The 3 Peaks Challenge

After months and months of planning it was finally here!

The final arrangements were made, the minibus was packed, and then we were off on the long drive up to Fort William ready to start the next morning.

This blog post is my place to document the details, the feelings, the good and the bad and my tips for future adventures so that I can look back and not make the same mistakes again. You may also find it entertaining and/or useful to read. I’ve included links to relevant places and equipment where appropriate, no links are affiliated.

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We stayed Friday night in the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. I’ve always been dubious about Youth Hostels, expecting big rooms full of bunk beds and communal bathrooms. Call me antisocial but I’m more of a private person, however this was far from anything I could have expected! Between the 10 of us we had 2 x 4 person rooms and 1 x twin, all single beds and all en suit. Linen and towels included, the rooms were well equipped with plenty of USB and plug sockets. It was nicer than some Travelodge I’ve stayed in!

There was a large seating area with some comfy sofas in front of a log burner, plus tables and chairs. The bar was staffed but we were also allowed to take our own food and drink in. There was a large, well equipped kitchen with clear boxes labelled with room numbers for storing food. One of the best things was a shelf in the fridge which said “Free food” with a very tasty looking cheesecake placed on it, amongst other things.

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We had tea at the Wetherspoons in Fort William (lasagne for me followed by a block of chocolate back at the youth hostel), had a final meeting then turned in for bed.

We were planning on starting at 5am so I got up about 3.45am to shower and get ready. Breakfast was a porridge pot at 4.30am, then a last trip to the toilet before we assembled!

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What I wore

Sturdy by Design pink camo leggings

I decided to wear leggings as I find them the most comfortable. I had waterproof trousers and spare combat trousers in my bag in order to layer up if needed as leggings aren’t the warmest.

Merrell Moab 2 Mid Gore-tex boots

I have quite wide feet and found it hard to find comfortable boots that are waterproof plus have good ankle support. After many hours trying on boots these were the best, and I’ve worn them for hours and hours. After 31 hours in these boots I could have happily worn them again the next day.

Rab Womens Pro Stretch Hoody

I love this hoody. It’s warm and comfortable. The perfect mid layer.

Bridgedale Socks

Once you go bridgedale you never go back! I LOVE these socks. It seems obvious but a decent pair of socks really look after your feet and bridgedale are those socks. They are worth the cost (although I normally shop around and wait until I find them on sale at about £10 per pair).

North Ridge base layer

For most of the walks I wore this base layer under the charity t-shirt. This base layer has mesh panels under the arms and down the sides so it’s a nice mixture of warmth and breathable.

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My rucksack

Osprey Tempest 20

After about an hour of trying on rucksacks in GoOutdoors I decided to invest in this pack. It was a little more expensive then I’d like but it was worth every penny. I’ve had it for years and used it for many many walks and bike rides. It’s a women’s specific fit which benefits me. Although a little small at 20 litres I have always managed to fit everything I need for day hikes.

In my bag

Between the 7 of us we had 2 shelters, 2 first aid kits, a couple of survival kits and a flare.

When you are walking for several hours it’s important to consider your clothing, footwear and rucksack and make sure you are comfortable. One of the reasons training walks are so important is to practise wearing and carrying your kit so that you can figure out what is comfortable.

Yorkshire 3 Peaks, April 2019

5am, Let’s Go

We set off from the youth hostel, taking the path directly opposite and climbing up slightly to join the path from the visitor centre. This meant we didn’t need to move the minibus and our support crew could use the youth hostel to prepare food.

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The path was easy to follow with just a few junctions to double check. We all had laminated route cards with us and an OS map. The route cards were great to quickly pull out and double check.

The path climbed steadily up and we were setting a good pace. I was mindful that we were all fresh and excited but I don’t feel we were pushing too hard. Ben Nevis is long, let alone the challenge we were on, so it was important to pace ourselves.

We only had about 45 minutes walking in the dark before it starting coming light. We saw a few groups coming down and a few people passed us going up, they were clearly serious walkers and most were also doing the three peaks challenge. It was nice to not have crowds of people to contend with.

We paused every so often to catch our breaths but mostly just kept going at a steady pace and by 9am we reached the summit! It was stunning. Like no other mountain range I’ve ever been in.

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Time to head down. We weren’t sticking around. My legs were feeling good at this point and my knees especially. My knees have always struggled with downhill but it’s something I’ve been working on a lot recently with strength and training and it does seem to be working.

The mountain was getting steadily busier and the variety of people seen heading up increased. We saw some large walking groups where the leader was setting the pace for them and we saw people who were huffing and puffing along, clearly just hoping to reach the top of the highest mountain in the UK.

There were a couple of narrow spots where we were held up in the traffic, however it’s important to remember the mountain is for everyone, everyone is taking on their own personal or public challenge and no one is more important than another.

As we arrived back at the YHA building there were bowls of soup and bread ready for us. A quick toilet stop, food and then we were back on the minibus and on the road by 12 noon. Off to The Lakes.

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I was buzzing. One down. I changed my tshirt to the next charity top (we were wearing 1 charity t-shirt for each mountain) pulled on my compression sleeves, comfy socks and big hoody and settled in for the journey. We were all chatting and listening to music, spirits were high.

With about an hour to go we ate some sandwiches and got ourselves ready. As you would expect mountains are not right next to motorways and negotiating the country lanes in a minibus is not the easier or comfiest of journeys.

At about 6pm we arrived at Wasdale, had a quick toilet stop and set off up Scafell Pike.

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I have mixed feelings about Scafell Pike as the one time I’ve walked it I struggled so much. You can read my blog post about it here. It was probably the worst experience I’ve had walking a mountain and it was one of the pinnacle moments that gave me the kick up the bum to get fit, although it was a few years later that I started running, it certainly set the seed that then continued to grow.

While I knew I was so much fitter than when I last walked Scafell Pike I could still feel the emotions and was apprehensive. As we slowly made our way up I felt okay. Sure walking uphill is tough and we were all getting tired, but I wasn’t struggling.

We’d been so lucky with the weather so far, it was clear but not too warm and we’d been rewarded with amazing views up Ben Nevis and were having equally as good views up Scafell Pike. We were racing the sunset and it latest a long time as we climbed.

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We reached the summit at about 8.45am as it had just gone dark. I was thankful of my new phone as it took a cracking photo considering the conditions. You wouldn’t believe it looking at it but Ash needed to use a headtorch to run from where the phone was to us, it looks so light in the picture.

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On the way up I’d started to feel slight hot spots in my knees so I knew coming down was going to be tough. I’d taken ibuprofen about 2 hours ago and took 2 paracetamol as we started down. The descent from Scafell Pike was different to Ben Nevis, with small rocks that slid underneath you and then big steps which had my knees screaming at times. I found landing on my heels and trying to take the impact through my whole legs helped. I wasn’t the only one in the team suffering but we carried on in silence. The only way was down.

I feel we’d timed it nicely so far as there weren’t a huge amount of people on the mountain from 6pm onwards so we didn’t hit any traffic coming down, apart from a couple of large walking groups that were powering up as we were starting down. I found myself feeling very grateful that we had been able to organise and do this as a group of mates rather than needing to join a walking group. I’m sure they’re all different but the majority of people we passed were quiet, head down and pushing on. There was no talking, no taking in the view as you went.

We arrived back on the car park at about 11.30pm and scoffed down some pasta and meatballs. I was absolutely starving. I’ll talk about nutrition a little later but basically I didn’t get it right at all and was hungry for most of the time.

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After stuffing my face with pasta and meatballs I quickly pulled on my compression sleeves, compression leggings and big hoody, put my gopro and phone on charge and we were off to Wales.

This is where the real struggle began for me. I felt queasy and cold and every time I closed my eyes I felt even more sick. A couple of people were falling asleep around me I was so tired but couldn’t do anything about it. The minibus was not the comfiest and I don’t sleep well in cars anyway, plus with the winding roads of the lake district it was a recipe for disaster. I was being a pain asking for the heating to be turned up and then down again and then back up, but I just couldn’t figure out my temperature.

As we reached the motorway I finally managed to catch some sleep but then woke up bursting for a wee. Andy the driver was struggling too so at 3am we pulled in to a service station. I rushed to the loo and the drivers grabbed a coffee to go and then we set off again. Thankfully this time I managed to get comfy with my pillow on some boxes stacked up next to me and got some sleep.

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The journey lasted forever. At 5am we were about 40 minutes away and we all started to wake up. I was dying for a wee again but didn’t want to ask for another stop so hung on until we arrived. Everyone was so tired and we started to sort out our things but didn’t rush to get ready while travelling. We had passed the 24 hours mark and were just in it to get to the finish now. When you’re that tired there are more important things than rushing around.

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While it was still dark we arrived at Pen y Pass car park, went for a wee and got ourselves ready. We were stood for a quick photo, which was taking far longer than it should have done, when Dan A blurted out with what we all wanted to say “Just take the photo!”. We all burst out laughing. We were all shattered and patience was wearing thin but we were keeping together as a team. No one had fallen out or snapped at each other (any more than normal) and it continued that way right to the end.

Just before 6am we set off up the Miners Track. I’ve only walked up the Llanberis Path before and this route was absolutely beautiful and the sun rose as we walked. Again, we were so lucky with the weather.

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The Miners Path starts nice and gradually and we were setting a good pace, until we reached the climb. It goes up steeply, more like a rock climb or scramble. We chose this route for this reason as it can be less energy sapping when you just have a short & steep climb, rather than a gradual long slog. It didn’t make it any easier but I do feel the climb was over before we knew it.

While we were walking Snowdon the drivers were trying to catch some sleep. It’s important to remember how tiring this was for them. They had been awake with us from 3.30am on Saturday and had stayed up through the night, driving us to Scafell Pike. While we were walking they had been sorting kit, making food, washing up and tracking our progress.

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About 9am we made it to the top! That was in! The last peak! For us for the challenge wasn’t over yet. We have heard of some people who stop the clock on top of Snowdon but you’ve still got to get down so our clock was still ticking. But the last section of uphill was done! It felt amazing.

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Down we went and my knees were feeling better than Scafell Pike. We took the Llanberis path down as it was a gradual descent rather than climbing back down the Miners Track.

Before we knew it we were getting close! We were nearly finished. We were hoping Stu, Dave and Andy would have made up to the official finish point where the path joins the little road, and there they were, with big flags in the air!

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It felt a little strange really, we had done it. We’d done the Three Peaks Challenge!

After 31 hours and 14 minutes of walking and travelling it was over. It didn’t sink in for a while.

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We popped the champagne and also had a cheeky port in memory of our late friend Tom, our reason for raising money for CRY.

We walked down to the Snowdon Cafe and had a well earned drink. The lovely guy came out with some bowls of warm water for our feet.

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Throughout the trip everyone had been talking about going for a dip in the lake at LLanberis and off we went. I’m not great with water so I’d be thinking that I’d just dip my legs in as I know it would do me good, however as we got closer I thought “I’m going for a swim.” I don’t know what came over me but in I waded and I was the second person to go for it. I just swam off!

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It was SO cold but it felt amazing! So refreshing and invigorating. I stayed just out of depth and swam up and down parallel to the bank for about 10 minutes before we all came out and got dressed.

Everyone laughed at me for keeping my bobble hat on but I thought it was a genius idea. Definitely helped I’m sure! Haha.

Back on the minibus we set off for home. Yup, after all of that you still have to get home somehow! I wonder if it would have been better to have planned to stay the night somewhere, but actually there’s nothing quite like your own shower and your own bed.

We stopped off at the Wetherspoons in Colwyn Bay and I enjoyed a wonderful all day breakfast.

Nutrition

Which brings me on to a good point, nutrition!

As I said it before I got it completely wrong. It certainly didn’t slow me down but I was hungry at times when I shouldn’t have been.

This is an overview on what I ate:

  • Before Ben Nevis: 1 porridge pot
  • While walking Ben Nevis: 1 flapjack, 1 nutrigrain bar, 1 hi5 gel
  • After Ben Nevis: Leek & potato soup and bread roll
  • Before Scafell Pike: Tuna & mayo sandwich
  • During Scafell Pike: 1 nutrigrain bar, 1 flapjack, 1 hi5 gel
  • After Scafell Pike: Pasta & meatball with bread roll
  • During Snowdon: 2 x flapjack
  • Drinks throughout: 2-3l water with dilute tailwind, 500ml lucozade

Bearing in mind we burnt about 1,800 calories on Ben Nevis alone it’s clear to see my calorie intake probably wasn’t enough, but I found it difficult to eat while walking and having a big meal before travelling was also difficult.

If I was doing it again I don’t know what I’d do differently, but one thing that did seem to work well for me was the gels surprisingly, so potentially I suit using more gels which is never really what I’ve swayed for in the past. I think I’d also use a stronger tailwind mixture.

The thing about nutrition is that it’s very personal to you. What you eat, when you eat and how much you eat varies from person to person. Some people eat really well while walking and others eat well in a vehicle.

The thing about a challenge like this is that there’s only so much you can do to prepare, and until you’ve been going for 20 hours do you really know what you can and can’t eat.

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My top tips

To round off I thought I’d share my top tips for anyone thinking about taking on the three peaks challenge, but also to document what went well as a reminder to myself for future events;

  • Get a decent headtorch and practise walking in the dark
  • Glow sticks on the back of your rucksack – while there was never a doubt that we’d loose each other it was nice and easy to stay together by looking at the glow stick on the rucksack of the person in front of you. The only downside is when a glow stick pops over your stuff!
  • View Ranger app: allows you to view an OS map and pinpoint your location with a grid reference – this was a good back up and a nice quick way of sending our location to our support team
  • Timings, especially how much you do in the dark: for the most part I think our timings worked well, we only had about an hour in the dark walking up Ben Nevis and then a couple of hours of Scafell Pike in the dark and less than an hour of dark on Snowdon. A large chunk of the driving was overnight which helped with sleeping (although not for the drivers). We didn’t get stuck in traffic and for the most part we missed the crowds on each mountain. I’d potentially consider starting an hour later though as getting up at 3.45am was not nice!
  • Keep your spare kit in a storage box with a lid – this was especially useful when travelling as a group as the boxes were labelled with our names and we quickly grabbed our box and got what we needed
  • For the journey: compression socks, compression leggings, big hoody, slipper socks, headphones, pillow – all of these made the journey comfier and helped my legs.
  • Change of tshirts and socks between each mountain
  • Eat more!
  • Ibuprofen and paracetamol in your rucksack
  • Three drivers/support crew
  • Decent sports bra and short type pants – comfortably underwear is important but it also meant I could change on the go without having to hide or feel self conscious

All in all it was an amazing experience. I enjoyed it and feel immensely proud at what we achieved. Of course what made it was the amazing company. We are a real tight knit group of friends that have known each other for over 10 years. Also having the three drivers/support crew was fantastic, they helped us so much and took pressure and time off us, plus meant we could have two decent hot meals.

You can still donate here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/3peaksfor3charities

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