So the big day was finally upon…. The day of the 3 Peak Challenge! And typically the weather took a turn for the worse after our mini heat wave the two weeks prior. The day before we set off the news was full of severe weather warnings for 60mph winds, and floods across the UK. Just our luck hey!
We had 7 of us taking part in the challenge, plus a guide and two drivers. The walkers were as follows:
Katie - a super fit sports fanatic. Sports: mountain biking, trail running, footy
Gemma – a PE teacher. Sports: mountain biking, running, hockey, footy
Sarah - works to promote sport in the community. Sports: recently completed a marathon, hockey, footy
Gwen - our chief organiser. Sports: softball, footy, running
Emma – Sports: running, footy.
Me (Rachael) – Works for Regatta. Sports: footy, plus trekking while travelling.
Jo - Sarah’s friend who we all met for the first time on the challenge. Sports: running, cycling, planning a marathon
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been fitter, last year I felt physically really good. I was trail running and I was playing footy twice a week and 5 aside too. This year there has been no trail running and the footy season finished 2 months ago. To be honest I was a little apprehensive about the challenge and whether I’d be able to keep up with the group.
We did 3 training walks before the event. Due to other commitments we weren’t the full team for each walk. However the important thing was that we were getting out and practicing, getting used to the gradient, our kit and our fitness levels.
Also as so much of the challenge is reliant on clear roads I had my fingers crossed for no bad traffic or caravans or tractors blocking our transit between the peaks.
Drive: Manchester to Ben Nevis
We all went to Gwen’s for a hearty breakfast before setting off. It was a great way to start proceedings as we could all relax together and do a final kit check. Sarah (a.k.a lastminute.com) borrowed various bits off kit off us all. Thankfully Gemma and I had plenty to spare.
We left Manchester around 10am. It was a 7 hour journey including a few service station stops for comfort breaks and reinforcements. The first few hours we were all pretty chatty, I kept forgetting what we were about to do! As we passed the turn off for Blackpool we jokingly asked the driver to take us there instead for a night out on the town. Obviously the nerves were kicking in! By the time we arrived we felt pretty lethargic after so long on the minibus.
Peak 1: Ben Nevis
The challenge started at 5:20pm. We started off pretty fast, Katie was setting the pace so what did we expect! Despite the weather forecast conditions were good, there was no rain and visibility was okay. Quite a few of my friends had done Ben Nevis before and had warned me that I probably wouldn’t see much however the day we did it we had wonderful views of the lochs and surrounding mountains. To be honest though the first 30-40 minutes of the walk I was too out of breath and focused on fighting through the pain to look around. Once I was able to compose myself I was able to take in the view and enjoy it. It was the first time I’d done Ben Nevis. There was a lot of snow at the top, we needed our layers! The snow went up past our shins, we were glad of waterproof trousers!
Our guide had to turn back less than hour in due to pain in his knees, I think he’d hoped they’d hold out for the challenge however it was not to be. So we had to self-guide. Thankfully though the route is really clear, it’s basically just straight up, straight down. Also there were enough other people to follow. It would have helped though to have the guide chivvying us along to ensure we were on track timing wise.
We completed Ben Nevis in 5 hours 15 minutes. We were happy with this as 7 hours is the quoted time for ‘Joe Public’. We’d allowed 5 hours 30 minutes for it.
Drive: Ben Nevis to Scafell
I’m not sure if we underestimated the distance, we got lost, or whether it was the weather conditions but the long and short of it was the journey took 1.5 hours more than anticipated. It was so disappointing to wake up while we were at Gretna services at the time we should have been close to reaching the start of Scaffel Pike. By the time we arrived to start the walk we knew we couldn’t complete the challenge in under 24 hours.
As you can imagine we were all gutted, given the nature of the challenge every minute counts and 1.5 hours was far too big a time to try and claw back. We brushed ourselves down though, took deep breaths and begin our ascent of Scafell Pike with as much enthusiasm as we could muster so early in the morning!
Peak 2: Scafell Pike
We started Scafell Pike at 5:45am. Due to the epically long journey we didn’t need our head torches as the sun was fully up. We all snacked on the bus however energy levels were really low and this coupled with the awful weather conditions made Scafell Pike hell. None of us enjoyed it. The rain was heavy, the path slippy and visibility was poor. Also probably due to fatigue the ascent seemed to take forever. Katie was an absolute star, she helped Gwen who was struggling and contemplating turning back. I had a wobble two thirds up too. A pep talk from Katie and some food soon sorted me out!
The way down was difficult as we couldn’t pick up the pace as it was so slippery and parts of the path had become more like streams. Also as the terrain is so stoney you really have to concentrate on your step. This I found frustrating as you can’t get any momentum going. We completed Scafell in 4 hours 20 minutes. As we knew the challenge was out of our reach we didn’t push ourselves. We still went at a reasonable pace though.
Drive: Scafell to Snowdon
We all managed to have some sleep on this journey as well as stock up on food. We were all carrying knocks and aches and pains. Even me who has never really had any injuries had really sore knees from the intense downhill on Scafell Pike. Some painkillers managed to do the trick though.
Peak 3: Snowdon
Snowdon was the easier of the 3 climbs. We went up and down the Pyg pass. We went at a decent pace but we did manage to have a chat among ourselves and with other walkers. None of the other ‘3 peakers’ had managed it in 24 hours either so that gave us some comfort. You really do need all the elements on your side, plus smooth journeys, and be fit and able enough to run or jog down the mountains.
When the cloud lifted the views on Snowdon were stunning, beautiful mountain ranges and crystal clear blue lakes. The views made it all worthwhile.
We had a meal in Pete’s Eats in Llanberis afterwards. We had huge carb rich portions, just what we needed. A few of us ordered beer or cider. Gwen and I could barely drink ours though as it was over 6%! We didn’t realise this when we ordered it! Our awesome drivers bought us a bottle of Cava to celebrate completing the 3 Peaks which was really sweet of them.
They say hindsight is a great thing. If I was to do the challenge again I’d probably do the following:
- Stay in Fort William the night before
- Aim to do all 3 walks in less than 12.5 hours
- Build in time for loo brakes and kit changes –20 minutes maximum across the whole challenge
- Allow 11 hours and 10 minutes for the journeys
- Jog down the mountains – weather and no injuries permitting
- Get fitter!
So what next? I went through mixed emotions on the challenge of thinking I will never do any more challenges again to contemplating something epic. The way I felt depending on how tired I was! However now a week has passed I’m keen to take on some more challenges. The same group of people plus a few others are seriously considering the Yorkshire 3 Peak Challenge in August. Also I’m definitely going to go trekking in the Himalayas next April. For me I’ve always been driven by challenges, I like to have something to aim for.
Highs: Our walk times, especially Ben Nevis. Team bonding. The meal in Pete’s Eats when we finished.
Lows: The weather: for Scafell it restricted our speed as it was too dangerous to jog down, also it made the driving conditions difficult. Journey times.
Pain barrier moment: Scafell half way up
Must-haves: lots of changes of clothes, energy sweets, plenty of water
Most overused phrases: how much further to the top, why are we doing this? Who’s idea was this?
I really enjoyed the 3 Peaks. I’m proud that we did it within 2 hours of the 24 hours given the obstacles we faced. It’s great to have done it with a group of good friends and it’s not put us off doing anything else. Given the weather forecast we were lucky to have had good conditions on Ben Nevis and parts of Snowdon were okay too. Taking part in challenges is really rewarding and it’s a great way to bond with friends (or colleagues) and of course raise money for your chosen charity.
Watch this space for future challenges!