3 Peaks Paul

Snowdon (Wales), Scafell Pike (England), Ben Nevis (Scotland).... 24 hours. Eek!

Monday, 20 July 2009

The 3 Peaks Challenge

--- oops! I'd written then before, just didn't publish. I went for a walk today, and it just got me thinking.. anyway...

Well, to cut a very long story short, we did all 3 peaks, but missed the 24 hour target. This will probably be my last post here now, it's been quite a journey getting here, all the training running, all the walking up enormous mountains, collegues turning to friends. It's been a hell of a ride, and I'm pleased I did it.

Team members, of Team A:

  • Toby

  • Dave R

  • Dave H

  • Neil

  • Ian

  • John S

  • Jon A

  • Susan

  • Matt

  • Paul (myself)
The journey to Snowdon
After packing all my bits and pieces on the Thursday night, I set my alarm for 3:45, to give me plenty of time to get to work where everyone was congregating. They laid on coffee and bacon sandwiches for everyone, which was a fantastic start to the day! Everyone unloaded their various bits of equipment from their cars, all looking brand new and never used, and took it to the bus. Unfortunately, when we opened the doors, we knew it was going to be tight, given the sheer amount of equipment, clothes and water we'd all taken. You'd think we were going away for 2 weeks, not 2 nights. Incredibly we managed to get everything on the bus, although it was incredibly cramped!

It took 5 hours to drive to Snowdon from Peterborough, but the end of the journey, Lucy, one of the drivers had put some tunes on her ipod to cheer us all up, including "aint no mountain high enough" and "these boots are made for walkin'" Got a bit of a laugh, although I think so many of us were focussed on the task ahead of us, so it probably didn't get the full appreciation it deserved.

We eventually arrived at Pen-y-pass on Snowdon. The weather was appalling. We got out the bus and immediately the first thing everyone did was dug into their bags, and put on their waterproofs, and hats, gloves. It was torrential rain, and blowing a gale. Several people arrived at Pen-y-pass and turned around and left, thinking "no way!". But not us, we carried on. Before we set out for the walk, we lost a lot of time faffing around with gear, having our photos taken, meeting the guides, and generally just sorting our selves out. But eventually got underway.

We were supposed to be taking the Miners Track up Snowdon, which I had done many many times before, but this time around, the guide prefered the Pyg track, so we took that instead. There was nothing too strenuous about the walk, although we were all soaked through. I was clenching my fist inside my gloves just to try and ring out the water from them. We quickly caught up the team that left Pen-y-fan ahead of us, although infuriatingly our guide forced us to wait back, for them to get ahead, this happened a few times until someone in our group suggested we needed to get past them, because we needed to make time. So in the end we took them on a corner and quickly slid past. The rain was still absolutely pounding down on us, and despite our waterproof, we were pretty much all soaked through. My phone and camera was in my pocket, so before they got damaged, I put them in a bag and put that in the middle of my rucksack (it didnt work, both are now drying out in the airing cupboard!)

We stopped on the zigzags to take on a couple of sandwiches, and get some more energy in us before the ascent of the zig zags, and then the final run to the top. After getting up the zig zags, we got onto the top where we were just battered by the strongest wind we've ever experienced. A couple of us waited at the top for the rest to catch up, literally holding onto the huge marker rock so we didn't get blown away, or waste a lot of energy trying to stay upright. Everyone got onto the ridge, and our guide was less than happy about going to the top in the onslaught of wind and rain we were experiencing. Another group coming down from the top suggested we simply turn back. But when we were only 10 mins from the top on our first peak, there was just no way. So we made our last run to the top in the absolutely horrible conditions. Imagine the worst rain you've ever seen, now run at it at 70mph, it feels like shards of glass hitting you, so it was a case of keeping our heads down and letting our waterproofs take the beating.

We got to the top, and no one was particularly keen about going up the final set of steps onto the summit trig point, until 1 person did, then were all there. I literally had to crouch so I didnt lose my footing from the wind. Other people had the same problem - it didnt feel at all safe, so we get to the top, and got off as soon as we could, with as little fuss as possible, no stopping for food, pictures or water, just up and down.

We made our way back to the entrance to the zig zags and worked our way down, generally happy with our progress, despite the absolutely horrific conditions we were facing. The paths were now just streams running with water an inch deep, the water on small waterfalls never made it to the floor, because it was being blown away before it could land. Although we were all soaked, we all were absolutely loving it. I don't think it was lost on anyone doing it that day that we were making memories. The guide was trying to keep us all together, though in the end, a couple of us went off ahead back to the mini-bus so we could get a head start in getting dry, so we didn't need to hang around for too long. Back at the bus, we were told "the B team is only 10 minutes ahead of you, if you go now, you'll catch up". Bugger that! We wanted to dry off before having a run up to the next peak. I got my things and went to the gents at Pen-y-pass. The front few of us all marched in there, and grabbed a cubicle. It seemed many before us had the same idea, and there was about an inch of water on the floor. Within about 30 seconds, my fresh new clothes were also soaked, having been dipped. I only took one pair of walking trousers, and quite a few shorts. I thought, July, I'd wear my longs on trip, and on the peak in the dark, then shorts for the rest of it. My only pair of long trousers were now absolutely soaking. So I had my shorts on for the next peak - Scafell Pike.

Scafell Pike

The trip to Scafell was quite long, especially in a mini bus that was limited to 60. We were probably running a little bit behind, because everyone needed to sort themselves out before leaving Snowdon. The trip there Lucy was running a drying service on the mini bus, that is, taking peoples damp clothes, and putting them infront of the heater for until they were dry. This was absolutely invaluable! Although picture the seen, a bunch of sweaty, wet, blokes, crammed into the worlds smallest mini-bus. More uncomfortable than you can imagine. Unfortunately, my main bag with all my food in it was right at the bottom of the pile. There was absolutely no way I could get to it. I knew i needed to take on some carbs a couple of hours before we got there. No such luck. We eventually came off the M6 from Snowdon, and into the Lake District. To our left, there was a tremendous view of the most almight storm. Dark, grey, seriously forbidden clouds were coming our way. Perfect. We eventually took a pitstop, in a layby. Again, picture the scene... a bunch of 9 or 10 blokes spilling out of a minibus, lining up against the hedge, and spent about 10 minutes pissing from all the fluid we'd been taking on. I took the opportunity to get my food out my bag, also to check on my phone and camera. These had gone up Snowdon with me, and had both got ruined by water, so I thought turning them off and leaving them would make them fine, so I left my phone with lucy to put infront of the heater while we were off walking. Eventually we all boarded the bus again, and were into the last 30 minutes up to Wasdale Head, where we were starting our walk up Lingmell Gill up to the summit of Scafell Pike.

We got to Scafell Pike, and were supposed to meet up with the guide on the green, we got there... but he wasn't!! absolute and unmitigated disaster. We were wasting so much time. In the end, behind another 45 minutes, we got ourselves a new guide (we stole from another group behind us, as it goes) and we were on our way. This guide, Mike, was keen for us to try and make up the time we'd lost, or at least some of it. We were always expecting to do some of Scafell Pike in the dark, but we expected that to be the latter part of the descent, as it goes, we were working our way up Brown tongue, and it was already getting dark. So we had to all put on our head torches and stay together. I was entirely expecting we'd be taking the Brown Tongue, Hollow stones route up, the same way I had gone when doing my practice walk up the mountain, but we'd strayed off the main path, and were heading up toward Mickledore. I was not impressed, having seen pictures of this before, and decided to give a wide birth. Even so, we were behind, and needed to make it up if we were to hit the 24 hours.

Walking up to Mickledore, the sun way at its very last light, looking over towards Scafell crags, we could see another group snaking down the mountain with headtorches us. We immediately assumed this was the competitive 'B' team. Not impressed. At all. We'd spent so long farting around, they were on their way down, while we were still on our way up. The ground underfoot became quite boggy, with all the rain that had been coming down. Looking out to the mountain, the weather system we'd been watching had finally got to us, the wind picked up, and a biting chill came to the air as it did. We approached Mickledore, and my walking pole sunk into the bog, when I pulled it out, it over extended the telescoping part, so I tried to push it down on a rock, and rather than slide back in, it just bent my pole, so that was now useless. I tied my poles back to my backpack, and carried on. The terrain was becoming quite steep, so before we actually started the scramble up Mickledore, now completely dark, we all centered on Mike, who gave us some safety advice, told us that if we dislodged any debris, to shout "watch out below" to stop it smacking someone on the head and ruining their day.

The scramble up Mickedore was exhausting. Rather than than simply one foot in front of the other, we were having to hold onto ledges, pull ourselves up, having already climbed most of the mountain, and already having done Snowdon. I felt I had nothing left in my legs, they were just mush. But still, we had to go on. Eventually, we got onto the Mickledore ridge. The first thing that was apparent was how little you could see. The beam of the head torches would only usefully penetrate about 10ft into the fog, after that, you couldn't really see anything. We all got our breath back, had some sandwiches, put on our outer clothes. It was horrendously windy again, not quite like on Snowdon, but much much colder, it had a nip to it, my extremities were starting to feed cold, so on with the hats, gloves, coats, etc. My woolen gloves stayed on for about 30 seconds before they were back in my pack. They were still absolutely soaked from Snowdon. So they just made my hands cold and uncomfortable. After we'd had about 5 minutes there, we went for the final push to the summit of Scafell Pike.

We set off to the left, into the darkness, within a few minutes, the terrain changed from being boggy to nothing short of a lunar boulder field. We were climbing over boulders the size of couches and cars, with enormous cracked down them. I think we were all quitely concerned about breaking a leg. It had been raining earlier, so the rocks were slippery. We snaked up way slowly over the crown to towards the summit. Whenever our lines became too stretched, we'd have to shout "WOAAHHH!". But the wind was so strong your words were just carried away. It was actually a very lonely experience, seeing these lights ahead of you, mindlessly following them, absolutely no sense of perspective of where you are, just following the lights over the boulder fields. With the occassional person going "who are you?" not being able to make out shapes of faces in the fog, only talking to a light. For me, fatigue was really starting to set it, I was tired, hungry, wet, and was just running purely on willpower. My body had very little left to give. But I was ontop of a mountain, in the pitch black, with horrible terrain, howling, cold wind, and thick fog. I had no choice, I was carrying on. After what felt like an hour of going over the terrain, although I suspect it was much less. But it was now getting on for about midnight, we still hadn't reached the summit, and it wasn't lost on us that by this time, we should be well on ourway towards Ben Nevis. Eventually, the people at the front stopped, and we all centered on Mike. He looked a little unsure, and went off to look around for a couple of minutes. We sort of all stood there, all looking weary and tired, so I was pleased it was just me that the mountain and conditions were taking its toll on. We were all a little concerned about where and why Mike had gone, figuring he was lost, and we were pretty. I brief twinge of fear flooded over me, realising actually, how rubbish that would be. But alas, he returned, and we carried on. We got to the cairn on Scafell Pike. I shocked, I'd been there not 3 weeks before, during the day, and it look nothing like it. All you could make out of it was a few of its rocks, we sheltered behind it, to get ourselves out of the howling wind. A few minutes, and no photos were spent on top. So many of us exchanging "Oh my god!!! I didn't expect this!!" looks.

A few of us weren't keen to go down Mickledore, given the conditions, and preferred to go down the standard hollowstone/brown tongue way. Mike seemed in favour of going back down Mickledore. One bright spark of the group said "it's up to you Mike, do what's right". There was some merit to be had there. So we were going down Mickledore. Mike did actually explain his reasoning; the Mickledore side of mountain provided shelter on the way down, so once we were off the crown of the hill, we'd be out of the wind and cold again. Made sense. But I still had a feeling of trepidation, going back over the boulder field, it was hard enough getting there, getting back across it was just daunting. There was still no let up in the wind, only now it was blasting us in the face, so your words were even more meaningless than they were on the way up. We headed across the boulder, the person in front of me slipped, I lept forward to try and catch him, but he was already down, I think he hurt his back a bit, but carried on anyway. He was a bit unsteady on his feet after. After a bit of shouting, I realised he said he didn't have any food left, I gave him some Starmix to try and give him some glucose to get him off the hill. As we carried on, we eventually saw another party of people, well, moving head torches. Mike went over to check they were OK, as they seemed to just be going in circles. As it turned out, they were the 'B' team whose guide had got them lost. We thought they were off the mountain over an hour before. As it turns out, they'd been stuck up there for the last 45minutes, feeling quite scared and pissed off. Mike set them on the right path and direction again, and we were on our way.

After a couple of false decents down Mickledore, all the cuts in the crags look the same, we found the right one. Well, Mike did, we followed. It was much easier getting down! Actually, quite fun, just slipping on your feet and sliding down. We joined up with the main Brown Tongue path, and finally I could feel the adrenalin start to clear from my system. I knew where I was, I knew where I was going, and felt I had some control again. We walked back down the path, spirits much lifted, in fact on a bit of a high. We were all really proud of ourselves, we'd all handled ourselves perfectly, even in horrendous conditions, we'd all kept ourheads, not paniced, and just carried on. More importantly, it brought the team together. It was an emotional roller coaster. Everyone would help everyone, everything was shared, there was no being proud, or snotty or anything. To me, everyone shone on that mountain.

After getting down off Scafell Pike, we all got back to the bus. I got back, and when I came to take off my waterproof trousers over my shorts, pain just shot through me. My lefts were rubbed raw where the wet material was rubbing against me, and being soacking wet for the last however many hours. My thighs had no skin left on them at all, there were literally just 2 slabs of meat. The pain was excrutiating. We all got back on the bus, all very tired, I think most of us pretty much just passed out in our seats for the next couple of hours. My phone was still broken, so all the people I wanted to talk to at the time, I couldn't. But then I fell asleep and I don't remember leaving the Lake District at all.

Ben Nevis

I woke up when we were pulling into the Gretna Service Station on the Scottish border. We all piled out the van, and headed into the services, carrying various bags of clothing to get changed for Ben Nevis. I got changed, but still only had shorts. I could barely walk with the pain, I was doubting how I could do Ben Nevis, and quitely thinking about excuses to not do it. At this point, I didn't really believe I was going to do it.

Walking like a penguin, I made my way back to the minibus. Reboarded, and within 10 minutes, I was asleep. Well not asleep, but in that state of mind where you're awake, but just shut everything out. I had my pasta container on my lap, and startled myself when my hand let go of the fork and it fell to the floor with a twang. We were just travelling up through the Glasgow region, the sun was just starting to rise, over the landscape and looked pretty gorgeous. I don't really remember the rest of the journey up, until we got to Fort William. We got ourselves lost, trying to find the place we were going to meet at. But got there in the end, at some pub down in the Glen Nevis valley. Excellent spot. I'd now convinced myself that I was going to walk up Ben Nevis, there was no way with all the training I'd done, suffered 2 horrendous mountains before, and the end was so close that I was going to do it. I would crawl up the bloody thing if I had to.

The guide, who had been waiting for us for hours, was absolutely itching to go. We weren't. We'd already accepted we'd missed our 24 hours, we had something like 3 hours left to get up and down Ben Nevis to complete on time. Not going to happen. We were all just taking our time, eating, refilling our bottles with water, sorting our kit out, etc. we'd been there for maybe half an hour, when the B team came. They were just arriving as we were setting off. the c team were no where to be seen. We set off up the mountain. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this one. In both the other mountains, I'd done before, so I knew what to expect, where were were, how close to the end we were. Ben Nevis, I'd never even looked at it on a map. So it was all just a huge unknown. My thighs were now bleeding, i could occassionally feel the blood run down my leg. We carried on up the side of the hill, I had no idea where I was, or where the summit was, although there was a lot of speculation and discussion, but only the guide knew, and he was at the back helping the ones who were falling behind, myself and Dave H were taking point, and just walking away.

I could feel myself tiring a lot faster than I would normally, I was needing to drink a lot more than I should've for the energy I was using. The path was long, but by no means steep, but the pace was absolutely stuffing me. I was slightly embarrassed when people walking down were looking at me, so tired, having really only just started (at the time I thought we couldn't have much further). I wanted to just tell them that we'd already done 2 mountains, before in the worst imaginable conditions. I could feel myself becoming quite irritable. We all converged on a point again, having been walking for about an hour or so, but it felt like much longer, and once more stopped for a rest and a drink. Someone asked the guide if we were nearly there, he was like "urrrr, no!". I thought he was kidding, but he GPS said we were 1500ft high. Ben Nevis stands at over 4,000ft. We still had a way to go. He pointed across the valley, a path ran around the side , and there was a small waterfall. He told us that was the half way mark. We all looked at each other as if to say "ok, we're screwed!". We carried on anyway, keeping our eyes locked on this waterfall.

Eventually it came, and drunk the water, having been told it was more than safe to drink. It was the nicest water I've had in my life. Ice cold, crystal clear, and tasted great. It lifted the spirits, and we soldiered on, knowing we were into the last 50% of our final mountain. A lot of restoration work was being done on the paths, and we pittied the workmen who where on their hands and knees laying slabs. although the was a small tractor type thing. The thought of stealing it and driving up crossed my mind :) After another few minutes, a felt a small twinge in my ankle. We were just going up the first zig zag that takes us up to the summit, I carried on for another 10 minutes or so, when I really started to notice it wasn't right, each time I put weight on it, it became quite painful. I had a couple of Iboprofen from one of the other guys to help it a bit. 20minutes later, it was unbelievably painful. Like each step someone was driving a red hot poker in.

Ian, who I was walking with now, stopped some lass walking down, and asked how far there was left to the top, without hesitation, she replied "at least an hour". I was like "IAN!!!!", he said "Paul, I am so sorry!!!". We laughed about it, both of our hopes dashed that we were approaching the summit. the mixure of my thighs and now ankle were making walking near on impossible. The pain was unbearable. But. I was only an hour from the top, and there was no way I was going to stop. I'd favour my hurting ankle walking on the side of my foot, which seemed to help. Although wasn't very fast.

It took after ounce of concentration I had to focus on just putting on leg infront of the other. I was 100% focussed on the next 10 or 15ft ahead of me. After what seemed like an enternity, we got to the orientation stone that guides you onto the top of Ben Nevis. I was pretty much at the back of the group now, a couple of other people has injuries too, so we stayed back, then a couple of the uninjured ones stayed back too (thanks Dave R and Jon!).

We headed out across the crown on Ben Nevis, we'd walked up into cloud, so the visibility was a bit naff, although none of us were phased one bit by it, given what we'd dealt with in the last 24 hours. A big ridge of snow (July!!) had formed, and so we needed to get up that. None of us had crampons on the like, so we just had to make do. This absolutely finished off my ancle, now it just hurt all the time, not only when I put pressure on it. I limped over the rest of the hill to the summit and observertory. It was hard going. We all met up, shook hands, said our well dones, etc. Walked up to the top of the summit point, and had our photo taken, I look like a drowned rat in it, so I'm not going to put it up here ;)

The walk down was much better, for some reason going down didn't cause the havoc on my ankle going down did. A couple of uninterested ours later, where our teams had already split up and separated, I got to the bottom, the support party were there clapping as I walked through the gates to the pub. Pint of ice cold carling put in my hand, and for me, the three peaks was over. As other teams and people came back we, all met them at the gates with an applause and drink.

As an experience, it was absolutely amazing. The people I were with were amazing, everyone got along, helped each other during their darkest moments. We all learnt something new about ourselves, for me, I impressed myself for keeping my cool on Scafell Pike, still having the mental awareness to be mindful of others, rather than go into an "I'm alright jack" state. Also, I think doing Ben Nevis was a huge personal acheivement, I so easily could've said "actually, no, I'll sit this one out lads" and no one would've though less of me for it. Yet something made me carry on and do it. I pushed myself to the absolute limits, and stayed on the edge of my limits for 24 hours. I'm proud of it, even though we missed the 24 hours target.

The organisers admitted that it was the worst conditions they'd ever done it in, and our guide was fairly close on a couple of occassions to calling it off. I'll have another go next year I think. To anyone thinking of doing the Three Peaks, do it. It's a great experience.


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