Why climb one when you can climb three?… oh and in under 24hours.
Here follows the story of when Oliver Cox, Richard Hughes and myself conquered the three highest peaks in Great Britain…
For those of you unfamiliar with the three Peaks Challenge allow me to elaborate… you have 24 hours for ascend/descend and travel between the three highest peaks in the UK, Ben Nevis (Scotland), Scafell Pile (England) and Snowdon (Wales).
Thousands do it, thousands fail, it’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination but it is definitely do-able.
This was months in the planning and many a practice walk in the more local Peak District was undertaken. The team attempting the challenge was Richard Hughes, Oliver Cox, Andrew Curl and Myself.
Our support team was provided by Rob Hughes and Pete Cox and their job was to drive us between the mountains, get us fed and off and running to the next mountain. Whilst it may not seem as glamorous as climbing the mountains this role is vital and hugely important and without a good support team you are going to struggle to complete the challenge. More about that later…
It’s a seven and a half hour trip from Newark-on-Trent to Fort William where we would tackle our first mountain, Ben Nevis. We had a transit van with three seats in the front and 3 in the back as well as a large space for our mountain of supplies and equipment.
Our first night was spent at Linnhe Lochside Holidays in Fort William which if your ever in the area is a fantastic camping, caravanning and lodge site right on the edge of the Loch.
Our plan was to have a relaxing evening and have the following day to prepare for the challenge, setting off at the foot of Nevis at 5pm the following day. Food was provided in the form of Mrs Hughes meatballs and spaghetti which should be mass produced as it was exactly what the doctor had ordered and tasted quite frankly bloody amazing.
Midges are a massive problem in Scotland and on this front we were massively underprepared so after a few beers we all hid in our tents behind the fly screen, we had a big day ahead of us tomorrow. The next day was more chill out time as we hadnt planned on starting our adventure until later that evening, the flew by and before long we were stood in the car park at the foot of Nevis kitted up, ready and raring to go.
The tallest of the three mountains at 1,344m and an estimated ascent/descent time of 5 hours we set off at 17:00 sharp.
I think adrenaline takes you up the first section but as you round the corner and as Loch Meall An T-Suidhe comes into sight you know you are climbing a mountain!
As you pass the loch and round the corner the Zig-Zag path up to the summit you think you are nearly there however you round each corner thinking it is the last it’s really not and the this stretch seems to last an age.
As we worked our way toward the summit we hit thick cloud and navigation became increasingly difficult thankfully the Cairns led the way and despite initially fearing we had overshot the summit we finally court a glimpse of the highest peak in the UK.
After a brief photo we were started the decent. The rest of Nevis is a blur to be honest Adrenaline kicked in massively for me and I was near on jogging down at points. It was a hugely significant moment for me knowing I had done it as it was an ambition I had had for such a long time.
We were exactly on schedule having completed Nevis in exactly 5 hours and back in the van were treated to warm soup as we settled down for some sleep. Our support team did their thing and got us to Scafell Pike half an hour ahead of schedule. At this point Mr Curl announced that his long standing back injury had not coped with Nevis and the twisting turning journey to Scafell and so he would not be continuing the challenge.
The smallest of the 3 at 978m but the trickiest in my opinion especially as we started out ascent at 3.30am. It was dark, it was cold, it was raining and I had not slept a wink. My calf and knees had seized up a bit and the last thing I felt like doing was climbing a mountain.
If you are unfamiliar with Scafell Pike it is very different from Nevis and Snowdon in that after a certain point there is no path to follow and under foot there are loose, uneven rocks. Add to this the rain, the tiredness and the absolute darkness of that time of the mornng and it becomes a real challenge.
These factors make Scafell the hardest both physically and mentally. Navigation skills are a must and having done a rekey of Scafell in broad daylight we were confident we would be able to do it. Thankfully we made only one mistake missing a crossing over a stream which set us back 5- 10 mins and culminated on the decent in Richard falling in the Stream (this is something which has since become a trademark of Richard’s which he repeats regularly) he assures me it was quite cold and it’s fair to say he was less than pleased. On reflection it’s hilarious but at the time it was and I suppose could have been a lot more serious
Once again the descent brought a massive boost of adrenaline for me and I felt much better physically and mentally than when I stepped out of the van hours earlier.
We had completed Scafell on time with our predicted ascent and descent time which was extremely pleasing. Nothing pleased me more however than the Bacon Cob which was ready and waiting for us in the van when we return (remember how I said a good support team was hugely important?).
Heads down again in the Van and off we went for Wales and the final mountain of the challenge. Our Drivers, Rob and Pete yet again did the biz and shaved yet another half hour off the estimated Journey time and putting us an hour ahead of schedule.
“I have come this far I cannot give up now” I told myself. Snowdon stands at 1085m above sea level and stood between me and completing the challenge. We started our ascent at 11.50am.
I won’t lie as much as I wanted to get a final burst of adrenaline at the foot of Snowdon it didn’t come. My knees felt like they needed WD40 they were so stiff and sore but I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and before long we reached the steep decent of Snowdon and what I foolishly believed to be the summit.
Richard and Oli had lied to me and told me bit I could see was the summit in fact it was a significant distant away and covered in cloud. I have probably never been more physically exhausted.
At the summit the greatest burst of Adrenaline I have had to date kicked in again for me where as Oli and Richard will tell you that they felt the opposite having reached 3 summits there brain had told their body they had done it and the aches and pains started to kick in on the decent.
As we rounded the final corner of the Minors path we could see the van and as we got closer we could see Rob, Pete and Curly waving their hands at us and gesturing to us to hurry up, it transpires that they were watching the stop clock and we were about a minute shy of the 23 hour mark and if we had ran could complete the challenge in under 23 hours.
Sadly our brains and then shortly after our legs failed to react to this message and we came home in an extremely respectable 23hrs and 59secs.
As we arrived at the entrance to the car park we pretty much collapsed, it was emotional and we were physically and mentally drained. I nipped to the van for a bottle of cheap fizz and soaked Richard and Oli in the style of a triumphant Formula One driver.
We had accomplished 59mins under the target time of 24hours and whilst I still maintain this was the most physically demanding challenge I have personally undertaken I have to give a lot of the credit to Rob and Pete who gave us that 59mins by driving (legally I’m sure) terrifically and being so damned organised in getting us fed and watered between mountains.
If you are thinking of undertaking the 3 Peaks then the biggest bit of advice I could give you is do not underestimate the importance of a good support team it could well be the difference, as it was in our case, between success and failure.
On a personal note I had achieved my personal goal of climbing Ben Nevis the highest peak in Britain and I do not regret taking on this challenge. Would I do it again? No, been there done that!