Wet and Dry - TGOC 2011
Despite the the very windy and extremely wet weather, I had a truly excellent time this year, mainly because I have finally arrived at a set of kit that really works in tough conditions. It's not lightweight, but unlike the soaked and shivering souls that I observed from time to time in wetted out skinny waterproofs and sodden Innov8s I was warm, dry and snug (and, yes, maybe just a little smug) throughout the whole two weeks. So here's the list of my "daily clothing" ... if you're interested.
(I yawn a bit when I see yet another kit list too, but this is comfort list, not a gramme by gramme list using a chemical balance in a vacuum chamber obsessive weight saving type thing).
Paramo Velez Smock - the older heavier version (reproofed just before the off) kept the rain and wind out even when blasted at 100mph.
Icebreaker Merino 200 zip neck baselayer kept me warm.
Helly Hansen trunk style wicking briefs kept things dry & comfy "down below"
Rohan trousers (which I Nikwaxed to make drizzleproof and fast drying)
Bridgedale "thinny" liner socks
Smartwool Heavy Trekking crew socks
Asolo Flame boots (carefully cleaned and reproofed). Not a drop of water got in - I was dry shod throughout).
Rab EVent gaiters (except for the last couple of days on roads & tracks)
Rab EVent overtrousers for when it was hosing with rain (quite a lot of the time).
Old TGO light polartec cap or Lowe Alpine mountain cap as required.
Polartec gloves and light over-mitts as required.
A buff worn from time to time.
A pair of Crocs tackled deep wades over burns that couldn't be rock-hopped.
|Me in 2011 Challenge kit - sans hat|
Now I know it's heavy, I know it's all a bit 'trad', but the point is that it works. The deep zip on the baselayer and the fact that the front of the Velez smock can be fully unzipped to hang free means that with the sleeves rolled up it is really quite cool. When the wind begins to howl, just zip up, hip belt on the outside on with hood gloves and buff. Snug as bug, and no need to take off the pack or even stop walking for more than a moment as you make the adjustments. The Rab overtrousers zip from the top or bottom to full leg length, so a venting gap is easily left (and you can reach trouser pockets when you want to).
I can honestly say that I've been untroubled by this year's weather, except for the last Monday when getting blown over and having difficulty moving did become a little tedious. And it would have been nice to spend part of an evening outside the tent rather than cooking in the porch and eating in a recumbent position.
One recurring theme talking to other challengers this year was foot problems, and I put this down to three factors:
a) Badly fitting boots or shoes, or boots with poor footbeds that fail to locate the foot properly (I swear by Superfeet replacement footbeds that support, align and, crucially, cup the heel to keep the foot in place on downhills and keep that shock absorbing pad of gristle located under the heelbone. Green for men, Berry for women. Custom fit if you've got really weird feet).
b) The wrong sock system. Alan Sloman recommended the one that I use with the "thinny" wicking moisture into the outer wool sock, thus keeping the skin dry. It works for me.
c) Both of the above, plus wet feet making softened skin more vulnerableI prefer to walk with well fitted and not-too-heavy boots that keep the water on the outside where it belongs - and (with some trepidation and touching every wooden object within reach) I can say hand on heart that I have never had a blister. There is a first time for everything ... I do hope I haven't tempted fate now.
One factor that should be considered when undertaking the TGO Challenge is that for most participants it involves two weeks of walking. This means that if, like me, most of your trips are a maximum of three or four days, it is easy to overlook the fact that your ultralight frameless pack is putting too much on your shoulders, and not enough on your hip belt. Nothing wrong with a frameless bag by the way, but it needs to be packed carefully to give rigidity where needed. I lack both the skill and the patience for that kind of faff, so my Gregory Z55 suits me perfectly - especially as it gives great ventilation with the curved frame, eliminating that hot sweaty back if by some chance the scottish weather becomes a little balmy.
By the same token wet feet for three or four days may be tolerable - but two weeks is asking a bit much of your abused tootsies. The same goes for a waterproof that ends up wetter on the inside than out. It's deceptively easy to overlook the limitations of your gear once you're back home, everything is dried off and you've enjoyed a long soak in a warm bath.
Most years the weather is mixed, and there is enough fair and dry weather to compensate for the odd drenching or snowstorm. However, this isn't guaranteed - as we all found out this May!
For the experienced walker (like you) all of the above is just stating the bleedin' obvious of course, but for newcomers to the challenge who refer to Doodlecat before taking the plunge, reading some of the challenge accounts on the TGO pages can make it all sound rather a jolly jaunt. And so it is, provided that your kit works, and continues to work, for a fortnight of either benign sunny days or fourteen days and nights of hell, high water and bloodsucking bats.
I made up the bit about the bats.
A full report will follow. Right now I'm going to enjoy the luxuries of home for a few days. Comfy chairs, food that hasn't come out of a bag, comfy chairs, soft bed, Miss W caressing the fevered brow, comfy chairs to snooze in ....
more soon ....
Did I mention the comfy chairs? Oooooh they're lovely ....zzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ