we sunbathed, watched the passersby and almost fell asleep, oblivious to the traffic noise. Our stomachs were beginning to rumble…

We need food and water! Spotting a sign for a nearby hotel, we head in that direction, only to find out from a passerby that it has closed. Frustrated, particularly as we had ignored the opportunity to walk to the local Co-op from a roundabout earlier, we trudge on along a forest path. Come in Trail Angel number two. A man with a shopping bag appears, who – you guessed it – is going to the Co-op. He gives us directions and trots off to the store, where we catch up with him soon after. Sheltering from the sun in the shade of the trolley shelter, we devour our purchases, much to the amusement of the locals. Never has so much food and drink been consumed in such a short time. Walking back, I manage to snap this of Heather and Tim. The TGO is not all about wild places and forests.

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Retracing our steps, we continue on General Wade’s road through beautiful forests to Dundavie. After crossing the busy A9 and over the River Nairn, after a final 2 kilometres of road walking, we see a very welcome sign: Auchnahillin Holiday Park. A long, hot day comes to an end with thoughts of a shower and rest.

2019-05-15 08.36.38Auchnahillin Holiday Park campsite. 

Distance: 27km
Time: 9hrs 22mins
Total ascent: 560m
Max elevation: 354m

 

Wednesday 15 May
Auchnahillin to Insharn

More sunshine – is this really Scotland? A beautifully crisp morning greats us again. Today we walk to Insharn, a regularly used challenge stop on Wade’s road. This is one of those days where the tarmac is unavoidable. After discussion, we agree to bypass a little of it by detouring into the Moy Estate and the loch of the same name.

Turning left from the campsite, we walk for about 2 kilometres to the Moy Estate, famous for its grouse shooting. Not something I agree with in any way. Once past the main estate buildings and the splendid Moy Hall, Tim has an encounter with a goat, who seems very interested in the possibility of free food. We emerge onto the high path on the east side, or top edge, of Loch Moy. It makes a picture-postcard vista, and halfway along we stop to rest and soak up the stunning view over the Isle of Moy.

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2019-05-15 11.48.42A friendly white goat. Loch Moy and the Isle of Moy where the remains of the original laird’s house still stand.

Leaving Loch Moy, we retrace our route through the forest, crossing Dalmacgarry burn back to cross the main road again onto cycle route 7. Easy walking here albeit on the tarmac, we head for Tomatin, and spotting a beer jug symbol on the map look forward to some refreshment.

Tomatin’s famous distillery, which we passed on the way here, with some reluctance, seems to be thriving and, I imagine, is the main source of local employment. We pass under the spectacular rail bridge, turning right onto the main street. It’s a very hot day and we need to stop soon.

The village has a community shop and post office. We are in luck as the shelves are well stocked. Asking where the pub is, we are told it has gone. There is a pattern forming here. So many of the pubs and hotels have closed or simply vanished. This is sad as most used to be where people met and socialised, particularly in remote villages.

Heather, the brave and cheeky one of the group, asks if we can move the picnic table outside out of the sun. We fill our faces with soft drinks, sandwiches, crisps, ice cream and even burgers microwaved in the store. After refilling our water bottles, we head off. It’s great to see a thriving enterprise like this. We need more stores supported and run by the people that use them.

I had been told about the three bridges in Tomatin. We arrive at the first, the Findhorn road bridge. Built in 1926 by engineer Sir Owen Williams, with help from the architect Maxwell Ayrton, it is one of a series along the A9. This is probably the most striking. A little OTT but splendid nevertheless, it replaced a bridge built by Thomas Telford dating from 1833. The photo shows the three bridges from one of the pedestrian refuge arches.

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fznor_vividThe three Findhorn bridges.  The Owen Williams bridge in the foreground. The railway and new A9 road bridges in the distance.  Arch photo: Dave Glenn Hewitt

Picking up cycle route 7 again, which runs parallel to the A9, we climb to arrive at Slochd Summit at 400m, and finally, the sign as we enter Cairngorms National Park. There is an instant and dramatic change in the scenery as we cross the invisible border.

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2019-05-15 18.47.09Entering the Cairngorms National Park

We arrive shattered at Incharn, mainly due to the heat of the day, which no matter how hydrated you are and how well fed, takes its toll. After a cooling walk along a forest track, we turn into an open field, the barking of dogs on the nearby farm announcing our arrival. A few minutes after we set up, a lone walker appears. It’s Andy Bailey, a fellow Backpacking Club member. He had planned to join us for a few days but we weren’t sure where. He will walk with us to the Fords of Avon, before heading off to Braemar and home.

Distance: 24.6km
Time: 8hrs 48mins
Total ascent: 697m
Max elevation: 409m

TGO 2019 – Off we go…

It’s taken a few months of planning – well, six to be exact, but here I am ready to go.

There have been lots of changes to gear and the way I have packed, with many lessons learned from my TGO18 crossing. It’s not the lightest I’m sure, but a lower base weight and overall average pack weight than before.

Heaviest pack: 22lb (9.9kg) on the first day with 5 days’ food, water and fuel
Base weight: 15.5lb (7kg)
Average full pack: 17lb (7.7kg) with 1.5kg of consumables.

2019-05-08 EverythingThere were a couple of items that didn’t get into the bag.

2019-05-08 Pods.jpgTread Lite Gear Cuben pods for food, clothing, misc items and stove – brilliant!

Using the excellent Treadlite Gear pods and covers, packing has become so easy with everything in its place and, more importantly, where I can find it. I have been lucky to have been sent a sample Silverback 2019 55ltr rucksack from Gossamer Gear to play with on the crossing. Many thanks to Grant and Ken for that – a review will follow soon.

As I have feet like a hobbit, I have chosen Altra Lone Peak 4 trail shoes this year, which was a big decision. I have walked about 50 miles in them and not a hot spot or blister – unlike with boots last year when my toes and feet were trashed! Trail shoes are lighter, dry really quick and allow the toes to spread and move as they were designed to. The ‘boot-trail shoe’ debate will rumble on I know, but this is my choice this year.

2019-05-08 Rucksack and ShoesGossamer Gear Silverback 55 all packed and Altra Lone Peak 4, ready to go.

Also, this year, I have been invited to take part in Ed Hyatt’s Whither Wilderness research project for Northumbria University. It’s a study of information and technology use on the TGO, which is quite exciting and means I get to play with lots of gadgets, which I’ll report on too.

Gone to the beach

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Heading towards Gullane – and lunch

Walking along the beach from North Berwick to Gullane, I felt as if I’d left something behind. When you’re used to walking with a rucksack, albeit a light one, it can feel strange to be without.

The East Lothian coast, with its rocky islands and ruined castles, makes an enjoyable and relatively undemanding change of scene from my usual haunts in the Lakeland fells.

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Looking back to Fidra, with its lighthouse

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The forested dunes at Jamie’s Neuk

Even though we walked only 6.5 miles, we felt fully entitled to a Sunday lunch of wiener schnitzel with a fried egg on top, buttery mashed potato and a beer, followed by strong coffee and a shared nut tart at the German bakery, Falko.

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Falko on Gullane Main Street

We then compounded matters by returning to North Berwick and our lovely holiday cottage, rented from the superb gonetothebeach.co.uk, on the bus. But everyone deserves a rest now and again, don’t they?

It all started with polar blanky

Morning after with polar blanky

My introduction to fast and light wild camping was courtesy of two friends who invited me along one sunny January afternoon. There’s a clue there if you look: January. These guys had done this before but I hadn’t. I’d cycle and car camped for many years – entirely different – and my kit reflected my experience, as did theirs.

I realised it would be a cold night in the fells and looked around for the warmest gear in my limited collection. At the time, I had only a 2-degree Vango summer sleeping bag and thin ThermaRest mat. Not a good start. Then I found ‘polar blanky’. Yes, this really was a cuddly blanket decorated with polar bears – a free gift from Damart to my aged mother, one of their ‘best’ customers (or so they told her). It was a light, synthetic fleece material and proved a warm and, probably, lifesaving addition to my kit.

We woke up to tents crisp with thick frost, at what we later found out was minus 8 degrees. The tarn we were next to had frozen over and, as I had kept my lack of appropriate kit from them the night before, when they saw what I’d brought, they were astonished I was still alive. To this day, it is still talked of as the ‘polar blanky’ trip.

Thankfully, both my kit and experience have increased greatly since then but, as a badge of honour, I still have the blanket!

Building your kit, for any sport or pastime, is quite a journey, emotionally and financially. I’ve come to realise it takes time, involves mistakes, expense, disasters, light-bulb moments, reality checks, occasionally being in the dog-house, constant indecision and even the odd sleepless night.

It seems to be a process that never quite finishes, partly because manufacturers, like software companies, are always revising and upgrading their products, teasing us with something shinier, sleeker and smaller that does exactly the same as your old one but at half the weight and twice the price. Then there are the ‘trends’, which come and go with increasing regularity as wheels are re-invented.

Those of us with slightly less experience, not to mention will-power, can have a torrid time ignoring those skilful marketeers and nailing down what really works for us.

The transformation from a ‘camper’, who is just out for fun with the family, into a demented, list-making ‘gram weenie’ can be all-consuming. What I and many others who spend quality time in the outdoors have realised is that it becomes a very personal process and, because it’s personal, it can, if not checked, become obsessive.

I thought it might be useful to share my current winter backpacking list. I’ve been building up this gear for a couple of years, swapping old for new, heavier for lighter, and lighter for even lighter. I could, of course, just go into a store or online and buy all my lightweight kit in one go and be done with it. But we all know that’s not how it works.  As I said, there will always be better, lighter and smaller, just around the corner.

Winter backpacking list

Most readers who backpack will recognise things they use themselves. Perhaps there’s the odd item that interests you, some you may even laugh at, and one or two that are a surprise – hopefully, in a ‘why didn’t I think of that’ kind of way. Some items double as something else, some have multiple uses and some are there, well, just because.

This is a two-night backpacking gear list with a base weight of 13.5 lbs. It’s not meant to be an ultralight list for adventure racing, and in my next post, I’ll explain my reasons for including some of the items in my bag – and why it’s vital to have a list (even if you’re not a ‘list person’).

Tents I have known and, sometimes, loved

Wild camping with the Soulo

Hopefully, my last post got you thinking about the tents you’ve known and loved – or hated – over the years. It certainly did that to me. At least, the ones I can remember. So here goes…

Try reading the following to the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas:

  • A Marechal two-person 17lb heavyweight – my first tent;
  • Numerous dome tents from the cheaper outlets, some so damaged they were left at the festivals where they stood;
  • A Wynnster four-berth family tent, made memorable by my youngest throwing up in it, missing her mother’s face by millimetres;
  • Four Vango tents of various sizes and styles including the iconic Banshee and Blade – all brilliant for those on a small budget;
  • Three Hillebergs – Nallo, Akto and Soulo (pictured above) – all superior design and quality and crazy expensive unless you’re in a position not to care about budget;
  • Numerous homemade tarps, most never used;
  • Several shop bought tarps including Go-Lite and DD;
  • A Wild Country Zephyros 1 – a very popular backpacker’s tent but too narrow for me;
  • A Luxe Hex Peak – a simple, roomy tepee tent with half-mesh inner;
  • A Trekkertent Stealth 1 with both a solid and (my next purchase) full mesh inner for midge-free summer evenings.

(Yes, I know the tune doesn’t quite work.)

From that collection, spread over many years, only four remain: the ancient Hilleberg Nallo 3GT, the Hilleberg Soulo, the Luxe Hex Peak and, my latest, the Trekkertent Stealth 1.

And my reasons for keeping these?

The Hillebergs speak for themselves. They are not cheap, and even though we all know more money does not always equal more tent, in this case it does. There’s a reason why Artic expeditions use Hillebergs, and at a recent Backpackers’ Club meet, six out of nine tents were Aktos.

Hillebergs are beautifully made, well researched with rugged Kerlon fabrics and will protect you in the foulest and coldest conditions. When I first used an Akto, my lack of experience led me to feel it was too small for my needs. Now, it would probably seem like a palace!

The only problem I’ve found, as many others have too, is Hilleberg’s overall packed weight. This probably doesn’t apply to their more recent Enan solo tent, at a packed weight of 1.1 kilos.

When I use the outer of the Soulo in the summer as a single skin, with poles, pegs and footprint, it’s still not a light option, at 1.8 kilos. Adding the inner for winter use brings it to 2.4 kilos. For this reason, I carry the Soulo only when it’s a short walk in and overnight pitch or, when I’m prepared to carry the extra weight, above the snowline.

The trusty Nallo was once the go-to shelter for the cycle tourer and backpacker. We bought the bigger 3GT (that’s a three-person version with a porch) back in 2000. Originally for tandem touring, we now use it mainly for car camping or backpacking, where we can split the weight to about 1.7 kilos each.

Even at a packed weight of 3.4 kilos, it’s a manageable and palatial tunnel shelter, which goes up in a few minutes and has withstood three-day gales and biblical rain storms.

In 2014, I bought the Luxe Hex Peak, a very simple tepee, six-sided design that uses a walking pole for the centre support. I can see why this style is very popular in Scandinavia. Unfortunately, I don’t have the strength to carry the obligatory wood burner!

The Luxe Hex Peak in high wind

The Luxe Hex Peak in high wind

A simple, but certainly not a new concept, the Hex also goes up in a few minutes, is roomy and, with the exception of gale force winds, will withstand most UK weather.

The fly can be pitched flush to the ground in foul weather, or high off the ground using a walking pole extender, in warmer conditions. The inner, which is half mesh, can be set up on its own for summer use. But the mesh can make this tent a little too draughty in winter and, because of this, I would class it as a thee-season option.

As I’m always looking to cover greater distances, I was keen to reduce the weight of the big three – tent, rucksack and sleeping bag. Rucksack at 800g and down sleeping bag at 900g are acceptable for the moment, so that only leaves the tent. (I’ll be writing about rucksacks and sleep systems in future posts.)

In January, after much research, I bought a Trekkertent Stealth 1. I’d read reviews by other bloggers (Section Hiker and Overthehills) whose comprehensive descriptions persuaded me to plump for it. It’s also good to support one of a few UK tent makers.

My version of the Stealth weighs 780g, which now includes eight titanium nail pegs and a short folding pole for the rear, as I use both my trekking poles to support the front. As for other uses, it can be a winged tarp, pitched low to cover a bivvy bag. The solid inner can be used on its own in the summer, and the mesh inner combined with a poncho tarp for a midge-free night under the stars.

Like many backpackers, trekkers and wild campers, I’ve spent the last few years looking for the perfect shelter. But what I’ve come to realise it that it’s a never-ending quest. Your perfect tent won’t necessarily be mine – and, in the end, one will never be enough. But isn’t that part of the journey?

When the correct number of tents is N+1

There's always room for one more tent

Remember your first tent? Of course, you do. Mine was a two-person Marechal ridge set up bought for me by my parents. Inner pitch first, hanging from interlocking poles forming the frame, with the outer fly pulled over the top and the poles sticking out through eyelets in the material.

I tried to find a photo but realised I probably didn’t even own a camera at the time. As the Marechal is long defunct, the nearest thing I came across online was the renowned Vango Force 10.

The Vango Force Ten Mk5

The Vango Force Ten Mk5

In hindsight, the Marechal was obviously bought to play with in the garden. In fact, my parents had planted the seed for the backpacking I do now. It had steel section poles, an orange waxed-canvas outer – which had to be reproofed every couple of months and took three days to dry – and a cream cotton inner with no vents. It did have a PVC bathtub groundsheet, which I now realise was quite advanced for the time. The whole bundle weighed a massive 17lb – 3lb heavier than my current total backpacking base weight. How far we have come…

Knowing what I know now – and even saying to myself, ‘This is the one. No need to look any further; I’ll use this for the rest of my days. Why would I possibly need anything else?’ – I accept that the shelters I own today won’t be the last.

I’m just as gullible and lacking in willpower as the next person. There is, and always will be, something out there that’s better, more technical, lighter, stronger, more innovative, even cheaper, superior quality – you get the picture.

In recent years I’ve collected a range of tents and shelters. (Yes, collected – we backpackers seem to do that, like stamps or model cars.) And all have been justified with perfectly plausible explanations: ‘I need that one for base camping, that one for wild camping, and that one for Thursdays.’

As I said, you get the picture. It’s a version of Rule 12 from Velominati’s cycling book The Rules: ‘The correct number of bikes to own is N+1, where N is the number bikes you already own.’ Just substitute tent for bike.

And if I could have just one? I genuinely don’t know. I’ll have a think about it and let you know if I come to any conclusion. In the meantime, what would you choose?

A cook system – and a spirited idea for a stove

A collection of various stoves and burners from the journey

For most of us when we’re camping, boiling speed isn’t that important – we just sit patiently and take in the view, which is exactly what we should be doing. However, it’s sometimes desirable to boil water quickly – say, for a hot drink or rehydrated meal when temperatures are close to freezing, or when you need to be on the move.

Overnight wild camping, in the peace and silence of dusk, I usually just rehydrate food in foil bags using a cosy box, so only need something to boil water in and drink from. For longer backpacking trips, arriving earlier at the pitch in daylight, I like to cook, so my pot may be slightly bigger, perhaps one with a heat exchanger, and my burner more controllable for simmering. This is when I take a slightly heavier cook system, and it’s usually gas.

Until recently, I switched indecisively between alcohol burners and ultralight canister gas stoves, depending on weather, temperature and the length of the adventure. I was never a big fan of alcohol stoves until I bought the iconic Trangia 27 back in the day. Even when I opened the packaging I thought it was rather large and cumbersome. Nevertheless, I still have my faithful Trangia. However, I use it only for car camping now, when I cook ‘proper’ meals. It’s completely faff-free and bombproof. As with their tents, those Swedes know a thing or two.

Using gas for backpacking trips, I have often felt – as they say in cycling parlance – ‘over geared’. I’ve seen and met people using alcohol stoves of every style and size and thought ‘wow, that’s so simple’.

This set me on a quest, and after some years, I now have a collection. (There’s that word again!) To date, it consists of the original Trangia and burner and several other Trangia-types, some made of tin, some made of copper, some of brass, stainless steel and even one from Japan made of uber-expensive titanium. Then there’s the pop can and cat-food tin stoves, many I’ve made myself, some I’ve bought. And some I’ve nearly burnt the house down with. (We don’t talk about those!)

Then, in a ‘eureka’ moment, on a recent trip, I discovered the perfect burner, made by Speedster. It’s basically a shallow tin filled with compacted, absorbent fibre wadding covered with a piece of fine wire mesh. Simplicity itself and very, very efficient. It’s extremely easy to fill and, provided the lid is screwed on tightly, it’s leak proof and can be left with fuel in. You can also put it in your pocket to keep the fuel warm in winter so you don’t struggle to light it.

Speedster Number 2 and simmer ring

Speedster Number 2 and simmer ring

I finally settled on the Speedster Number 2. In fact, I have two, and each burns for 20 to 25 minutes from full. Using a craft cutting compass, I made a simmer ring for one of them, which saves fuel if you need to reheat a drink that’s been left in your pot. I also take a spare 60ml bottle of fuel for peace of mind. Even though meths burns slightly hotter, I’ve been using bio-ethanol fuel, which is non-toxic (methanol-free), smokeless, longer burning and, more importantly, environmentally friendly if spilled.

So then I thought, what should I use as a pot stand? And for a windshield? And how do I protect the flame from what is, essentially, a very large candle wick? With gas, I now use a Crux folding stove with a 100ml cartridge and, sometimes, an aluminium folding windshield. I noticed four of the panels fitted exactly around my MytiMug cook pot. A ‘light bulb’ moment occurred… and after a bit of careful measuring, re-engineering and the use of a paper punch, this was the result.

The completed windshield/stand for the Alpkit MytiMug

The windshield/stand for the Alpkit MytiMug

Windshield open showing the burner

Windshield open showing the burner

The pot slides neatly inside the four panels of the windshield, held at the top by its lip, carefully measured so it hangs exactly one inch over the Number 2 Speedster – its recommended ‘sweet spot’ distance from the base of the pot*. Because the pot is completely enclosed by the stand and using a top-burning stove, the heat is maximised even though there’s some heat loss venting at the four corners. Great for warming your hands on a cold morning!

I added the holes around the base to provide air for the burner, but limited it to three on the back so as not to snuff it out when positioned into the wind. The windshield/pot stand folds away neatly into a bubble wrap bag with its foil ground protector. A Jiffy bag lined with bubble wrap protects the windshield as well as items in my pack. So this is my ‘go to’ cook set… for now.

Findings

Using bio-ethanol, in zero wind (indoors), 300ml of liquid rolls to a boil in 3 mins 45 secs. In the field, it’s anywhere from 4 to 7 minutes – still amazing for such a simple burner. If using meths (UK) or pure denatured alcohol, boil times would be slightly less.

Items and weights

  • Pot: Alpkit 650 MytiMug
  • Burner: Speedster Number 2 (available on eBay)
  • Original windshield: Cotswold Outdoor
  • Fuel: Geco Industries Fuel 4, Bio-ethanol Spirit Fuel
A simple cook system: 650ml MytiMug with HotLips, Speedster burners, fuel, lighter and bubble wrap cosy

A simple cook system: 650ml MytiMug with HotLips, Speedster burners, fuel, lighter and bubble wrap cosy

Cook system

  • Cook pot with lid containing two full burners, 60ml fuel in plastic bottle, lighter, HotLips, bubble wrap pot cosy inside a mesh bag – 275g
  • Pot stand/windshield in bag – 75g

*Recommended ‘sweet spot’ height from burner to base of pot confirmed by Gary at Speedster.

The cook system ready to go, with folded stand in Jiffy bag

The cook system ready to go, with folded stand in a Jiffy bag

Update

The Caldera cone pot stand/windshield is the obvious choice for these burners and I’ll be making one soon to fit in the pot from one of the many templates on the internet. This should be more efficient, as all the heat is directed to the pot base.

A night at minus 4 in the Trekkertent Stealth 1

The Trekkertent Stealth 1 in the snow and high wind on its first outing

The Trekkertent Stealth 1 in the snow and high wind on its first outing

I’m not sure what the overnight wind speed was on the Lakeland fell where I tried out the new Trekkertent Stealth 1, an ultralight (755g) one-person tent, but by the morning, along with the horizontal snow, it was up to a bitter 30-40mph. The Stealth, I’m pleased to say, was rock solid even in a broadside wind which, of course, had turned as I slept.

What astonished me most was the internal/external temperature difference. The reading on my watch (hanging from a temporary ridge line in the roof – see below) was 2 degrees before I opened the inner and outer door. The temperature outside, recorded five minutes later, was minus 4. This trapping of heat is the one big plus with a small sleeping area and solid fabric.

Best of all, though, there was no condensation. Not even inside the fly, with such a large temperature difference. This was partly due to the fly pitching slightly off the ground. Quite amazing.

I had been expecting good things of the Trekkertent. Marc, the proprietor, has been amazingly helpful in the production and delivery of my particular Stealth. His business, based in Perth, seems to be flourishing with a full order book and now a minimum six-week delivery on some of his tents.

What makes him special is that he listens and, more often than not, adopts some part of the suggestions made by his clients. At the time of my original order with the mesh inner, Marc was starting to get requests for a solid fabric version, to make the Stealth a four-season option – essential in the UK. After discussing production times, I decided to hold off for this one.

I’m predominantly left handed, so I asked to have the outer door switched over, and the inner to be made with two zips instead of one to open up the full triangle for better access. Don’t get me wrong, Marc is not making individual custom tents – these changes are done at his discretion and will not radically alter his production process. If you order a Stealth – you get a Stealth. However, it seems you may now get an inner door with two zips instead of one. Products evolve.

Like all new things, there are pros and cons, but for me, it’s a brilliant tent, a brilliant tarp, and in the warm, dry summer evenings, the mesh inner will be a brilliant bug-free bivvy to sleep under the stars.

Yes, the inner is a small space, but it’s no smaller than a Zephyros or even its expensive counterpart the Laser Comp. If you want a tent for living in, buy a bigger tent. If it’s just for sheltering from bad weather or to sleep in after a long day, accept what you have, adapt your gear, and you’ve cracked it!

The outer tarp

Trekkertent Stealth 1 A-frame set up

Trekking poles create an A-frame set up

I chose the slightly heavier 40D green Sil Nylon material as I felt it would be more robust. The optional extra storm guys were added to the long sides for peace of mind and Trekkertent’s innovative self-tensioners supplied as well. The door has a full two-way zip and storm flap with Velcro patches along the length of the closure. The Velcro is difficult to seal from the inside once the zip is closed, but a brush along the seam with the back of the hand does the job.

In its tarp set up, it’s very roomy, particularly if you use your poles as an A-frame. If you were to tie the front guy high up on a tree trunk or strong branch, you would have a completely open and trip-free entrance. To do this with your trekking poles, you will need an additional guy and pole for the rear. I had one made by Bear Bones Bivvy Gear. It’s a three-section folding DAC pole, which travels either rolled up in the tent or fits snugly inside your pack. I roll mine in a thin nylon groundsheet, not to protect the pole but the items in my sack.

Bear Bones Bivvy Gear rear pole

Bear Bones Bivvy Gear rear pole

The Stealth is designed to be used with two trekking poles, one at each end. There are tapes and rings sewn in to hold these in place. The rear rings, yes, there are two, allow for different thicknesses of pole points. Cleverly thought out. The tape from the rear ridge line is long enough to pull the fabric up and out, at the same time giving strength to the structure. It also keeps the pole away from the vent in the rear of the tent.

The front trekking pole sits in a ring set into a tape with a leather backing to it, inside the highest point. The backing is there to stop the pole’s tungsten tip piercing the outer fabric. Make sure this is seated properly in the ring before tightening the main guy. Attached to this ring and tape is the main guy to the door peg. Make sure you use a long ground peg for this one, as the two door panel ties attach to the same peg!

The stitching on the tarp is interesting. It’s rare to see the ridge line on a tarp being stitched. Then you realise this is done to give strength to the structure when the fabric is pulled taut. And this tent, according to Marc, is designed to be pulled very taut. Stitching overall is okay – it does the job – but remember, this is not a Hilleberg.

Some of the overlaps and edging, particularly on the bathtub corners and rear fly apex, could have been folded and joined a little neater before stitching and seam sealing, but I have no doubt this will improve as the product and its production develop.

The seam sealing, particularly on the ridgeline is excellent. All tension areas are very well sealed too and, as this is manufactured under dry conditions, there’s not a grain of dust or grit anywhere under the silicone. All guy loops are reinforced with additional fabric and sealed too. Very reassuring.

Guy lines are Dyneema, ranging from 1.5mm to 2.5mm. The four tarp corners and one front flap have 2.5mm Dyneema with plastic LineLoc tensioners. These lines could be a little longer perhaps, to allow for a very open and high tarp pitch in warmer weather.

The two end guys, which have Mini LineLoc adjusters, are a good length and robust. I will, in true ‘weenie’ style, change these guys for brighter ones for my next trip, though, as black lines are very hard to see when blundering out for a pee in the pitch dark! These were put on at my request – my error! The learning process continues…

Trekkertent Stealth 1 fly with my addition of a Dyneema cord

The fly with my addition of a Dyneema cord

To get the correct or recommended pitch for the fly, I added a length of Dyneema across the door area tied off to 1500mm, clipped to the corner guy tabs with mini karabiners. Nothing new here – most tents these days have either a pre-adjusted cord or tape sewn in. Because this outer is also designed to be set up low and wide as a tarp, this wouldn’t be appropriate.

The fabric inner

Fabrics are strange animals. Some stretch, some don’t. Some stretch one way and not the other. The midge-proof mesh inner stretches four ways and so is completely taut in every direction when hung inside the fly. The Ripstop DWR used for the solid inner, doesn’t. This is not a design fault, it’s the nature of the fabric. This is an issue of cut and volume, and is being addressed by Trekkertent.

Marc has kindly agreed to swap out my version for its next incarnation, due in the next couple of weeks. As a temporary solution, I have employed Hilleberg’s idea of an inner ridgeline string (used on our Nallo GT3 as a clothes line) to lift the fabric. A 1mm length of Dyneema sewn to each end, with a squeeze tensioner in the middle, did the trick.

My temporary Dyneema ridgeline

My temporary Dyneema ridgeline

The inner is held in place by two toggles inserted into rings attached to each end of the fly, with the 125mm bathtub corners attached to the same corner ground pegs as the outer with 2.5mm shock cord. I had to shorten the front cords to pull the foot area away from the outer – this also seemed to help re-shape the inner.

No-see-um mesh vents are sewn into the inner’s back wall and the door, which keeps the area well ventilated but didn’t appear to be too draughty. The vents correspond to the position of the eyelid and stalk vents in the fly.

Summary

I’m not going full on into this with dimensions, materials used, prices et al. I will just give you a list of the most obvious pros and cons. Please visit Trekkertent.com for more detailed information. And, I should point out, that I am not connected to, or working on behalf of Trekkertent in any way. The tent reviewed was my own purchase and at full price. I just think if you like something, it’s worth shouting about.

Price

  • Green 40D Silnylon tarp, solid inner and additional storm guys £185.
  • Grey tarp with mesh inner £150.

Pros

  • Ultralight at 755g.
  • Uses trekking poles, which you will be carrying anyway. Tarp pitches open or closed – a very flexible and adaptive design, for a closed-in winter shelter and an airy tarp in the summer.
  • Internal guy attached to door peg – potentially no guys visible to trip over.
  • Alternate external A-frame set up using both trekking poles allows a clear front area and easy access to the inner. Front apex can also be tied directly to a branch without poles, although this is not recommended in high winds.
  • Simple pitching once the door cord is in place to get the correct width.
  • Clear pitching instruction are included.
  • Perfect for all types of adventure. Will sit nicely in the top of a touring pannier too!
  • Excellent price.
  • Factory seam-sealed.
  • Fabric inner can also be set up on its own for warmer European or US climates.

Cons

  • Stitching needs a little more care, but overall a very robust construction.
  • Slightly longer guy lines on the front flap and four corners of the fly would allow higher pitch. However, this is a mod you can do yourself.

My verdict

A brilliant tent. Simple lines, with innovation based on a classic, closed tarp design. Cosy without being claustrophobic. Well ventilated and condensation free. And lighter than my backpack!

If anyone has any comments, please feel free to post.