I found this write up when trawling through some old folders on my laptop and I thought I would post it (back then I didn’t have a blog) and I still can’t get over that its been 2 years since we did this.
Three Peak Challenge 2010 for Help for Heroes
On a warm Saturday afternoon in late June, having just eaten our last proper meal for the next 24hrs, we stood looking up at Ben Nevis the UK’s biggest mountain. With over 1400 meters of ascent in front of us, the enormity of the challenge we were facing suddenly seemed very real and we were all very aware of the maximum five hours allowed to complete this mountain, one that we hadn’t had the opportunity to practice before hand.
Setting off from the youth hostel approaching the west side of Glen Nevis, we were aware that this first ascent was going to be tough with a steep 300 meter ascent to join the main Pony Track. Getting into our stride, we were conscious that we had to maintain a steady pace to keep within a target time, which even from the beginning proved difficult at times as there were also other groups climbing the mountain, the majority being Three Peaks competitors. Simon found this part of the climb particularly enjoyable as the famous Scottish midges had decided that a sweaty Birdman was a delicacy that they couldn’t pass up and proceeded to bite him at every opportunity, much to the amusement of the rest of the team.
Joining the Pony Track we continued heading up the mountain but unfortunately Duncan had started to fall behind the pace, despite slowing down and much encouragement, the gap increased. We continued to push on, Duncan having decided to try and recover and meet us further up. Pushing on we reached the infamous Zig Zags where we came across a group with one of their members lying in a survival bag. We asked if there was anything we could do to help but were told ‘thank you its ok we have called mountain rescue’ so wishing them well we continued on. As we neared the final approach to the summit we heard the sound of a helicopter approaching to airlift the casualty off the mountain. The sight of seeing the Sea King so close was very impressive and we took a moment to watch it, this being a particularly unusual experience because we were at such an altitude we were actually looking down on the helicopter.
The three of us reached the summit of Nevis and because it was so busy up there actually had to queue to touch the trig point and officially mark the climb as done. A quick snack and we were heading back down, meeting Duncan on route who was about 30 minutes off the summit. Coming down in some respects was harder than going up, with the uneven surface playing havoc on knees and ankles alike and twice one of my ankles decided to give way leaving me hobbling for 5 or 10 minutes. Gareth, who has an old ankle injury, did particularly well on this section thanks to a combination of painkillers and stubbornness, a theme which continued on the other mountains as well.
As we got further down our pace started to pick up, looking at our watches we realised that we could do the whole mountain an hour quicker than our target time and were keen to get to the bottom in 4 hours. Despite running parts of the descent (Simon on occasion sprinting to avoid the midges who had hung around waiting for dessert) we clocked in at 4 hours and 1 minute. We quickly sorted out our boots and equipment had a quick stretch and we were back on the road again. While we tried to get some sleep Max drove through the night to get us to our next destination – Scafell Pike, with only a quick 15 minute stop at Gretna Services for fuel, put our boots on and ensure we were ready to get straight out of the car and hit the mountain.
At around 3am we were nearing Scafell Pike, it still being completely dark outside, we were greeted with a rare sight. Looking to the direction of the mountain we could see bright spots of light moving up and down, fellow Three Peakers who were already on the mountain lighting up the path that we would shortly be taking. We arrived at the starting point for the Wasdale path, put our head torches on and began the ascent of Scafell Pike. At 978 meters our target time for this mountain was 4 hours, having done it previously in 3 hours and 23 minutes we were keen to match this time if not better it. Climbing in the dark is an unusual experience as you can only see a few meters in front and we only new we were on the correct path from having climbed it before.
Given that we were keen to beat our previous time we were pushing hard and at about a third of the way up we heard Duncan calling saying we needed to stop. He explained that his right knee was becoming extremely painful and he was concerned that given the pace he was not going to be able to keep up. To avoid impacting the challenge he decided to head back down the mountain and meet up with Max, unfortunately this is where his Three Peak attempt ended.
Despite being one team member down we continued onwards, the daylight increasing all the time to the point that we had a wonderful view of the sun rising over the mountains. We hit the summit of Scafell Pike in 1 hour 40 minutes. We climbed the cairn, a quick photo and we were heading back down. As we descended we passed some familiar faces, people who we had seen on Ben Nevis, wishing them well on their climb we continued to pick up the pace. Again nearing the bottom we checked our timings and we saw a possibility of coming in at under 3 hours. Despite giving a last push and running /stumbling along we clocked in just over at 3 hours and 3 minutes, a respectable time taking 20 minutes off our previous best and a whopping hour off the target time. Unfortunately for Max, us getting up and down the mountain so quickly had resulted in him only getting 3 hours sleep after a previous 6 hours driving, with another 4 hours driving a head of him he was facing his own physical and mental challenge.
With a whopping 2 hours ‘in the bank’ we quickly took our boots off and sorted our gear out, it was at this point that I removed my boots to find that they had started to eat away at my heels. Being aware of some discomfort on Scafell I wasn’t ready for the sight that I would be greeted with. It seemed that my right heel was missing the majority of the skin and I was concerned how this would impact Snowdon. I quickly put a variety of plasters on to try and minimise the damage, all to a chorus of the words Simon singing the words ‘wrong boots, wrong boots’.
We had planned on only having one stop on our journey to God’s own country but shortly into our travels it we had to make the first of two unscheduled breaks. It seemed sitting in the back seat of a car was not something that Gareth was used to and Max had to do an emergency stop for him to open the passenger door and quickly see his Chicken Pasta, Jelly Babies and Energy Bars again. After the second stop Gareth moved to the front seat, the rest of us maintaining that this was his plan all along.
Snowdon at 1085 meters was the last mountain we faced and had a target time for completion of 4 hours. Being 2 hours ahead of schedule and barring any further injuries, we were confident of achieving 24 hours. It had now become a case of how much under that time we could get. After stopping at St Asaph Services we arrived at Snowdon ready to go, we jumped out the car and headed off up the Miners Track. My feet were freshly strapped up but I was still experiencing some discomfort but decided not to mention it too much, mainly because I didn’t want to see Simon’s smug face.
The beginning of the Miners Track is a well laid path and a gradual incline, so we were able to make good time. We eventually reached the point where we began the final ascent of around 500 meters. This section of the climb was tough and involved scrambling, we were now really starting to feel tired but we also had the knowledge that if we kept pushing we could put in a really good time. Reaching the final section of the climb with the summit in site we started to run to the sound of another groups leader shouting ‘runners coming through’, which we chuckled about but it still provided a much needed boost to keep us going.
Touching the trig point on the summit was amazing, we had climbed all three mountains and only had the descent to go to complete our challenge. The wind was quite extreme on the summit so we quickly went into the Café to sort our gear out and left for the final descent. Despite the aches and pains heading down the mountain, we kept up our pace, ever aware of the time still ticking away. Passing other climbers, some we had even seen on Nevis and Scafell we pushed on. We checked our watches and saw that we had around 30 minutes left on the clock to come in under 21 hours and that knowledge was the last push we needed and we began to run. The incentive of getting the whole event completed in under 21 hours kept us going and as we approached the gate which was our finishing line, our run turned into a sprint and we almost fell through it. We stopped the clock and checked the time, 20 hours and 52 minutes, far quicker than we could have ever dreamed.
As you can imagine there was some sighs of relief and general laughter over completing what was a tough but amazing experience. Gareth who was hoping to get a photo of his ankle swollen up like a balloon was strangely disappointed when he took his boots off and everything looked normal, obviously lots of Ibuprofen, Diclofenic and Ice Packs had worked. I took my boots off, the plasters and tape hadn’t faired too well resulting in any remaining skin on my heel being gone and again I enjoyed the chorus of ‘wrong boots, wrong boots’ from Simon. We packed our gear away and headed to our hotel that afternoon to enjoy a much needed spa, a pint and some food and a well deserved sleep.
Hmmm warm fuzzy memories……
Reading back on this there is part of me that would love to give the Three Peaks another go, I am in significantly better shape than I was 2 years ago and the prospect of potentially smashing the times is very appealing. On the other hand I we were very lucky throughout, the weather was just right, the roads were clear, so even with the times being quicker on the mountains overall it could potentially take longer and that would be very upsetting!
I think its something for me to mull over, never say never!