The task they undertook wasn’t easy. Our Challengers were not only testing their stamina and determination on those peaks; they also fought against the clock between the summits, and that proved to be a huge challenge on its own. But I’m not going to spoil you the pleasure of finding out how our 3 Peaks Challengers conquered the peaks and what obstacles they had to overcome to win the race. Read Andy’s journal and find out what it took him and his team to complete the challenge.
07:30 Saturday, 6th October
An early start for everyone and the beginning of this adventure is still almost 10 hours away. I’ve got time for a cup of tea from my mum who I’ve blessed with a visit; in return she got to keep a minibus in the drive way. It’s a strange start as I retrace the daily route I took 20+ years ago while I was at college heading towards the Walsall and the M6. Once on that I’m heading south to Birmingham international – full faith in there being signposts for the rail station once I hit the M5. The minibus has no functioning radio and, as I find out quickly in an overtaking manoeuvre, a speed limited to 62mph! (That just adds to the challenge, as we are about to climb the three highest peaks in England, Wales and Scotland in less than 24 hours.)
Arrival into Birmingham International train car park is smooth and hassle free, great signposting. Everyone turns up: bright, cheerful and ready to go. We quickly load up; and don the pinkish purple Mencap t-shirts and grab the first passer-by (willing or not) to take photos of the smiling/yawning team. Several pictures later; Lisa, who offered to be our designated driver during the challenge, is in the driving seat and bombing us back up the M6 towards The North at the sedate 62 mph.
We stop in the Lakes for petrol food and driver change – time for a coffee and a bite to eat. I sit back and enjoy it; taking in the view from the dining area; it’s nice and peaceful – everyone else waits at the minibus? Julian, our second designated driver, takes over driving and points us towards Scotland.
17:30 Saturday – Ben Nevis
We arrive at the Youth hostel next to Ben Nevis and everyone eagerly puts their boots on and gets ready for the photo; provided we can find a passing volunteer.
Photo taken and we’re off. The first part of the route from the hostel is a nice quick steep climb; a rude awakening for the journey ahead. We’re moving up at a fairly quick pace and meeting a lot of people on the way down; including several other 3 Peaks Challengers; soon on their way to the Lakes. It’s a nice walk to the tarn which feels about half way, everyone is doing well. I’m tempted to swim, but it’s mid-October and I’ve got to get to the top. The next bit is the never ending zig-zaggy part followed by the exposed last bit. It also very quickly starts to get dark and by half way up we’ve put on head torches to see each other in the gloom.
We split up a bit at this part; but everyone meets up every 15 minutes or so in the gradual slog to the top. After the zig-zags were onto the exposed ridge; emptying our rucksacks of warm clothes onto our already half frozen torsos. There’s a small amount of snow to add crunchiness underfoot and the two crevices still jump out of the darkness offering dizzying views. We all meet at the top cairn and climb on top – the highest point in the UK. We can’t find anyone passing for photo duties – so someone will have to up skill in Photoshop. No Trangias (we’re lightweight for speed) and no time for tea; so we spend five minutes looking at the fog gloom and darkness and strike of back down; the mood is becoming livelier, having done the first peak.Back down it’s a case of re-stuffing layers into rucksacks and avoiding slipping. Once we get to the tarn we’re back down to t-shirts. The last bit is horrendously jarring; impossible to run quickly and an almost never ending brick staircase – but there’s a nice sprint over the bridge and a warm welcome from Julian and Lisa (our drivers) in the bus and the water from the stream is almost as fresh as Thames Water’s finest!
2 minutes to midnight – Saturday
We leave Saint Andrews in the dark and everyone is quickly falling asleep. We soon realise that there is the reason for packing layers – the minibus is nightmarishly cold; there is a ghostly chill in the back, away from the warmth of the driving row at front; all the walkers are huddled in hats, gloves and every layer of clothing possible. The sat-nav thinks the 62mph limit isn’t adding enough to the challenge – it also wants us to include a tour of Glasgow. We oblige and happily use a circling method to eventually escape.
Early morning Sunday, 7th October – Scafell Pike
Julian is driving directly at the sheep and it seems to work – they move out of the way. We’re at the car park putting on head torches and heading off. This should be a simple route: follow the river to the fork, bear right, follow river, scramble up to the ridge; turn left amble over lunar rock formations to the top. And that’s almost exactly what we did, except after the first style we’d lost the path forded the river and climbed up the grassy side of Scafell Pike following the lights of other walkers that somehow transformed into a star.
Well it added to the drama. During the scramble I learnt my estimation of 10 minutes may stretch to half an hour in reality; but the sunrise was all worth it. And the summit was all ours; completely ours; an unheard of joy.
The run down from Scafell Pike is much more possible; nice soft cushioning grass – usually also with the promise of a pub at the end; not today though. At the bottom, we have a warm welcome from Julian and Lisa and we’re off again to Wales; looking nervously for sheep carcasses on the road out.
15:00 Sunday – Snowdon
Two and a half hours to get up and down – that’s the time we have left till the end of the race. I’ve left my trainers in Commelius office. Established on the Pyg track I decide it’s a doable task. Carl (our CEO) said that in under an hour it’s possible to get up and down, so just over two should be enough. Well it was now or never.
I start off at a good 7.5 minutes per kilometre but after 20 minutes that’s dropped to 11mins per km and 40 minutes in I’m on the zig-zags and need to stop. I also run out of Lucozade and start worrying about blisters, which slows me down. I do pretend running past anyone who’s coming down; but it’s really nothing to be proud of. The railway track greets you once you’re off the sig-zags; so the last bit is done at 10.5min per km and I’m at the top just by 16:15.
I realise that I’ve wasted 10 minutes deliberating if I could get down in just over an hour before committing to doing it. Finally, I start my descent with a nice run back down the railway track. Zig-zags are horrendous but I meet Carl and Luisa (our youngest challenger) at the bottom. We’ve quick chat then I almost throw myself down to the miners track. The miners track is basically flat but it never ends!
I’ve got a 10 minutes countdown and no idea how far I’ve got to go, so I conserve energy and try keeping a pace. A pile of rocks looks like the car park so I sprint to it with only eight minutes left till the end of the race. By then, I’ve got about enough strength left in me to run one kilometre. I get to the car park and minibus with two minutes to spare. It’s a nice feeling.
I’m helped by the bar in the nearby Youth Hostel; and the good news we hear later sitting in that same bar with all the remaining Challengers around a table is that everyone of us got to the top in the 24 hour period!
About 23:00 Sunday
We’re back at Birmingham International car park a bit later than planned. We all head off back home. Work in 10 hours!