Posted by: keepfishing | May 7, 2006

Three Peak (Or should that be Twin Peaks?) Challenge

Right. Been a while since a decent post, so this one is going to be mammoth. Prepare yourself for a sore bum. Or just stop reading and do something useful.

Last weekend (29 April), 4 of us set off to the west coast of Scotland to attempt the 3 Peak Challenge. For those of you not in the know, the challenge requires you to climb the highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales (Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon respectively) in under 24 hours, including all traveling time. To give some scope, that’s about 475 miles driving, something over 20 miles of walking and over 3000m (12,000ft) vertical climbing! There wasn’t much reason for us doing it, mostly to prove our manly prowess, but towards the end Christian decided to raise money for this mission trip to Lithuania and suddenly there was more incentive to make sure we completed it.

Anyway, what follows is a relatively full account of what happened. Before I left I read someone else’s blog of their experience and found it pretty useful, so who knows, maybe someone will google it and come up with me!

The day didn’t start amazingly well. I played football in the morning (which we won), but 2 minutes before the end, someone slid in on me and landed right on the bone on the inside of my foot. Ow. And then we had agreed to leave no later than 2pm to get to Fort William and I, as usual hadn’t pact properly, so it was pushing 2:30 by the time we got away. The original plan was to leave the car park at Ben Nevis at 5:30, so we could be off the summit while it was still light, and have as little as possible to walk in the dark. But ultimately, Thom, Christian, my dad and I finally ended up leaving the car at 5:57pm, setting off at a fast pace, quickly noticing that we had accidentally parked at the main carpark, not the recommended one by the Youth Hostel that might have shaved 15-20 minutes off our time.
The Start. Me, Christian, Thom and my Dad (he’s the old one).

The climb was pretty straightforward, and included lots of showing off and impressing all the people coming down who couldn’t believe we were starting to climb so late in the day, by describing our mammoth task. It got a little harder when we hit the snow about 40 minutes from the top, but fortunately it was not the middle of the afternoon and the soft bits had hardened up a little. About 20 minutes from the top we met another group doing the 3 peaks coming down. They looked very professional with 2 walking sticks each (we had 2 between 4 of us) and fancy map holders. But beating them gave us something to aim for and we pressed on and reach the summit in 2hrs 50, which was 40 minutes ahead of what we’d been told to expect. The descent was super fun, and we were able to leap and run down the snowy bits (until dad hit a particularly deep bit and nearly twisted his knee. We also managed to leave the head torches off until half and hour before the bottom although, me being the organized type, had forgotten his and had to rely on my bike lights (which I’m sure were brighter than my torch anyway!). We hit the bottom in 2:10ish, giving us a total of about 5 hours, which we originally thought was an hour ahead of schedule, but turned out to be about on time.

The best bit had to be walking up the west face as the sun went down. Completely clear days on Nevis are rare, and to be climbing as the sun goes down was something pretty darn special. Words can’t really do it justice.

Dad on his way to the top.This was where it got hard

Lochaber from near the top.We’re the highest people in Britain!

So as we continued on our journey we made our next mistake. We wanted to get some hot food (super noodles not being particularly appetising after 11pm) and Dad due to his ethical stance didn’t want to eat at the McDonalds which I’d heard (on other 3 Peak sites) was open until 12. So we parked up in Fort William and walked down the main street looking for the chip shop. Unfortunately, due to Fort William being a typical Scottish backwater town and not at all set up for tourists (despite currently hosting a huge Superbike festival and the annual UK Mountain Bike championships, not to mention thousands of walkers), and every thing shuts at 9. Except for the pubs of course. So we went off to find McDonalds, and guess what? Yep, that was closed too. So advice to people planning to do this challenge, don’t rely on civilisation to pull you through, cos you’ll waste 20 minutes doing so.

So instead we cracked open the sausage rolls I’d thoughtfully bought from Tesco the day before (after a trip to the aquarium with Beth. A great day incidentally) and settled down for some sleep. Dad drove to Glasgow and Christian took over as far as the services on the M6 at Penrith. Somehow, in my dazed and confused state at around 2:30am, I was persuaded to purchase a ‘MOTO traditional breakfast’. To anyone else in this position, DON’T! It was turd. And I had to forgo this month’s rent to pay for it. So after wasting another 20 minutes greasing my stomach and refueling, I gallantly offered to drive.

On reflection this was somewhat foolish, but someone had to do it. I’d had about 2 and half hours of semi-sleep, which I decided was enough to take on the roads of the lake district. At least the curves kept me awake. After a couple of hours of unmarked hairpin bends and fox-avoidance, we arrived in Wasdale Head somewhere shortly before 5. We quickly kitted up and charged up the hill (I don’t really want to call it a mountain).

Off again.

Personally, I found the middle section the hardest part of the whole trip. I couldn’t really get into a rhythm, the grease of the rubber sausages was sloshing around my gut, and I hadn’t had any chocolate for a while, and I was trying to keep up with Christian who was marching off at such a speed that Dad was asking ‘what country he was invading’. It wasn’t much fun. Making it particularly tough were the songs going round my head which I couldn’t remove. First on the play list was the Numa Numa song (with the fat guy on the webcam), followed by the Indiana Jones theme and then the worst f the lot, Wannabe by the Spice Girls. This last one wouldn’t budge and also reappeared on the way down Snowdon. Eughhh.

And then came our next mistake. Most advice will tell you not to take a certain route due to ‘severe erosion’. I had read this but duly forgot, and so we found ourselves scrambling up vertical scree to reach the ridge, blinding the person below us in the process. It was tough, but probably still quicker than the other path.

unfortunately the picture doesn’t quite convey the angle of the scree…

The summit was conquered at around 7, and was marked by the calling (and waking up) of various friends and family members. Indeed was a beautiful moment, to be virtually the only people up the mountain at dawn, with spectacular views all around.

Summit view

So we climbed Scafell Pike in around 3hours 20 (1:50 up, 1:30 down), a good 40 minutes ahead of the guideline times. With Wasdale Head being at the end of a very long cul-de-sac, we were determined to get out before all the bank holiday weekend walkers arrived and so had to abandon Dad’s plans of making porridge in the car park. Thom took the driving reigns and we charged off towards Wales.

It should be noted that as we descended, we came across the other group of 3 peakers, climbing up, with one man down. I’ve no idea where we overtook them, especially with our prolonged stop in Fort William, but we managed to overturn what was probably a 20 minute advantage to them into a half hour advantage for us!
Christian gets some ‘quality’ sleep
The journey from Wasdale to Llanberis (where Snowdon is) is supposed to take about 4 and a half hours, and for the first time, I started to get a little nervous about completing the challenge. The traffic on the A55 was horrendous and for half an hour we were barely making it over 40 miles an hour. Anyway, we made it to the start of the Watkin’s Path with the clock running at 21:40, meaning we had a little over 4 hours to make the climb.

To those of you who know Snowdon, you may e wondering why we took the Watkin Path. Indeed, it is also advised against for this challenge due to the last 200 vertical meters being steep scree and therefore knackering and unsuitable for climbers who’ve had no sleep and already done 2 mountains. The advised route is the Pyg Trail, starting at about 360m above sea level (meaning you have much less distance to climb). As our luck would have it (typically), the car park was full (one of the reasons a recommended driver is recommended is so that they can drop you off here), so we had to carry on round to the start of the Watkins Path at a majestic height of 76m. Its pretty depressing actually, because as you pass the car park, which sits on a ridge, you see the valley just drop away from you and you know you have to climb aaaall the way out.

So we pressed on and on. Accompanied by the Spice Girls the pace was fast and not at all demoralised by all the people who kept telling us we had miles to go as they were coming down. My personal favourite was the gadget freak who glee fully told me as I scrambled up the big rocks and scree “Don’t worry, you’re very close, only 160m to go!”. Right. 160m. That’s in vertical height, which works out at about 16% of my total climb, all of which is up this flipping death trap, and you say I’m very close?? Needless to say, I wasn’t happy, and was indeed still a good 20 minutes or so from the top, which when we reached the summit in 2hr 20, shouldn’t be regarded as very close. Close, but not very close.
What I orginally thought was the top. At this point we were on the wrong path next to a rather large cliff. Notice the German woman in red with exceedingly large pack, who had persuaded us that this was the correct path.

Anyway, the most demoralising thing was to reach the summit and discover, munching on their sandwiches, the other 3 peak group, who had just triumphantly climbed the Pyg trail. Evidently the man down had become the designated driver and they’d been dropped off at the car park. My indignation at them beating us resulted in the declaration that the Pyg trail is for girls, and in fact, they hadn’t climbed the whole mountain. We did it the manly way. So there.

The descent went smoothly, apart from a near disaster when Christian and I toyed with the idea of cutting a huge corner in the track, which would have probably involved us falling into a crevice, ending up in a black hole and being dumped at the top of Nevis or something. Anyway, we still had enough energy and adrenaline flowing round to run the last kilometer or so. This was the most satisfying part of the whole thing, running past the people who’d been descending whilst we were struggling to the top, especially that guy!

And so it was that we completed the challenge in a triumphant 23 hours and 22 minutes (Dad and Thom coming in around 23:35). I’m convinced that if we’d not faffed around in Fort William, been stuck in traffic on the A55 and taken the Pyg trail, then 22 hours would have been easily achievable.
Lets do it again…

All in all, it was an awesome experience. A great way to see creation at it’s finest, and lots of fun male bonding. Probably the hardest part was waking up in a petrol station at some stupid time in the middle of the night, realising I wasn’t in my bed and wondering why on earth were were driving to another mountain. Its fair to say my motivation was pretty low then.

If I had to give advice to people doing it, I’d first suggest not to bring any sausage rolls, unless you eat them straight away, because they STINK. And the smell wont go away. The best bit about having a designated driver is they can cook stuff for you, meaning you don’t have to stop in dingy service stations for crap food. And you can do the girly route up Snowdon if you want. Apologies for it being so long. If I was any good at web design, I would have put each mountain on a separ
ate page. Oh, and compedes are a lifesaver!



  1. someone’s been off having fun!

  2. I remember your dad drawing a face on his belly and standing behind your sister…

    That was the night I met Lucy. 😦

  3. wow, that sounds like an amazing trip. I just hiked Vernal Falls in Yosemite this week and attempted another hike, but was unprepared for the snow. Someday when I am in Scotland again I will have to hike one of those mountains. Glad to hear you made it!

  4. And this from the man who tells me my posts are too long…that’s 3 times as long as anything I’ve ver written.

    Oh and Chris…I have that photograph! Hannah would beat to a bloody pulp but if you want it, it can be provided…

  5. I have it too…(And I think Chris has it as well.)

  6. I totally have it to…

    Perhaps as my wallpaper!

  7. oooohhhh when I come i wanna hike it! 🙂 let’s grab a crew and do it! 🙂

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