The ascent of Ben Nevis (4370 ft), Scafell Pike (2900 ft) and Snowdon (2400 ft) within 24 hours has long been regarded by many as one of the ultimate physical challenges in the British Isles. The challenge includes a total of 9670 feet of climb, covering a walking distance of approximately 25 miles, with 500 miles of travel by road between the peaks. [Heights given measured from the starting point of each climb]
Success depends on several factors, some of which can be controlled, such as personal fitness, scheduling to minimise climbing in the dark and using the correct equipment, food and clothing. But there are other factors over which one has no control; principally the weather and road and traffic conditions between the peaks.
The difficulty of this challenge should not be underestimated. It is easy to get lost, particularly when mountains need to be climbed in the dark or in poor weather. With full knowledge of what the challenge involved, a group of SPUC supporters from the Yorkshire Region conquered the peaks.
Report from Michael Hill, 5 July 2012
It would be quick and easy just to cobble together a few lines for the SPUC website confirming that this year’s sponsored challenge was completed successfully on 1st & 2nd July, who took part, and how long it took them.
But our sponsors deserve more than that. And having been personally involved with this event from the early discussions in 2011 through to the fond farewells in the middle of a rainy Welsh car park at the end of the challenge, I can tell you that every member of the challenge team deserve more as well - so hear goes:
Gill Suddaby, William Jenkinson, Andy Openshaw, Gavin Sharp, Sally Hill, Alex Hill, Gina Suddaby, and Michael Hill.
William and Andy arrived for the final planning meeting a week before the event. Alex and Gavin had each sent their apologies but confirmed that they would be doing the Challenge. The four of us at the meeting reviewed the schedule, agreed travelling times, decided who would be responsible for the food and confirmed Sat-Nav postcodes. After the meeting we knew that the next time we would see each other would be at the foot of Ben Nevis in the Scottish Highlands.
Two days later I received a phone call from a total stranger, a young lady called Gina. She told me she had planned to do the Three Peaks Challenge but her team had cancelled, leaving her high and dry, and she was looking for another team to hook up with. Her search began on Facebook, which led her to contact a Hospice in Wakefield where a member of staff suggested she contacted SPUC. Bingo - how could we say no? Gina was obviously committed to raising funds for her charity and would go to any lengths to do it. That impressed me.
We met Gina and her mum, Gill, for the very first time in the Ben Nevis car park just one hour before the Challenge was scheduled to begin. We chatted together while we sorted our rucksacks, waterproofs and boots, and when the 5 o’clock start time came we set off up that first mountain not as strangers, but as friends.
Conditions on Ben Nevis were perfect on that Sunday evening in July, with blue sky, high cloud and sunshine. We had travelled through quite a bit of rain on the way to Fort William, so this was an unexpected pleasure. Climbing is physically challenging even in good weather, and it wasn’t too long before the breathing became laboured and conversation ceased. The girls pulled ahead of the boys to reach the summit first. We claimed that the spectacular views had delayed us, which to a degree was true, but I think the girls were just fitter!
There were a good few walkers on the mountain that evening, and being able to exchange banter and pleasantries with like minded people engaged in a common pursuit was another bonus. The only incident to mar the conquest of Ben Nevis was my fall. I was returning from the summit and not far from the finish, when I clipped a rock and toppled like a felled oak onto the rocks! I lay still for a while thinking I must have broken something. My left leg had taken the brunt of the impact and was numb. After a while I struggled to my feet. I had escaped a fracture, but had serious soft tissue damage. I knew I had to continue the descent if only to determine whether or not I was going to be able to complete the challenge. I desperately hoped I could. The others could tell something was wrong as soon as they saw me, and I told them what had happened. I would decide what I would do later.
After hot soup and sandwiches at ‘Andy and Sally’s Car Boot Café’ we all got into our respective vehicles and set off for the Lake District and Scafell Pike, 266 miles away. It would soon be getting dark but it remained dry - for a while.
The total driving distance between the 3 peaks is approximately 490 miles, which translates to a minimum of 10 hours driving at safe speeds. The travelling element of the challenge is crucial, so you can imagine what colour the air turned when we discovered that the route we had chosen was the subject of an unscheduled overnight closure. It was midnight, we had an extra 22 miles to travel, and it had begun to rain. The mood was changing.
The rain increased as we approached the National Trust car park at the foot of Scafell Pike. It was almost 4am and still dark, but the rest of the gang were already there and ready to go. Weather conditions at the bottom of Scafell were poor, and I explained to the team that conditions would be much worse on the top, but there wasn’t the slightest doubt – they were going for it regardless!
I had climbed Scafell Pike twice in the past, and I knew my knowledge of the route would be valuable to the team, especially in the dark and the rain. So despite my injured leg (hero that I am) I decided to accompany them to a place called Hollow Stones, about two thirds of the way up. From there they would be able to follow a chain of Cairns to the top.
I recognised that my personal challenge was at an end as I watched those four young men and women disappear into the wind and rain towards the summit. The weather worsened as dawn broke, and my descent was slow and painful.
Gina, Alex, William and Gavin all reached the summit safely, but did not linger as the wind chill factor was high. On their return, absolutely soaked to the skin, the team was greeted by the mouth-watering smell of bacon sandwiches. Yes, that’s right - ‘Andy and Sally’s Car Boot Café’ was open for business, but a full change of clothes was needed first. This is not easy in a car park, but with the aid of a towel and a strategically placed umbrella, modesty was preserved!
We left Scafell Pike dead on schedule at 7.30am, but arrived at Snowdon one hour behind schedule. This was due to an incompetent and un-cooperative Sat-Nav insisting we take the M58 instead of the M56. The rain and the heavy Monday morning traffic did nothing to improve the 222-mile journey, either.
Our only consolation was that it was most unlikely that we would suffer the same weather conditions on Snowdon that we’d had to endure on Scafell Pike (the words ‘Hope’ and ‘Eternal’ spring to mind here)
We were the last of our team to arrive at the Pen-y-Pass car Park. It was one o’clock in the afternoon and time was slipping away. The rain was coming sideways again. I just couldn’t believe our misfortune. But just like at Scafell Pike, there was simply no doubt in the team’s mind that they were going to complete the challenge, even in these most appalling weather conditions. Gavin and William had already set off on the Miners Track. Alex and Gina cobbled together some waterproofs, and chose the Pyg Track. By sheer coincidence all four met up at the summit for photos. Alex and Gina were the first to finish with William and Gavin not far behind. Again, these four young people showed tremendous grit and determination in the face of real adversity. They had completed the challenge half an hour outside their own schedule, but one hour inside the 24-hour limit!
Sally presented each of the walkers with a chocolate ‘gold’ medal in a light-hearted gesture to mark their achievement, but they had given so much of themselves in completing this challenge that real gold medals would not have been out of place. After the presentation we bid a sad farewell to Gina and her mum. We didn’t know if we would ever see each other again, living at opposite ends of the country, but we knew that we had shared a very special experience, one that we would remember for the rest of our lives. It was a privilege to have been part of it.
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