TGO Challenge: Notorious Lightweight
Somewhere in Montrose the Fat Lady has sung.
That’s a little harsh, actually, as most of those singing at the Challenge dinner on Thursday night were looking positively trim, if not slightly underfed, but in essence the TGO Challenge of 2011 is now over. Three hundred weary, cheery souls have quietly scattered across the country (and indeed the world) to their homes, returning to families and colleagues and trying very hard not to look as though they are mentally planning next year’s route.
By many accounts this was a particularly tough Challenge, considered perhaps the worst ever in terms of continual rain, and it was more luck than good management that saw me keeping just a step or two ahead of the harshest storms. Even so, like many Challengers I chose to opt for my Foul Weather route when the forecast for the higher hills started to reach Plague of Egypt proportions and ended up in St. Cyrus rather than my originally planned terminus at Lunan Bay. Regardless of changes, challenges and the weather, I had an absolutely wonderful, wonderful time, in no small part due to the many splendid people I met along the way.
Unfortunately, carrying anything “unconventional” (i.e. not made by Páramo, Osprey or Montane) on the Challenge does attract a degree of attention; and as much as I try to avoid being noticed in any situation it was clear that my pack in particular was the subject of considerable discussion. When someone approaches you at the end of the walk and asks, in hushed tones, whether they can touch your rucksack, you know that you’ve created a monster. Or perhaps encountered a pervert. Admittedly, my own paranoia about theft, leading to my habit of never leaving my bag anywhere, doesn’t help: apologies to anyone forced to share space with me in locations where a normal person would have simply dropped their pack outside. I’m not even terribly comfortable with being termed an “ultralight” hiker, although the designation is inevitable. Yes, I try to travel with a light load, not least because working in an office has left me with an increasingly painful bad back, but it’s not a religion with me. I’m the man who packed a Christmas pudding and brandy sauce among his essential supplies, for heaven’s sake, and any real “gram weenie” could have slashed quite a bit of weight from my pack.
My own approach to gear and techniques is not exactly methodical, but I do admit to a tendency to carefully compare and consider everything before making my choices, albeit in a haphazard way. With that in mind I shall probably give in to the requests I have had to post my gear list and comment on how individual items performed in the very wet and windy conditions of Scotland this May. Don’t expect in-depth reviews or observations worthy of Chris Townsend or Clive Tully, but a few remarks may help others to throw large piles of cash at small piles of equipment. Reviews to follow, once I’ve caught up on all those things that seem to need attention when you disappear off the radar for a fortnight.