There are many challenges you can set yourself in life. Perhaps you want to learn a new language, or master a musical instrument, or learn how to pirouette in the snow while wearing a pair of clogs (ok maybe not that last one). Or, if you are a little bit too determined for your own good, like your humble narrator is, then you could try and climb three mountains in a 24 hour period…
The three peaks challenge involves precisely that, and requires the climber to summit the three highest peaks in Scotland (Ben Nevis – 1344 metres), England (Scafell Pike – 978 metres) and Wales (Snowdon – 1085 metres) back to back, with the time it takes to drive between the mountains your only respite.
I recently undertook this challenge with a group of colleagues (and friends). We’d put ourselves through the rigours of a training weekend, and drove up to Fort William in Scotland to begin the challenge in a quietly confident mood. Plans had been laid with meticulous detail, and everyone was equipped physically, mentally and, indeed, with the right trekking equipment and provisions for the climbs ahead.
Each peak has a distinct character. Ben Nevis’ tumbledown Highland beauty hems in its jackknife paths, with a smattering of slip-slidey snow near the summit. Scafell’s grassy gradients gradually give way to rocky terrain shot through with bulging boulders. Snowdon, my personal favourite of the three, is fringed by shimmering lakes and topped with peaks sculpted by glaciation. Yet when we climbed them they all had one thing in common…rain. Lots and lots of rain.
Against the clock, as you are, you wouldn’t really be able to stop and admire the scenery anyway. But when relentless rain floods your bag and saturates your shoes, too many four-letter words are going through your mind for you to have anything more than fleeting moments in which to appreciate the sublime mountain vistas. It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other and ignoring the red-hot pain scorching through your legs.
Everyone had their low moments – a few tumbled on Nevis’ snowy inclines, the stream we had to traverse on Scafell also caused someone to fall in (their response – ‘I can’t wait to get off this f*****g mountain!’) and by the time we got to Snowdon a few people were genuinely ready to quit. But we all pulled together as a team and willed ourselves and each other on.
So why did I undertake this rather insane challenge? No, it’s not because I’m a masochist. Rather, as the great English mountaineer George Mallory famously responded when he was quizzed on why he wanted to climb Everest, ‘because it’s there’. It’s that all too human compulsion to take on the gauntlet nature has thrown down and, in the most respectful way possible, overcome the challenge it has presented.
So when we completed the challenge? Cheers and high fives all round. I think somebody may have asked for their mother too, I can’t remember now. But for me, there were feelings of elation, relief and pride at achieving something I wouldn’t have given myself a sliver of hope of completing as recently as a year ago. But would I do it again? Hell no.
A huge thank you to my fellow climbers whose indefatigable spirit helped me up the mountains. Particular thanks to Ed, who took these photos and posted this rather splendid video of our experience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RMMflvf9mo&feature=youtu.be