Sunday, 1 April 2012

The National UK Three Peaks Challenge

In June 2010 (18th to 20th) I had the privilege and responsibility of leading a Group of 16 people to undertake and complete The National UK Three Peaks Challenge. We did hire two mini buses (bear in mind the vehicles have a 100kms per hr(62mph) speed restriction which was not taken into consideration for my road times!). We did travel to Scotland to firstly climb Ben Nevis (the tourist route), followed by Scafell Pike (from Wasdale) and lastly Snowdon (Pyg Track). I completed the challenge in 21hrs.13mins ( 9.58 hrs on the mountains and a 11.15hrs road journey) which was the second best time (best - 20hrs.48mins) and all completed the challenge within the 24hr window. We had two wonderful drivers and we were lucky with the weather. In the months before the challenge I took the participants on three training walks and a few discussion sessions as some had no previous walking experience. Having the right kit is essential.

As a Group we raised £17,000+ for Leukaemia Research.

Since doing the challenge I have been asked on numerous occasions about the event so I am now placing my “Overview Document” (see below) on my Blog, which in reflection I should have done at the time. I hope this proves helpful to those who wish to have a go to complete the challenge. Should anyone wish additional information on any point do not hesitate to make contact with me.

31st March 2012

“Overview Document”

The purpose of this document is to look at all issues surrounding this important charity fund raising challenge and to ensure all members of the Team are prepared for and enjoy the enormous challenge that lies ahead.

The National UK Three Peaks Challenge.
The challenge is to climb, and travel between, the highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales. This is attempted over a continuous 24 hour window.

The Three Peaks are:
Ben Nevis - Scotland: 1344 metres (4,408ft) Highest in UK.
Scafell Pike - England: 978 metres
Snowdon - Wales: 1085 metres

We will aim to complete the mountains in a time of 12.5 hours - Ben Nevis in 5 hours, Scafell Pike in 4 hours and Snowdon in 3.5 hours; however this will depend upon the speed of the Team.

The distance walked is around 25 miles, the height climbed is around 10,000 feet (over 3,000m of non-technical climbing) and the distance to be covered between the mountains is some 450 miles - normally via car or minibus, taking over 10 hours in a minibus. I am not sure what the record is, but 16hrs 30minutes springs to mind. The drivers must know the route intimately and must be able to navigate without support from any walking team member who will need to use this travel time as sleeping time.

Careful preparation is essential and everyone should become actively involved in this, creating a “Team Spirit” from day one. Everyone needs to know the part they have to play and the Team need to be supported by two capable drivers who would also help with kit, food preparation and water supplies.

A massive effort must go into training in the mountains and getting “MOUNTAIN FIT” before hand. Team members must take on their own training plan to include the gym, cycling, swimming and mountain walking and everyone will enjoy the challenge a whole lot more.

Would it not be a great shame to put all of this work in, just to set out on Ben Nevis and realize you or other members of The Team simply weren't fit enough? It is a “Team” effort from day one and this must be remembered. IMPORTANT: due to the time sensitive nature of this challenge, slow moving participants may be asked to drop out, in order for those participants who are well-prepared and moving swiftly to complete the challenge within the maximum time frame.

Three Training Walks
Dates are now in the diary for the three training walks and specific instructions will be issued ahead of the dates as to travel arrangements, sharing of cars and walking routes etc.
o Cadair Idris (Sat 3rd April) – this is a hard welsh mountain and perhaps as near to Ben Nevis as we will get. We are to do a full transverse of the mountain as well as go down the Fox Path and back up the scree. This will give us a full five hours on the mountain with perhaps heavier ruck sacks than we will need on the 3 Peaks Challenge.
o Snowdon (Sunday 11th April) – we will go up and down the Pyg Track, the route we will be using on the Challenge itself. We will endeavour to do a fast time.
o Scafell Pike (Friday 7th May - a Night Walk) – here we will walk with head torches up the route from Wasdale. We will come down a different route thus giving us a full knowledge of the mountain. It will also permit car drivers to familiarise themselves with the narrow roads in this part of the Lake District.

Undertaking these three walks will give all of us some mountain walk experience and it is important that you gain some experience of night walking, thus leading to an element of confidence on the 19th/20th June.

The Mountains
Ben Nevis
During your attempt, you should be able to complete Ben Nevis within the following times:
Climb - 3 hours
Descent - 2 hours

Q. What time should we start our 24 hour Three Peaks Challenge?
A. It's a good idea to try and complete most of the walking in daylight and the driving in darkness. My recommendation is we start at 7am sharp, allowing us a greater chance of completing Scafell Pike within daylight hours

Q. Do we have to start at the Visitor Centre?
A. You can also start from the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, and the Ben Nevis Inn at Achintee, but parking and facilities are limited. As we are to be dropped of I recommend a higher start at Achintee.

Q. How difficult is navigation?
A. The paths are well maintained and obvious in good, clear visibility, and only basic map reading skills are required. However, when the summit is snow covered, or in misty conditions, it is easy to get lost. The summit is extremely dangerous in poor conditions.

Q. What are the summit conditions like?
A. Snow stays on the summit well into the summer. Conditions can change very quickly here. A forecast is posted in the visitor centre, and the staff will offer friendly useful advice. We should check this out on arriving in Fort William on the Friday evening.

Q. Where is the best place to stay?
A. Fort William and the surrounding area has plenty of campsites, bunkhouses, hostels, B&B's and hotels. However, these can become fully booked well in advance, so don't just turn up! Simon and I are already booked into a B&B I always use in the town centre. It is so important all get a good night sleep and late drinking in the pub is out.

Scafell Pike
Scafell Pike is the second of the three peaks to be climbed and will often include a certain amount of walking in the dark. This is allegedly one of the wettest places in England, so you can also expect a fair chance of rain, mist, and pretty poor visibility. Thus perhaps the most difficult walk of the challenge.

Although navigation on this peak may seem fairly obvious in good conditions, route finding can prove to be extremely difficult in the mist, and in the dark - with many groups coming into difficulties when descending. It is very important to be fully aware of the terrain here, which can lead weary and disorientated walkers into some dangerous and exposed cliffs, gills and gullies. We will route mark on the way up to help with our return down.

GPS units are very useful but can give false readings due to the crags and cliffs, and mobile phones will not work in the valley.

Q. From Wasdale or Seathwaite?

A. The most popular starting points for Scafell Pike are from either Wasdale or Seathwaite. Both have extremely limited facilities, and we need to make best use of motorway services before entering the Lake District.

Seathwaite is the easiest to access from the M6 motorway, via Keswick, and reduces the overall drive time by around 1 hour. The downside is that the actual walk to the summit is longer, adding the hour saved by the shorter drive.

Wasdale is situated on the western side of the Lake District, and should be approached via the main A595 road. Wasdale is not suitable for larger vehicles.

Walking Routes
From Seathwaite: From parking in the lane, quietly go through the farm and follow the main path easily to Stockley Bridge. Cross the bridge and continue along the path into Styhead Gill, more steeply now. From the mountain rescue kit at Sty Head, bear left then turn right onto the Corridor Route, through the crags to Lingmell Col. Bear left here for the final climb to the top.

From Wasdale: From the car park at Wasdale Head, head south on the tarmac road to the style/gate and bridleway and footpath signs. Follow the footpath through a field to cross a river on the footbridge. Gentle uphill path right, to path junction at Lingmell Gill. Left uphill, through gate and continue uphill by the gill. Cross river and climb more steeply past Brown Tongue. Bear left on the main path here, across Hollow Stones to Lingmel Col. Bear right on final climb to the top.

Walking Times
As a rough guide, you should be aiming to achieve
these times on the mountain:
From Wasdale: 2 hours climb, 2 hour descent.
From Seathwaite: 2.5 hours climb, 2.5 hours descent.

My preference would be to go up and down from Wasdale being the shortest walking time. I do not fancy parts of the Corridor route in darkness!! Don't underestimate just how difficult this mountain can be when navigating in poor visibility. We are to pay an essential visit to the area before your challenge, so we should be familiar with the routes when we return. Many mistakes are made by trying to return back from the summit too quickly. Steady accurate progress down the mountain will be the order of the night/day. Always carry a head torch and spare batteries, even if you do not intend to still be on Scafell Pike in the dark.

Hi-viz jackets and rear LED lights or glow-sticks are an ideal way to help a team stay together. Groups should stay together in poor visibility. It is very easy to get split up, and even pass each other without realizing it.

One common reason for failing to complete the challenge within a 24 hour period is time lost searching for team members on Scafell Pike in the dark. It is my wish that we all stay together at all times. We will take turns to be leader and we will always have a “back marker”. Beware of becoming confused by other head torches on the mountain. It is very easy to be drawn towards other teams, only to discover they are lost, or are attempting a different route. Stick to made-up paths, and the route with cairns. If possible we will try to remain in contact with our support vehicles.

We will use the motorway services (before Carlisle) to have a break, get a hot drink, fuel up your vehicle, use the toilets, dispose of rubbish, fill up water bottles, change maps, sort out your kit and rucksack ready for Scafell Pike, arriving ready to start walking. We need to respect these quiet and remote locations.

Both areas are sensitive and are surrounded by working farms, campsites, B&B's, etc. Noise and disruption should be kept to an absolute minimum. Arrive quietly and turn your engine and headlights off. Don't slam vehicle doors, play loud music, or shout to each other.

Walking times
As a rough guide, we should be aiming to achieve
these times at least on the mountain.
From Pen-y-Pass:
2hr 15mins climb
1hr 45mins descent.

Remember that Pen-y-Pass is at around 360 metres height, reducing the total climb up the 3.5 mile Pyg Track to the summit. My recommendation is that we go up and down the Pyg Track.
And you may be very tired by then..!

What gear you want to wear and what equipment you want to use is very personal and in this section I am giving you my personal views. I am a great believer in travelling as “light” as possible but always with safety in mind. You will all have a copy of the document Bill circulated “Leukaemia Research” (undated) which gives an “overview” of the event and details kit etc. Weather will play an important part over the two days and thus we must be prepared for bad weather and have spare items of clothing just encase we get soaked.

What Gear/Equipment should you have?
Wicking Base Layer 'T' Shirt long or short sleeved(2/3items) (no cotton material)
• Pants (2)
• Thermal Fleece Jacket (1)
• Waterproof/windproof Jacket (1)
• Walking Trousers/shorts (3) (No jeans)
• Waterproof Over trousers (1) (Half Leg Zips)
• Walking Boots (1/2 pairs) (Training shoes and fell running shoes are not suitable for this challenge)
• Lightweight synthetic liners and heavier wool-blend or synthetic socks (2/3 of each)
• Gaiters (optional)
• Hat & Gloves (2 of each) (Cap if sunny)
• Bandana (1)
• Small Rucksack/Day sack
• Waterproof rain cover for your pack
• Hi-viz jackets and rear LED lights or glow-s
• Head Torch & Batteries
• Watch
• Insect Repellent
• Sun Cream
• Sun Glasses
• Walking/Trekking Poles (I strongly recommend these)
• Bladder type hydration pack or water bottles (1/2)
• Rehydration sachets (1) – (restores natural salt & fluid balance)
• Personal medication if needed
• Pain killers
• Blister pack
• Toilet paper
• Wet wipes
• Hand washing gel
• Lip salve
• Small sweat towel
• Multi tool knife
• Mobile Telephone
• Camera
• Food as required
• Mat to sit on.

Gear in Kit Bag kept in vehicle
• Towel to dry you if wet conditions
• Change of clothing to relax into in journeys between the three mountains and to wear on completion of challenge
• Stuff bag for dirty clothes
• Toiletries for overnight stay in Fort William
• Supply of food
• A supply of water will be kept in the support vehicles and Team members will fill up as required.

Again food is very personal and here I feel every one should be responsible for their own requirements. However I do make comments for you to consider. Food – taken in a food cooler with frozen cooler packs. Here I would suggest you have some of the following:- fruit, dried fruit such as apricots, unsalted nuts, tin of sardines, sandwiches, pasta salad, mars bars, energy bars, crisps, isotonic drink mixes (concentrated energy drinks in powder form can be added to a water bottle to give an extra boost, especially in hot weather- the make I use is Go Electrolyte), water ( a minimum of 2 litres or 4 pints is recommended), packet soup, coffee, tea, and dried milk.

To avoid fatigue, top up your glycogen store the evening before with a carbohydrate – rich meal of pasta and refuel regularly with carbohydrate – rich snacks such as ripe bananas, dried fruit or muesli bars on the route. Avoid high–fat foods as these slow absorption of carbohydrate. It needs to be lightweight, easy to carry, nutritious and be fun to eat. Have a plastic (say a freezer bag) to hold your banana skins, used tea bags and other used items – always take your rubbish home.

We will hopefully have breakfast before we leave Fort William so on Ben Nevis I would have the minimum of food but a good supply of water. After changing at/in the car (after the walk) we would have a light meal and then try to relax/sleep. An hour or so before arriving in the Lake District have a further snack. Again I would not be carrying too much food up Scafell Pike as it will likely be night time and full concentration will be on the path up and down the mountain. A meal will be taken after we change and get back into the car. Get a good sleep in the car before we reach Snowdon. Again have a snack in the car an hour or so before we reach Pen-y-Pass. Change and have a meal at Bryn Tyrch hotel in Capel Curig after completing the challenge. We need to book the meal well in advance.

A supply of water will be kept in the support car. Endeavour to keep this cold. You have to drink whilst hiking, even if you do not feel thirsty. Dehydration takes place even in cool weather and it is necessary to replace the fluid your body loses naturally through breathing, perspiration and urination. Under normal hiking conditions 3 to 4 litres (6 to 8 pints) of fluid per day should be ample replacement.
An isotonic drink is simply one that is already in balance with the body’s fluids, ensuring it can be absorbed using the minimum amount of energy.

Toilet Breaks
On the mountains if necessary.
Youth hostel or bunk house at base of Ben Nevis.
Motorway or petrol stations.
Toilets behind Pinnacle Café at Capel Curig or at Café at Pen-y-Pass.

Road Route
Here the two drivers will be responsible for the routes we take. Having been to Scotland on two occasions this year I have to report an inordinate amount of roadwork’s on the M6 and on roads in Scotland. There is a particular long stretch of roadwork’s round Cumbernauld and with this in mind we need to consider using the Loch Lomond route instead. On returning to the Lake District the recognized route is to Wasdale but we need also consider doing our walk from Seathwaite.

In Wales I would favor the A55 up to junction 10 and then the A5 to Betws-y-Coed, Capel Curig and Pen-y-Pass. Being organized to get quickly out of our support vehicle is essential as we may have to temporarily park as each drop off point may be very busy due to other Teams doing the Challenge on the same two days as us.

One of the hardest parts of the challenge is driving between the hills. This alone will clock up some 500 miles, and take around 10 hours. Remember that you will have to drive to the start of the challenge, and then, of course, drive home afterwards. So the round trip will be at least 1,000 miles.

Details of the recommended road routes are:
From Fort William
(Get fuel at Morrison’s Supermarket in Town)
A82 south to Crianlarich
A85 south to M9
(Stirling Services)
Join M80 to J4
A80 to M73
Join M74 south
(Bothwell Services or Gretna Services)
M74 to J44 M6
A7 to Carlisle
A595 to Gosforth
At Gosforth, minor road
to Wasdale Head
Minor roads back to A595
A595 south toward Barrow
A5092 to Lowick
A590 to Newby Bridge
A591 to M6
M6 south
(Forton Services
Charnock Richard Services)
Join M56 after J20
M53 south into A55
A55 toward Bangor
A5 south for 100metres
B4366 to roundabout
B4547 to T junction
Left into A4086 to Llanberis.
Continue for Pen-y-Pass.
(Could also leave A55 at Jn 19 for Betws-y-Coed, go through Capel Curig and on to Pen-y-Pass)
Checking for any travel info. on the day will help to decide on the best route to use.

Other things that need to be done whilst traveling:
Changing wet clothes
Top up water bottles
Replace used items
Change maps and route cards
Get Fuel
Toilet stops
Sleep !!!

For this reason, a dedicated pair of drivers would be invaluable to share the driving and navigation. If this isn't possible, we will have to take it in turns to drive and navigate, whilst the others sort themselves out and get some rest. Remember that the more tired a driver becomes, the chances of them driving unsafely, getting lost, taking chances or falling asleep increase. Don't forget to do basic vehicle checks before you leave home, oil, tyre pressures, washer bottle etc, and make sure that the jack and wheel brace won't be stored underneath everyone's kit. Sort out a light for the navigator which won't annoy the driver during darkness. Try to fuel up before the start; will the vehicle need fueling en-route? If so, where? And is the petrol stations 24 hours?

We need to be aware of the many Speed Cameras that will be in use over the length of our road journey.

Group Safety Equipment
First Aid Kit
Maps & Compass
Bothy/Group Shelter
Emergency food & drinks
Mobile Phone
GPS System
Powerful Hand Torch

Rob Richardson and I will share the carrying of the emergency equipment.

Other Matters
We will NOT try to drive and walk. We will get at least one, preferably two, dedicated drivers who will not be climbing the mountains. If you end up driving and walking, and are involved in a crash, you may well be prosecuted for a variety of driving offences (it does happen)!

Sort food and drinks for both walkers and drivers. (Here my recommendation is that all are self sufficient with the food we like.) Taking some simple cooking equipment and a few hot water flasks will help keep everyone fed and watered. Don't simply rely on catering outlets (McDonalds, chip shop, 24 hour motorway services) as they are not always serving food!

We will get the right size of vehicle(s) for the group. You should leave plenty of space to relax and spread out, store your kit and food supplies. As a rough guide, unless you have lots of stowage space, try to leave a third of seats empty i.e.15 seat minibus = 10 passengers maximum.

Check driver insurance and license entitlement, especially if hiring a vehicle. Minibus drivers must have D1 category and are normally required to be over 25 and under 70 for insurance purposes.

Be flexible with your route. During a 450 mile journey you are bound to encounter some delays, slow moving vehicles, or road works which were not predicted. Matrix signs are in operation on the main routes which give early warning of accidents, delays, or road diversions.

We use a Satnav and road map. The satnav gives a good estimated time of arrival at your next mountain, and can be a great help getting back on track if you take the odd wrong turn or two. The road map is the best way to decide upon alternative routes to avoid delays.

• Members of Group falling behind or being injured - need to return to base of mountain.
• Move forward at all times as a Group
• Two mini buses - allocated spaces
• Travel in tandem between mountains (If engine problems one vehicle can move forward)
• All alternative routes to be discussed encase of road closures etc
• Nav systems in both vehicles plus map routes to be marked
• Spare wheel to be readily accessed and drivers know how to change these.
• Other risks have been catered for in main discussion paper.
I have gone for a target of 22.5hrs. - the window, as you know is 24 hours.

Ben Nevis
• 7am start
• 10am Top
• 11.30am finish - 4.5hrs
• Road Journey - 6.5hrs
Scafell Pike
• 6.00pm start
• 8.00pm top
• 9.30pm finish - 3.5hrs
• Road Journey - 4.5hrs
• 2.00am start
• 4.00am top
• 5.30am finish - 3.5hrs
Time on mountains -11.5hrs
Time on road -11.0hrs
Total -22.5hrs


Fraser Mackay

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