This weekend saw me jet off to Scotland with family members to complete The 3 Peaks Challenge, raising money for Cancer Research.
After just 3 hours sleep on Friday and some 13-hours of travelling we eventually arrived in Fort William (the base of Ben Nevis) and eager for our 8.30am start the next morning.
After our in-depth brief by our guide Chris, there was a mixture of nerves and excitement. I know that I’d personally only completed 4-5 practice walks, with only two of those being with any incline, so I was apprehensive as to what the Mountains would bring!
After some fish and chips and a supply run at the nearby Morrisons, we were all set for our early start.
On the Saturday we were up by 6.30am in order to get ready for our breakfast at the Premier Inn we were staying in. If you’re interested in what the best breakfast is for hiking mountains it includes eggs, bacon, sausages, coco pops and pancakes smothered in Nutella.
With our pancakes slowly digesting and bags in hand it was time to get in our mini-bus for the weekend and head of to the foot of Nevis.
If you’ve never been to this part of Scotland it’s absolutely beautiful - rushing rivers, huge green trees, waterfalls and rolling hills and huge mountains in the background.
At 8.35am we set off. This was it, 24-hours to complete the three biggest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales. Around 36km of hiking, 3,000m of elevation and a whole lot of driving in between.
Ben Nevis is the largest of the three peaks and our starting point here was a passage aptly named ‘Heart Attack Hill’ - just 15 minutes of high incline rock climbing. This part definitely separated the men from the boys, or more accurately, the people that had trained and those that hadn’t.
After heart attack hill, the path eased off in terms of incline, and became a mixture of stone and gravel paths that was much easier. If there was one thing I noticed most about this mountain it was the incredible scenery we were surrounded by,
After about an hour in we took our first proper break in order to refuel and rehydrate. It was important to have someone actually telling me to do this as, left to me, I would have just carried on.
Not long after our first break, we had our first moment as a group where we thought ‘shit, we might not do this’, as one of our groups breakfast ended up on the side of the gravel path we were marching up.
With a quick wipe of the mouth, we were back to soldiering on - heading up to a spot know for some of the best mountain water in the UK. I’ve never had water straight from a mountain spring, and I just hope nobody was doing anything upstream at that moment. Either way it tasted awesome - perfect temperature and so pure.
Next were the 8 ‘zig-zags’ which is pretty self explanatory. The zig-zags were mostly loose rock and got smaller in length as we went up, but the first two were brutal. At this stage of the mountain we were just entering the mist and the wind. Things started to get a little bit blowy, wet and miserable.
At this point it was necessary to literally carry one of our group up this part of the mountain, and the challenge was becoming much more a mental one than a phsyical one. It’s weird - your mind is telling you to stop, causing little aches and pains anywhere just to get you to stop, but your body is strong enough to keep going. It’s just about switching off and concentrating on that next step, nothing else.
After battling the elements, it didn’t take us long from the zig-zags to reach the summit of Ben Nevis, which sounds exciting, but with visibility at about 5 metres, you could hardly see anything!
With an ascent time of just under 3 hours, we were slightly behind schedule but now had the faster descent to come.
Our group member that needed pushing up, didn’t need as much help getting down, and we all hit the ground running on the way down. I found it fun running past other hikers, all inquisitive as to just how much longer they had left.
Before we knew it, we were back at the bottom, in just over two hours and only very slightly behind our schedule set out the night before.
During our briefing the previous evening we were told how important the transitions were at the foot of the mountains. With that in mind it was a quick change of clothing and getting food ready for our trip to Scafell Pike in the Lake District.
The car trip to Scafell Pike was largely uneventful, a bus full of tired people resting and getting mentally prepared for the next hike. The rain lashed down for most of the trip, we were just hoping it wouldn’t be like that when we got there!
Recently declared a world heritage sight we got to the Lake District at around 8.15pm, which meant we’d been going nearly 12 hours already.
Again, the views on offer were incredible with a huge lake and very green rolling hills against a very blue backdrop of the sky.
The start to Scafell Pike was a short walk across a field full of sheep - we were hoping it would be like this the whole way it got steep and rocky pretty quickly. Not quite heart attack hill, but steep. Scafell seemed to be a little wetter than Nevis, with some slippy rocks and having to cross a 4 foot river a third of the way up.
We all managed to keep our feet on the ascent, and stay dry by not falling into the river. Just over half way up Scafell as a passage known as the ‘Yellow Brick Road’, a winding, mostly gavel track which was pretty easy to climb up and allowed us to make pretty good timing.
On Scafell our group member who deposited his breakfast on Nevis really stepped up here, and was able to lead the group at a pretty good pace throughout.
We got to the top of Scafell just as the sun was setting in the west with a lovely orange-y red sunset, and over to the right we had a cloud inversion (which is not too common apparently) meaning we had an amazing view from the top.
With our head torches on, half way through our descent of Scafell, our guide realised that is we kept our pace and was able to grind out a jog to the bus, we would beat his current group record for climbing Scafell Pike. With a couple of group members lagging a little bit at this point, we’d made a plan that a few of us were going to run ahead and beat the record.
From nowhere, about a kilometre from the end, we all burst into a full on sprint, down the remains gravel/ rock paths of the mountain and on to the easy field at the bottom. I can only imagine the shock of some of the people towards the bottom as seven bright lights came sprinting past them shouting support to each other.
With that sprint finish we managed to shave 3 minutes off of the record for that mountain, which is just the high we needed before our trip to Snowdon.
Having completed Scafell in 3 hours and 10 minutes, we were more than ahead of schedule, which had our guide telling us with confidence that we could easily do it within 24-hours. The time was 11.50pm, with a reasonably quick transition following the sweaty celebrations, we clambered in to the van hoping to get some sleep for the third and final mountain.
About 45-minutes we ended up on a road undergoing road works, which meant it was closed and we had to turn back. It’s difficult to say how much time that took from us, but if we were to fail the challenge, it would have definitely been the reason why.
The next few hours were full of gently drifting off and then waking due to the van swaying side to side having to manoeuvre sheep chilling in the road, and just being so uncomfortably tight both within in your legs and in the van itself.
I think we were lucky if we got about an hours sleep between us - I think I managed about 3 minutes and 12 seconds.
Anyway, in our sleepy slumber, we were arriving at Snowdon having made pretty good time. We arrived at around 4.15am, and I took the fact that we still needed our head torches as a good thing.
With a sleepy transition but the fact this was the third and final mountain being encouragement enough, we set of at the foot of Snowdon, storming past groups that we’d seen set off as we arrived.
The start of snowdon was a little rocky and steep, but we quickly got to flatter gravel paths, which allowed us to maintain a good pace.
Tiredness and aches were really settling in with most of the group now - sore hamstrings, tight calves, back aches from our bags and just being mentally exhausted.
I took the role of guide number two from the back, trying to push the troops forward.
For anyone that has done rock climbing before you’ll know it really is a mental challenge, having to push aside the pain and tiredness, but also to be alert mentally, always planning your next step - where you’re going to put your foot or hand next to help you keep momentum and keep your footing.
Shortly after our break about an hour in, we hit some steep, wet rocky bits, which required a lot of external motivation for some of the gang to get up. Everyone was really running on fumes at this part, but after what seemed like forever, we were at the summit plateau - a much needed flat rock and gravel path pretty much straight to the top.
The summit was pretty incredible, with 360 views of hills and lakes. We hadn't clocked the quickest time on the way up after lagging behind slightly, but we knew that if we kept some momentum on the way down we could make it. The group was full of motivation and a bit of nervousness, knowing that we may be cutting it fine.
But, that was as much encouragement as we needed to start the descent, and after a quick water break and some snacks, we were on our way back down.
Our descent took a different path back down, so after climbing down the steeper rockier parts, we veered to the left down ‘miners path’ towards one of the lakes. It was much of the same in terms of rocks and steepness, and we were really slogging it out at this point to get to the next designated break.
As we got half way down miners path, we could see the next part of our route - a lovely flat gravel path, which served as motivation to get down this quickly, but safely.
After breaking at the bottom, it was crunch time. Chris (our guide) at this point knew that we were all going to make it in under 24-hours, and offered anyone that wanted to could run ahead to make the best time possible.
If I’m honest, I struggled to get out of second gear for most of the 24-hours, and apart from some knee pain (which I was drugged up amply to deal with), was not feeling too fatigued or tired.
So I ran ahead - the final ‘3 miles of, apart from 100-yards of jagged rock, flat gravel paths’.
With plenty of determination to clock the best time a could I sprinted off onto the jagged rocks - which lasted a little longer that 100 yards, and then turned into some more rocks, although these were more easy to navigate.
The rocks just seemed to go on for ever, but I think this was due to the concentration required to navigate over them at speed without falling.
And then, there it was - the gravel path.
By my calculations, I only had just over 2.5 miles of this path, which I was told was reasonably flat, all the way to the finish.
It started off absolutely fine, until in the distance I could see it going up hill, it didn’t look fun. Meandering around huge bits of the lake, I was really digging deep here to go at a pace that could barely be classed as a jog.
It had got to ultimate mindset time - setting myself 100m goals of running/ walking - ‘when I get to that rock I’m going to run’, ‘when I pass that sheep I’m going to slow down again’.
Every corner I passed and couldn’t see the finish line made every extra step that little bit harder - I’d been running for just over 20 minutes now, and should be within distance to the finish line by now.
Still it wasn’t there.
Until I turned, what seemed to be another random corner getting my hopes up, and there it was - the finish line.
In movie like fashion, my mum turned into the carpark, just as I was sprinting down the home straight, as fast as my legs would carry me - which at this stage was not very fast at all.
I clocked my overall time at 23 hours and 18 minutes, which was an awesome feeling!
I waited at the finish line as everyone else made there way down, with one just behind me and then the other four of our group staggered over the next 22 minutes.
As I saw my brother, the guy who left his breakfast on Nevis and was doubtful he’d be able to finish one let alone all mountains, come over the final hill and on to the home straight, I sprinted back up the hill to push him over the line with encouragement.
Seeing him, and my uncle - who had slowed down to a walk on the home straight, until I told him to run and get 23 hours and 40 minutes because it sounded better than 23 hours and 41 minutes - come in very comfortably under 24-hours was absoulutely awesome.
Six of us, of which one had only ever done a lot of hiking before, had made it, smashing the 24-hour limit. All for an incredibly good cause that was close to all of our hearts.
I think if anyone would have wanted to cry, they couldn't of - having sweated out nearly everything.
All of the nervousness and apprehension we’d felt just 24 hours earlier all seemed a bit silly now. None of us really knew what to expect from this challenge but we didn’t know we’d be able to finish so strongly.
There was a lot of self doubt on some of the mountains - some of which was vocalised, but most of which was internal, which is often even harder to deal with.
If anyone is looking to test their physical and mental strength I definitely recommend trying out the 3 Peaks Challenge, and if you are, I highly recommend our guide Chris and his company Active Challenge.
A huge thank you to Chris for all of his work in organising the challenge and encouraging all of the troops from start to finish, and for a steady supply of banter to keep us all going.
And a huge well done to all of our group: my brother Robbie, my cousins - Sam and Tom, my uncle Keith and Ben, a friend of my late uncle’s.
Also, another huge thank you to my mum and my brothers girlfriend for being there to see us finish at the bottom, following a 7-hour journey the day before!
Everyone has finished the challenge much stronger than they started, and I’m already looking for my next challenge!