TGO Challenge: Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax
… or possibly not. Well, I may mention shoes at a later date.
The 2011 TGO Challenge is behind me, clothes have been washed and the house is festooned with gear like a street party colliding with a mountain marathon. The familiar, heady aroma of laundry-shy synthetics has cleared at last. Mostly.
An exhaustive discussion and review of everything I carried and used on the walk is considerably beyond what is really required or helpful, so I shall instead make a few remarks about particular items, how they worked and how well they fitted with the rest of the kit to form a functional “system” of gear, and sweep the rest into an easily dismissed corner.
The Big Boys: Big in terms of bulk, weight or simply how important they are to the whole. Let’s dive in with the ZPacks Zero Cuben Fiber rucksack, mentioned in an earlier post, which was a real success. The material gradually softened yet remained very water resistant (the only water in my pack came from throwing wet gear into it on a couple of hurried mornings) and the closure, nothing more than a drawcord and toggle, proved considerably more effective than my dubious first assessment. The big outside pocket was perfect for holding a soaking wet tarp (which it was on all but one or two mornings, thank you very much Scottish weather) while the side pockets held water bottle and raingear on the one side, brolly (retained by the elastic side straps I requested), sit-mat and toilet stuff on the other. I never missed a waistbelt, not that I expected to since my other rucksack is a GoLite Breeze and that doesn’t have one either, nor did I have occasion to use the loops I’d asked for to attach an elastic shock-cord (The Memmsy Cord, about which more later) as a sort of stabilising waistbelt in the event of needing to do a bit of scrambling. Considering that the ZPacks Zero is a semi-custom item it would have been largely my fault if the options I requested didn’t suit, but I was tremendously impressed with the comfort, capacity and utility of this simple, functional bag. On the hills it always felt at home, around town I just slung it over one shoulder and strolled along like everyone else. Well, like everyone else carrying something that looked like a pedal-bin liner anyway. Size medium, giving me about 34 litres plus the pockets, which was more than enough space. 146g you say? Sold!
Titanium Goat UL Sierra Sniveller Special: Quite possibly the longest name ever conceived for what is, at heart, a blanket. It deserves the distinction though. This was my sleeping bag, replacing the heavy and disappointing Mountain Equipment bag I’ve had for years which performed poorly on the 2009 Challenge. The Sierra Sniveller is a quilt, manufactured in this version for Titanium Goat by the American company Jacks ‘R’ Better. Unlike many ultralight backpacking quilts the Sniveller opens completely flat, very handy when I stopped at Tarfside and was able to deploy it as a bedspread or simply for airing it out in the very unlikely event that the air it Scotland may turn a little damp *cough*. The tapered “foot end” fastens together with Velcro-like Omni Tape and a drawcord snugs in the end to create a cosy foot pocket; a second drawcord at the opposite end allows the quilt to be shaped around the neck and shoulders, brilliantly simple and tremendously effective. On one cold and windy night I used the cords and loops fitted down the sides to pull the quilt more closely around me for warmth, while warmer nights were much more comfortable than in an enclosed bag due to the easy venting options afforded by the quilt. Not enough, you say? Well Sir, you can wear it! An Omni-Taped opening in the middle allows the adventurous and sartorially oblivious to don the quilt as an insulated serape, as illustrated by the brave, brave fellows over on the Jacks ‘R’ Better website. At least as cosy as the typical backpacking down jacket, although I can’t say I’d head to the pub whilst wearing it. Brilliant around camp, however. All in all a thoroughly successful choice and something I expect to be using for a long time to come, well made and very versatile for its 594g weight.
GoLite Cave 1 Tarp: No longer manufactured due to the well-publicised disagreement many years ago between GoLite and Ray Jardine, who designed it and several other items made by GoLite in their early days. A real pity that, since this deceptively simple shelter continues to impress a decade after I bought it. The Cave is a simple flat tarp made of a fairly heavy grade of SilNylon, enhanced (transformed, almost) by the addition of triangular “variable geometry beaks” at each end. Essentially the beaks provide extra protection from the weather and close the ends of the tarp off if you have to pitch it very low in a storm. It also has “lifters” on the sides, extra guys that pull the main panels out to give more headroom. To be honest I have only ever used these occasionally as the Cave has tons of room under it anyway. Remarkably, I was told more than once that I must have had an awful time during the Challenge because I was camping under a tarp… Funnily enough it must have been so traumatic that I have blanked the horror from my mind and replaced it with memories of being warm, dry and comfortable in some lovely camping spots, just as in 2009. Only on two occasions did I have trouble due to using a tarp: one spot looked perfect, but after pitching I realised that it was alive with ticks and I quickly zipped myself into my bivvy bag to avoid them and the midges, which made for a dull evening; and at the Stables of Lee, a spot on my Foul Weather Alternative route where I had not been planning to camp, the high winds, waterlogged ground and lack of shelter made pitching the Cave impossible, or at least beyond my abilities, so I slept in the stable instead. Other than that I wouldn’t have traded it for anything on this trip; and the “failures” were as much down to me as to the tarp. Looking at the tents used by other Challengers I did consider replacing the tarp on a future Challenge so that I could try more adventurous routes with more limited camping options, but now that I’m home and have been looking into it further I’m less convinced… Tarp camping is very much to my taste. The limitations are few, far fewer than you probably think if you’ve not tried it, and the advantages many. At least one Challenger lost his tent poles and another had a pole fail dramatically, rendering the tents almost useless… with a tarp you just find a tree or pick up a stick. They’re not as flimsy as they look, these things, and I believe that my ability to choose a good camping spot has improved because I use one, helping me to get away from the habit of simply plonking the tent down anywhere, however uncomfortable, because of a belief that the tent can handle it. Anyway, we’re moving into camping philosophy here. At least I’m not wholly alone in my love of tarps and this design in particular: Geoff Gafford was on the Challenge in his Cave of similar vintage and I suspect he was equally happy in his choice. If you fancy trying a Cave for yourself then you could haunt eBay for one, but prices are high and they appear only occasionally. Far better to wander over to the site of the man who designed the thing, Ray Jardine, and order one of his kits for sewing a tarp yourself. The current version is also lighter than my Cave, although I have added different guys and adjusters (largely to stop people from falling over the damn things on campsites). 432g plus the weight of a dozen pegs.
Shelter, sleeping bag and rucksack. All solid successes, I’d say, and a good place to pause before part two..
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