The 3 Peaks Challenge – Our Story!

Our trek up the 3 tallest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales climbing and descending all three mountains within 24 hours for Children with Cancer UK!

Jubilee Weekend 2012

Meeting the lads in the cafe Saturday morning I was shown our wheels for the event. A brand spanking new VW Transporter 9 seat mini bus sitting outside in all her glory with the only miles on her from the journey to pick me up this morning!  This was quite exciting and a huge relief as just days before the challenge, National Car Hire decided to inform us they had over booked the weekend and as we weren’t returning customer, we no longer had a vehicle available. Not even an apology or any offer of compensation. We had this booked for almost 6 months and even confirmed everything was still OK the week before. Unacceptable. If it wasn’t for a client of Barrys work (still need to find out the company name!) offering to save the day we would have been pretty much up shit creek, to put it nicely.

Our wheels for the Challenge!

Breakfast down, bladders emptied we set off for Scotland. A planned 8 and half hour drive to Fort William. Unfortunately, being a bank holiday weekend the traffic was bad leaving the Midlands heading north west and as a result we were gradually adding more time to an already long journey! In total it took around 10-11 hours to reach the location of our first climb – Fort William.  That night we consumed a high carb meal at one of Fort Williams best kept secrets, for the over 70’s who have incontinence problems this place was the dogs bollocks… a night in the Nevis Hostel awaited…

Sunday

Why, even after voicing my opinions did some of the lads feel it necessary to wake up AND the rest of us still sleeping up at 7:30 AM(!) on a Sunday morning, bank holiday weekend, on the day we were due to start a 24hr challenge, I still don’t know?! Chaps? Our challenge was not due to begin until 5pm that eve’ and being a small Scottish town, there is NOT alot to do in Fort William.  My alarm was set for 10:10am with kick out time being 10:30. No breakfast included.  Obviously. Surely that made more sense?

Packing outside the Nevis Hostel – EARLY Sunday morning!

Anyway, wtih the best part of the 9 hours we had to kill we headed for the 3 outdoor stores Fort William had to offer. This took a whole 30 mins up, leaving us with 8 and a half hours to re-visit them again in reverse order. Things got wild. I tried on a pair of cross trainers, twice.  Turns out I have fat feet and am actually a size 8 1/2 not a 10… cheers.

After lunch, time went fairly quickly though and with 5pm approaching we were all getting anxious. For the hour or two before, we were parked in the Morrisons car park Fort William where it became evident alot of other teams would be attempting the Challenge this weekend too. Concerned everyone would be after the limited car park spaces available at the bottom of Nevis we set off earlier to secure our parking spot in good time.

At around 4:00 pm  while kitting up, we  made the decision to set off earlier than the recommended 5pm time and avoid starting with other teams who may potentially “hold us back” or that we may become stuck behind if they were slower groups… Once kitted up we took the customary pictures of us sporting our Children with Cancer tops kindly sent to me a few months back and we hit the track for our first peak at 4:45. Baz starting his Garmin GPS watch to record the challenge…

START OF THE CHALLENGE

4:45 pm  – Ben Nevis, Alt 4409ft

Being the highest of the three peaks, Ben Nevis involved a trek of around 8 miles in total. We were fortunate enough to have decent weather for our climb and therefore navigating “The Ben” was not an issue. In bad weather this mountain can be a mountain rescue hot spot, for example in 1999, there were 41 rescues and four fatalities on the mountain. Navigation to and from the summit can be the most tricky in poor conditions due to the 3 sheer drops surrounding it! At around three quarters of the way up we were met by snow/ice for approx 300m of climbing. The snow was slippy going up but great fun on the return leg where I fattemped to use my backpack as a sledge – this didnt work, I just stopped but then on my bum down a ditch, went flying!!

It’s worth noting that the summit was still covered in Snow but deep enough to get a good footing to walk around! While on the summit we were also treated to a fly past by an RAF Sea King!

Snow on Nevis!

One of the drops off the side of Ben Nevis summit!

The trek up Ben Nevis definitely took its toll on one of our team members Jimmy. Jimmy suffered in silence as he climbed the highest mountain in the British Isles with strapped up ankles of which he went over almost 100 times throughout trek! It must have been agony but he trekked on and made the amazingly made the summit considering. Unfortunately the biggest problem was going to be making it back down. We stayed with Jimmy throughout the descent of Nevis and I just remember watching him go over on his ankle time and time again. I cant imagine the pain he must have been in coming down. By the end both of his walking poles were as good as useless, taking much of the impact going down they were as bent as his ankles! Credit were its due, Jimmy didn’t give up, not once and pressed on, constantly telling us to go on ahead! On finishing, we were the last team left in the car park but this did not concern any of us to have Jimmys feet still attached to his legs! Hats off to the lad!

Great views descending Nevis!

On arrival back at the mini bus, Jimmy’s dad Jim (confused me for a while this did, but it doesnt take much) had the ready made frozen meals in boiling water ready for us to eat. Hot chilli con carne, a cup of tea and some fruit cake later we were back in the mini bus heading for Wales. The time was 10:30pm. It has taken us just over 5 and a half hours to climb and descend Ben Nevis. We’d budgeted 5 hours for this but given the state of Jimmys ankles, i’m amazed we did it in just 5 and a half! Below is a GPS track taken from Baz’s watch through the trek put onto Google Earth.

Our Track up Ben Nevis (courtesy of Baz's Garmin 410 watch - want one!) Click on picture to expand.

Our Track up Ben Nevis (courtesy of Baz’s Garmin 410 watch <- want one!) Click to expand.

View from the top of Nevis!

It was a budgeted 5 and half hour drive from Nevis, Scotland to the start point of Scafell Pike in the Lake District were along the way we would all try and grab an hour or so sleep.  Jimmy’s dad made great time on the journey allowing us to arrive ahead of our planned time and ready to being the next climb. Unfortunately non of managed any more than a quick 10 mins nap and so felt pretty droggy at 3am, arriving to a cold and dark Wast Water car park ready to climb the highest peak in the Lake District. It was cold and still dark when we left the mini bus and I remember thinking it was going to be tough navigating by head torch – my responsibility but we did fine and pressed on in good spirits!

Scafell Pike – Alt 3209 feet

Ready to tackle Scafell Pike in the dark… pretty tired but ready!

Jimmy made the decision to not climb Scafell Pike and would rest his ankles, see how they felt and instead would attempt Snowdon later that day to which I think we all agreed was the best decision giving the pain he cleary suffered on Nevis!  This also gave us the chance to make the extra time gained on Nevis up and at that, a brisk pace we set ascending Scafell Pike in the dark…

Our aim – the summit of Scafell Pike

About half the way up we could see that the summit was concealed in cloud with a brisk northerly wind picking up the higher and more exposed we become – this was doing wonders waking me up though! At this point the sun was at a good level to provide sufficient light to continue safely to the summit without head torches. We all donned our layers for the finally 1000ft or so. It was freezing at the summit but when the cloud broke we were treated to some great views across the Lakes (possibly my favourite place in the UK)! It took us 1hr 47mins to summit Scafell, putting us well ahead of our budgeted time and setting us up nicely for the descent and drive to Snowdon.

Summit of Scafell Pike!

On the way down Scafell Pike we were wondering where some of the other teams where who we met on Ben Nevis, all of which had finished Snowdon well before us and had left for the Lakes before we had even arrived at the bottom of Nevis!  Our questions were answered not long after this when we met the teams making there way up the 2nd peak of the challenge. It was a good feeling to be ahead of other teams now considering our time off Nevis. I think this gave us all a wind of engergy to continue pushing on. 3hr and 15mins later we had reached the summit and descended the 3rd highest peak in the UK. A great time considering we had budgeted 4 hours for this.  We were all pleased with ourselves as we tucked into our freeze dried “all day breakfast” meals, once again kindly heated up for us by Jim, our legendary driver!

Our GPS track up Scafell Pike

Now it was time for Snowdon. The end seemed to be in sight at this point, we were all pretty tired and our limbs and joints were in agony and there was still another 4hr 30min drive to Snowdon ahead as well as the climb and descent of the most popular mountain in Wales.  We all once again tried to grab some shut eye but once again, we all failed miserably.

We arrived Snowdon at 12:15pm giving us almost exactly 4 and half hours to complete Snowdon. Even though we made good time on Scafell Pike and great time in the transit from Scotland to the Lakes, it still didnt give us alot of time to play with.  Just an hour or two of traffic of any mishaps on the hill would be easily enough to push a team over the 24hr mark.

Snowdon – Alt 3560 feet

There are two conventional tracks up to the summit of Snowdon for this challenge. You can either take the Miners Track or the Pyg Track. They both meet prior to the zigzag ascent upto the summit and are by far the quickest routes up to this point.  A few months back we took the Watkins Path up  Snowdon in bad weather which took almost 4-5hours in itself. Personally, I did not enjoy Snowdon. The views at the top were amazing (we had another clear summit!) but the sheer number of people spoil a great mountain.  The fact you can take a train up to the summit then walk down it just seems to take away the hard work you’ve put in getting up there away.  There are people, dogs, kids everywhere… we had to queue for the summit (again) and the litter is terrible up there! On our descent we passed a group of people playing Rhianna out of their iPhone loud enough for the whole of mountain to hear. Cheers for that. Something I could experience on the metro back home or through any city. It was a shame. You could go to any other mountain in Wales and not get it but I guess that’s the way Snowdon is now. I have no desire to summit it again in the future.  For me, it completely goes against everything I enjoy and love about the outdoors.

Up from the Miners Track to join the Pyg Track – Snowdon

Top of the zigzags heading for the summit of Snowdon with the Pyg and Miners tracks both clearly visible.

Even with the number of people we reached the summit of Snowdon in under 2 hours leaving us 2 and a bit hours to get back down and make the 24 hours mark! Things looked good! There was no sign of the other teams now and going down was, although tougher on the joints, quicker than going up after all!!! Taking the miners track up we decided to follow the Pyg track down for a change of scenery and to avoid the route most of the public seemed to be taking! Jimmy also decided to take this mountain on alone, passing him on the way down he was in good spirits and managed to secure a tenner in sponsorship for me! Legend.

Our GPS track up Snowdon! Click to expand.

Annoyingly, if we had kept an eye on the time we could have finished the challenge in under 23hrs but who’s counting. We successfully descended Snowdon at 3:47pm Monday afternoon, exactly 23hours and 1 min since we set off to climb Ben Nevis, 400+ miles away in Scotland!!

In total we covered over 1200 driving miles, over 21 miles on foot and just under 10’000 feet of ascents up the 3 highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales. All in under 24 hours and all for Children with Cancer UK!! We had done it and we succeeded.

The route! Being stuck in traffic between the peaks can make a huge difference!

For me the unsung hero of the whole challenge was Jim Routledge, our driver! A truly top bloke. Not once did he show any sign of negativity or fatigue and he always remained level headed throughout! He prepared our meals ready for when we got off the mountain and made up great time on the drive from Scotland. Without the driver it would have never been possible and so I cannot thank him enough!

Of all the teams we met attempting the challenge on Nevis, we are almost 100% certain that we were the only team to complete it within the 24hrs, a great effort by all the lads! Thank you.

Our efforts were all in aid of Children with Cancer UK of who i’m completing as many challenges (the challenges here) as possible thoughout 2012 for. This being challenge number 3. Please please take a minute to visit my justgiving page (here) and if you can help me reach my target of £6000 for such an amazing charity! Other ways of sponsoring or helping me can be found here! It’s quick and easy to donate and non of the money I raise goes towards any entry fees or costs involved in any my challenges!

Thank you for reading! 🙂

No sleep for 36hours but happy to have completed the challenge in 23hrs!

Cheers

Steve

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