3 Peaks Challenge – Photo Diary
The 11th June was finally here! It had been looming in the diary for a while and as it got closer the visits to the gym had become harder and longer, I was under no illusion, I knew how tough a challenge the national three peaks in 24 hours was going to be! However we had a really good motivating factor…her name is Abigail Grace… one of my best mates Daniel’s amazing daughter and whom I am a very proud godfather to who was born 1st December 2014 and has Down’s Syndrome. Daniel had asked me to do the challenge with him, which had been something on my bucket list for quite some time, to raise awareness and some money for the Down’s syndrome Association who do really incredible work. IT WAS ON!!
So the national three peaks challenge is attempting to climb the highest peaks in Scotland, England, and Wales, one after the other, within 24 hours. The peaks are Ben Nevis in Scotland 1345 metres, Scafell Pike in the Lake District in England 978 metres high, and Mount Snowdon in Wales 1085 metres. The driving time in total between the destinations is around 10 hours, leaving 14 hours for the climbing.
As with most things Daniel and I have taken on over the years…we didn’t do it the most sensible way and there were lots of highs lows and laughs along the way. The first un-sensible thing we probably did was planning to take on the challenge the wrong way round!! Everything I had read said that the preferred route was to take on the longest climb first, Ben Nevis, then move on to Scafell Pike, then finish with Snowdon. This would have been more time consuming though and cause more travelling as we were setting off from the midlands. So we decided to go straight to Snowdon around 3 hours from home and take on the challenge in reverse. Daniel’s dad, Chris had volunteered to be our designated driver…a challenge in its self and something we were really thankful for, we wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.
In the week leading up to the challenge, I was really looking forward to it. I wasn’t certain I was going to be able to do it, it was going to be a real challenge, and I was looking forwards to testing myself and putting everything into completing it.
We set off in high spirits, we realised that Wales and England were playing their first matches in the Euros on this day, so we had got a small radio with us listening to the matches as we walked, this got us a few looks which ranged from dismay, to smiles, to laughs, and people asking us for score updates. The atmosphere was great amongst everyone on the mountain, we agreed it was one of the good things about doing things like this that there is a real sociable feel amongst people doing it.
At the start of every climb like this it comes as a bit of a shock to the system and the beginning I always find one of the difficult parts, especially on this route, which I have done many times, where it starts with quite big steps which take it out of your thighs (especially when you weigh as much as me!). My body tends to have a reaction of “Hang on a minute…what do you think your doing?” and tries to convince me that this will not go on any further. Pushing through that first part though I always begin to enjoy it, especially as the view opens up.
We carried on, Gareth Bale had scored a free kick for Wales, the locals were happy when we gave them the positive news! We were making good progress, the weather was pretty much perfect, not too warm, cloud cover, maybe slightly humid but we had nothing to complain about and we reached the summit in good time!
If you’ve read my previous post on Snowdon you’ll know that for Daniel and I it has become a tradition to have a beer when we reach a summit…these were the first…and the last of our three peaks challenge!! We had enjoyed this climb and were slightly cocky…it was going to get tougher!!! At the summit we could see nothing! No views here…we were in the clouds. We waited for a group who had mountain biked to the top (WHAT?) and took our turn to take some snaps at the summit.
So generally Daniel is the better ascender and I’m the slightly better descender, till we were heading down Ben Nevis and pretty much all either of us could think about was food, sleep, and putting one foot in front of the other! Heading back down Snowdon we were bouncing down the steps, breaking into a jog every now and again, our spirits were high and we were making good time. We tried to listen to the England game but it was as if the natives decided to block the radio signal for this match and all we were getting was white noise!!
As the sun started to get lower every now and again it would break through the clouds and reveal the beauty of the area, Snowdonia really is one of my favourite areas in Britain.
There was even some time to mess around for some pictures!
We got to the bottom and had some soup and rolls Chris had sorted out for us…just what the doctor had ordered, then we set off to the next destination, Scafell Pike in the Lake District.
We were on course to be starting this climb in the very small hours of the morning and I really wanted to get a little bit of sleep in, but it didn’t happen for either of us. On the motorway there was torrential rain…flash flooding…at points the cars slowed to a crawl!
As we got into the Lake district, Chris’s encyclopaedic knowledge of everything came out! He knows every tiny town and everything about everything!! He also gets excited about really funny things…canals…trains…”Ah a wheel barrow factory” came one shout! He also loves, absolutely loves, Mazda Bongo camper vans!! Every time he saw one…or thought he had seen one, “BONGO!” came the shout! With all of this and Daniel beginning to struggle to hide his slight irritation with it all… I was struggling to hide my fits of laughter! It was good fun.
We arrived at the national trust car park at the same time as a big organised guided group in two mini buses. We ran to be first to the porta loos! Shouldn’t have…the only toilets I have experienced worse than these were at Glastonbury Festival on the Sunday or Monday. Even the flies stayed clear!
We got suited and booted ready for the off and Chris pointed out the info board at the start of the walk. Firstly it said give six hours for the walk up and down…what? Then quite importantly it said if starting the walk to the summit in the dark keep the river on your right. O.K…how hard can that be? Chris had made laminated maps for us, we weren’t to keen on them, but they turned out pretty useful, Dan took the Scafell Pike one and we set off. The novelty of doing this climb in the dark soon wore off. The lights attracted bugs and it became hard to navigate. Plus almost immediately my back began to really hurt and I was holding us up. We got overtaken by the big group we had beaten to the toilets but after I had taken some pain killers we started to pick up some speed, but it was hard going, for me this part was not fun. This was the low point for me for the whole challenge and I was beginning to seriously question whether I was going to be able to do Ben Nevis.
Then we lost sight of the torches of the group that had overtaken us, we were following a group of three guys and kept the river to our right, but the group in front of us became more hesitant. We passed them with one of the group saying “I think I’m going the right way”. Famous last words. It became apparent that whenever we took a break, so did they. They were letting us lead the way, we were trying to convince ourselves that this had to be the right way, but as the path got less and less distinct, we were actually walking along a rocky riverbed wherethe water level was so low we hadn’t realised in the dark. Ahead of us we could not make out any route, we looked back and realised that the three guys had turned back. We got the map out…there was nothing in the dark to make out where we were. I took my phone out and with the poor reception after about 3-5 minutes Google maps picked up our location and brought up a very very basic map on the screen, but it did show the paths. The path we should have taken was too far to go back to, there was no way we could do that, the other path, not to be done in the dark, was about 20-30 mins back from where we had come from and crossed the river. We were taking that path. No doubt about it this was up there with the most morale sapping points of the whole challenge.
We retraced our steps and found the crossing point, the river was so low that there was no danger involved at all, it was pretty much running through the rocks beneath us, the most difficult part was keeping a steady footing on the rocks which were pretty loose. At this point it was just head down, one foot forward after the other. I don’t think we took a photo during this time, it was just about keeping going.
I can’t remember seeing or noticing the sun rise, but at some point it happened! It was as we were about 2/3 of the way up. Daniel made the mistake of asking someone how much further it was “You don’t want to know” was the reply. Brilliant. We carried on, then we passed someone on their way down and caught their conversation “I would not want to be doing this the other way round and have Ben Nevis to do after this” great…just great. For some reason we were both feeling sick as well, just to top it off.
We got to the final push to the summit and made it. It is always a massive morale boost when you reach the summit, for me it means the hardest part is done. There was no beer though…Dan had them in his bag but we couldn’t face it! They say all traditions come to an end, the three peaks challenge had brought this one to an abrupt end!
The clouds were just starting to part and I pretty much had to remind myself to have a look at the view and take it in. The views here are incredible, the visibility wasn’t great but through the clouds you could still make out how beautiful the landscape is. The Lake District is filled with incredible beauty and is unique in Britain.
We took on some fluids, had a quick snack of bananas and granola bars and began the trip back down. Straight away my back was better, I figured it must have been something to do with me leaning forward as I was climbing up hill, but I was moving a lot more freely now. It was still not 100% and we were no where near as quick coming down as we were on Snowdon, but I was happier! I began to notice and even enjoy the scenery again! We weren’t being overtaken any more and were even overtaking some people. Plus we realised that the guys we had been following when we had got lost had not made it to the summit. Was it wrong to be happy about that? We found out later that 25-40% of people who attempt the three peaks challenge fail it.
As we made our way down the comforting sight of Wast Water could be seen ahead of us beyond the car park. Wast Water is the deepest lake in England being 79 metres deep and is almost 3 miles long. It is situated in a glacial formed valley and a fact I found interesting about the lake is that the surface of the water is about 200 feet above sea level whilst the bed of the lake is over 50 feet below sea level. The lake is tranquil, and at this early hour nothing was moving on the water and it had a tranquil mirror like appearance.
We got down to the car park, and I was done, I really didn’t know if I was going to be able to do Ben Nevis, I was going to give it everything, but I was doubting myself. Chris had done me a bowl of pasta, Dan couldn’t face any food. I put some comfy clothes on for the car journey, got out of my boots and once we had got going promptly fell asleep.
My memory of the journey between the Lake district and Ben Nevis is pretty sketchy. I do know however, that I woke myself up snoring a couple of times! I really didn’t feel like eating but forced a sandwich down. As we got into the highlands of Scotland going past the Lochs Chris’s knowledge came out again, he knew every little place we passed through. He knew every fact about every Loch and every ferry crossing! It was amazing! Every time you pointed out of the window at something he told you what it was and told you a story about it! How can so much information be stored in one head!
We passed the Glen Nevis campsite, our base for the night, and parked up by the bridge over the River Nevis at the start of the walk. Chris had some hiking walking poles in his car and suggested we took one each and that it might help out with my back…he was right. I felt better about the whole challenge now, I think getting some sleep had really helped, I knew that doing Ben Nevis was going to be hard after what we had already done, but somehow I just knew we were going to do it. Dan was as determined as ever, when he sets his mind to something, you can pretty much guarantee he is going to do it, but he was motivating himself, looking at pictures of beautiful Abigail…”Everytime I’m struggling I am just going to look at a picture of Abigail”.
There was no doubt we were in better spirits, but we were pacing ourselves, we knew that this path alone was 10.5 miles up and down, it’s hard enough as it is, let alone having already climbed the highest peaks of England and Wales prior to it! There was a noticeable difference though, only the super fit were really overtaking us now, and we were passing people ourselves. The scenery was different again here, much more rugged and we had the feeling of really being in the mountains here.
Navigating the path is easy on Ben Nevis, I guess it being day light makes a big difference though, and the path is good in the most with there being a much smaller percentage of large high steps, those are the parts that really take it out of me and make my thighs burn.
Looking at the map Lochan Meall An T-suidhe (a lake!) looks about half way up, but it is really deceptive as the path loops to the right after the lake and then begins to zig zag its way up to the summit and because of this you are walking a lot further than what it looks on the map.
The zigs and the zags were energy sapping “Where does the zag start?” “When does this zig finish?” It seemed never ending and we lost our place on the map several times but we were still enjoying the views. We had been keeping ourselves amused by singing parts of songs by Flight of the Conchords…so funny, Dan was nagging at me to play the songs on my phone but I’d had no internet reception, I hit shuffle play on Spotify on my downloaded playlist (I have some cheese on there…and guilty pleasures!) . The opening chords to Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry came on! What??? Out of the 300 odd songs I have on that playlist? It brought smiles to our faces straight away however embarrassing it was! Everytime we passed someone I was imagining them thinking “Can’t they just enjoy the view?” “Do they have to have noise everywhere?” amongst other disapproving things…so I made it clear that Daniel was to blame and told everyone who passed. Actually though most people laughed or raised a smile and made a jokey comment as they walked by, the atmosphere was great again, like on Snowdon, I don’t know what the problem had been on Scafell Pike? Then again in all likelihood it was probably just me!
We kept going and figured out we were on the last zag then it was the final push to the summit. “Is that snow up there?” “WHAT!!”. We could see this woman sliding sideways down a big patch of snow…well we hadn’t expected this in June! By this time we were up in the clouds, we could see probably 50 yards in front of us and that horizon point always gave us false hope that we were hitting the crest of the slope and it was going to level out, it really seemed never ending. A German couple were making their way back down through the snow Daniel asked “How much further?” AGGHHH! Hadn’t he learnt from Scafell Pike?? But the cheerful German guy replied “Ah only 10 minutes, you guys are almost there!”. It was nice of him…but he was flat out lying!!
When we finally reached the crest of the ascent, we were alone at the top, there was no one else there at all…it was really quiet and other worldly. Dan said it was how he imagined it being on the moon. It’s a strange place to be at a time like that. Again we were right up in the clouds and it had got cold and quite blustery, we were getting wet without realising.
There are sheer cliff faces on the north face of Ben Nevis, and with all of this cloud we were not going wandering to get a better view!
We made our way up to the triangulation point for the summit pictures…we had done it…yes the walk back down was still to come…but we would do that…we had no choice anyway! We had done it…it was a bit of a weird feeling…again there was no beer! It wasn’t massively celebratory, we congratulated each other, took the photographs, and there was just a deep feeling of accomplishment and peacefulness. Plus we were totally knackered and physically broken!!
What came to my mind was Abigail and the real reason we had taken on the challenge, all the people who had pledged money to support us and sponsor us and how proud I was going to be to be able to tell everyone that we had done it and thank them for their support and that their money was going to be going to a truly worthwhile cause.
So we started our walk down and once we got phone reception the calls home started and everyone was really happy! We go out of the clouds and I always notice the views and scenery more on the way down, it is an awe inspiring part of the world.
As we got closer and closer to the end we made contact with Chris…and THE most important question was asked…”What time are they serving food till in the bar?” right push it!! Then the next most important question from Chris “Do you want me to get you a drink in for when you get down?” “Yes please…I’ll have a pint!” I was definitely ready for a beer now!
We got into the bar and Chris congratulated us, you could see the emotion in his face…he had been a massive part of the challenge and really had helped. Daniel and I were broken…we were so tired and our legs were in so much pain. We ordered food and I have to say had what tasted like the best cheese and bacon burger I had ever tasted, I am quite the connoisseur (although I’m pretty sure I could have eaten anything and it would have tasted like the best thing in the world!).
Chris had put our tent up for us…he was staying in a wooden pod…only one was left when we booked, plus he deserved it after all the driving he had done and was still going to do…and anyway I’m pretty sure Dan and I would have slept through a rock concert after what we had done!
When I got home, that night when I was on my own looking through the pictures and the posts on social media and all the comments from people, that was when it really hit me what we had just done, and that was when the sense of pride really kicked in.
I’m proud to say that we raised over £1300 for the Down’s Syndrome Association and you can still donate through the Just Giving page Daniel created if you would like to do so.