I thought it was about time to write something down about our National Three Peaks Challenge that we complete in May 2016. After climbing each of the peaks individually over the previous 6 months we decided it would be worth attempting to complete them all within 24 hours.
Three Peaks Challenge (me, Peter and Sam)
We spent a bit of time trying to work out the best way to climb the 3, the common convention is to tackle them from north to south, but there is differing opinions on when to start the climbing. One of the options is to start climbing Ben Nevis in the early evening, allowing you to get down the mountain before total darkness, then travel onto Scafell during the night, starting the 2nd climb at day break. The downside we saw with this plan was the travel from Scafell to Snowdon, which would be around 7-9 am, perfect for hitting bad traffic around Manchester. We already knew we were going to be cutting it fine with all the travel and none of us wanted us to fail the challenge because of bad traffic. So the 2nd option was the start Ben Nevis at around 9 am, which means starting the Scafell climb at around 8-9 pm if traffic was kind (it wasn’t), which also means doing Scafell in the dark, but also means we miss any morning traffic heading to Snowdon.
Me & @Bonxy decided it would be worth doing Scafell in the dark in march, as a bit of practice to see if it was a viable option. Although the weather was dry it ended up being VERY windy and foggy at the summit, which made finding the route to the top difficult to say the least. Visibility was about 1-15 meters, which was too short to be able to see the next cairn, luckily we had a handheld GPS which we followed to the top, but was a bit hairy. I think we would have had to turn back if we hadn’t had one, as there was no way of knowing which direction to go. To illustrate this, when setting off back down we knew the rough direction to head, but after 20 seconds we checked the GPS and found we had already veered quite a way of course and had no idea. Comparing our first attempt in the day with this night climb, it took us about another 30 minutes to complete it in the dark, almost all of the time was wasted on the summit trying to see through the fog.
Although not all plain sailing we decided that doing Scafell at night wouldn’t be too difficult, especially as it would be the 3rd time of climbing it in 6 months, and hopefully in May the weather would be a bit kinder.
The plan was simple, we’d rent a 9 seater minibus, ideally we’d have gone for 12 seats to give us more space but there were none available for our dates, which would give us lots of room for kit and hopefully some sleep. We needed a driver for the trip, luckily Jim stepped in for us, who probably single handedly kept us on track with his efficient driving. After setting off from Teesside we would arrive in Perth for tea and would allow us an early start at Ben Nevis, getting up at 6am. From there its only an hour or so drive to Forth William and the start of the challenge.
At 9am we started the challenge, cheered on by Jim and @Becks, the weather was kind to us, with it being fairly mild and dry, although from the start we knew there was heavy cloud cover from about the halfway mark. Which would mean this was the 2nd time we’d summit Ben Nevis with no visibility, a tad annoying.
We made good time, reaching the peak at xx, and as predicted covered in cloud and snow. The snow is always a massive pain when reaching the top, but makes for a fun and quick descent, as long as you don’t fall or lose your walking poles. Halfway down with xx on the clock we were making good time, and we all felt pretty good, we bumped into another group attempting the challenge on their way up, we would end up bumping into them again at the next climb.
Ben Nevis Stats
Ben Nevis was completed in 4hrs 50mins, much faster than me and Sam were expecting and made up very optimistic for the 24 hour limit. Unfortunately on the last mile or so the heavens opened and we all got a bit wet, luckily we had a 5 hour drive to Scafell in order to try and get everything dry. Now for the best tip I would give anyone attempting the challenge is try and do it in a minibus, the 3 of us ended up all sat in the back row with the middle rows seats lowered allowing us to all sit in comfort with our legs outstretched.
All was going well until we hit the outskirts of Glasgow, and the inevitable traffic, we lots around 30 mins in this traffic, which wasn’t too bad, to make matters worse, soon after turning off the M6 at Carlisle we hit traffic and several road closures, we started getting a bit worried, we’d lost over an hour simply due to traffic and closed roads. We made it to the Wasdale car park for around 8pm, weather was being kind to us again and we all still felt pretty good.
We knew Scafell Pike quite well, having done it twice before in previous months, but in my opinion is one of the harder initial climbs, the accent starts straight away and only gets worse until you finally scramble up the rocks for the final hike to the summit. The short scramble is even worse at night in the wind, and to be honest probably isnt the best route, but I’ve always round it quite fun and breaks up the monotony of the hike. After xx hours we made it to the summit in the dark, fog and wind, again we were making good time. The trip back down was uneventful, the optimism grew as we knew we only had one more mountain to go, we did notice a group of walkers that seemed to be coming down from Scafell straight off the side of the mountain, we watched the lights slowly moving down as we also made our decent.
Shortly before the car park we bumped into a large group of lads also doing the challenge, it turned out they were the source of the lights and had in fact got totally lost, misread their maps, and just had to simply walk straight down in the dark and hope they met up with the trail. This is where we were very grateful to have our GPS unit to prevent the same happening to us.
Scafell Pike was completed in 3hrs 30mins, bringing our challenge time to 15 hours, that meant 9 hours to get to Snowdon and complete the climb, it seemed quite possible. A change of clothes, some food and water in us we set off at around 12am, we quickly realised something wasn’t quite right with the minibus, turns out we had a flat tyre. So there we were pitch darkness, 5 of us running round the minibus trying to find the spare tyre, the jack and the locking wheel nut. The wheel was finally changed after about 20 minutes, but we were now even more tired, covered in mud and oil and a bit pissed off. The icing on the cake was yet more road closures in the lakes, the chance of finishing the challenge in time was seeming less and less likely, it was better to try and get some kip and hope for the best.
Somehow we got Pen-y-Pass at around 4:45am, giving us 4 hours to complete the hike, which normally would be very possible, but we were tired and feeling a bit weak, well 2 of us were, Peter (who was doing this challenge for some training before a 54 mile ‘run’ later in the year) was looking like he’d just started the challenge. The Snowdon climb was very uneventful, there wasn’t many people about, and the 3 of us weren’t that chatty, we made it to the summit 2 hours in, meaning we had 2 hours todo the decent, which looked quite achievable, I was starting to feel very tired and weak by this point, I realised I hadn’t had enough to eat after Scafell and with struggling to sleep in the minibus, not had enough sleep at all.
We did however make it down with 31 minutes spare, which with the road closures, traffic and flat tyre I think was a pretty good time. After having some sleep and food I started to feel pretty good, in fact by the next day I was surprised at how good I felt, I was expecting to ache for the following week.
Now just the Yorkshire Three Peaks to complete next.
Ben Nevis: route
Scafell Pike: route