Chris & Lucas at summit number 2, Scafell Pike - 978m
262 miles down the A82 and motorway and north Cumbria – most of us slept some of the journey – Steve seemed to have an ability to sleep the minute the van moved, whilst Elaine, Chris and I were spending much time trying to just get some comfortable(ish) position to snooze, as well as change into drier/less sweaty clothes and have some food. Our music was ecliptic for the journey – ranging through pop, dance, jazz, classical to the Sunday morning Radio 2 show with hymns and interrupted with a stop at the services. The last section from Egremont into Wasdale Head on the back roads at a fair pace in the bus just after eating breakfast caused us all to feel somewhat nauseous. At 7am, climbing out the bus was a delight as the sun was bright and the top of Scafell visible and cloud free.
We made a fairly swift start and Sam, Debs, Chris and I headed off, closely followed by 72 year old Frank – who’s approach was steady but non stop. He’d made the top of Ben Nevis in trainers! The warmer weather was noticeable as I sweated heavily as we maintained a good pace up the steady climb – Scafell is 978 metres high, and you climb from 80metres above sea level on the east end of Wastwater following a crevice along a stream with Scafell to the south (right !). We continued with a good pace and whilst the second part of the group weren’t too far behind, we increased the gap as we scrambled up the boulders towards the top. The temperature dropped but wind remained light as we hit the summit in just over 2 hours but were afforded with a 360° panoramic view of the Lake District, including Derwentwater and Windermere. Pictures and Mark, Steve, Frank, Andrew and David all arrived shortly after us. Maria had not made it after her knees were causing some concerns, but had been met by Elaine, who’d decided not to attempt the summit, but did get around halfway.
Back at the Olympic Stadium
The traffic delays meant we arrived 15 minutes after we’d hoped to commence the climb. Nine of the group officially started on the shore on Loch Long where you dip your fingers in the Loch to commence your challenge and conclude by dipping your fingers in the sea at Caernarfon. Chris, Elaine and I were doing the challenge from the time we departed the foot of Ben Nevis – deemed to be the car park at Glen Nevis, to the car park at the end of the Miners track at Pen-y-Pass on Snowdon. Both of these are deemed acceptable but presented its own concerns for the “dippers” as the toilets except the disabled one at Glen Nevis were closed after they’d started the clock so 20 minutes were lost whilst we all relieved ourselves. For Chris, Elaine and I 6.30pm began our challenge.
Target was five hours up and down Ben Nevis – a height of 1344m. We set off at a fair pace, with brief drink stops. The top was visible and if we could keep up pace we should be down before it was completely dark. The group did Ok to the half way point but then we hit a point where a decision had to be made as Elaine was struggling to keep the target pace. The rest of us headed on, leaving Elaine with Andrew carrying on behind us. The lack of sleep and Elaine being the only non runner in the group appeared to be having an impact. As we reached around three quarters of the height we’d also hit the first lot of snow still sitting. With about 15 minutes to the summit the cloud came in and we found ourselves suddenly in a cold, cloudy snowy surround. We regrouped as we approached the summit – how long it had taken I’d no idea! The snow here was 8 feet (2.4metres) deep – meaning you just stepped up onto the summit point as opposed to use a set of stairs. No hanging about before we began our descent – Andrew and Elaine hadn’t quite made it having been only around 5 to ten minutes behind us. Heading down the group split slightly – Debs and Sam headed off at a pace whilst the rest of us slipped and slid down the snow and the mountain – Maria had taken a few tumbles and I went at one point too. By the time we passed the Lake half way up, light was fading fast and made the lower section much slower as we used headlights and torches to judge the tricky rocky path and were threatened by rain, though this didn’t turn out too heavy. We eventually reached the minibus and a welcome cup of tea at 12:55am – an hour and 25 minutes behind schedule for Chris and myself, Elaine had already lost the chance to complete the three (as had Andrew, but he had taken that possible risk as organiser and plans to do it again). Sam and Debs had been down around 40 minutes before us. The rest of the group arrived around fifteen minutes later and at just after 1:30am we headed off on our way for Scafell Pike.
Arrival in Fort William and getting ready for the challenge
Three National Peaks in 24 hours
During my 10th anniversary year I was approached by friend, Andrew Brant, about doing the Three National Peaks in 24 hours. Trying to fit in a suitable weekend took a while but two years on and twelve of us and driver commenced the trip from East Yorkshire on a mission for climb Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in 24 hours. I have climbed all three summits before, had never seen the top of Scafell clearly as it was thick cloud, enjoyed glorious weather on Ben Nevis and a range of weather on Snowdon during my four previous climbs – but mostly cloud coverage on top.
My aunt from Switzerland, Elaine, who had climbed Kilimanjaro with me and Paul in 2011, joined us as did my cycling companion, Chris Britton. Andrew had organised the trip with the help of fellow Beverley AC member, David Robinson – so I enjoyed just turning up and having no responsibilities. This was in itself a challenge as I’m actually not the best at being in a group and not having a role! Before we’d even commenced, Chris was delayed by 5 hours travelling to Kingston upon Hull after a puncture and flat battery whilst Elaine’s flight was cancelled and resulted in her flying in an hour before we were due to meet her. Both these meant all three of us had around 4 hours sleep before we left!
We started out on Saturday 25 May at 7am when Chris and I and a third group member were collected from my house. By 8am we’d been joined by Mark, Maria, Helen, Frank, Debs and Sam as well as Andrew and David and our driver, Dusty. We then had 372 miles to cover to reach Fort William and or starting point, collecting Elaine from Glasgow airport. I thus adopted my seat and effectively home in the minibus for the next 40 or so hours. The plan was to be in Fort William for 4pm and commence climbing at 5pm. Alas, the best laid plans....! We hit traffic as we left Glasgow airport and took some time to get going again once well onto the A82 along the west shore of Loch Lomond. But good weather made the journey pleasant – with stunning views through Rannock Moor and Glencoe
We made a fairly swift descent – Sam and Debs running some of it, Andrew likewise in both directions (training for the Lakeland 50 mile run in July) whilst Chris and I had a brisk walk to give us 8 hours to travel to and complete Snowdon. This was where we had taken the decision that our 24 hours was based on our accumulated time from when we finished our descents and deducted the time we were waiting for the others in the group to join us. We obviously couldn’t travel without them so restarted the clock from when the minibus departed. (Chris and I also added in a accumulated 15 minutes to allow for time we’d have spent having a drink/toilet etc before we’d have departed in any event). This meant there were now 9 of the 12 of us still able to conclude the 3 peaks but realistically only 4 of us within the 24 hours however you calculated it.
We finally left Wasdale at 12:25pm – over an hour after Chris and I had completed our descent. If we only took 4 hours to reach Snowdon, as predicted, we’d be good for making the attempt. However, I feared that was an ambitious journey time for 224 miles in a minibus!
Much of the first part of the journey I slept – as I believe most of us did – fatigue setting in, regardless of comfort! With a service station on route and we finally arrived at Snowdon’s Pen-y-pass car park (360 meters above sea level) at just after 5.30pm. How Dusty was surviving with the driving on as little sleep I was unsure, but he did a great job and we felt safe in his hands at the wheel. Chris, Sam, Debs and I took little time to commence the final leg – the journey having taken just over 5 hours and leaving Chris and I 2 hours 45 minutes to get up and down Snowdon. (Sam and Debs had 3:45 having descended the previous two much quicker). Frank, Steve and David both had decided not to head for the summit for different reasons, so they along with Elaine and Maria took a more gentle stroll along the miners track beside the reservoir. Mark, Helen and Andrew still wanted to summit and followed on as the four of us took the Pyg track summit bound.
Left - Getting a sweat on climbing Scafell Pike with Wast water in the backdrop
Below - Sam, Steve, Frank, Helen, David and Debs at the Scafell Pike summit
With Alex (McD) after finishing
The Third summit - Snowdon
12 of us at Fort William ready to start - from left: Steve, Elaine, Lucas, Chris, Frank, Debs, David, Helen, Mark, Sam, Maria, Andrew
Above - Dusty, our Minibus
Below - Elaine and Chris early on the climb up Ben Nevis
Greeted with a cup of tea, about 20 or so minutes later Debs and Sam appeared on the horizon and also ran to the finish – though were comfortable within their 24 hours by about 35 minutes. Brilliant effort – and no surprise given Sam was the most energetic of the group, constantly bouncing around and hyper regardless of the sleep deprivation! Helen, Mark and Andrew made it down just before 10pm – meaning an approximate time of 27 hours accumulative time, which is still a brilliant achievement for Mark and Helen. Andrew had done a sterling job in organising the whole trip and ensuring we were safe and for those less experienced had guidance and plans as necessary.
Sam and Chris actually ran some of the first bit, Debs also did some but I had decided I was not dressed for running and was likely to zap any energy reserves too early if I did. Debs quickly took a similar approach, so Chris and I then headed on at a very brisk pace – deciding if we could summit in one and half hours we could still just make it in 24 hours. This clearly spurred us on as we belt up the mountain – admittedly of the three mountains Snowdon has the easier of the paths in terms of underfoot terrain, but pretty steep in places. Again, the weather blessed us with the summit in full view and no cloud’s in sight. We hauled ourselves over the ridge and up to the summit at 1085metres – the only point on the climb where it was noticeable windy – for a 360°view of North Wales and Sam and Debs visible not far behind. Amazingly we’d made it up just over 700 metres climbing with one hour fifteen minutes to return, going back via the Miners Track. With no time to hang about we headed on, keeping our energy levels up with Pink Shrimps and Banana sweets. How we actually managed to descended as quick as we did without any falls is beyond me – adrenalin seemed to fuel us – as we hit the edge of the Tarn and the much flatter
Of those who hadn’t summited Snowdon, it should be noted that Maria had in fact overcome a fear of heights in climbing Ben Nevis – he first ever hill or mountain climb – so a phenomenal achievement in its own right, especially given much of the descent was in the dark. Frank demonstrated that age is no barrier – at 72 he climbed two of the three and half of Snowdon as well as survived the 45 hour trip deprived of sleep. David aided us with weather checks and helpful hints and tips before the challenge and throughout it, being a regular mountaineer, often with pick axes, crampons etc. Such knowledge meant for the rest of us we could just enjoy the experience. Elaine would consider the circumstances of the trip over unfortunate along with not having the opportunity to prepare as much as she’d have liked, but her moral support and great company were much appreciated as well and especially the Swiss chocolate see presented us all with at the start. And Steve found himself wondering a bit what if after we’d concluded – but had felt his knees may not thank him and had still summated Ben Nevis for the first time and been a great enthusiast in the experience – a great one to show how to sleep in a minibus!
We quickly loaded ourselves back into the bus for the final journey – homeward bound – already 5 hours later than we’d originally expected. 230 miles lay ahead of us and our beds, yet exhaustion had kicked in and most of us were asleep regardless of the lack of space and comfort. I managed to get an update on Facebook once I’d got a signal and borrowed a phone after my battery had died leaving Wasdale. Exhaustion was evident – when we arrived at the services not one of us actually knew where we were! (North of Manchester it turned out). Finally we made it back to East Yorkshire and after dropping off the team, initially our amazing driver Dusty, who I reckon had less sleep than anyone and had helped do drinks as well as other things whilst we climbed. At 4am Elaine, Chris and I entered my front door – but not to bed straight away! Oh no, we had a bottle of red wine waiting and didn’t matter how late it was a celebratory drink was required! Finally, at 5.40am I slumped into my bed 1100 miles/26 hours in a minibus, 26 miles/13 hours climbing and nearly 48 hours after I’d climbed out for the adventure.
The Reservoir on Snowdon
Below - Lucas having a brief breather on the climb up Snowdon
Chris & Lucas on the Snowdon summit in glorious sunshine
Above - The Pyg/Miners track nearing the ridge with Sam & Debs
Left - view from the Third summit - Snowdon
The view for 26 hours travelling inside the minibus!
Chris at Glen Nevis with Ben Nevis in the distance
On the final ascent of Ben Nevis as the cloud approached and snow covered the path
Views south across Loch Long nearing the summit of Ben Nevis
Lucas and Chris on top of summit one - Ben Neis at 1322m
Above - Night draws in on the descent of Ben Nevis
Below - Elaine catches up on sleep between Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike
Scafell Pike in the glow of the morning sun
Right - Chris crashes out on the way to Snowdon
Below - Debs and Sam on top of Scafell Pike
Helen (black coat), Maria right hand fluorescent hat, and David (right hand red coat) on Ben Nevis summit
Once round the tarn and heading along the reservoir we realised we needed to up the pace with 20 minutes left on the clock and actually not knowing how far distance wise was left. We finally broke into a jog – despite the walking boots – the bonus being no more climbing or walking once concluded. We slowed back to a fast walk as we rounded a corner but as we realised we had a good mile to go and still couldn’t figure where the car park was exactly. This time we ran more than jogged with under 15 minutes on the clock. The next corner brought a view of the car park area and main road, 6 minutes to go. One more corner and the minibus was visible but still not close enough! About 2 and a half minutes left as we pretty much sprinted for the gate and hit it at 8:25pm exactly. Ok we’d taken 25 hours and 55 minutes from when we literally started this mad challenge but we’d actually spent 24 hours in active transport/climbing mode that we had some control ish) over.
Below - Exactly 24 hours and Lucas & Chris arrive at the finish line
The path round the Tarn with 30 minutes left
Above - Debs and Sam having broken the 24 hour mark with 25 minutes to spare
Below - Mark and Helen with Andrew after completing the final descent