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Preparing for the Great Outdoors Challenge

TGO Challenge Logo

Challenge Logo

Just a few more days to go…

My husband and I were selected to participate in The Great Outdoors Challenge 2014, a west- coast-to-east coast cross-country backpack across Scotland. I am super excited and honored because only 300 participants are selected each year with only a handful from the United States. The annual event is May 9 – May 23. The Challenge is sponsored by The Great Outdoors Magazine (much like Backpacker Magazine in the United States), in partnership with the outdoor company, hanwag.

A few years ago, I read Trail Ambassador’s Philip Werner’s account of his experience and challenges hiking in a foreign country across wet and demanding terrain in this event called the TGO. I remember thinking, “How cool would that be!”

The TGO is entirely non-competitive (although, upon finishing, Challengers receive a special badge, certificate and T-shirt). A maximum of 15 days is allowed for the crossing. Most people take between 12 and 14 days to cross, and the average length for a crossing is about 289 kilometers (180 miles). The Challenge demands a good level of competence in navigation, survival techniques, campcraft and general hillcraft that requires crossing rivers, climbing Munros (peaks over 3,000 feet), walking through peat bogs, bad weather bypasses, mud, and boulder fields. There are no pre-blazed trails, just hill walking. The event is very organized with due dates, rules, and a cool get together at the ending point, Montrose. The event is renowned for its sociability, support, community, and camaraderie.

Map with Gaelic Place Names

Map with Gaelic Place Names

Hiking in a Foreign Country

First off, I should admit that we applied for our first passports ever for this trip. World travelers we are not, but we do have years of climbing and backpacking experience in all types of terrain and conditions. I love the process of planning and have enjoyed making plane, hostel, and bus reservations, researching apps and technology that will work while walking in Scotland, studying maps, learning about currency and metric conversions, and plotting routes on GPS software. But I think what has been the most rewarding, is meeting other challengers through the TGO Online Forum. Many hikers come back year after year to hike this trek again. It is that good. They are so willing to go out of their way to offer advice, information, and encouragement with an abundant source of humor.

Route Planning

What is really cool and unique about this event is the Challengers have the responsibly of planning their own routes across the entire country passing through Scotland’s Highlands, Monadhliath Mountains, and Cairngorm Mountains. That is BIG. The routes must be submitted to a vetter for approval on a deadline date. The Challenge requires a detailed plan with daily kilometers traveled, meters ascent, overnight pitches (camps), GPS coordinates, and Foul Weather Alternate routes. The Foul Weather Alternates are routes to take for safety in case of storms (Scotland is known for them) and dangerous water crossings.

Planning a route across a country we have never visited was by far the biggest project that we have taken on. At first, I was more than frustrated, but after finding a few tools it was fun. After experimenting with mapping software, websites and apps, I ended up using Routebuddy mapping software to create our route and Viewranger iPhone GPS app for on route navigation. The process required hours of analyzing maps, reading books, and plotting routes on software.

Gaelic Place Names

Gaelic Place Names

What made the process even more challenging is the topographical maps are in the Gaelic language. The Ordinance Survey maps of the United Kingdom even have a special grid system. Very different than just picking up my USGS Topo maps and plotting a route.

I quickly discovered Place Name charts to translate and understand the maps. On my to-do list is to learn how to pronounce some of these landmark names before we leave.

TGO Route Summary 2014

TGO Route Summary 2014

Our TGO Stats and Route

We submitted our proposed route to TGO vetter, Colin Tock in February. It was a relief when he enthusiastically responded with congratulations on our route with some detailed camp and route suggestions. Here is our planned summary and map of our route:

  • 13 days
  • 218 miles or 351 kilometers
  • elevation gain – 43,566 feet or 13,279 meters
  • Start point – Shiel Bridge – May 10, 2014
  • Finish point – Stonehaven – May 22, 2014
  • Munros climbed (mountains over 3,000 feet) – 12
  • COUNTLESS water crossings


The TGO gear planning is close to being finalized. For the crossing, a few items will serve to protect from Scotland’s cold, stormy, and wet elements. We will be packing full Gore-Tex rain-wear, water-proof gloves, neoprene socks, fleece, and hiking umbrella. Both Dan and I will be sporting Gossamer Gear packs and poles (Click here to see my complete gear list)

Food Resupply

The plan is to send a resupply box to Fort Augustus and Braemar. while adding fresh food at local pubs and grocery stores. This will accommodate my gluten and dairy free diet. Most of the nights we are wild camping, with 2 nights in hostels.

Snow and Water Conditions

Scotland currently is experiencing the highest snow levels in the past 65 years! The storms this season have been described as ballistic. This will add additional obstacles such as danger from avalanches, terrain traps, and high stream crossings. This is quite a contrast to our current California drought conditions.


Since we do not have wet, muddy, or even snowy conditions to train on this year due to our low snow year, we chose sand. Our backyard is the Southern Sierras. They are steep, with lots of cross-country routes, and with deep sand. Perfect for practicing navigation skills and hiking long miles. We have also included climbing our local Tehachapi Mountain a couple times a week, and trail running in a nearby canyon. To get ready for big elevation gains and losses on our TGO route, we’re taking a 6 day cross-country backpack in the Grand Canyon National Park during Spring break.

Ahhhhhh the Questions

The last few summers I have put in a good number of miles on the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. The typical questions that usually come up before my hikes are usually: “What about bears?”, ” Are you carrying a gun, or “You are hiking by yourself?” Not so with the TGO Challenge. Questions pour out, but are very different. I am asked most often: “What are you most looking forward to?” “Are you going to carry a location device, so I can follow you?” ” Are you going to take lots of pictures?” or “Will you be blogging while on the trip?” They even have a twinkle in their eye and a look of envy as they are asking away.

Yes…very different.

I will remember that twinkle each night in my tent as I write and share a blog post about the day’s events. This trip is meant to be shared… the journey, the danger, the fears, the triumphs, and the unknown.

This post was contributed by Trail Ambassador Christy Rockin Rosander

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18 Responses to Preparing for the Great Outdoors Challenge

  1. Martin Rye May 5, 2014 at 6:58 am #

    The snow is gone, and forecast is a bit of wind and rain first few days. Welcome to Scotland. I hope you get some views.

    The key to mastering a off-path route in Scotland is to be able to navigate wild, tussock and bog terrain in the mist and keep on track. Master and it’s easy.

    Have a great Crossing and all the best. I will tell my friends on it to too look out for you and say hi. They are should we say an eccentric mix of well know Challengers.

  2. Editor May 5, 2014 at 7:04 am #

    “Eccentric” is an understatement. Check out the party in Braemar on Saturday night or the one at Tarfside, but avoid the whiskey rebellion at Loch Callater Lodge (although do pop in for a bacon buttie and tea).

  3. Paul Alderson May 5, 2014 at 7:35 am #

    I hiked 77 miles from Kingussie to Morvich last week via the Corrieyairack Pass and Glen Affric. There was no snow on the trail. There was some in higher gullies and sheltered faces on the peaks where it had accumulated. Have a great trip.

  4. Laura May 5, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    I might leave the umbrella behind unless you want to be like Mary Poppins! It almost never rains here without the wind blowing

  5. Ian Beswick (@Beswickian) May 5, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    All the very best to all the challengers. Especially those on a restricted diet. I’m a Coeliac myself so i’d be interested to know how you get on with it?

  6. David May 5, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    Hi, I’m starting at Shiel Bridge too and heading to Fort Augustus like you. Hope to see you en route but in any event have a fabulous time!

    David Williams

  7. al May 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    Hi, I’m starting from Shiel Bridge on the 10th, like your goodselves. Have a great trip if I don’t see you although chances are our “paths will cross”!

  8. VolpieWillem Fox May 6, 2014 at 12:04 am #

    Have à splendid crossing! See you in Stonehaven (or before)

    • Editor May 6, 2014 at 8:31 am #

      Christy – Willem is another rogue, though a very civilized one compared to the ones from the UK, that you must meet. He can be seen wearing Gossamer Gear packs. Hello Willem!

  9. alan.sloman May 6, 2014 at 2:10 am #

    Have a wonderful walk.
    From looking at your route it appears we’ll bump into each other in Fort Augustus and Braemar.
    It’s a walk you’ll never forget.

    • Editor May 6, 2014 at 5:21 am #

      How could you forget it Alan? This must be your 20th year hiking the Challenge! Christy, be sure to say hello to Alan for us. He’s the tall skinny guy chasing the windmills. You can’t miss him. Love you Alan. Have another great walk!

      • alan.sloman May 6, 2014 at 8:17 am #

        It is indeed my 20th TGO Challenge, but alas, one of them doesn’t count as it was 2001 – the year we had a foot and mouth outbreak here in the UK. There was a “mini-Challenge” that year, starting at the A9 and finishing on the east coast, but a few hardy souls did manage to arrange, with the landowners, a complete crossing from the west coast.
        So, should I manage to haul myself across this year, my Official 20th TGO Challenge will be next year.
        Love to you too, Sweetpants!
        Mwah, mwah!

  10. Neil May 6, 2014 at 5:34 am #

    Hi Christy,

    Glad you are using RouteBuddy software and our custom TGOchallenge maps for the The Great Outdoors Challenge 2014.

    Should you prefer to utilise UTM, rather than OSNG, and use the same OS or Harvey maps in our mobile software RouteBuddy Atlas, then just choose that option in Atlas.
    (You can switch between UTM and OSNG with just one click; or Lat/Lon.)


  11. Rockin' May 7, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    Thank you so much everyone for the well wishes. I hope to meet many of you on the crossing. We are flying out tomorrow, hitting the dirt on Saturday, and are so excited for such a new experience.

    • Martin Rye May 7, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

      Weather forecast for Saturday for west Scottish highlands:

      Saturday 10th May

      “A bright start but rain will spread into all parts during the day. The rain will be heavy at times with extensive hill fog developing. The rain will fall as sleet on the top of the Munro’s where it will feel chilly in the moderate to fresh winds”

      Welcome to Scotland.

      • Editor May 7, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

        You’re just grumpy because you’re not out there too.

        Christy, the weather during the second week is often very good but the first week can be dodgey. You have plenty of time to make the crossing so don’t feel rushed. When in town, try to find “Soreen” in the shops. It’s a wonderful malt cake that Eor (Martin) introduced me to last year.

        Have fun!

        • Martin Rye May 8, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

          Soreen, and Pringles, plus Jelly Babies will be all you need :) Weather is mixed but looking to clear monday hopefully.

          Philip already plotting next years route.

    • thehikinglife May 8, 2014 at 11:28 am #

      All the best to both you and Dan. Have a wonderful time and I look forward to hearing all about it upon your return.

      – Cam

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