Chatting away to my friends at work on Thursday I started to get serious FOMO as they told me about the adventures that they had planned for the Easter weekend of climbing Snowdon and Ben Nevis. I had no plans and was racking my brain for something to do when all of a sudden I decided that I should put their weekend plans together and give the Three Peaks Challenge a bash.
The aim of the challenge is to climb the highest peak in Scotland, England and Wales in 24 hours, no mean feat when you have three mountains to climb and over 10 hrs of driving to do in-between. I spent the next 36 hours meticulously planning (finding some postcodes, booking a B&B and buying a map) and tricking a friend of mine, Matt, into joining me for the weekend’s adventures.
At 6am on Sunday morning we arrived at the Visitors Center in Fort William, the starting point for the Three Peaks Challenge. Thanks to the glorious blue moon it was pretty light as we started to climb the mountain. The path wound it’s way upwards and we saw a couple of other early birds hoping to make it to the top for sunrise. The climb up was beautiful and the sky was decorated with oranges, pinks and blues which this was a welcome distraction from the burning in my calfs.
After about 45 minutes we hit the snow line and had to guess our way to the peak as the path was covered and the footprints from the day before were long gone. The snow slowed us down a tad as our feet disappeared with each step but we carried on trudging away and eventually we reached the summit as the sunshine was coming over the top of the mountain, it was breathtaking. There was not a cloud in the sky and we were so lucky to get the most spectacular view of the Nevis range from the top. You don’t get many days like this in The Highlands and I am still blown away by the views we had.
As it was Easter Sunday I took a couple of Lindt chocolate bunnies to the summit to celebrate our climb and Easter. However it was so cold at the top that the bunnies along with our water froze. I tucked in as I was a tad peckish and ate my bunnies head, turns out frozen chocolate is not so tasty.
After a couple of pictures on the summit it was time to get down for breakfast. Getting down was so much fun, we skidded all the way do to the bottom of the snowline, by far the quickest and most fun way to get down a mountain. Back on the path we continued to run down Ben Nevis somewhat over excitedly, I then when over on my ankle, which sent a soaring pain up my leg, after taking a minute to get a grip I continued to run but Matt then took a tumble and cut his elbow, hand and smash up his knee. We dusted ourselves off and carried on back to the car park with a couple of grazes and the first peak in the bag.
Distance: 9.15 miles
Time: 2hrs 35 minutes
Back in the car we nipped back to our B&B for a lovely Scottish breakfast and a quick change of kit before hitting the road to the lakes.
We started peak number 2 at around 3:30pm and used the Brown Tongue path to both ascend and descend the mountain. As we were heading up most people were heading back down again. I couldn’t believe how many people were climbing Scafell Pike and the array of clothing was pretty spectacular from Ugg Boots, to Snake Skin handbags and shorts and t-shirts and that was just Matt 😉!
The path wound its way through a rocky re-entrant; my calf’s were certainly feeling the burn as we climbed the never ending staircase. With about 1000m to go we hit the snowline, which had pretty much turned into ice. This slowed us down a bit and meant that the decent wouldn’t be quite as fun as Ben Nevis. Summit reached and we got a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and Wast Water lake. However the clouds had started to turn black and the initial flurries of snow started to appeared, you could see that the predicted storm was on the way and I was keen to get off the mountain before it hit.
We shimmied down the ice trying to steady ourselves as we slide around. Once past the snowline hopping down the rocks and boulders was lots of fun and we descended pretty quickly. Back at the bottom we changed and got back in the car once again and headed for Snowdon.
Elevation 912 m
Time: 1hr 48 mins
As we were driving towards Snowdon yellow weather warnings started to appear on the motorway signs. I was hoping that we would be able to avoid the impending storm. At 22:25 we started the accent of the mountain. There was a little bit of rain down in Llanberis but nothing to be concerned about. We were well within time and started our climb up the Llanberis path. The rain quickly turned to very fine icy snow and it felt like needles were hitting my face as we moved forward up the path. The higher we climbed the stronger the winds got and quickly picked up to over 50mph. I started to get blown off the path every few steps. Luckily there was a fence to stop me going off the edge of mountain. We got to the Half Way House and I got such a fright as the wind smashed into the shutters so vigorously, it sounded like someone was trapped inside in a rage. This fright gave me a second of warmth as adrenaline flowed through my body, unfortunately it wouldn't last long. I was now starting to get a tad worried as my fingers slowly began to freeze. We continued up the mountain passing under the railway line which put a whole new meaning to the word wind tunnel, the wind howled through it and pushed me back as I tried to step forward. The snow and was coming down so hard that with every step forward our footprints disappeared behind us. The wind continued to push us off the path and we ended up on the edge of the railway line with the aptly named Killer Convex below us. We had been warned about the Killer Convex by a local before we ascended the mountain and we were now on the edge of it in a snow storm.
We tried to follow the railway line but this quickly disappeared with the snow and we were now far too near to the edge of the cliff. We tried to get back on the path but the winds were so strong that I was getting blown over and couldn’t stand on my own two feet. After a couple of minutes pondering our options we decided that we couldn’t go on and we had to get down the mountain quickly. We only had about 1000m to go to reach the summit but it was far too dangerous and I don’t even want to think what the consequences would have been if we had carried on going. We turned around and headed back down the mountain. The snow was now all the way down to the start of the path and made me realize how quickly the weather in the mountains can change.
Distance: 7.07 miles
Time: 2hrs 13 minutes
Unfortunately we did not complete the three peaks challenge. We were on to finish in around 19 hrs and 30 mins but as stands we have no finish time. It is crazy how you can go from a perfectly still sunny day to a raging storm in the mountains within hours. It was a humbling experience and the mountains put me firmly back in my box and reminded me that they are boss. Some may say that we failed but I am incredibly proud of what we did and that we made the sensible decision to turn around and stay safe when the finish line was so close. The mountains will always be there and so will the challenge. I will be back and now I know what is in store I may even try to break the record.