You know when someone gives you a great piece of advice – a nugget of pure unadulterated wisdom – that you promptly choose to ignore? This happened not so long ago when we asked someone who had completed the Three Peaks Challenge – The UK’s three largest mountains in 24 improbable hours – for a bit of advice leading up to our own stab at the task.
Of course by this point we were past the point of no return. Our training plan was well into its twilight stages and, in all honesty, we were simply desperate to hear some words of comfort from former three ‘peakers in the vain hope that it could somehow allay the fear of the unknown.
We wanted “don’t worry about it”, “it’ll be fine” and “you could do it with your eyes closed”. “Don’t do it” was about as welcome as an acute bout of food poisoning on the summit of a cold and remote Cumbrian rock. More about that later.
Chilling warnings aside, we arrived in Scotland with genuine wide eyed enthusiasm , keen to get started.
Ben Nevis was the first of the three peaks to be tackled. If we could scale this unharmed then a six hour drive to Cumbria was next. A night climb on Scafell Pike would duly follow, culminating in a five hour drive to North Wales to tackle Mount Snowdon. A tight itinerary in anyone’s books.
A 6am start saw the 12-strong team part way up Ben Nevis for daybreak and some of the most beautiful vistas in imagination. A fine narrow path picked its way up the UK’s biggest mountain and after three hours we were at its summit. A barren inhospitable landscape cloaked in a freezing mist. It was just as well that there wasn’t much to see up there. With only time to unfurl our Jellybean flag, fill up on food and water and smile for pictures we began our descent.
You may think that coming down a mountain is child’s play in comparison to walking up it, but you would be wrong. The sense of achievement is only enough to carry you part way down. The long strides soon turn to a languid creep as the combination of wet uneven rocks and shot knees take their collective tolls.
After what seemed like an eternity we touched terra firma again. In high spirits we piled onto our cramped bus to embark upon the 230 mile journey to Cumbria. With time to kill, thoughts soon turned to food and sleep.
I don’t know about you, but a Saturday afternoon spent sitting idly, stuffing your face with carbohydrates is never a wasted occasion. Stuff we did, though it felt plain wrong to do so. We were told that you could expect to burn 8000 calories on the way to the finishing post. Depending on your poison that’s 17 and a half Big Mac’s, 60 roast potatoes or two whole Christmas cakes. Food heaven for some but a veritable hell when trying to refuel sat in the back of a bucking mobile shoebox.
Just after 7 in the evening we suited up for the night climb on Scafell Pike. Told to expect bad weather from the outset, we were clad in fetching waterproofs and head torches. Little did we know what awaited us.
Walking through ankle-high water and clambering up craggy rocks on hands and knees like overtired spider monkeys, soon the mixture of the terrain, the dark and general fatigue took their tolls. A few in our party, me included, were also struck down with agonising stomach cramps and nausea – not an ideal situation – and as the path became steeper and more inhospitable we soon learnt that the ‘challenge’ in this particular instance was only part physical.
Believe me, there is nothing more mentally demoralising than expending every sinew and last breath in the pitch black, hoping that the end is in sight, only to crane your neck and look up to see the distant head torches of other teams making their way down the mountain.
All but one team had turned around before reaching the peak. But we pressed on in the rain regardless.
The pure release of reaching the summit was tempered with the grim realisation that you were going to have to face a very different type of challenge, hell in reverse. Wet rocks, spent knees and tired minds are not conducive to happy hikers. Yet this felt like a whole new world of seemingly endless mental torture. With the nearest toilet some four hours away, the words “don’t do it” never felt so apt.
It took 4 and a half hours to descend Scafell Pike. Half an hour longer than it took to climb. Depending on your persuasion, that’s 3 football matches, one and three quarter Godfather Part One’s or 11 episodes of Neighbours.
We had been awake for 23 hours by the time we rejoined the minibus, and Snowdon was deemed too far away, too dangerous and too foolhardy to attempt. Although it would have been great for the bragging rights to say we had done it (I truly believe that if we had to, we could have climbed Snowdon) but I have to put my hand on my heart and say I was relieved that we didn’t. Not after Scafell.
So that was it. We came, we saw, we almost conquered. The Jellybean team can still take a lot of pride from what we achieved. We took the challenge on and what a challenge. Honestly the most difficult thing we have ever attempted, and our team contained a triathlete and triple marathon runner. I’m sure we’ll look back fondly in time.
Hospitality Action is a fantastic cause and if you have to go to hell in a high hat, you may as well do it for something worthy so thanks to everyone who supported us – both financially and spiritually – in our endeavours. You can still go to http://www.justgiving.com/jellybean-3peaks to donate. Do so safe in the knowledge that our pain is temporary compared to some of the people that this inspirational charity helps to get back on track.
If you’re thinking of doing the Three Peaks in 2012 and want some advice, drop me an email.
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