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Monday, 4 June 2012

The 2012 Challenge: Epilogue

On Saturday 26 May, I had an Arbroath smokie for breakfast at the Park (and absolutely delicious it was, too), packed my things, paid my bill, and headed down to the station. Anticipating (correctly) that even in first class they wouldn't have any food to offer that I could eat, I bought a variety of supplies at the supermarket before catching my train. The 10.32 was right on time at Montrose, and would have been on time at King's Cross were it not for a half hour delay at Peterborough while they investigated a problem with the brakes on the buffet car.

So now I have completed 7 Challenges off 7 starts, including the two with the highest attrition rates ever (2009 and 2012) and that with the worst weather (2011). I have had 7 different start points, and 7 different finish points - but I have re-used two different Great Glen crossing points (Inverness and Gairlochy). My ambition of achieving 10 crossings by the time I am 50 is looking eminently achievable. All my crossings to date have been solo crossings, and I imagine the next 3 will be as well, making me one of those rare Challengers who make 10 solo crossings.

2012 was a very enjoyable crossing, despite the need to tear my route sheet up and pretty much make it all up as I went along. The knowledge and experience I have gained in previous crossings enabled me to do that, because I knew that if I got from Oban into Glen Pean it would take me down to Strathan, and from Strathan I could follow the Loch Arkaig road to Spean Bridge. No matter that I didn't have a map for the section after Glenpean bothy - I was confident and safe walking that section without a map. Likewise, I knew from experience that once I was at Spean Bridge. it was a day's walking to Corrour / Loch Ossian - which would mean I was back on track, even if not on schedule. And I knew from experience of planning routes which I hadn't, in the end, actually walked that there was a route from Blair to Braemar which would take just two days, and so enable me to make up for lost time.

What I am coming to realise, however, is that my approach to planning FWAs is, perhaps, in need of a re-think. At the moment I just think in terms of having a FWA for each day when I go high. But sometimes, when you go high, there is more than one ascent effort in the day; and you might find yourself able to do the early ascent effort(s) with no problem, but then needing an FWA for the later ascent effort(s) as the weather deteriorates during the day. It is not simply a question of asking yourself, at the beginning of each day, "is this a suitable day for going high?" It is more a case of asking yourself, before each ascent effort, "Should I be making this ascent, or not?" This is (or should be) what you do when you're out on the hill - and maybe the thinking about FWAs at the route planning stage should reflect this.

What happened to me this year was that my first day had 3 ascent efforts; but my progress was slower than I had expected, and I stopped short after only two of them. However, I only had a FWA planned for the whole day. I didn't have an FWA planned for the third ascent effort; and then I found myself needing one. I was able to plan one as I sat there at Oban ... but of course, the only record of it was the entry I made in Oban bothy book. So when I finally got the call through on the satellite phone on Tuesday morning (and, for the record, the whole message did get passed to Challenge Control), John's immediate reaction - according to Kathy, whom he phoned straight away to let her know that they had now heard from me - was "What on earth is he doing there??"

So, in future my FWA planning will be based on ascent efforts, not days (whether this makes my route cards unmanageably complicated remains to be seen). I have a route for 2013 planned and ready to go (Morar to Whiting Ness; but crossing the Great Glen at Gairlochy again, I'm afraid). The days are worked out, although I haven't measured distances or counted squiggly lines yet. And I haven't worked out the FWAs yet, either. But as soon as I've got the main route drawn up on a set of maps, I'll be looking for separate FWAs for each ascent effort - you can depend on that!


  1. A good read, Jeremy.

    Let's hope that you don't have quite such a start on future TGOs as the one you had this year.


  2. That was a great read, Jeremy. I agree with what you say about the FWAs; they're not just something that the organisers insist you do, but they're a way of making sure you consider your options in advance. This year I had to come up with alternatives to my alternatives, and the planning I'd done back in January helped although, as you say, there was a risk of making the route sheet too cluttered so I just wrote down the most likely option and kept the other choices in my head. Thanks for the write-up, Judith.

  3. Both interesting and entertaining. It just goes to prove that even with the best planning and preparation the unforeseen is just around the next corner. As some foreign poet once said "The best laid plans of mice and men....etc". Once you have finished your ten you should try this route again as the weather really caused you to miss some splendid hill days.

  4. Peter -

    Thanks for that. It's not my style to resurrect an exact route - but sections that I have missed out may be revived and incorporated into future crossings.

    For instance, I am thinking about an Oban start, heading to Mull, making the Lochaline crossing, and heading for Corran. I can then do the section from Corran to Corrour that I missed this year. After that, though, I would probably head into the hills north of Lochs Ossian and Pattack (which are still virgin territory for me).

    So I WILL make those mountain days ... some time.