Finally my first holiday after setting foot in UK since Aug. Attempting the 3 Peaks Challenge was definitely one of the hardest climbs done todate.
Basically the 3 Peaks Challenge consists of completing the 3 highest mountains in United Kingdom within a 24hr time frame. I started off with Ben Nevis (Scotland-1,344m), then Scafell Pike (England-978m) and finished with Snowdon (Wales-1,085m). The 24hr will also include the travelling time to all these places.
Travelled over 550km by flight from London to Glasgow airport, road travel by van over 720km between the 3 mountains and final train ride from Manchester back to London of 330km. Total mileage covered exceed 1,600km over one weekend!
My climbing group consisted of 9 other young professionals whom I met through Hema. Trip leader was Jon from Walkabout Scotland and guiding the climbs was Gary. Half of my group were newbies to climbing and can be spotted out from the brand new gear being used. Nevertheless all very enthusiastic to give this challenge a go.
We departed London on Friday evening by flight, and straight into our 17-seater van which became our mobile home for the weekend towards Fort William (base of Ben Nevis). Our climb officially started at 2.30am and the walk up was uneventful since it was pitch dark. (Click on PDF doc for more info on Ben Nevis compliments of “The Nevis Partnership”) Ben Nevis
Things became very different when it started to rain as we approached the summit. As we neared the top which was located on a plateau, the strong cold winds blasted us from all directions. Because of the dreadful rain and windy conditions, our victorious achievement to the summit of Ben Nevis after 3 hours of walking were kept brief – just enough to sip some water and down some energy food.
The Ben Nevis descent for me was horrible. With bad visibility caused by the pelting rain, mist and dying headlamp, I scrambled through the rocky terrain like a mad person. Praying hard that I don’t slip and sprain my ankle, I charged ahead with my nose leaking profusely from the chilling cold. There was a moment when I slipped back and lost sight of the group ahead of me. Forging ahead, I soon came to a scree slope and began to slide downwards. Obviously the more I fought to find a stable foothold, the faster I slided downwards. Fortunately for me, one of my teammates soon appeared in the distant and I managed to find my bearings again.
As dawn finally broke through, we were all safely walking on the designated pathway towards our van. Looking back at the few hours before, I was amazed at how dangerously I have scrambled through the rocky terrain on the upper slopes and have ignored the gnawing pains to my knees during descent. Obviously the awful cold has helped in numbing the knee pains. Finally regained some human-sense on the way down when I happily greeted the new climbers who were just starting on their journey up.
After refuelling with food, we packed into the van again and drove off to Lake District, where our 2nd mountain awaited us. The road journey was uncomfortable since the road trip took over 7 hours and I sat with my knees kissing the back of the seat in front of me. Slept through most of the road trip, but woke up with body aches all over after being cooped up in an awkward sitting position for so long.
Our climb up Scafell Pike (from Wasdale head) started at 5pm and only managed to enjoy some of the natural beauty of the walk for about 30min before darkness and rain fell upon us again. Just unlucky for us to be climbing this weekend with such bad British weather when it was perfectly warm and sunny just 1 week ago.
My ascent up was slower than the rest since was accompanying Hema who developed some muscle cramp on her right thigh. After walking up 2hours, both of us managed to reach the summit and savoured the moment briefly again before turning back for the descent, since the rest of the group has waited quite a while at the cold & chilly top.
Drama unfolded when Angie, Hema and myself lost sight of our main group. We were slowed down because Hema was struggling badly with her sore right thigh and inched slowly forward. Because of the rain and mist, our visibility was down to about 3m and became concerned when the terrain around us looked foreign and less trodden on. Catching sight of a potential big drop infront, we decided to turn around and tried in vain to find our last marker.
Fortunately for us, Hema’s handphone rang and we managed to conveyed our SOS to a teammate. We have also managed to locate a half moon rock shelter and sat huddled together in the dark to wait for our rescue. Despite the phone call, I became worried that we may not survived through the night if rescue don’t arrive with within the next few hours. I was already soaked to the bones and began shivering after we sat down awhile behind the small shelter due to the strong cold winds and pelting rain.
After what seemed like a billion years, we saw lights coming from a distant towards our left. Overjoyed that we found hope of rescue, we began shouting and moving towards the light. The first lights belonged to 2 other climbers on the way to the summit. But they consoled us by pointing us to the rear where we found the 2nd light in the distant. Coming to it, we finally found Gary who came to our rescue.
Soon we were on our slow descent again and met up with rest of our teammates. Sally (one of the more experienced teammate) became the heroine of the day and guided Hema down safely down. We kept our bunch together closer now to avoid another lost incident and finally arrived back to safe grounds at 9.30pm.
(Check out http://www.mountainwalk.co.uk/scafellpikewalk.html for more info on Scafell Pike since my night climb didn’t give me much chance to recollect the terrain)
By this time, most of us were tired, wet and cold. We then decided to give our 3 Peaks Challenge a miss and opted instead to complete our final mountain climb after a well-deserved rest in Travelodge upon arrival in Wales. Arriving at Travelodge by 3.30am, I was more than happy to settle down on something horizontal, despite having to sleep on the hard sofa in the hotel room.
Setting my alarm for 6.30am, I planned to have a nice warm shower and good breakfast before embarking on our 7am departure from Travelodge to Pen-Y-Pass (start of the Snowdon attack). The knockings on the hotel room door shocked me into reality when I realised it was already 7.30am. At first I was saddened at the thought that I had missed the group since punctuality was greatly important today to ensure we catch the 4.45pm train departure back to London. But soon realised that Jon & Gary were still around and we were still awaiting for some other team members to get ready. Excitedly, I quickly washed up and wolfed down my breakfast before we bundled again into our trusty van towards Snowdon.
We started on the Miners Track from Pen-Y-Pass carpark. The 1st portion of the walk was easy as we snaked along the mountain ranges and passed through some fantastic views of the lakes and countryside. After 1 hour walking, we stood at the foothill of Snowdon for our REAL hike up. I was at first overwhelmed by the sight of the towering mountain before us and the challenge to complete it within 1hr.
The hike up was steep and hard enough to make me take deeper breaths. But short breaks in between was rewarded by the awesome views below us and the satisfaction that remarkable progress have been made in the ascent. Without knowing it, we were already within minutes of reaching the summit when we arrived at our last ridge where we saw the famous railway tracks. The railway track was built over 100years ago to shuttle tourists up to the peak. The Snowdon Railway has ceased running these days, and probably will be up again when rebuilding of the cafe at the peak completes in the next year or so.
It was the first time I felt this excited upon reaching the summit over the weekend, after the disappointments for the last 2 mountains. Singing to a happy tune in my head, I practically skipped the last 10minutes to the peak where we located a proper summit marker. Finally a mountain top being enjoyed in broad daylight and captured in Kodak moments. We even managed to laugh at ourselves for the hours of torture we endured over the past 1.5 days just to spend that 2-5min glory at the peak.
We descended down on another trail – Pyg Track where I encountered people from all walks of life attempting the Snowdon climb. Even saw families with children as young as 3-4 years old completing the mountain walk together. Definitely do hope that I would be able to encourage the love for the outdoors when I have children of my own.
By 12.45pm, I finally arrived at Pen-Y-Pass and completed the 3 Peaks challenge in just over 34hours. The next few hours were spent on a road trip to Manchester where we took the train back to London. Arrived home after a weekend without showers & proper hot food – even Burger King at the Manchester train station tasted like top class steak.
The 3 Peaks Challenge was definitely an experience for myself. Never have I felt so vulnerable in all my years of climbing due to the bad weather conditions. Made me realised how much I enjoyed climbing mountains in daylight, as opposed to night climbs and at a more leisure pace compared to racing for the sake of completing a time challenge. And thank god for proper waterproof jacket, fleece and hiking boots – bless the souls who continue the push to develop better gear for us to enjoy the harsh environment outdoors.
Will I think of attempting the Challenge again next year? Probably only if it was the last thing to do in UK! But definitely won’t mind climbing Ben Nevis or Scafell Pike in broad daylight next time round.
More pics soon…