The Three Peaks Challenge – 3 Countries, 3 Mountains, 24 hours
“Big Nige from accounting has done the 3 peaks, it can’t be that hard!”
Although it is true that even people with low fitness or experience can battle their way through the three peaks challenge if they have enough grit, plenty of naps, some good leadership and an ambivalence to the 24 hour time limit.
I had none of the above so training for this was my only option. It’s not a marathon but just make sure you are comfortable hiking all day and you have a good level of fitness or you simply won’t enjoy yourself.
3 Peaks Challenge Route
- Fort William (sea level)
- Ben Nevis (1,345m)
- Scafell Pike (978m)
- Snowdon (1,085m)
- Caernarfon (sea level)
Getting to the starting line
Loch Lomand Sunset
Driving from London to Fort William was a challenge in itself and a truth be told a fairly boring one until we got north of Glasgow and entered the Loch Lomond National Park where we were blown away by Scotland’s beauty and still to this day the best sunset I have ever seen that seemed to just get better and better, we had screeched to a stop to take a quick snap but couldn’t pull ourselves away from it’s ever changing beauty. We arrived late at the Fort William Backpackers hostel and were straight to bed after a quick night cap to calm the nerves.
“That was a million times harder than I thought it was going to be”
Great views from Ben Nevis
Up early (ish) to force down some instant porridge that taste more like cement and we were off to the sea. I don’t know who dreamt up this extra rule that you have to start and finish with your hand in the sea but we abided non the less dipping at the ramp next to the Crannog seafood restaurant at 8:00AM.
Ben Nevis is a great day hike and probably my favourite of the 3 with amazing panoramic views and a steady but unrelenting incline. You are however against the clock and will need to be going faster than the majority of hikers up there.
We had planned to be up and down in 5 hours but unfortunately that turned into 7 and cost us a team member in Matt “That was a million times harder than I thought it was going to be”
We had lost a climber but, on the upside, gained a driver.
Making it up in sunset is great, but means you are descending in the dark
In a vain hope that Matt’s injury would miraculously recover I drove the 260 miles to Wasdale Head to start Scafell at 17:30 when Matt announced he simply could not go on.
We made it up to the top in record time, taking just 1.5 hrs and we were treated to another amazing sunset as we reached the summit. Recouping this time made us cavalier in our decent as we immediately went in the wrong direction and I only noticed whilst pondering why that wonderful sunset had moved!?
We then made our second mistake of rather than retracing our steps to get back on track we decided to cut across in the direction in which the path should be. We were only on top of the highest mountain in England we were sure there would be no unexpected drop offs or rock climbing required to re-join our path. We were wrong but we eventually made it back to our friend Mr Path unscathed just before it got dark.
Then we made our third mistake, well, Rob did by thinking that cutting the corners of the hair-pinned path in the dark would help us make up the time we had lost. I made the 4th mistake by following him. And then losing him and the path. Guided only by head touch and using the sound of the river for navigation we made it back to the car without finding either the path or each other on the way.
So after a speedy ascent, the decent took twice as long putting us behind yet again at 22:00.
I’d like to say I arrived at Pen-y-Pass refreshed after sleeping in the car but who on earth feels good waking up in a cold and windy car park at 2:00 AM with the prospect of climbing a mountain in the dark?
Head torches on we started our ascent. I had climbed Snowdon before but never on the Pyg track as specified by the three peak aficionados and I was getting increasingly worried that we weren’t doing much climbing. Worried because A) we might be going the wrong way and B) if we were going the right way, the longer we walk on the flat the steeper that eventual climb would be.
We were going the right way and yes it was very steep and required scrambling at parts with some very sketchy sections but I still don’t know if that was just because we kept losing the path in the pitch black darkness. Relief came when we found something that more resembled a foot path which lead us to the insanely windy peak. We were awash with a sense of achievement but we were far from done!
The walk down seemed to take an eternity and I could feel some blisters spawning in my boots as I plodded along but the rising of the sun spurred us on to the car for an erratic final drive to Caernarfon for a final stretch to dip my hand in the sea 23 hours after doing the same in Fort William.
3 Peaks Challenge Advice and Tips
Advice and tips
The first choice you have to make is whether to do this off your own back or with a guide and a driver.
Our attempt included plenty of mishaps but nobody died, even though some of those night scrambles on Snowdon had me thinking “if I slip here, I’m a goner”.
I would definitely not recommend doing it without a dedicated driver, it simply isn’t safe. Matt getting injured turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Essentially it comes down to if you want to put the planning and your safety in the hands of a trained professional or yourself.
Clothing- You should always be doing this challenge in the summer to maximise your daylight hours but this is the UK so be prepared for all weathers and remember it’s always cold at night and you always warm up when walking. Layers being the key with sweat wicking base layers with warm and waterproof layers on top. Not forgetting hats, gloves and good quality walking boots and socks. Remember to wear them in!
Food- How you fuel yourself for this challenge is key but so is time so carb load the day before and constantly snack on sandwiches, cereal bars and fruit throughout the day. Most importantly stay hydrated! Fort William is a small town with a modestly sized Morrisons, you are best off stocking up before you get north of Glasgow.
Navigation-The paths are well marked but can be hard to follow in the dark. I recommend downloading the areas on offline maps services such as Maps.me. Don’t forget your head torch for those night hikes.
Accommodation- I’m tight, so I always go for the cheapest option but knew that if I camped the night before I’d regret it. So we stayed in the Fort William Backpackers which was the cheapest and most convenient option I could find. It had every thing we needed and they had no problem with the late check in or early check out.
If this 3 Peaks Challenge post has you feeling inspired you could take part in Bookitlist's 3 Peaks Challenge!