Three peaks challenge

Scafell Pike

The national three peaks challenge has become one of the most popular walking challenges in recent years, the aim being to complete an ascent and descent of the three highest mountains in Britain, namely: Scafell Pike 977 m (3 210 ft) in north west England, Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa 1 085 m (3 560 ft) in north Wales and Ben Nevis 1 344 m (4 409 ft) in western Scotland all within 24 hours, including travel time between them.

Route

The order of doing the national three peaks is normally north to south, starting with Ben Nevis near Fort William, and then travelling to the ascent of Scafell Pike in the Lakes, and finally Snowdon in north Wales. There are good reasons to do the peaks in this order.

Ben Nevis is the highest and perhaps the most arduous of the three peaks. What used to be called the pony track or tourist track, now known as the mountain track is an unrelenting uphill struggle and very tough on the knees going back down. ‘The Ben’ can be done in fading light because the track is obvious as long as you find your way safely off the top. Scafell Pike has around eight starting points and routes to the top, but the paths are less clear and you really need to be able to see for the descent. There are also numerous routes up Snowdon, but the Pyg Track route is the one usually used in preference to the potentially scary Crib Goch and others.

Timing

A rough estimate of climb time is four hours for Snowdon, and five hours for both Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike, that’s 14 hours in total, leaving a maximum 10 hours for travelling time between the start and end points of each peak. Obviously, people do it in more or less time, but if you’re with an organised group it’s the speed of the slowest member that determines how quickly you get to set off for the next peak. You don’t need to take 24 hours to complete them and many people do the challenge in two days rather than one. The record for the three peaks is held by Joss Naylor MBE and Frank Taylor who completed it in an incredible 11 hours and 54 minutes in 1971 using a Ford Capri for transport.

Snowdon / Y Wyddfa


The record for the three peaks is held by Joss Naylor MBE and Frank Taylor who completed it in an incredible 11 hours and 54 minutes in 1971 using a Ford Capri for transport.



Physical training

Many people underestimate what it takes to tackle the 3 highest peaks in Britain. For many of us just doing one of the peaks in a day would be fairly exhausting, so doing the 3 highest peaks in Britain definitely requires a degree of physical fitness and endurance. Don't rely on getting fit enough during the actual challenge day, you won't. It's recommended that you are reasonably fit to do the challenge and have recent walking experience on mountains or hills.

Transport

Organised trips and charity events sort out all the travel between the 3 peak start and finish points, but if you're going in a non-organised group it's advisable that you have a designated driver or two who are not doing the challenge. The drivers can relax and sleep if they can during the walking time and then get safely to the next peak.

Equipment

Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis

The gear you'll need is just the normal gear that you'd take when climbing a major mountain such as worn-in walking boots, lightweight day-style rucksack, waterproofs (essential, top and bottom), and plenty of energy food and drink. It helps to have several changes of high quality socks and a first aid kit of your own including blister kits, tap and bandages. Some people tape their feet up, as do long distance runners, which if done properly can prevent blistering and chafing in the first place. Remember that bad blisters can easily lead to having to abandon the challenge.

Sleep

Most people doing the challenge have little or no sleep during the 24 hour duration largely due to excitement and adrenalin rush of doing the challenge, the travelling between peaks and the fact that you'll be in a group. So you should be prepared to try and sleep in transit, but don't rely on it.

Food and drink

To get up and down the 3 biggies you need to take high energy foods and have plenty to drink to prevent dehydration. Perhaps the old Scottish tradition of haggis and a wee dram worked, but you shouldn't drink alcohol because it will tire and dehydrate you, and it's best to have regular high-energy snacks throughout the 24 hours that a big meal at some stage.

Weather


The weather on the three highest mountains in Britain can be extremely changeable at any time of year, varying from sunshine to lashing wind and rain. As you get higher the temperature drops by an average of 1 degree Celsius for every 100 m of ascent so it can be very cold. The weather on each mountain can also be very different, so you need to be prepared for all weathers.

The most popular time for mountain walking challenges is not surprisingly late spring and summer, partly due to better weather conditions but also the longer hours of daylight.


Organised 3 peaks challenges

 

Walking groups and walking holiday companies can help with the logistics required for the national three peaks walk, but for extra motivation and camaraderie you could join one of the many organised events set up by charities. There are literally hundreds of charity walks on offer, and you'll not only get help to do the challenge, but the satisfaction of knowing that you've contributed to a worthy cause.

Criticism of the challenge

Local residents and conservation groups claim that challenges such as the three peaks results in increased traffic and noise at unsociable hours, unmanageable refuse and litter, erosion due to the hordes of boots and short-cuts made to save time, and inconsiderate driving and parking at start points. Guidelines from bodies like the Institute of Fundraising is to avoid weekends and the period from late June to mid July, avoid arriving or departing between midnight and 5 am, limit events to small groups, stay on the path, and generally observe the Countryside Code. If you go on an organised event you should check that it's being run properly to minimise the impact on local communities and the environment. 

Yorkshire Three Peaks

The Yorkshire version of the 3 peaks challenge includes the hills of Pen-y-ghent (694 m), Whernside (736 m) and Ingleborough (724 m) and is often done as a practice walk before tackling the national three peaks challenge. The route is approximately 25 miles long, circular, and can be done in either direction, although more people choose the clockwise route starting and ending at Horton-in-Ribblesdale. It attracts over 10 000 walkers a year and so can be especially busy on summer weekends.

The Yorkshire peaks can be done by reasonably fit walkers in 10-12 hours, and includes mostly well maintained clear paths over limestone and gritstone, peat bog, grassy hills and gravel. There are several waterfalls along the way including Hunt Pot and Force Gill and the route passes the impressive structure of the Ribbledale viaduct. Like any hill or mountain walking challenge, you should make sure that you're prepared for bad weather and know how to navigate with a map and compass.

Other three peaks challenges

As well as the national and Yorkshire 3 peaks there are many combinations based either on region, mountain range, height or circular routes. The Lancashire three peaks of Longridge Fell, Easington Fell and Pendle is an alternative to the Yorkshire peaks, but there are many others. You can choose any 3 peaks to climb in whatever order you like of course, so you can always make up your own challenge.


Further information 

National 3 Peaks Challenge - http://www.thethreepeakschallenge.co.uk/
3 peaks challenge critique (BMC) - http://www.thebmc.co.uk/Feature.aspx?id=1517
3 Peaks Challenges - http://qievents.sports.officelive.com/default.aspx
The Three Peaks Challenges - http://www.3peakschallenges.co.uk/
Mountain Adventures - http://www.mountain-adventures.co.uk/

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