Climbing the Three Peaks
When you hear mention of the Three Peaks Challenge more often than not it will refer to climbing the three highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales namely; Ben Nevis (1,344m), Scafell Pike (978m) and Snowdon (1,085m). As if climbing these hills wasn't enough on their own, the 'challenge' element usually involves an additional time limit of 24 hours in which to get to and climb all three mountains. Marketing Director Mark Brigham took on the challenge for charity and got to complete it in 24 hours (well nearly!)...
"My 24 hours of climbing and driving started at 6am at the foot of Ben Nevis on a dry Saturday morning in June. Dry weather is always a good motivator for starting a challenge of this kind – it puts you in a good, positive mood.
"After just two hours, the path to the summit of Ben Nevis had become like the M25 at rush hour.
"This was June on Britain’s highest hill and with an estimated 110,000 climbing this mountain every year it was hardly surprising it was so busy. Plenty of people shuffled up the hill from charities such as Macmillan Cancer Research and companies like BAE Systems. One group stood out from the usual mix of waterproof jackets as they were all dressed as characters from the Jungle Book raising money for a good cause and clearly having a lot of fun in the process.
"It had taken a few months to get to this point. Getting your legs ready, planning the logistics – who would drive us? Would we drive ourselves? In the end we joined a group through Adventurous Ewe (based in North Wales and highly recommended). Joining an organized group is a good decision both for moral support and camaraderie and to remove the logistical issues that come with tackling this challenge. Selecting a company with a start and finish in Llanberis also has it’s advantages as this removes the need to travel back to Ben Nevis to pick up your car.
"So there we were snaking our way up Ben Nevis with views across to Loch Eil when the clouds occasionally gave way. At around 1100m we moved into the cloud properly here it became damp and cold enough to numb fingers and face (be warned temperatures on the top even in the middle of summer are below freezing). Moving across the snow and loose rock (you couldn't help feeling sorry for those who were running up in trainers and shorts) visibility was down to only a few metres and the summit was unidentifiable – it was easy to see how people can get disorientated on this mountain and venture too far in the wrong direction.
Upon reaching the very top and after some quick obligatory 'summit shots' for proof of completion there was a real desire to descend and move on to the next mountain as quickly as possible. Heading down whilst quicker is often harder going and with the added perils of wet paths to make it more treacherous under foot. Good footwear and walking poles are invaluable.
"After two hours we reached the minibus. We had a quick refuel and some stretching then it was back on the bus for the 6 hour journey to the Lakes."
Time now: 11am
"The travelling between walks is pretty hard in itself. Preventing your legs from cramping up and getting comfortable is not easy in a confined space! Compression clothing such as skins will help and occasional stops en route (I recommend Tebay Services for a stop and some good food) are also useful to ensure your legs still work well when you reach Scafell.
"By the time you arrive at Scafell Pike you're tired and a little reluctant to remove yourself from the warm and dry (if a little bit smelly) bus. But move you must as the clock is ticking and the challenge is on.
Time now 6pm.
"Half way through the time allowance and only a third of the way through the climbs, Scafell Pike felt pretty tough. It's steep with little or no flat sections to allow you to recover and lots of false summits. Starting virtually at sea level, the whole climb was undertaken in cloud and with the light fading the mountain was quite eerie. Every now and again a figure from the Jungle Book would pass us by – their costumes weighing twice what they were when they started and themselves looking less light on their toes!
"The fact that you couldn't see too far in front meant that some kind of GPS device was useful to keep us motivated and ensure we didn't venture too far in the wrong direction.
"Being the smallest of all the mountains we completed it in the quickest time 3hrs 15mins. It was 10pm when we left Scafell Pike destined for the four-hour drive to Snowdon."
Time now: 2am
"We turned into the car park at Pen-Y-Pass. It was a cloudless night and you could see the flicker of head torches heading up the Pyg Track from the car park. Headtourches on, we began our ascent but after only an hour (the benefit of undertaking this challenge in June) it became bright enough for us to remove them. The Pyg track is fairly sheltered when compared with the Llanberis path or the Watkins path and it's pleasant until you reach 1050m where the wind buffers up from the Llanberis valley below and you need to add layers quickly. The view from the top was impressive. We were just above the cloud and could see Capel Curig to the East. The now customary summit shot was taken and the challenge completed (nearly!)
Dawn breaks over the summit of Snowdon
"The trip back down was longer than the journey up (psychologically anyway) but we were rewarded with great views around the horseshoe and down towards Beddgelert and then that was it 3 summits in 24 hours, 600 miles travelled and 3407m climbed, it felt good a real feeling of accomplishment!"
Done in 24 hours?
"Did we make it in 24 hours? Strictly speaking we failed to reach the car park within the 24 hours - we fell short by 30 minutes - but that doesn't take away the satisfaction of having undertaken the challenge.
"The 3 peaks challenge is a great adventure, the fitness and determination required to complete it should not be underestimated. The walking is by far the best and the travelling the worst!"
Tackling it yourself?
"You'll need good fitting boots, decent food (energy bars) and the ability to function on little or no sleep! Also consider taking a change of waterproof jacket (and other clothes) as drying out in the car or van en route is impossible and putting a damp jacket on at the foot of Scafell is not a good way to start a walk. Take a Camelbak or other reservoir with electrolyte supplements. Walking poles are another great help and take a lot of strain off your feet. If you'd like a full run down of necessary gear you can check out our Three Peaks Kit List.
"It's a good idea to find a Three Peaks training plan. I used this one from Adventure Café based in Somerset.
"And finally, Good luck!"
Got any questions about the 3 Peaks Challenge or need any advice? Email Mark directly firstname.lastname@example.org