I’ve managed to convince my little brother Jon to write a blog for me on the Three Peaks Challenge which we completed back in August. Sorry it’s been a long time coming, but at least you get to read to someone else’s ramblings for once!
The following is an entirely true account of the weekend my idiot brother convinced me it was a good idea to attempt the three peaks challenge; that is, climb the highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales inside of 24 hours. A few years ago I’d have told him where to go, but since he turned 30 and started these challenges he’s been more motivated and driven than I’ve ever seen him. It’s clear to me that raising money in memory of our Mum and completing these challenges has unearthed a side of Nick I never knew existed. I knew I wanted to be part of these challenges, and my first involvement was jumping into Bassenthwaite Lake in late December. But I wanted to test myself further, to see how far I could push myself. Which is how I ended up a part of the Three Peaks Challenge.
The adventure started on Friday afternoon, with a trip to Sainsburys to stock up on supplies of food and drink, and an afternoon preparing sandwiches and pasta salads. The final, vital part of our preparations was to spend the evening in the pub drinking beer. Saturday morning we (me, Nick, Cat, Physio Sam, Rowan/Dad, and Paul) piled into the mini bus that would be our bed, changing room, dining room and transport for the next 30+ hours. I thought it looked fine (ish) but others had misgivings about whether it would survive the trip. I had misgiving about whether I would survive. We departed for Ben Nevis and picked up Nick’s hockey friends Potter and Ed in Glasgow, before arriving to start the first climb at 4pm.
We’d decided beforehand that instead of aiming to the do the whole challenge in 24 hours, we’d instead aim to do the climbs in 13 hours – 5 hours on Ben Nevis, and 4 hours on Scafell Pike and Snowdon. This would take the pressure off our drivers, and mean any traffic jams or unplanned incidents (for example, a puncture) wouldn’t be a disaster. Driving on this challenge was always going to be crucial, but we didn’t want to put extra stress and pressure on Dad and Paul. It was a thankless task that essentially meant waiting in car parks in some of the most beautiful parts of the country and then driving us lot to the next car park. We’re all very grateful for their help and effort over the 30+ hours – we genuinely couldn’t have done it without them.
Ben Nevis was by far the easiest of the three climbs, mainly because we were fresh and raring to go. It was also the least technically demanding climb, with a nice clearly marked path all the way to the top. We reached the summit in good time after roughly three hours of nonstop ascent, stopping to have a quick snowball fight along the way. There wasn’t much to see at the top, just a lot of fog and the remains of the observatory that was built there. After a quick team selfie, and one of Potters celebratory snakes (sweets!) we started the descent in high spirits, aiming to get down in two hours. As the sunset and we reached the lower slopes, we had to slow as the rocks on the path were becoming slippery. This did allow for some epic sunset photos, including the most majestic sheep we’d ever seen. We eventually finished after 5 and a half hours, and piled into the mini bus to get some food and some shut eye.
Sleeping on the mini bus wasn’t exactly easy, as there wasn’t a huge amount of room to stretch out and it wasn’t the most comfortable. I awoke a few hours later to heavy rain, and was dreading the idea of climbing not only in the dark, but also in the rain. Thankfully it cleared up just before we started, and we set off to climb England’s highest peak at 4am. It was one of those moments where you question the sanity of what you’re doing, but continue doing it anyway. With the river running high, we set off at a decent pace. We then promptly got lost. We weren’t sure how the path was missed, but we ended up “climbing a fucking a waterfall” as Sam eloquently put it. As dawn started to break we managed to get our bearings and get onto the path we needed to be on. There followed some technical scrambling on all fours up a rock face, where you climbed 2 feet up and slid 1 foot down. With exhaustion and lack of sleep setting in, this was the first time I began to doubt whether I could complete the challenge. We reached the summit of Scafell Pike just after dawn, and got to watch the sunrise, which provided some incredible views. Another team selfie and snake, this time sitting down on account of the strong winds that nearly blew several of us and Sam’s selfie stick and phone off the cairn. Descending on tired legs was tough, arguably tougher than the ascent. We eventually reached the bottom after 4 and a half hours and had a spot of breakfast in the car park (instant porridge in case you’re wondering), then piled back into the minibus.
I’ll confess that I was tempted at this point to ask to be dropped at home, since it was basically on the way back to the motorway. I was exhausted, my legs and back were tightening up and stiff, and the idea of climbing and the descending another mountain was hell. Thankfully, I knew I’d never forgive myself if I quit, so I got back onto the minibus and tried to get comfy. Having just about got comfy, we all heard the unmistakable sound of tyre popping. On the narrow Cumbrian roads we’d got too close to a wall and clipped it whilst trying to let cars past. The team sprung into action, locating all the necessary equipment, directing traffic, and in almost to time at all we were back on the road. It helped here that Paul is a former Policeman and had clearly changed a few tyres in his time!
After another few hours of broken sleep, we arrived in a very grey and very wet north Wales. Typical Welsh weather. This was by far the hardest climb, technically similar to Scafell with a small amount of scrambling, with the added fun of rain and exhaustion. The waterproofs kept the rain out for a while, but it wasn’t long before everything was soaking wet. With the summit shrouded in cloud, there was no way of knowing how much further we had to go. At this point it was just a case of plodding on, and trying to ignore the leaden legs and feet. With half the group getting ahead of Nick, Cat, Ed and myself, tempers were a little frayed when we finally reached the summit and Sam was nowhere to be seen. With everything soaking wet and the temperature no more than 5 or 6 degrees, it didn’t take long for us to start getting seriously cold. Sam then appeared clutching what looked suspiciously like take-away coffee cups. Which he was. Nick will attest that I’m something of a coffee snob, but I can safely say that that hot beverage was the best tasting coffee I’ve ever had. It in all likelihood, it probably tasted awful, but in that situation, it was exactly what was needed. We gathered on the cairn for a final team selfie and snake, and then huddled in the lobby of the cafe at the summit to finish our drinks and get some food on board. The combination of wet gloves and clothes, low temperature, and high winds meant we needed to start moving quickly before people started getting very cold. We got ourselves sorted and started our descent.
Taking a different path on the descent took us a slightly longer route but was less technically demanding, and got us lower down quicker, which meant slightly higher temperatures. We soon warmed up and found ourselves on a nice even path that skirted round the lake. Spirits were high as we neared the finish, and we reached the end point after 4 and a half hours. Three Peaks complete. Sam had even managed to purchase a few beers with the coffee’s and carried them down to help us all celebrate back in the minibus too! In total it took us just under 27 hours. 14 hours of walking, 38.5km covered, 3,387m ascended, 1609 miles of driving (thanks Rowan and Paul!). It was probably the toughest thing I’ve ever done. Any other time I’ve reached that level of exhaustion, I’ve been able to just stop, or take a long break and recover. On the side of Snowdon, in the rain, there was no other option but to continue going up. Quite where Nick and Cat found the energy to ride from London to Paris the following weekend I’ll never know.