Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge

Yorkshire Dales National Park

Travelling up to stay at the Station Inn by Ribblehead Viaduct to be ready for an early start on the morning of Friday the 12th of September 2014 John Dow and sailing buddies John and Roger embarked on the grueling Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge. The course starting from Horton in the Dales takes in Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside & Ingleborough  in a circular track of about 25 miles. It was a little misty with hazy sun, light wind and a fair 14oc so a good day for a stroll.

With hiking skills ranging from mountain goat to unfit, cigar smoking snail, it promised to be challenging, and it was especially for the latter - me. Before even reaching the trig on Pen-y-Ghent (3.25 miles), I realized I had not done nearly enough training and would have to dig deep so as not to let the team down. The view from the trig point was well worth the climb even through the haze. With only one other group there we took it in turns to take group photos. Luckily it was a long, gently sloping track down and this allowed time get the leg muscles loosened up. It is 11.75 miles to Whernside summit, so the leader of our little group decided to up the pace (he had a hidden agenda).

The track from Pen-y-Ghent to Whernside takes you right by the Victorian statement of engineering excellence that is Ribblehead Viaduct (and the Station Inn with strong temptations to sneak off) as it winds its way to the next peak. It’s a fairly steep climb up along the flank of Whernside to the summit, where you are at Yorkshire’s highest point. The trig is over the wall that has been on your right for the last part of the climb and over the wall you are in Cumbria! So, having made the second peak, we stopped for much needed food. We soon realised we had the wrong stuff - dry baguette filled with now limp salad but luckily we had plenty of cereal bars and water. There are stunning views from the summit and on the day there were 3 pretty proficient hang gliders swooping and swirling in the updrafts. Descending Whernside proved to be a whole new challenge, being quite steep in places and with loose stone and boulders putting pressure on hitherto unused muscles.

So, with 15 miles under our belts, we set off on the 5 mile leg to the summit of Ingleborough. From the steep descent the track turns to a pleasant downhill walk and tarmac road passing a cafe (only open weekends sadly) and then the Old Hill Inn where we topped up the now dwindling water supplies. Off the road and back to a short steep uphill walk and then gentler but steadily uphill as the track passes limestone crags and a very deep sheer sided hole called Braithwaite Wife Hole, curious name. Ingleborough now looms pretty large, from the direction we are going we look to be headed for a sheer face so checking the guidebook we read “This section is a steady, relentless climb that is only ¾ mile long but I can guarantee, at this stage will seem much longer” wow and was it! And to make it worse, people you could see behind in the distance were suddenly overtaking at a skipping pace. After what seemed a never ending section we arrived at the Ingleborough Staircase, described as a steep ascent up a zigzagging track it looked more like the North Face of the Eiger to me. But it wasn't, so bit by slow bit John and I inched our way up while the more experienced hill walker, Roger, skipped up and took the mick out of us from the top of the staircase. Now we could have a brief stop for a breather, snack and drink of water before the relatively easy climb to the summit. A boulder strewn plateau with groups of people of all ages wandering around. A couple of old boys who were looking for an ancient stone circle took a picture of the three of us by the trig, then off to the finish at Horton station.

This last leg of 5 miles starts with a steepish descent on a loose stony track and noticing that Roger was virtually running we had a group meeting. The secret agenda turned out to be Roger’s desire to beat his previous time for the challenge. As we were happy just to complete it and in less the 12 hours would be a bonus, we set him free to go-for-it while we took our time. The route settled to a gently downhill stony and rutted track, with some muddy and wet sections that meandered its way across the valley and a few small hills toward Pen-y-Ghent that could be clearly seen through the haze. We were making good time and were easily within the 12 hour time frame. Inevitably, being racing sailors, we started thinking of targets; can we do it in 10 hours? The pace quickened bit by bit and as we came off the track and onto the road into Horton we were really pushing our tired legs to the point of the knees giving way. Walking quickly past the cafe we heard a loud chuckle, then a cheer from Roger who was sitting outside at a table with a big mug of coffee and a bowl of something steaming. Walking quickly on to our start point some 200 yard down the road we finished the challenge in 9 hours 58 minutes. Not bad considering our ages, lack of prep and inexperience but without Roger we may never have completed it.

Still standing, just, at the start point John said “shall we go and see Roger or go to the pub?” – “pub” I said and off we went with renewed purpose. We’d parked the car in the pub car park, so there to get our boots off and check our feet for damage. Roger joined us shortly after and we swiftly moved to the bar. The first pint was the best ever - until the next time.

Never having done a walk like this before I guess it was ignorance of what was to come that got me to give it a try, during the walk the number of times I though “I cannot do this” must have been less than the camaraderie of just egging each other on and the dogged determination to finish. Both whilst walking and immediately after I felt that we were pushing too hard, that it was definitely not a pleasure to do and that I would not do it (or similar challenge) again. Thinking about it now it is simply that I was not well prepared, not fit and had not done enough to get my legs into shape for it. So the next challenge is…………   

A little about the challenge and website for detailed information.

The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge takes in the peaks of Pen-y-Ghent 691m, Whernside 728m and Ingleborough 723m, usually in this order, and in under 12 hours. These peaks form part of the Pennine range, and encircle the head of the valley of the River Ribble, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.