Joe Dow and the UK National Three Peaks Challenge

Without really knowing what we had let ourselves in for, and with only basic planning and preparation (minibus hire, hostel booking etc.) on the morning of Friday 5th June 2015 I set off with 6 friends on the 514 mile journey from Colchester to Fort William, to attempt the famous National Three Peaks Challenge.

Without really knowing what we had let ourselves in for, and with only basic planning and preparation (minibus hire, hostel booking etc.) on the morning of Friday 5th June 2015 I set off with 6 friends on the 514 mile journey from Colchester to Fort William, to attempt the famous National Three Peaks Challenge. The challenge involves climbing the highest peaks in Scotland (Ben Nevis – 1344m), England (Scafell Pike – 978m) and Wales (Snowdon – 1085m) within a self-imposed 24 hour time limit.           

Only 2 in the group had ever ascended any of the peaks (and that includes a trip up Snowdon via the train by myself) so I knew it was going to be a tough weekend, I had been warned of this numerous times in the preceding weeks, but I was confident that my determination would see me through. It was, however, the weather report received just before bed which saw my anxiety levels creep up. Heavy rain, 55mph winds, snow drifts and -13ºC with wind chill were the key details I took from the printed report left out by the hostel owner. After an uncomfortable 4 hour bunk bed sleep we gathered our rudimentary equipment and with a naïve sense of optimism we left our hostel in Fort William to tackle the highest of the three peaks at first light on Saturday 6th June.

The ascent & descent of Ben Nevis took around 6 hours and if anything the weather report was too kind. Due to our early start we were one of the first groups on the mountain but that was about as good as it got. By the time 5 of us had reached the summit (we were inadvertently split into two groups) the snow was above knee height and the wind/cloud caused a whiteout with visibility no more than 10-15 feet. It quickly became apparent we were out of our depth so we left the summit path to get out of the snow and fortunately found our 2 lost companions on the way.

After a laboured thaw, drying off and change of clothes we left Ben Nevis & Scotland behind for the 260 mile drive south to Scafell Pike in the Lake District. It became obvious at this point that our failure to secure a dedicated driver would not only add to our travelling time but also increase our overall fatigue. In spite of this the weather had improved and we made good time, which lifted the mood even if the last 30 miles through the Lake District to the Scafell car park took well over an hour through the winding country roads.

Our timing was just about spot on and the 4 or so hour ramble up & down found us back at the minibus just as night was closing in at 10:30pm, but not before some spectacular evening views of the Cumbrian hills and a windswept yet snow-free summit.

That brought us to the 206 mile night shift drive to Snowdonia in North Wales and the peak we were led to believe was the ‘easiest’ of the three. That may well have been the case if tackled separate to the challenge after a comfortable night’s sleep, but we started at 4:30am Sunday 7th June having already climbed two peaks with little or no sleep, however that is what makes it a challenge. And it certainly felt like a massive challenge by this point, the fatigue and sore knees made the ascent a slow trudge and although the views made it more tolerable, we knew we would miss the 24 hour window by the time we were off Snowdon.

Unfortunately for the second time the summit visibility was minimal, this time due to a damp & cold mist hugging the mountain and although by the time we had slowly descended to reach the carpark it had taken an official time of 29 hours and 7 minutes, we were extremely pleased with our efforts as an inexperienced group without a dedicated driver. Our spirits were further lifted when one of the group pointed out that we had been on all three peak summits within a 24 hour period.

During the 327 mile journey home from Snowdon to Colchester I reviewed the data on my phone step counter and discovered we had walked a total of 88,400 steps which worked out as an incredible distance of 50.6 miles without taking into account the altitudes climbed.
After a good night’s sleep and a relaxing day off, the sense of achievement was immense and even though it was testing and painful at times I feel incredibly proud to be able to say I have completed the National Three Peaks Challenge.