Ok, so apparently it was my stupid idea to take on the three peaks challenge and aim to do it under 24 hours. But I blame Charlie as she took me on a walk up Scafell Pike and also mentioned about the infamous challenge. Well since I have passed the age of 30 I felt compelled to prove that my ever increasing age would not be a barrier to pushing my physical limits and so the gauntlet was thrown.
I mentioned this challenge to Mark and he seemed well up for it and Charlie then felt compelled to join us (probably to make sure that we didn’t get lost!!!!) and so we had our party of three for the climb with Joanne kindly volunteering to do the driving.
Charlie and I had done Scafell the once and decided that it would be a good idea to take Mark across to the Lakes so he could get one of the Peaks under his belt so he understood what was involved, what could go wrong and what he needed. Fortunately, Mark made all his mistakes and learned all his lessons on this first trip to Scafell including, not bringing gloves, learn how to use and carry the walking poles, deciding that sandwiches are not the easiest of foods to eat when on the move and finally layers are key.
As further preparation Charlie and I visited Snowdon back at Easter time and managed a quick climb up and down in well under 4 hours so at least we knew that we could tick one of the Peaks in the time allocated.
As time grew closer to the challenge beginning the training had been stepped up (pardon the pun) although work commitments had made this difficult but as I knew that my stability on walking downhill wasn’t good, I had to build my quad muscles up and therefore months of work on the stepper had improved my balance and stability and I was going to rely on my general fitness to get me up and down. I was as ready as I was ever going to be.
On Thursday 7th July 2011 at 17.10 (10 minutes late, not a good omen) Charlie and I were picked up my Mark and Jo in Jo’s car. It was raining and therefore we shuttle runned our gear into the boot and back seat. It felt like we were going away for a month long expedition rather than a weekend in the UK.
The mood in the car was good although Charlie still had that look of trepidation and Jo looked more nervous than any of us (but that may have been down to Mark driving her car and taking us on a triangular route around Consett before heading north). I felt really good and tucked into my cold pizza as at the moment the more carbs I could get down my neck the better.
Around 8ish we arrived in the armpit of Glasgow and checked into our Travelodge and after a few drinky’s we had an early night to rest up ahead of our challenge.
The next morning after a quick breakfast we drove up to FortWilliam which was like a poor mans Keswick where we had a giant scone between us (obesity problem in Scotland? Cant think why that is!!) and some coffees and then did the obligatory wander round the outdoor clothing and gear shops where fortunately we found a good map of the Ben Nevis. We also found a little pasta restaurant where we each had a large bowl of pasta to fuel us for the challenge.
The time had now got to about 13.30 and Mark was getting a little ratty as he hadn’t slept well the night before and wanted a power nap. So we headed to Ben Nevis car park where he settled down to grab 40 winks while the rest of us had a little wander around. By 14.00 we were all huddled in the car together as the end of the world begun. The rain poured from the sky flooding everything while we each looked at each other to work out who had taken a photo, only to realise that a thunder and lightning storm had begun.
We all now looked rather pensive as the thought of starting the walk in a thunder storm with torrential rain was not appealing, but in the back of our minds we knew the weather had 3 hours to improve before we needed to set off.
As 16.00 arrived we started to get ready, by changing our clothing, checking our packs and Charlie decided to remove about 20 coats from her backpack as she didn’t think she would need them all. By now the carpark was filling up with lots of other cars and vans and we realised that we were either at a dogging site and the action was about to begin or everyone else was arriving to do the 3 peaks challenge.
It had now got to 16.30 and we decided that we needed to get away before the trail got too crowded, so Mark and I hooded up (with our midge hairnets) and after no stretching or warm ups we headed off.
Looking back, I think we were a bit too full of adrenaline as we set off at quite a pace on the flat but I think that was also to do with the climbers mentality of get as much as you can done before it rains. But it wasn’t long before some of the super fit had caught us up and passed us. This felt really frustrating as I really wanted to do the challenge in the 24 hours and from all the articles I had read, you needed to do the walks in 14 hours with Ben Nevis taking 5 hours, Scafell also taking 5 hours and Snowdon taking 4 hours. Watching people go past us made me feel that we weren’t going fast enough and were going to fail the challenge (and as you may know I am a little bit competitive and HATE to fail at anything), but Charlie was already red in the face so I knew we couldn’t go any faster and I just hoped that we could make up time coming downhill.
The views while climbing Ben Nevis were amazing and it was already my favourite of the mountains as not only were the vistas great but the terrain was good and the sun was out. I was amazed by the number of people who were evidently also doing the 3 peak challenge and it did give me the security in feeling that we would never be alone and stranded at any point with so many people about.
After a long slog we knew we were nearing the top as we encountered snow for the first time (July in Scotland and there is still snow on the ground, no wonder the locals are always pale) and my heart lifted although this was when I took my first tumble as I repeatedly slipped on the snow.
I turned to Charlie and said “one last push and we are at the top of the first one”, we regrouped and pushed hard to the top. On reaching the summit we scrambled across loose rocks and lots of people to touch the top had a quick photo and we were off again. It took us 2 hours and 48 minutes to reach the top and I felt that we had blown it as we were never going to make it down in under the 5 hours and I knew we needed a little extra time in the bank for Scafell which would be the toughest leg of the climb.
This is where all my stepper training would come in as I knew I was generally the slowest going downhill but I also knew that this is where we could make up the time. So I pushed on and was amazed to find myself the leader of the 3 of us for quite some time. The journey down Ben Nevis was a little slippy but generally the footing was good and apart from the odd slip we made it down in one piece and headed to the car park to meet with Jo and head off for stage 2.
On getting to the car park we discovered Jo putting the kettle away and on looking at the time we had managed to do Ben Nevis well under 5 hours (4 hours 48 minutes) which I was over the moon about. We were on for the time limit and after a quick change we set off towards Scafell.
I had been promoted to the front seat between peaks as I cant sleep in cars so Mark and Charlie were huddled in the back seat and they were asleep pretty quickly. I looked on jealously as they got some well earned rest while I played navigator (well watching the sat nav) to Jo. The roads were pretty slow going at first but we seemed to be heading the convoy of 3 peaks traffic and we soon hit the motorway where Jo made up for the lost time on the country roads and we were on schedule for our 10 minute comfort break at the service station.
After a quick stop at the services I settled down with my porridge pot and tried to psyche myself up for Scafell. This is the one I had been dreading as the two previous attempts of Scafell had been frustrating events with poor weather and ankle and knee jarring descents. To start this in the dark after no sleep and being cramped in a car for the last 5 hours wasn’t appealing.
We set off at 2.30 and it was pitch black with no visibility and the air was really damp. The ground was really wet and Mark was freaked out by the light reflecting sheep eyes that suddenly appeared only 3 metres away.
We seemed to be making really slow progress as we just couldn’t walk fast due to it being really dark and our footing never felt secure. I had my lowest point on this walk as I felt really nauseous and tired and all three of us seemed rather sombre. I had a good whinge for most of the uphill journey and that seemed to make me feel better so when Mark started to believe that we were lost I was calm enough to look out for some tor’s and keep us in the right direction.
This was a really lonely walk as it was just the three of us for a huge majority of it and due to tiredness, the ungodly hour and the fact that this is the one we had all been dreading, our spirits were low. On seeing another set of three peakers near the top, we seemed to be given a little boost as we march to the top which was again covered in cloud therefore we could have been anywhere at that moment in time.
We didn’t hang around long for pictures and started our descent which although we hoped to be fast was never going to be the case as both Mark and Charlie were struggling with their LT bands and the terrain was awful and treacherous.
Mark repeatedly shouted out in anguish at the uneven ground never ending and Charlie looked dead on her feet, we were all really tired by now and a bit of panic crept in when Charlie was adamant that we were lost and had taken the wrong path.
They both must have been tired when they took my word that I knew where we were and we were on the right track and to just trust me as they will soon recognise something soon. Fortunately I was correct and Charlie even allowed me to choose which route we were to take when we came to a fork in the path, I again chose correctly and we were soon on the flat and heading towards the car.
This is no exaggeration to say that this was the hardest part of the 3 peaks and I really didn’t believe that we would get it done as I was really worried about Charlie going uphill as she lost all colour in her face and looked like death and when both her and Mark had become “lost” and I had to make decisions I thought that when we got to the car I would have the horrible decision on whether I would do Snowdon on my own.
On seeing Jo I think all of our hearts leapt a little bit as this felt like the longest walk ever and if she said it had taken us 10 hours then I wouldn’t have been surprised, but the fact that it had taken us 5 hours and 14 minutes meant that we were only 2 minutes over our target to do the walks in 14 hours and I felt sure that we could do Snowdon in less than 4 hours.
Jo was really positive and cheery when we got down and she had hot water already brewed for us and the car was ready to go. I had another quick change and settled down with my pasta while Mark and Charlie again hunkered down on the back seat and were soon asleep.
I was buzzing again now as the sun was up, the hardest walk was done and I had loads of pasta in my belly and the effects were instant. I was again playing navigator and put my small talk skills to the test as knew that Jo would be as tired as we were and preventing her getting tunnel vision when driving would keep her alert.
Jo did really well on this drive and we ate into the miles as the ETA for Snowdon got earlier and earlier to the extent that we had time for another rest stop and I had a quick poo while the drinks were prepared and people were changed so we could have a quick start for Snowdon.
As we headed into the country roads of Wales I looked back and both Mark and Charlie looked really focussed, just one more peak to go.
I think we left the car at around 11.30 which meant we had until 15.28 to make it to the train station in Llanberis. This was to be the easiest and shortest of the walks although we were now physically and mentally tired. I had been awake for well of 24 hours and was running purely on adrenaline, I was just hoping that I would hold out mentally and physically but I was worried that my decision making would start to deteriorate.
We arrived at the bottom of Snowdon and the sun was shining so I stripped down to just one layer and we headed off.
We were immediately caught in a queue of people heading up one of the narrow passes and so I squeezed my way through the crowds, closely followed by Mark then Charlie and the way ahead was clear.
We made good progress until the first really steep bit came into view. Charlie was running on empty and I felt for her with every step she took. Mark and I seemed to be still quite fresh and powerful on the ascent although once we hit the final push to the summit, we both slipped a lot scrambling up the scree and almost vertical rocks.
We were working harder than I thought we would need to at this point as for my previous trip up here I thought this would be easy. It clearly wasn’t.
We made the summit and immediately the temperature dropped by about 10 degrees as damp clouds rolled over us. Therefore I stripped off my damp top and put on a couple of warm dry layers while we joined the queue to reach the top.
On reaching the top we were all really happy as that was the last of the uphills and we just had a 7 mile walk downhill to go along the train track and we had just under 2 hours to do it. The race was on.
It was only on starting the downhill section that I realised how much pain Mark and Charlie were in. I gave Mark my pole to ease the burden on his legs as he seemed to be suffering most but I was concerned that reaching the bottom may take longer than the 2 hours we had left.
The initial descent down a gravelly scree followed by steep steps that seemed to sap everything out of Mark and I turned round at one point to see him moonwalking down the mountain (thank god he wasn’t wearing white gloves), I turned to look at Charlie and she was staring intently ahead clearly focussed on reaching the bottom.
By now I was in my own little world as I was physically shattered and all I could think about was getting to the bottom and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. I think we had stopped talking to each other by now as we were each fighting our own little battle and the 7 mile walk was one of the longest 7 miles of my life.
Every curve in the path I believed would allow us to see the train station but I was disappointed again and again and never thought we would ever make it to the end.
Charlie then received a text stating that her mother and Jo were coming up to meet us. I cant pretend that I wasn’t disappointed by this as didn’t want the distraction of stopping before the end to exchange pleasantries as just wanted this to finish.
I vaguely remember meeting Steph and then Jo but I had to push on and hoped that Mark and Charlie had enough in the tank to make it all the way with me.
We ploughed on and soon reached a road leading to the station, we were on the home straight. Charlie and Mark were with me and we were going to finish together. My chest had filled with pride at this point as this was the most difficult thing I have ever done and to have these two with me meant a lot.
Typically I got lost right at the very end and walked straight past the station, only to be called back by Charlie and we entered the car park together where we saw Steve sitting waiting for us.
We didn’t have the big celebratory finish with back slapping, handshakes and hugs, we just passed around the hip flask of whisky and then sat down on the ground to recover.
After this it is a bit of a blur as I was completely wiped out and just wanted to shower and sleep. But we got to the bunkhouse where I had the deepest one hours sleep that anyone has ever had. Steph and Steve kindly bought us dinner and we then had an early night.
It was only waking up on Sunday morning that the realisation of what we had achieved really sunk in. 3 peaks, 14 hours walking, less than 9 hours driving, several porridge pots, innumerable packets of dried fruit, nuts, flapjacks and magic bread and we had done it.