On the weekend of June 20th I took part in the national Three Peaks Challenge to try and climb the three highest peaks in the UK mainland within 24 hours. Starting off at Ben Nevis (1344m) in Scotland, I also climbed Scafell Pike (978m) in the Lake District, and ended up at Mount Snowdon (1085m) in Wales. In all there was about 25 miles of walking, hundreds of miles driving, and not too much sleep. I was part of the Long Eaton Round Table team of 20 walkers attempting the challenge, all to raise money for various charities including Multiple Sclerosis research. I’ve written here the story of the team’s efforts. But this post, however, is intended to be a more personal account of the challenge itself, the training and the preparation that went in to it. Along the way I’ll mention a bit about taking photos on the way. Hopefully it will provide an interesting and useful resource for others who are doing the challenge too.
This is the first of two articles on the challenge, describing what it is and how we went about it. Part Two will go into the experience itself.
So what exactly is the 3 Peaks Challenge?
Rather confusingly, there are at least two of them. Firstly there’s the Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge, which is a single walk covering the three highest peaks in the Yorkshire Dales – Whernside (728m), Ingleborough (723m), and Pen-y-Ghent (691m) – over 12 hours covering a distance of 25 miles. That’s not the one I did, although I did do Whernside last year – there are a couple of photos from that walk on this site that I use for the random header image (e.g. the Ribblesdale viaduct).
So the challenge I attempted is the National 3 Peaks Challenge, which as mentioned earlier covers the three highest peaks in mainland UK within a 24 hour period. One of the things that makes it tough is the distance between each one: 260 miles from Ben Nevis to Scafell, and a further 200 miles from there to Snowdon in Wales. And that’s on top of the travelling to the Highlands of Scotland just to make the start line. There is some debate as to whether the 24 hour target is from base of Ben Nevis to the return to the base of Snowdon, or whether it is base to peak. The club decided to choose the latter, although I was hoping to do the first target too. The bravado of assuming it will be easy and you will hit your target before you even attempt the first one was put in to stark relief when, after going up Ben Nevis you pretty quickly change your aspiration to just finishing and time be damned.
I created a Google Map of the challenge, which you can find by clicking this link. This shows the walking routes we took. I left off the road routes as it generates too much data for Google Maps to handle properly on a single map.
How we did it
Pretty much the whole of Long Eaton Roundtable membership participated in one way or another, as this was our major charity fund raising activity for the year. After a few last minute drop-outs we ended up with twenty of us doing the walking, and another five doing the driving. A tip to anyone attempting this challenge – try as hard as you can to get a dedicated driver. It makes a huge difference to the enjoyment of the event but more importantly vastly increases your chances of survival! Driving such long distances after strenuous walk and with no sleep for a couple of days could put you up for a Darwin Award!
We had five vehicles, four of which were normal people-carriers. The fifth was a van that looked like the A-Team used it – lots of space to haul gear, and an uncomfortable bench seat for three in the back. Guess which one I was in for the long drive to Fort William….
The idea was that everyone would set off walking at the same time, which we set as 5pm on the Friday afternoon. While the walkers yomped up and down, the drivers would prepare food, grab some kip, and have everything ready to give a quick feed to the returning walkers before hitting the road. Each vehicle would set off when full, so the faster guys would not be slowed down waiting for the slower ones to return. For such a large group of walkers this worked well, apart from a slight misjudgement at the end which I’ll come to later (in Part Two).
Food at each base camp was pretty basic – soup and pasta, plus an enormous number of energy grain bars. The drivers also mixed up large quantities of Rego, which is an energy and restorative drink that was recommended by various people. Personally, I tried the Rego once, and decided that was enough so I stuck with water and Lucozade Sports as my main drinks.
A key factor in succeeding to do all three peaks in the 24 hour period is the amount of time spent at the bottom of the first two peaks getting sorted for the journey to the next. Faffing around here can easily cost you valuable travelling time that you can’t get back. So on getting down you had to change, sort your feet out, get some food and drink inside you, and get as much preparation done as possible so you can pretty much hop out of the car and start walking straight away. In theory our use of five separate vehicles should have made this much easier.
The overall plan for the weekend was:
- Travel up on Friday from Long Eaton (Nottinghamshire) to Fort William, a total drive of around 400 miles. Some of us chose to drive up to about half way and stop in a hotel near Penrith on Thursday evening. The others got up at the crack of dawn and joined us mid-morning. We then travelled up in convoy from there.
- Arrive in Fort William mid-afternoon.
- After a supply stop in Fort William, get to trailhead for Ben Nevis sometime after 4pm.
- Start walking at 5pm, which marked the start of the 24 hour period.
- Drive through the night to Scafell, aiming to start walking it around dawn on Saturday.
- Get to Snowdon early afternoon, aiming to reach the peak before 5pm.
- All off to a hotel in Wrexham for a clean, a meal, and a few beers.
- Home again on Sunday.
As you can see in the next photo, we had a slight logistical problem with one of the vehicles, whose driver assumed filling stations were as dense on the ground as they are in more populated parts of the country.
See Part Two for the story of the hikes and transits between mountains.