The Three Peaks Challenge

Climbing the three highest peaks in the UK (Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon) has been something that I have wanted to do since my very wise decision to split up with my previous long-term partner.

I was convinced that at 27, I was destined to be alone forever, and I wholeheartedly embraced the idea of challenging myself and creating a life that I would live to remember with lots of opportunities to dive outside of my comfort zone. I was excited for the future and I had planned for the three peaks being my first solo adventure.

I was single for a grand total of 3 weeks; my path and priorities diverted into an altogether different life that has been even more exciting and rewarding then I ever could have hoped.

However, there was still a part of me that had never quite given up the dream of climbing the three peaks and on 23rd May 2019, I finally got my chance. Even better, I got to take on the challenge with Ollie which is an experience I will never forget (and judging by the drama on top of Ben Nevis, I don’t think he will either!)

Back in December 2018 a group of colleagues that we work with (yes, me and Ollie work at the same company) were offered the opportunity to participate in a Three Peaks Challenge to raise money for Action for Children. We eagerly signed ourselves up and waited to see if we had been successful.

After a few days of waiting we finally received confirmation that we had made it onto the much coveted list of selected team members…..yippee!

There was only one problem………we had to do the challenge in 24 hours! (This was not what my former single self had signed herself up for!) This was not for the fainthearted!

Nevertheless, Ollie somehow persuaded me that it was still a good idea and I reluctantly accepted that the work gym was to be my new lunchtime destination of choice if I had a chance of getting fit enough to take on the peaks.

The months came and went. Weekends were spent embarking on long (uphill!) walks along the South Downs. Lunchtimes and evenings were spent in the gym, lifting weights and doing high resistance cardio to build up my legs and shoulders. Carb loading became a very real thing and I discovered that I actually enjoyed the whole training process, particularly exercising in the middle of the day which was a pleasant surprise.

Training.jpg

Before we knew it, it was the 22nd May and we were on our way to Fort William in Scotland to start our journey up Ben Nevis early the next morning.

We stayed in a simple, but lovely little hotel in pretty surroundings set within Loch Lomond and the Tydrum National Park. Me and Ollie managed to steal a bit of time for ourselves to explore the area, before a group dinner in the hotel and an early night.

Ollie

Mountain

Carabymirror
Ben Nevis

I woke up early on the day of the challenge feeling both nervous and excited for the impending 24 hours. My tummy was doing a strange little dance and I struggled to force down some breakfast.

For some utterly unknown reason, I had decided that it was important that wear at least some make-up for this challenge and ensure that my hair had been carefully washed and straightened so that I could look my best at the top of each peak.

Perfect hair

We all piled on the coach and made our way to the bottom of Ben Nevis for 08:00am, ready to climb our first mountain. The weather was reasonably mild and we were advised to start off wearing less layers as we would get warm pretty quickly. As I tend to get cold very quickly I disregarded this advise from the trained experts and wore my down jacket for the first 40 minutes before realising that perhaps I should have listened to the guide after all. At the next stop I de-layered and swapped my thick coat for a waterproof as the air was becoming damp the higher we climbed.

Meon BN

Ben Nevis went on for hours and the further we walked the more difficult it became to navigate the uneven terrain, including a thick layer of snow close to the top. Although I didn’t realise it at this point, I definitely hadn’t eaten enough on the way up and I should have put my down jacket back on.

We finally reached the summit of Ben Nevis and a few whoops and cheers were had by all. As the cloud was so thick we weren’t able to get any decent photos and the damp air was starting to seep in and make us cold.

We hurried down the mountain and I found that I was becoming quite unsteady on my feet and my hands were starting to go numb.

A few meters ahead we could see that two of the girls had stopped and one (Emma) was clearly in pain. A rock had dislodged under her foot and jarred her knee. Being near the top of the UK’s highest mountain made for a difficult situation and we all attempted to get her down the mountain slowly. It was clear that every footstep was agonizing for her and we soon had to stop walking.

The cold was unbearable and our guide pulled out a small shelter to keep off the wind and the now small group of four of us (everyone else had carried on ahead) were huddled together trying to keep warm. It was at this point in time that I started to feel quite woozy and sick. I was dizzy and weak and I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore.

I don’t remember much past this point but the next thing I knew, I was laid down on a rock with orange flavoured gel around my mouth where Ollie had tried to revive me. I felt completely awful and I was desperate to get off the mountain. Somehow I managed to sit up, with a steely determination I didn’t know I had, and shovel some Haribo sweets into my mouth before finally descending the mountain.

It seemed to go on forever but we finally made it down Ben Nevis. Emma was eventually airlifted back to the ground but the whole saga pushed us back by three hours which we accepted we probably wouldn’t be able to claw back.

We all got back onto the coach ready to be taken to Scafell Pike for the next leg of our challenge.

Scafell Pike

Sadly for me, I was advised not to undertake Scafell Pike as there was a health and safety concern around my overall wellness and energy levels.

As Scafell Pike is mostly undertaken in the dark it would be particularly difficult to get me off the mountain if I ran into trouble half way through.

A few of us (Emma included) stayed on the bus and got some much needed sleep while the rest of the group continued up the mountain.

Five hours later they returned, exhausted, with a few additional injuries to contend with (mostly knee and ankle related). Several people accepted straight away that they would not be able to tackle Snowdon for a variety of reasons and I think at that point we had all unanimously acknowledged that we would not be able to complete the challenge in the 24 hour time frame.

Snowdon

At the next service station I picked up a couple of packets of Haribo Tangfastics and ate an enormous meal as I was determined to complete Snowdon without a hitch.

By this point the coach stank of sweat, sugar and deep heat. Everyone was feeling beaten and we just wanted to get the last one done and go home.

We were dropped off at the foot of Snowdon and the sun was starting to burn through the clouds. The atmosphere was slightly more cheerful then had been previously and we were eager to make a start.

The ground was slightly rockier then Ben Nevis but I can honestly say that of the two this was my favourite mountain. I’m not sure if it was because the views were better or that it was a bit shorter but the mood of the group was improving the higher we got and our guide was particularly knowledgeable about the history of the area.

Snowdon

Cara&Ollie

We reached the summit within 4 hours which was a huge achievement considering the depleted energy levels and I think we were relieved it was almost over.

The final descent was difficult and I was particularly glad that I had decided to buy walking poles at the very last minute.

Happily there was a pub at the end of Snowdon and we piled in to grab a well earned beer/ wine / prosecco and toast our achievement.

We filtered onto the bus for the final time to start the long journey back to West Sussex.

I have never been more grateful to get back into my home and bed as we actually ended up getting back to Shoreham-by-Sea at about 01:00am on Saturday morning.

Would I do the 3 Peaks Challenge again? Yes I would, but I would most definitely make sure I eat properly throughout the journey.

It was 100% one of my most rewarding challenges to date and if anything it has made me slightly more adventurous and keen to push myself harder.

I have also established a love of walking and I still make sure I get to the gym as many lunch times as possible.

I would recommend anyone take on this challenge and even if you don’t finish it, I guarantee you will prove to yourself that you can do more then you ever thought possible.

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