What's it like to do the 'Three Peaks'?
Have you walked up Ben Nevis or Snowdon, thought it was a doddle and were ready for more?
The story below is provided by Nick, who, with his friends, had four attempts at the Three Peaks Challenge - did they make it? Read on below!
So firstly, who were this intrepid group, and how prepared were they for the challenge?
Simon: Age 38 Weight circa 16 st (all muscle) Height 6ft.
Occupation: Runs security business, ex Pro Golfer
Mark: Age 30 Weight circa 12 st Height 5'9
Occupation: Has own business, also ex Pro Golfer
Nick: Age 55 Weight 12.5 st Height 6ft
Occupation: Company Director ex Black Belt Karate (wado ryu under Tatsuo Suzuki)
Adam: Age 47 Weight circa 12.5 st Height 5'11
Occupation: Company Director (very fit cyclist and ex cross country runner)
Dean: The Driver
Attempt 1: Walkers Nick and Simon
We flew from Southampton to Glasgow hired a vehicle and planned to start the walk the same day circa 1800hrs.
It was early June and fairly good weather. Simon had never seen a mountain before, but given he was physically very strong and young we saw no reason why he couldn't do it. Nick, had walked before, but mainly in the Brecon Beacons on Pen y Fan which is the mountain nearest to where we live 3hrs drive.
Nick was ok on the climb up, however due to ill fitting boots (felt alright on the flat ground) every step on the way down was agony to the point when he got back to the vehicle he could hardly walk at all. he vividly remembers the pain of his big toe hitting the front of the boot for over an hour and half on the descent. At this stage we had used our 24 hours and decided not to go to Snowdon. To be honest personally I couldn't walk another step and after arriving home spent many hours in hot bath and was unable to walk for a few days.
Lessons Learned: Simon... Get a mountain done before attempting 3 peaks and be fit.
Nick: Don't wear ill fitting boots!! Ben Nevis and Scafell are different animals to Pen y Fan in the Beacons!
PS - and if you're wondering.... the thought haunted me the whole of the trip and a couple of years after. I was left wondering - was Morag a ghost? But I found out she wasn't when I saw her helping Griff Rhys Jones on his attempt on TV a couple of years ago!
Webmaster's footnote: Actually despite leading viewers to believe otherwise Griff Rhys Jones did not make it to the top of Ben Nevis. The BBC, when asked said "Neither Griff nor the production team realised that they had not actually made it to the ultimate peak and the weather was so bad on the day that they could not see a higher point". So that's the excuse then! Read more
Brecon Beacons. Picture courtesy of Nick
We set off 1800hrs and Simon wondered what had hit him, he was sick twice in the first hour! We pressed on but lost a lot of time, but Simon being very strong minded carried on.
At about 10pm at night, when we were just over halfway up Ben Nevis we met a lady! She was in running shorts about 40 years of age and said she was tired out and not very fit, but had come from the local village running club and was trying to train for the "Half Ben " race.
Attempt 2 a year later
Walkers: Nick, Simon and Mark
This time we thought 3 of us would share the driving (huge mistake) and starting at Snowdon circa 0800hrs. For Simon (now more experienced) Snowdon was a breeze Mark also found it easy and I was only 20 minutes behind them. I remember getting into the vehicle feeling so good I said "Gentlemen I could do this all day and all night" (another big mistake).
Given I was out of the frame I decided to do most of the driving to Scotland to give them the best chance of succeeding. We arrived at Ben Nevis in the early hours and by now it was raining and hostile. Personally speaking, looking back it was certainly the end of the road for me, getting stuck halfway up Nevis in the middle of the night in the rain is really not the place to be! My two brave much fitter friends pressed on whilst I slept in the car, however after 90 minutes there was a tapping on the window of the vehicle and after I had finally awoken from my slumber, to my great surprise saw it was my two dispirited friends who had decided to turn back.
1. Three walkers sharing driving, very difficult ask as driving is tiring than it appears.
2. Huge mistake on my part, trying to walk on adrenaline alone..should have eaten more and taken on hot food (being vegetarian didn't help)
3. Doing the mountains in wrong order IMHO. None of these mountains are easy however Ben Nevis is the last thing you want to face on a rainy night at 0300hrs after doing the previous two and feeling sorry for oneself.
View walking back down Snowdon
Picture courtesy of Craig Southwick
We arrived at Scafell Pike and got out of the car ready to go, Simon and Mark set off at quite a pace, with Mark being much younger was well in front. My plan was to pace myself, however 20 min into the walk I found I had nothing in tank. It was a strange feeling, as I had massive fatigue marathon runners say the hit the wall, all I can say is I have felt nothing like it...dreadful. I eventually made it to the top of the mountain and at that point dear reader I pretty well realised it was game over for me. I eventually got down exhausted and told the other two it I was finished (much to their surprise and annoyance).
At this stage our challenge was pretty well over as we didn't reach the top till 11pm and walked down in the dark and got back to the car at 0130 ish.
Dean drove us through the night and from memory we arrived at Scafell Pike as dawn was breaking. So, on we went, given that Simon had been ill he was in no mood for what was to come.
Scafell is a hard walk and to attempt it with no sleep and having been sick was a tall order.
We got chatting to her (she was lovely) and we were telling her how hard it was etc. She then offered to show us a short cut to the next level that was soooo steep (just about the last thing we needed). I can still see her now hands on hips stood over us, (i.e.higher up the hill) offering to carry our bags (which were very heavy) up the hill. I personally felt like saying YES but clearly male pride and all that we all declined. It slowly dawned on us she chose to have a bit of fun with us. Her name was Morag (nice Scottish name) and she walked a little way further with us before getting bored with us and the pace and decided to run off to the top.
Final stretch Ben Nevis. Picture courtesy of Nick
We met her on her way down (we were still nowhere near the top) at this stage it was nearly 11pm and we were the only people on the mountain. She walked a little way further up the mountain with us and then bid us farewell and good luck as she ran off down to her husband and children in the village. When she said goodbye her parting comment was "oh by the way I don't really exist I am a ghost....."
So dear reader, off we go again, another year older and a little fitter and possibly a little wiser. The participants this time round Nick age 55 Simon 38 Mark 32 Dean our driver, Nicks Mitsubishi Shogun (never buy one....rubbish vehicle).
Well this was our best chance, as we had all trained and we (we thought) had prepared as well as we could. So we set off for Scotland and had a fairly uneventful trip.
We decided to stay in the bunkhouse at the Ben Nevis Inn, which is situated right next to the path onto Ben Nevis. The Inn itself is not too bad although the food could have been better. They have accommodation there of sorts i.e. the bunkhouse is just about what it says - shared bunks all mixed so you never know who you will be cosied up to. Sadly in my case I spent the night cuddled up next to Dean, Simon and Mark and much as I love them I have had better nights. In truth, none of us slept particularly well but we made the best of it and at 0800hrs we were ready for the off.
Mark being the youngest did Ben Nevis in a respectable time. Simon also made good time and I came in at 4 hours 50 minutess which was well in time for the challenge. We had prepared better in that we all had hot pasta before embarking on the next part of the trip down to Scafell Pike. For me the journey was a blur as I had forced myself to relax and sleep to avoid hitting "the wall".
When we finally got to within 30 mins of Wasdale Head it was decided to stop at a garage and pick up some food. Whilst this was good for Simon and Mark, who are both meat eaters, for me - a veggie - it was a no show. We pressed on to Wasdale Head and I decided to quickly cook some soup ..... and this is where things started to go wrong! Mark decided he want to push on fast and get off the mountain before nightfall and Simon did the same. I was last away giving them circa 10 minute start, but given I had by now had my hot soup everything felt great. I could see Simon not too far away and I could see I was gaining on him which cheered me up no end.
Simon and Mark at the Ben Nevis Inn
Simon and unknown walker on Scafell Pike
For those that haven't walked Scafell Pike before, I will tell you now, that at about a third of the way up there is an ankle deep stream which you have to traverse before continuing the long haul of what is affectionately known as "the staircase". Those who have walked this will know what I am talking about. When we set out we didn't have too many hours of daylight but that didn't really phase any of us as we had all walked the mountain before and we all had (or so I thought) head torches.
We had set off in a light shower, and again, that was no big deal, as we all had fresh waterproofs (well prepared this time). ,When I got to the stream it was not an ankle deep trickle of water that I had become accustomed to, but an above knee powerful torrent of water. Having read about tragedies in these situations, I decided to go further upstream before crossing, which added to the time but was worth it. Simon and Mark had already done the same as me and at this stage had already crossed the stream.
On we all went, I could still see Simon a little way ahead and we were having to "suck it up" on the long haul to the top, and by now it was starting to get dark. For my part I had got to the top of the staircase now almost dark and at the most tricky part of the mountain (where they say it is easy to get lost) and all of a sudden ( have read about this things but never really believed them) the mother of all rainstorms came in accompanied by very severe gale force winds. To be honest at the time I had wondered what had hit me. The dusk had quickly turned to darkness and I was completely disoriented. I found myself climbing over boulders trying to find the path up but to no avail. I am sure anybody reading this would say "where was map and compass?" which I had, but given the severity of the storm, it was nigh on impossible to read any of it. At this point I felt much to my anger I had to turn back down and eventually found a path down (after sometime of traversing downhill through the muddy grass). At the time I was so cross, partly with myself, partly with my friends and was just basically very angry. I could have lived with myself if fatigue had stopped me but nothing prepared me for this.
I finally got down to the vehicle still livid, although I was now getting concerned about Simon and Mark. Given Mark was so far ahead he had already made it to the top before the storm set in, however, he lost the path on the way down and came off the mountain very very shaken stating "I will never do a mountain in the dark again " so he went into the car to dry off and get warm.
By now Simon had sent a text to say (a) in his rush to get away had forgotten his torch and (b) was lost. I decided I would have to go back up the mountain to find him, the weather had not let up and by now I had serious concerns for his safety and well being. Eventually I saw a figure coming towards me with only a light from his mobile phone, and whilst cross with him for not sticking together I was mightily relieved to see him in one piece. Especially given the stream that was knee deep when we started, was far more severe and I was very concerned as to what would have happened to him given the ferocity of the weather, and that fatigue is when people take chances. Fortunately Simon had the good sense (rare for him) to go upstream before attempting to cross. We of course eventually got in the vehicle, by now running late to go to Snowdon for the next stage. For my part it was challenge over and I didn't see any point in walking up Snowdon at 0400hrs for a non event. To be fair the other two did it, but think they were out of time but they did complete all three mountains. For me it was to have another go in September and face the whole thing again. What did we learn this time.....you think given our previous we should now know better!
1. In bad weather STICK TOGETHER!
2. Be careful of little streams they can easily change
3. Weather can come in far quicker than I would have realised.
4. Make sure you have all equipment before setting off.
Simon ready to go up Snowdon
So after failing the last challenge due to poor weather, Nick then got it into his thick head that it had to be done all over again. Simon offered to do the driving and it was game on. The year was slipping away and we were looking for a September challenge. Needless to say, I was a little apprehensive about doing this alone especially with autumn rapidly approaching. To rewind just a little, my other sport is tennis (Roger Federer I am not) I joined a little tennis teaching centre in Ash Surrey and gradually got to know a few of the other people that had grand designs on making Wimbledon. As with all groups of people not everybody there were my cup of tea, although have had some great fun with some of the guys and girls. So, per chance I met a guy called Adam who was patient enough to listen to my boring failures of the 3 Peaks, and if you have read this far you also dear reader fall into the same category.
Much to my surprise Adam very kindly offered to do the last challenge with me. If I am honest, given that he had never been near a mountain I was a little concerned as to how he would cope. I vividly remember telling him how hard it was and how to deal with the monotony etc. I suppose in many ways Adam is many things I am not, firstly he thinks ahead and is well organised (I just let things happen) and secondly at the age of 46 (2 years ago do the math) he is quite an athlete, which is not immediately apparent as he tends to be quiet and unassuming. Given that Simon (our driver) had never met him, it was at the back of my mind how we would all gel. I needn't have worried as we all tended to have the same sense of humour (very important under pressure), I have to say at this stage most of what was said in the car stays in the car lol.
Simon drove us to Fort William (quite a distance from Basingstoke) and we booked into a lovely hotel (well it looked lovely on the Internet page). To be fair, the rooms and shower were clean, but it somehow had a sticky feeling to it (bit like old night club carpets). Luckily for our evening meal we went to the Ben Nevis Inn (which was ok albeit lost it's way a little) oh, and we managed a couple of pints (we all felt like more as we were having fun).
Ben Nevis in the early morning light
I got up quite early and at best I am not a morning person. We had hotel breakfast which was poor, and headed for the mountain ready for 0800hrs start. The day was glorious and it was a privilege to walk this beautiful mountain -at the top it was so clear with views to die for. My time was 4 hrs 50 min and was inside the schedule. To my shock and surprise Adam was straight out of the blocks and put in 4 hrs 30 mins! Very credible (no doubt the Scottish will find this funny given their times, but we are from the south of England). We had a quick snack (hot pasta cooked by Simon) and off to Scafell Pike.
For my part I had told myself to sleep once in the car which helped massively as it is the best way to restore energy. Normally I cannot sleep whilst being driven, but given Simon is an IAM driver (as we all are) being a nervous passenger was not a problem.....(have to say whilst on that subject I recommend anybody that reads this and thinks they are a good driver (don't we all) check out the IAM which IMHO should be compulsory).
We arrived at Scafell Pike circa 1900hrs and started the second walk, don't hold me to exact time but it was pitch dark before we got to the top. As I said earlier Adam is organised and bought a GPS which was invaluable although at one stage we both managed to get lost, which added to our time. The highlight on Scafell was getting to the summit and looking up at the stars. I once read about a sky that looked like diamonds displayed on a piece of black velvet and that was about it.
View down from Scafell Pike
From Scafell on to snowdon by now circa 0300hrs, I remember this as being so so hard and in the dark. We didn't go the best way up the mountain starting at the upper car park on to the Pyg track, we seemed to spend what seemed like an age scrambling over rocks in the dark before eventually finding the path. It was still dark when we got to the top, ironically we met a young couple who crazily started also at 0300hrs simply because they wanted to see the dawn break. At the time it was something I could have done well without, just pleased to get there. Our trip ended fairly uneventfully the only downside being we were 20 mins shy of the 24 hours (something that still hurts) but given that two of the mountains were mainly climbed in the pitch dark I can live with that!
So Nick finally completes the Three Peaks Experience! CONGRATULATIONS!
The last episode is coming up, in May 2011 my friends and I did it again with me as the driver. It was a great experience and the guys put in some great times. If anybody has got this far reading this little ditty, I do hope you can share your experiences with me. I have seen many times on Youtube groups of people making this challenge look very easy, but for me - perhaps I am not a natural athlete - I personally have always found it very hard and wouldn't change it for the world.
Have you climbed Ben Nevis, Snowdon or Scafell Pike? Or taken part in the Three Peaks Challenge? We'd love to here from you! Join us on or Send us an email.
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What's it really like to do the Three Peaks Challenge?