The Three Peaks Challenge
3 countries, 3 mountains and only 24 hours. The three peaks challenge is a test of endurance, resilience and determination. You must climb the three highest peaks of each nation making up the British Isle (England, Scotland and Wales) in under 24 hours. This time includes travelling, eating and sleeping. Below is my story as I set off on this life affirming journey.
The challenge began in a small-town south of Ben Nevis. This is the tallest peak in Scotland. We (myself and my fellow climber) ate and drank heartedly on the eve before the big push. The realisation of the lunacy of travelling halfway up (and down) of 3 countries to climb 3 mountains was suddenly beginning to dawn on me. What was I doing? Why was I doing this? Such thoughts pin-balled around my head for hours.
Having barely slept the time came to make our way to the foot of the mountain. Scotland is truly a stunning sight as the sunrises. Ben Nevis showed off its beauty in the distance as we approach. Then, unceremoniously, we began.
The walk-up Ben Nevis was long. Much longer than the distance suggests. You wind around the mountain like a coiled spring. The weather seemingly changed depending on which face you were on. To the east; blazing sunshine, to the west, bitterly cold. As we reached the summit we were behind the clock. We needed to be up and down Ben Nevis in less than 5 years. We were about to start hour 4. We took the decision to double time it back to the foot of the mountain. This was sheer lunacy given the terrain but as competitive beings we didn’t want to be out of the race before we had really begun.
On our descent we saw one of the must unbelievable, humbling scenes ever witnessed. A dad, a few years older than me. Lifting his wheelchair bound son up the mountain. Stunned, I asked him “why?”. His answer was simple. “Because it is there”. These powerful words quoted from George Mallory, a man who was to die on Everest, was enough to bring me to tears. If a man can carry his son, in a wheelchair up a mountain – anything is possible.
We reached the foot of the mountain. Piled into our car. Waved goodbye to the mountain. And set off for England. Time for Scafell Pike. This journey is 6 hours long. This gives some indication of the luck needed to complete this challenge. One traffic jam, one flat tire and the game is up.
At Scafell the day was turning to night. The vast water at Wastwater was glistening in the moon light. We began our climb.
Scafell Pike in the dark tests all your senses. You need to be reactive to your surroundings and trust your instincts. Even then, expect the odd fall. We finished Scafell in the late evening hours. We knew time was tight and we only had a few hours to reach Snowden in Wales and begin our climb. The race was on.
The drive from Scafell to Snowden is 4 hours and 30 minutes down treacherous country lanes and back alleys. You are exhausted, hurting and hungry. But I kept the image of the dad in Ben Nevis pushing his son up the mountain and I found my strength.
Snowden is the most beautiful of the three mountains and its glory draws you in. The climb was euphoric driven on by sheer will, grit and determination. I had nothing to give expect my blood, toil and tears. The climb was tough. My feet had gone, I had torn my calf and unbeknown to me I had dislocated my shoulder when I fell on Scafell. I ached with each step.
But my determination was unbroken.
Having climbed up the mountain and returned to our car we checked the official stopwatch. It read 24 hours 53 minutes. We had failed. We had not joined that elite club. But we had joined a brotherhood. When you do the three peaks you meet a lot of the same climbers because you’re all trying to do the same peaks in 24 hours. We saw people on Ben Nevis that we met again in the dark on Scafell Pike. You see this odd torch or flicker of lights above you and you just know you’re not alone.
As for me. I am preparing to do it all again. 3 mountains, 3 countries, 24 hours.
If you are are wanting to learn more about mountain climbing you should check out this brilliant article. This is a great guide for beginners looking to get started or experts looking to brush up their knowledge ahead of the next climb.
This article first appeared on the travel blogs.