I love a good challenge that pushes the mind and body to its limits, especially if I’m doing it with others which can make it far more interesting. With the 2015 winter on its way, I had the urge to get one last adventure out the system, and found three others crazy enough to follow me up the three highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales, to do what is known as the Three Peaks Challenge. The catch is to complete this ask within 24 hours!
As further motivation to keep us going through the night and by way of justifying us doing this in November, the event was dedicated to The Running Charity. However, we hadn’t expected the weather to provide a mountain of hurdles, all of its own, along the way.
The day before, three of us flew up to Glasgow where we met the fourth member of our party and our driver, to then drive up to a cottage very near to Ben Nevis in the Scottish Highlands. Lucy and sous chef Katie made us all a beautiful risotto followed by profiteroles, which built up our carbs and ended the night with David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet, taking a slight edge off of our challenge ahead.
BEN NEVIS – FIRST PEAK 1,344m
Waking up at 5am, scoffing down a porridge and jumping in the car, we made our way to the ‘start line’. As the clock hit 6:15am we shot off into the darkness. We wore head torches for the first half of the hike, which meant we didn’t see any of the scenery or the beautiful lake that marks the half-way point. Even when the sun did come up, the mist came in so we didn’t see any of the views at the top. We were most worried about summiting Ben Nevis, so we’d planned a lot for it, including map/compass reading and learning the route off by heart. It turned out to be decent weather and relatively enjoyable, we even broke into a run when we were nearing the bottom to make up some time.
We were up and down in five hours and forty five minutes. Covering 17 kilometres and an ascent of 1,352 metres. We were very happy to have the highest of the three over and done. We then sat back and fell asleep whilst ‘the stig’ drove us to what we were thinking was to be a breather after Ben Nevis.
SCAFELL PIKE – SECOND PEAK 978m
With no traffic and clear roads, we had knocked off almost an hour on the time. Our spirits were high and cheerful as we began our ascent at 5:45pm up the smallest of the three peaks. It wasn’t long before we had to cross a waterfall. The only issue being that as it had been raining all day there was a lot more water flowing down than usual. After crossing, a few of us had to continue with wet feet which was a pain. A little over half way we were faced with a fork in the path, which became the defining moment that cost us dearly. With only our initial research to guide us, we had taken the right hander because it was said to be the quickest route. We were flying up until the last 100 metres. The so-called “path” became a steep scramble over loose eroded rocks which we couldn’t see because it was pitch black and the mist had set in at that height. This path is known as the Mickledore Col for the more experienced mountain climbers. The left-hander although slightly longer, was the easier route with no climbing on your hand and knees required.
After Mickledore, we had a 200m walk along the top to the summit, however we could only just see the ends of our hiking poles. This is when we as a team came together and our survival mode kicked in. This section took us over an hour of intense concentration. We were able to navigate our way along because of the cairns that lined it. Cairns are piles of rocks built to indicate where the path is. Every time we saw one appearing through the mist like a spooky figure of Darth Vader, we would shout out “PILE!” to let the others know we are still on track and not approaching a sheer cliff edge. We made the wise decision to take the easier route down.
We were up and down in six hours. Covering 9.7 kilometres and 989 metres in ascent.
MOUNT SNOWDON – THIRD PEAK 1,085m
We awoke in a car park at the bottom of the Miners Track, all a bit grumpy and tired. It was 5:15am when we started our final ascent up what we thought was going to be a smooth and relatively easy climb compared to the previous two. The ascent was nice and flat for the most part as we walked around the lakes, which we couldn’t see because it was still dark, until we were faced with a sheer cliff face with stones cut out as if we were climbing up to Mordor from the Lord of the Rings. The higher we got the more the wind picked up, so we found ourselves hugging the rock face with a bear grip at times. These peaks can be done by someone with little experience, but somehow we kept choosing the routes that were extremely dangerous.
We made the summit which was an amazing feeling – all three summits reached. We decided to ask a Bear Grylls looking hiker where the easiest route down was, and in trying to do so we found ourselves half way down the wrong side of the mountain. The problem was, we couldn’t turn back because the wind had picked up so severe it was blowing us off our feet. We kept going until we reached a youth hostel at the bottom. They let us use the wifi to call the stig to come pick us up. For a moment, we found ourselves stranded with the option of hiking back over or hitch hiking around it. I’m not sure we could have gotten any further away from our destination. You can’t underestimate any mountain.
We were up and down (within reason) in six hours and fifteen minutes, covering 13 kilometres and 723 metres in ascent.
We had reached all three peaks within 24 hours but our final time when reaching the bottom of Snowdon was 28 hours. We had covered 39.7 kilometres (almost the distance of a marathon), an ascent of 3,064 metres (10 times the height of The Shard in London) and all within 18 hours hiking time. We raised over £400 for the charity – a million thank you’s to all of our generous sponsors. And finally a bonus, nobody got injured. Only a few bruises here and there.
For us, the challenge became less about rushing for the time, instead we really embraced the trials and tribulations as a team. It wasn’t about enjoying the views but the mountains themselves, because each trip up the same mountain would be different every time. Whatever is thrown at you, the people around you can help solve the problem, even if it is the size of a mountain. Everyone has a strength, you need to find it and together you can possibly end up creating memories and enjoying the moment.
A massive thanks to Charles, aka the stig. Without you we would not have such a cherished memory.