Vantage Power takes on the Three Peaks
As I recall, it was on a cold January lunchtime that a few of us were walking down to the shops when it occurred to us that it would be very fun to set ourselves a bit of a physical challenge, and to raise some money for charity as well. This is how the idea of taking on the Three Peaks Challenge was born.
The Three Peaks Challenge sees the highest mountain in Scotland (Ben Nevis - 1,344m), England (Scafell Pike - 978m) and Wales (Snowdon - 1,085m) all climbed within 24 hours - including travel in between. I would say that looking back, the 13 of us choosing to do this didn’t quite appreciate what we were about to take on…
The logistics of attempting to climb 3 mountains in 24 hours naturally pushes you to June when the days are longest and the weather mildest. This led us to conclude that a 24 hour period spanning Friday 10th/Saturday 11th June would be most suitable. The plan was to take a coach up from London to Fort William - the town at the base of Ben Nevis, start the climb at 5pm, and finish at 10pm. A drive through the night would see us start Scaffel Pike at 4am the following morning, with a finish by 8am. This would give us sufficient time to get across to Snowdon, climb it and get back down by 5pm. It sounds simple, but the reality turned out to be quite different!
The team assembled at Victoria Coach Station in London on the evening of the 9th June, left at 11pm for Scotland, and arrived 13 hours later in Fort William. With just 5 hours to go before the climb began, tension was building! We whiled away the time by eating lunch, having a walk around town, and engaging in an impromptu tenpin bowling competition, but soon the time was upon us and we donned our gear and headed for the base of Ben Nevis.
It was raining (unsurprisingly) and the cloud base was very low as we began our ascent. Up and up we travelled on a path hewn from solid rock over 100 years ago. The conditions were wet and slippery, but stopping every 100 vertical metres we were able to keep the team together and well stocked up on food and drink. I’d love to be able to comment on the scenery, but aside from the odd mountain stream passing beneath our feet, we could see nothing but cloud!
After approximately 3 hours of hiking - including passing through a snowfield that was 2 metres deep in places - we reached the summit! This was a great feeling for sure - we had reached the highest point in the British Isles - but the elation was tempered with the fact that we had to get down this mountain and climb 2 more - there was no time to waste! Hiking down Ben Nevis was a challenge, not just because of the pressure on your knees and ankles, but also because of the slickness of the rocks. All of a sudden you realise the quite precarious nature of the situation as one slip or trip off the edge could mean disaster, but nevertheless the team got down the mountain safely and were ready to crack on to Scafell Pike.
However, the 3 Peaks conspired against us. A broken taillight on our minivan meant that we spent 1.5 hours at the base of the mountain waiting for our onward lift, and by the time we had left it was nearly midnight. Soaked to the bone, we drove through the night (with a quick Starbucks break to keep us going) to the Lake District where the next challenge lay before us.
At 978m Scafell Pike may not sound like much of a challenge, but just wait until you’re standing in front of it and looking upwards! Far in the distance lies a massive rock face which is made more daunting by the fact that the actual summit is higher and farther away, hidden behind this false summit. At 6am in the Saturday morning light, we loaded up and headed out once more. The climb started quite easily with a gentle slope, even path, and agreeable weather. The view back the way we had come afforded us a spectacular view of Wast Water lake and the Irish Sea in the distance - finally - a view to remember!
But the weather didn’t hold up for long. Half way up the clouds closed in and it began to rain again. The rocks became slippery and the path frequently gave way to boulder fields that had to be scrambled over. Undeterred, the team pushed on and reached the summit - England’s highest summit boulder field - after approximately 2.5 hours of hiking. Without much time to celebrate, we started our descent, and after arriving back at the base at around 10am, we got out of our wet clothes and jumped back in the van for the trip across to Snowdonia.
So far we had completed the peaks pretty much bang on time, yet we were still approximately 2 hours behind schedule due to the delayed minivan at the base of Ben Nevis. Unfortunately the coach company we were using let us down again, and we had to transfer to another coach at a service station in Cumbria, and proceed onwards from there. By the time we got to the base of Snowdon, it was already nearly 4pm, and our original aim was to finish the whole challenge by 5pm! It became clear at this point that we would not be able to complete the challenge within the 24 hour target, but we certainly were not going to let that stop us from hiking all three mountains. After rearranging the coach pick up for 8pm, we headed off for our final ascent.
Yes - good weather at last! While the peak of Snowdon remained perpetually in cloud, lateral visibility was generally excellent and the team was treated to incredible views across the Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw mountain lakes. The climb was easier than the previous two, but perhaps due to fatigue, we were not progressing as well as we had hoped. Given that our coach back to London was due to leave at 8pm it was decided that 3 of us would speed on ahead to get to the coach in time, while the others would take a steadier pace
This was the first time the team had split up, and at this point things began to go wrong. In the rush to get down the mountain, the 3 members of the leading party got separated and ended up descending individually, while the trailing party ended up getting lost entirely! Nevertheless, everyone had maps, the weather was fine, and while some people took a huge detour and a few hours longer than planned, we all made it back down to the same place in the end.
At this point we were seriously looking forward to a relaxed coach drive back to London, a hot shower and a comfy bed - we’d been either driving or hiking for the best part of 48 hours, and sleep was quickly becoming a priority. But the Three Peaks Challenge had one more curveball to throw at us. Despite some members of our team making it down in time to meet the coach, the coach had did not materialise, and it later transpired that it had been driven back to Manchester with all of our gear!
At the last minute we had to organise another vehicle to drive us to Manchester en route to London, and we pulled into VP HQ at a casual 5am on Sunday morning after a 6.5 hour drive. Who cares though! We climbed the 3 highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales in 27 hours, we raised over £2,250 for the children caught up in the Syrian refugee crisis, and we had an amazing time in the process!
Many thanks to all our supporters.