(Virtual) TGO Challenge 2020: Part 1

Today is Day 3 on the Virtual TGO Challenge, and obviously if the Challenge were running normally it would also be day 3 in reality. It was also day 3 on the 3 previous Challenges which I took part in.

The first 3 days of the Challenge for me have a rhythm all of their own. Up to the start point, there is excitement, anticipation, renewing past acquaintances and the constant nagging worry that you’ve forgotten something important.

On the day there’s camaraderie in the queue to sign out, which for those of us immediately taking a ferry, extends through the wait to board the boat, and on the boat itself (especially if there’s a bar).

The first few kilometres seem unreal, and I find I have to remind myself “this is it”, we’re off. It’s not just another walking trip – it’s THE walking trip. It generally takes until lunchtime to get into any sort of rhythm. For me, the goal of day 1 is purely to reach camp: the distance is deliberately chosen to be modest; it’s a day of adjustment. If I’m alone, the feeling of non-reality can persist into the afternoon. But that’s only been once, in 2018, and was in part heightened by the absence of my planned walking partner. The other two years I’ve set out in company – with Andy Walker from Dornie in 2017, and with Paul Buck from Mallaig in 2019. Paul and I are regular walking partners, so the feeling of unreality wasn’t really there last year. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about the weirdness of my 2017 start-off.

If there are any difficulties on the day, they seem heightened by the situation and the knowledge that I really don’t want to come unstuck on the very first day. So there’s a sense of relief when I stop for the day, and embark on familiar camp routines.

Day 2 is what I consider the first “proper” day – for me “proper” backpacking starts and ends from a camp – anything else is just a transition. So as I set off on Day 2 it sometimes feels more like a beginning than the actual start. But I can’t really relax yet, as it’s still early.

Day 3 is the point at which the fact that it’s The Challenge fully sinks in. Day 3 (so far) has been characterized by first encounters with fellow Challengers (who started elsewhere) along the way- in 2017 it was meeting the Strathcarron Massive on the way into Cannich, in 2018 I encountered people at the Rannoch Station Tea Room, and last year it was the roadside cocktail party in Glen Garry. This year would have been a repeat of 2017.

What if this year had happened ?

What else would likely have happened so far this year ? Well I don’t think I’d have camped on Carn Eige last night – a forecast of -7C and snow would probably have meant I’d have taken my FWA right from the start at Shiel Bridge. That means I’d have been with the lads, and so would have camped somewhere between Camban and Alltbeithe on night 1, somewhere near Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin on night 2, leaving an easy day into Cannich. Based on the fact I’ve done that bit of route before, I’d probably have been there for lunchtime, as I was in 2017.

I’d probably be sat in the pub, itching to get the relatively un-thrilling trudge into Drumnadrochit done the following day, so I could get get into the Monadhliath. This year’s route was built around a camp in Glen Markie. I know Paul would have been the same.

The Virtual Challenge

My results so far, scaled up to proper Challenge distances*:

DayVirtual Distance (km)Main route plan (km)FWA plan (km)
119.501718
212.781515
326.642518
Total58.925751
*Virtual distance is 2x actual distance

Ascent** is going well, but only because of the decision to take my FWA:

DayVirtual Ascent (m)Main route plan (m)FWA plan (m)
1720920710
28501,600340
31150930400
Total2,7203,4501,450
**Virtual Ascent is 10x actual ascent

So, figures looking ok, but mainly because of the “decision” to take my FWA. Having said that, on the real 2020 route, I expected it was more than likely I’d take my FWA from the start – I reckon I’d have chosen the company for the start rather than strike off on my own for the tops. I was only ever going to go high if conditions were so stunning that I’d kick myself if I didn’t.

Some Memories

I’ll leave you with some memories from days 1 to 3 on past Challenges:

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