Friday, 26 July 2019

National Three Peaks Challenge - Tick

Over the weekend of June 29 and 30 2019, together with three personal training clients (Emma, Raimo and Will) I took on the National Three Peak Challenge, raising money on behalf of British wildlife charity, The Marine Conservation Society.
The National Three Peaks is 24 hour challenge consisting of climbing Scotland’s Ben Nevis, England’s Scafell Pike and Wales’ Mount Snowdon - each the tallest mountain in their respective country!
The three peaks have been a dream of mine for many years now. I never feel more simultaneously relaxed and exhilarated than when surrounded and humbled by nature. This is something I share with members of my family. My dad completed the challenge many years ago and my Uncle has always been an avid hiker - I guess their influence rubbed off on me!
After multiple meetings, finalising team members, dates and sorting out general logistics, we could turn our attention to training for the event. One issue was quickly highlighted within the group. - Training in Norfolk, the countries flattest county, for a mountain climbing event was going to be problematic! Frustratingly, with our conflicting busy schedules any significant practice group hikes were out of the question.
Individually, we all upped our running and in my training and my team mates PT sessions I focused on strength, stability and balance. This undoubtedly helped but in the gym you simply can’t replicate the physical and psychological demands you experience on an exposed and hostile mountainside! 
Preparations weren’t smooth sailing; Emma severely sprained her ankle six weeks before the event and together we worked carefully to rehabilitate her. I must admit, I thought it would be a bit touch and go, whether Emma would recover in time evidently she is both determined and a quick healer. Luckily we did enough to make her mountain fit!
The four of us drove to Birmingham (a 3 and a half hour drive) and boarded a flight to Glasgow. This was to be Emma’s first flight so along with being frisked at security it was a day of firsts for her! At Glasgow we rented a hire car and set off for Fort William.
The scenery along the locks, between mountains was something to behold. Our excitement was growing, as seemingly were the mountains and our conversations were free flowing and easy. As per the nature of personal training, I know my clients very well but of course they didn’t know each other. I always find it thrilling, throwing different people together and seeing friendships build. Minus a quick stop for dinner and supplies the drive took 2 hours 30 minutes and we were all grateful to stretch our legs as we reached our hostel at the foot of Ben Nevis, our first climb. I must briefly note how clean and friendly the hostel was. Definitely superb value for money.
After quick showers the team met downstairs to check over the routes on the map and chill out for an hour. Unfortunately that night the weather was so stiflingly humid none of us got any more than 3 hours rest - not ideal when about to embark on a 24 hour challenge! At 3m as I looked out the dorm window I saw several headlights slowly descending the mountain side! It was shortly to be our turn!

We met downstairs at 6am Saturday morning, ate breakfast, prepared kit and set off at 7am. The weather was still extremely muggy but as we climbed it gradually eased and became more bearable. As with the other two mountains we encountered over the weekend Ben Nevis begins to get increasingly cold and windy as you reach roughly 3000 ft. There was snow at the peak, despite being the end of June. It was defiantly hat and coat conditions! Sadly when your head is quite literally in the clouds there is not much of a view! The feeling of euphoria and achievement, shared with friends as we made the summit was a magical moment. Arguably, coming down the mountains was equally as challenging as going up. Your quadriceps and knees work extremely hard to control your body momentum as gravity attempts to throw you down the mountainside. The paths are very uneven and in many places, constructed on loose pieces of granite / slate causing a massive amount of slippage. I would like to say great care was taken on the descents but in reality we pushed on as quickly as possible surviving numerous near accidents on the way!!!
Some of the many memories that spring to mind from this first peak are:
The ongoing picturesque rolling mountainside landscape.
A fresh sprung waterfall at around the half way point. (I did not risk drinking the mineral water but enjoyed a good head soaking!)
Leaving the main path to “short cut” past a lake by scrambling up the side of one particularly steep section of rocky grass, only to emerge directly in front of two ladies who were the equal distance behind us prior to our detour! On the plus side It was a fun 15 minutes and variety is the spice of life! We walked around the lake on the decent!
Seeing several individuals sitting on the side of the path, grey faced and sweaty clutching their chests! I asked if they were okay and we heard no reports of any deaths on the mountain that weekend!
As we got closer to the summit , other trekkers on their way down like to offer encouragement. The only problem with that is when one person says “only 40 minutes to go, your doing great” and then 15-20 minutes late someone else says exactly the same thing, it can become a little demoralising. I’m not sure if people don’t have a good concept of time or they are just trying to help you psychologically but it made us laugh…. and offer precise timings to other hikers on our way down!

Image may contain: one or more people, outdoor, nature and water
Minus a couple of food / comfort breaks and having our rental car driven into while waiting at a junction (by a white van) just outside Glen Co (yes what are the chances?) our six hour drive down to Scafell Pike in the Lake district was relatively clear sailing and straight forward.
Driving into the Lake district (home of Scafell Pike) we entered rural farming community. The roads became tighter and we had to deal with hazards such as sheep in the road and passing oncoming vehicles on single lanes. The scenery again was beautiful.
Having arrived at the car park at 19:00 we had a quick stretch, and were ready to set off up our second mountain by 19:30. We took our first steps and immediately the heavens opened and I got my first opportunity to test the waterproofing properties of my brand new Mountain Warehouse jacket (brought for the challenge!) This was a relief having spent quite some cash on new clothing. - It worked great. I have to say I didn’t mind the rain and Emma positively loved it. It was refreshing, atmospheric and kept us cool on our hike.
One thing on Scafell Pike that struck me was how picturesque it was down the bottom. There was a wide variety of different colourful flowers and a stream adjacent to the path. The rain was pretty much on - off for 90 minutes and it made the busy paths very slippery underfoot.

Again, heading towards the latter third of the accent, the temperature dropped which when you are already damp, isn't ideal.  Another factor facing us was the imminent sunset. We had head torches but didn’t want to push our luck climbing in the dark. As a team we all felt there was a necessity to push on up to the top and get back down to base quickly. Once we summited, hugged, called loved ones and took photos we set of down the mountain at quite a rate!  As the darkness slowly began to creep in we began running down the mountainside where possible. At times this was whether we wanted to or not. Raimo is an avid runner and would often suddenly take off with us left to chase after him! This also served to change our stride and provide relief to our muscles with a nice stretch. I will never forget how many people were still struggling up as it was getting darker and colder. One particular group of lads we had seen on Ben Nevis walked past us at about the half way point. They had no lights, they weren't wearing waterproof jackets and they wore only basic trainers. - You need decent walking boots for the three peak challenge. I could hear them all giggling away like a group of school kids as they walked past us. Just as I was thinking that was odd it hit me. The unmistakable sweet, rich smell of marijuana! As amusing and unexpected as the scene was, it does beg the question how people can be so stupid. Climb England’s tallest mountain at night, in the rain, with no lights, boots or appropriate clothing whilst toking on the old wacky backy bifter! As the chap in front of us said “That wont help their performance” I laughed.
As we came to the end of our descent it was  virtually black with only the slightest lingering light left to see where we were going. We sprinted the final 500 meters in what remaining light there was, somehow avoiding any roots or rocks. We completed the Skafell Pike in 3 hours, a very quick time. Next it was off to Wales. 

During this dive the adrenaline of the event as a whole was wearing off and the first signs of mental fatigue were creeping in. As we drove out of the Lake District and toward Wales the chatter became muted. The radio was playing live from the Glastonbury festival and we all seemed to zone out. At around 01.30 we made a quick coffee and fuel stop (we were on empty on both counts) and also changed drivers. Forty minutes in to this leg of the journey and current driver Will drifted across the white line into adjacent lanes on the motorway. Luckily at that time of night there were very few other cars on the road.s Over and over again this happened until both the car itself advised him to pull over and we decided to change driver at a truck stop. I took to the wheel and with both Raimo and Will unable to drive I was hoping I would be safe to do so. Luck would have it that somehow, although feeling severely jet lagged I managed to drive the remaining two hours fairly comfortably and we arrived at the Snowdon car park at 04:00. It was just getting light.

Thirty minutes later, our internal clocks totally askew,  having been awake for over 24 hours, we set off up Snowdon. I had heard it was by far the easiest path and as the sun rose upon our glorious surroundings we began making excellent time. I do believe the phrase “this is almost cheating” in reference to the ease of the path was uttered at one point. That was to change!
An hour or so into our third and final hike, having enjoyed a kind gradient, rolling mountainsides and crystal clear lakes we hit a bit of a dead end! Not what we were expecting. After consulting our map we backtracked 100 or so meters and were still left scratching our collective heads. Luckily there was another party of hikers close by and they informed us that we had to climb up a very steep face of rock. 

Image may contain: people standing, sky, mountain, plant, tree, grass, outdoor, nature and waterFatigued, hungry and tired this was probably, physically speaking, the toughest and most technical part of the weekend for me personally. There was very little room for error and at times we all felt the need to grip onto the rock with our hands as we climbed. Will, usually so bubbly and laid back, appeared to be struggling. After what seemed like a tricky eternity we finally reached the top of the section of rock. Looking over at Will I noticed he wasn’t looking great. He was quite pale, looked out of breath and seemed very tense. A complete contrast to his usual self. I asked if he was okay to which he replied. “I just bottled it” It was at that moment my brain kicked in and it hit me. I remembered Will is afraid of heights. While he settled his nerves we all took the opportunity to take a quick drinks break. Considering how uncomfortable and scared Will  must have been feeling it is quite a remarkable feat that he managed to climb that section of rock. Talk about overcoming your fears!
The remainder of the assent was, although not far, very arduous. We were both physically and mentally tired and bad weather was coming in fast. That is to say it was bitterly cold, wet and windy. Still we struggled on against the wind up to the summit and eventually stood atop the grey stone monument. We all hugged, took some pictures and discussed how best to descend. Will was adamant he couldn’t go back the way we came. We asked a tour guide from another party if the alternative route would be okay to get back to our car park. He said “once you get to the bottom there will be a 3 hour walk round to your car park. Its Sunday so you might struggle to find a bus”. I think all our hearts sank in unison. We looked at each other and I think Raimo asked Will if he could make it. We briefly contemplated one of us (me) going back the way we came and bringing the car around but I wanted to keep the team together. I personally wanted to go back the way we came but didn’t want to pressurise Will into doing something he was uncomfortable with doing… twice!
We decided to walk down the alternative route. Sore legs aside it was relatively easy going and the way we were supposed to come up Snowdon if we hadn't started at the wrong car park! Schoolboy error! One memory that we all share from this decent was how long it lasted. Having completed the vast majority of the challenge, this last phase seemed to go on and on! What made it worse was you could see both the path and mountain train track for as far as the eye could see, yet no matter how far we walked it just kept winding on and on in front.
Eventually, at 09.30 we did reach the bottom. We had completed the Three Peak Challenge. Hurrah! We were exhausted but thrilled!
There was a small restaurant at the foot of Snowdon and the owner gave us the number of a local taxi cab to take us back to the correct car park. That journey was easily 20 minutes of steep undulations and twisty roads so we all agreed we were happy with the decision not to walk!
The trip back was tiring with constant driver swaps as we struggled to keep our sleep deprived eyes open in the blistering sunshine. We took the car back to Birmingham airport and Raimo drove the remaining 3.5 hours back to Sunny Norfolk.  
All of us agree this is not a challenge to be taken lightly. We missed out on the 24 hour goal but considering it wasn’t the smoothest of rides (with being crashed into and a couple of navigational hiccups) we were quite satisfied. Our walking times on the mountains were very quick and above all, we enjoyed each others company, some spectacular scenery and we raised good money for The Marine Conservation society.
We are already planning our next potential adventure, The Yorkshire Three Peaks in 2020!