Rather than beating around the bush, I’m going to get straight to the nitty gritty. We did it; we completed the National 3 Peaks Challenge in under 24 hours.
Our start to finish time came in at 22hrs 56 mins, but this also includes a 2 hr 13 min detour via Oban (more details to come), so I’m very confident in saying that without said detour, we would have completed it in 20hrs 43 mins. I don’t think the magnitude of the challenge has really sunk in yet, especially with my sleep pattern worse than when I get jet lag. First & foremost I have to thank Rupert & Chris for joining me on this challenge. Their motivation, determination & physical ability should be commended. Not only did they help make this challenge a reality, they made it a thoroughly enjoyable 24 hours.
BEN NEVIS: 1344m / 4hrs 4 mins
So it was Thursday 14th July 2011, the clock had just ticked over to 17:00 and we officially started our 3 Peaks Challenge. We crossed the bridge over the river Nevis and we were off. While none of us had yet vocalised the extent at which we needed to nail these three mountains, I could tell we all knew what lay ahead – mainly because of the speed that we overtook a particular group of walkers. It does make me smile when I do sporting activities with only men, as we always inadvertently get such a competitive edge – this is something we would be extremely grateful for later in the challenge.The first ascent was relatively steep, and aptly called Heart Attack alley. I laughed at this at the start, but by the time we got to our first rest point, I could very much relate to the name, as I felt my heart pounding out of my chest. The photo doesn’t quite do me justice in terms of the amount of sweat that was gushing off my face – a sexy look perhaps not!
We continued up the mountain, zig zagging along the 5 fingers, eventually reaching the final ascent. By this time the mist had surprisingly set in (we have a habit of getting to the top of mountains and not being able to see anything more than 20ft away). As we got closer & closer to the top our surroundings turned into a lunar type landscape. The silence up there was incredibly eerie. And then, like a mirage, the summit just appeared out of nowhere. As we approached the cairn, we checked the time, and couldn’t believe we managed to get up there in 2 hrs 20 mins.
I enjoyed the very fickle approach to our attitude & manner, in that the second we hit the top our levels of motivation, morale & spirit just soared, compared to the 5 minutes prior, slogging up the scree. On the way back down we got so ahead of ourselves that we even ran down part of the mountain (good practice for Rupert’s & my attempt to run the London marathon with a 30lb Bergen & marine gear). We reached the bottom at 21:04, completing the first of our 3 mountains in just over 4 hours.
A very sweaty & tired trio dived back in the car, as we headed south back to England. Spirits were high as we were all really happy with completing Ben Nevis much quicker than anticipated. Little did we know that our speed was going to come in very handy about half an hour into our journey south, as we hit a…..road block. Yes, that’s right, a frigging road block. The only main road south from Fort William had a road block. A road block which had only been formed about 20 minutes prior to us getting there, as some rather inconsiderate motorcyclist decided to plough his way into a lorry.
While the guy was helicoptered to the nearest hospital, the police told us the road could take anything up to 5 hours to clear. 5 hours? <insert multiple swear words here> After a quick executive decision making process, we about turned and headed back on ourselves in order to swing left across to Oban and then back down. This minor detour took us 2 hrs 13 mins to basically travel 2 miles from where the collision had taken place. While Rupert & Chris managed to catch some shut eye in the back, I stayed awake for a bit chatting to our driver (mainly I couldn’t sleep, but also thought he could do with the distraction from sleeping himself).
SCAFELL: 978m / 3hrs 16 mins
We arrived much later than originally planned at our second mountain location. The lads got a rather interesting wakeup call about 20 mins away from the start as we were met with 50+ sheep just lying about the road while crossing some moor land. Given the fact it was nearly 4am, the sun hadn’t really started coming up, I was creating a whole new meaning to the phrase the Silence of the Lambs.
The 3 musketeers set off with a relative stride in their step as day light increased pretty quickly (good job really – I can cope with looking like a sweaty beast, but a head torch strap line would have just been embarrassing!) There was a weird Narnia type feel to climbing Scafell, as the last time I was there was early December, when there the whole place was covered in white. The stream running past, the green grass and leafy trees gave a certain natural boost to my morale going up what can only be described as the staircase from hell. Rupert took our lead (I still don’t understand his power & speed up these hills, but it’s something that I’m extremely grateful for) as we got to our first rest point.
About half way up we met our first injury when discovering that Chris had a blister no smaller than the size of Cumbria on the back of his foot. Having had my fair share of blisters in the past I could feel his pain, that bad boy looked nasty. While I was really lucky with blisters, I wasn’t quite as lucky with chaffing. I can’t go into detail as I’m still very emotional about the whole situation, but needless to say I perfected quite a sexy John Wayne walk across the second two mountains.
Scafell was just like I remembered it – a bitch of a mountain. The slog up it seemed much worse than the other two, and my body was really starting to feel both the fact we’d been walking for god knows how long, but that we’d not been in an actual bed for more than 24 hours, with an amount of sleep I’m scared to even calculate. I wasn’t a happy puppy that’s for sure.
However, as with all of the challenges, the reason for me creating & completing 21:21 really helped to drive me forwards. Thinking of the guys out in Afghanistan having to physically & mentally push themselves forwards day in, day out, while being shot at, I thought hey, get a bloody move on lad. Plus the fact Rupert was such a task master, there wasn’t really time for moping. With the summit in sight we trekked on.
A mere 1hr 51 mins after setting off and we’d made it to the top of Scafell. The wind at the top was depressing to the say the least, and while we were elated to make the second of our 3 mountains, we didn’t’ hang about, especially with such delays from last night. It did make me smile as we set off back down, as I would normally be meeting Kate at 06:15 on a Friday to go running, and to think that I was at the top of Scafell was pretty special.
I have to admit I was struggling a little bit on the way back down. My left knee started to play up slightly (still blaming those pesky plyometric exercises from running club), but after some strategic overtaking on the descent, we managed to get back down in 1 hr 14 mins. Much to the despair of our driver we completed Scafell in 3hrs 16 mins. And with no messing about, we were back on the road, heading south further still, to the beautiful country of Wales to complete our third and final mountain. Snowdon here we come!
SNOWDON: 1085m / 3hrs 56 mins
Of the 3 mountains, I was most confident about Snowdon. Even though we were now at our most tired, I somehow got a last minute shot of adrenaline and belted up the first section of rocky steps to bring us out to a view of the lakes at the bottom of the mountain. As we turned the corner onto the main path taking us along the Pyg Route, we could see the clouds getting bigger and darker by the minute.
While we weren’t surprised in the slightest that it would probably rain at the top for us, it was an idea I was trying to push out of my head as we trekked on. By this point the pain of walking nearly 26 miles, was starting to seep into my legs & feet.
About half way up the rain started, and much to our enjoyment it didn’t stop until we got back down. We were battling with the wind, the rain, fatigue & hunger. As we trooped on we slowly approached the final ridge along to the summit. During this last 5 minutes the wind was fierce and the rain relentless. You couldn’t really talk, and while we were together, there was a feeling of loneliness as we got closer to the top. I’m going to blame the fact I was stupidly tired, incredibly wet and very happy to reaching the summit of our final mountain, but I’m not ashamed to say that I got a bit emotional during the last few steps. The sense of achievement was so good. The final summit point again appeared from the mist. We’d made it to the top.
Why change the habit of a lifetime eh, as we summated Snowdon in 1hr 50 mins. And for all those sponsoring me, please be rest assured that we did hit the top – with all the lazy folk who got the train up to the top, there wasn’t a great deal of room at the top for a photo shoot. Also, with the high winds I didn’t really want to lose my iPhone off the side of the mountain. As per the other two, we hit touched the top, high fived, then came down 10 feet.
Given the fact we’d been making great time, we decided to stop for a cheeky beer at the top, before wrapping up with our jackets & hoods and ventured back out to the cold harsh conditions of Snowdon. A photo taken by our driver from the car park while we were up the mountain will hopefully give a good idea to the weather conditions up at the top – x12 worse than this photo.
The descent was quick, yet seemed to take forever. The weather didn’t’ afford us great grip on the wet rocks, so we were slowed down slightly. However, this didn’t stop us from getting to the bottom 1hr 46 mins after leaving the summit. As we arrived back down to the car park I can’t express the feeling of achievement that was going round at the time.
Formulating a sentence was pretty difficult, but you could tell from the smiling faces that we were all on top form. Our official time was finally logged at 22hrs 56 mins, but knowing that if we didn’t have to go via Oban we would have finished in 20 hrs 43 mins is something I still can’t get over. So to Rupert & Chris, thank you both for agreeing to take part in such a challenge – you were both just brilliant! Your physical & moral support across the 24 hours was inspiring – I couldn’t have done it without you. I do however wonder whether or not you hit your heads while up one of the mountains, as you’ve both signed up to the Yorkshire 3 Peaks next month. Top banana guys!
A final thanks goes out to our amazing driver – without his help we would not have be able to complete the 3 peaks, and while his consumption of red bull made me queasy throughout the trip, his ability to drive so well under such strained conditions is commendable.
On a parting note, I can’t express how much this challenge has given me both in terms of fitness, but also driving force to complete the other challenges. I can’t explain the feeling after completing such a feat, but would urge everyone reading this to try and challenge themselves to drive harder, push further and achieve more in everything they do. You never know, you might surprise yourself what you can achieve when you set your mind to it.
Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge