How I Survived the 3 Peaks Challenge

3 peaks challenge

Almost two years ago, I took part in a huge charity challenge that tested my mind and body to the limit. The 3 Peaks Challenge is a 24hr endurance challenge where participants climb the tallest mountains in Scotland, England & Wales in a 24hr period. I walked for the Walkabout Foundation, as I had just started working there at the time. I recently found my notes from the trip and wanted to share the story with you all today. Enjoy!

Day 1- 04/07/13
“Already over it,” I texted my friend this evening. That was before trekking to Gatwick airport, flying to Glasgow and taking twenty minutes, laden with luggage to find the airport hotel – at the airport, no less. Today in London was hot and sticky and dragging my bag around felt like a challenge in itself.

However, I now lie in bed in the Glasgow Holiday Inn, after catching an hour’s sleep on the plane and having a hot shower before bed. I feel prepared for this trip in terms of equipment. However, I’m not sure that I know what lies ahead. I do know, however, that I have the determination of steel to complete it, which is enough to help me to rest for now.

Day 2- 05/07/13
What an amazing sleep! I’m so glad that I managed a good sleep before embarking on the trek. I take a long shower, sip a coffee, pack up and head over to the airport cafe where the team is all assembling. On our team are members and supporters of Walkabout, including Carolina, the co-founder, and myself, Matt Reeve (of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, son of Christopher), various bankers from RBC, who came to the charity with the original idea for the trip and a quite a few other people who joined the group online. We meet our guides, Richard & Allie, before setting off.

Our driver Frank hilariously explains that he doesn’t like to waste time when driving up the winding mountain roads to Fort William and so advises that we get over any weak queasy stomachs before we set off. Fair enough, Frank. Thanks for the warning.

Scotland is absolutely beautiful to drive through. We pass Loch Lomond, the location for the mountain scenes in the James Bond movie, Skyfall, and we also pass nearby the Harry Potter train location, as well as, rather poignantly, Jimmy Savile’s old Scottish cottage, now boarded up and graffitied. A total mix of sights. I always tell myself that I should see more of the UK and the summer is the perfect time to do that, as it’s so pretty. I make a mental note to come back, preferably in sandals and for a casual country stroll.

At Ben Nevis Inn, we fill up on fish, chips and burgers before getting geared up to attempt the mountain. Within about ten minutes, we all come to the realisation that this was quite a task. The path is huge, rocky steps, uneven surface and really hard work. After half an hour, we lose our first person. A woman drops out, realising that she would never make it. She heads back down to catch a train to London as we continue up the mountain.

3 peaks challenge ben nevis

The higher we get, the cooler the weather gets. I become very grateful for all of the waterproof gear that my boyfriend insisted I get before the trip. I fall slightly behind the group when my right leg starts hurting, but make it to the top of Ben Nevis with a few other stragglers in the team. It is snowy and blowing a freezing cold wind at the summit. We quickly get the standard summit banner picture, eat a snickers behind a rock and head back down.

On the way down, I’m slow again, but comfortable and walking with a couple of the other girls. My feet are pounding for about two hours straight as we clamber back down the huge uneven rocks we scaled just a few hours before. The sight of the Ben Nevis Inn is so welcoming. I rush to get my hiking boots off, flip flops on and splash my face with water. We then warm up with some soup before getting back into the bus for an overnight drive to Scafell Pike where we are scheduled to begin climbing at 4am.

3 peaks challenge

Day 3 – 06/07/13
If you aren’t someone who sleeps when travelling, try hiking a mountain first. Then you will crash like a baby. We are awoken at 1am by the driver who announces that we have to take a 45 minute break at a service station. Some people head straight to McDonald’s for a refuel. Others complain about being woken up. I just decide to find the bathroom and pick up some more supplies from the shop. Standing up, I feel really stiff, as expected.

However, when I get outside in the cold car park, my legs literally stop still. My feet don’t really hurt anymore but my right thigh feels really tight. I keep moving and carry on with what I’m doing, and head slowly back to the bus thinking that I definitely need to stretch when I get off again. We drive three more hours and arrive at Scafell Pike to sausage baps, bananas and coffee. My leg seizes and hurts. I get ready, thinking it must just be tight and set off with the others. I drop behind almost immediately, which shocks me but I am determined to finish.

3 peaks challenge scenery

The path is rocky and not at all fun. We had been warned of this in the van, but really didn’t envision it well. I hate it. I end up at the back for a lot of the climb, which affects me a lot mentally. I feel the need to rush and get ahead, like I’m not a part of the the team otherwise. The same goes for on the way down. I get to the summit, take a break with everyone and then they set off and I hobble down. Literally. I can barely put my right leg down and finish in a time of 4h55, which gives me only two hours to summit Snowdon to reach the 24hr target. All I can do is hope that the drive to Wales gives my leg time to rest. We realise we lost two of the team on the wrong path, meaning that we have to find them before setting off, which slows us down a little more. I sleep a bit more before our final stop before Snowdon and rush off the bus to change my clothes. Clean underwear is a dream, as iss being able to splash water on my face and clean my teeth. With my clean gear on, I head back out to find lunch. My leg feels looser and like I might be able to tackle the third peak. However, Richard the guide pulls me aside and suggests that I drop out to give the rest of the group a chance to go ahead. I beg to give it a try and he goes back to discuss it with his team. At that point, the tears came. I couldn’t help it. To have struggled through two mountains and to feel ready to tackle a third before being asked to drop out, essentially due to logistical reasons, is pretty gutting.

Luckily for me, the rest of my team are very much on my side and agree that I should be allowed to try it if I feel up to it, so with the bus driver on standby at the bottom, I set off.

And thankfully, I keep up with the group. I guess staying off my right leg for the Scafell descent meant that it had time to rest before Snowdon. Richard is happy enough after 30 minutes and approves me continue. I am ecstatic.
‘I don’t like when people tell me ‘no’, Richard,’ I told him.
‘I can see that!’, he said.
So off I go again. I find that I can motor pretty quickly down flat surfaces and then drop behind again when there is a need to climb. But for the most part, I keep an eye on the group in front of me. Once you’re almost there you don’t really have much of a choice because it would be far more difficult to head back down from where you came anyway. The sun is absolutely baking and whenever we find shade, Richard makes sure we stop to grab some water and give my leg a break.

3 peaks challenge views snowdon

I am so glad when he says that it looks like a different leg to that morning. As we near the summit and I see the rest of the team waiting, he tells me the extent of how injured I had looked that morning and told me that I had changed my gait completely. He said that I had turned my entire leg inwards and was putting no pressure on it at all, which I hadn’t realised, so he couldn’t quite believe not only the transformation in me, but also my determination to get to the top. To me, it had never really been an option to not complete all three peaks, so I guess I felt I had no option but to keep putting one foot in front of the other until I arrived.

Reaching the top is a spectacular feeling. My whole team are cheering and clapping. I only arrived 20mins after them, which I felt was an achievement in itself. We all bask in the glory of being at the top of peak 3 and at having finished the challenge. The only issue then is the fact that a shower, a hot meal and a hotel bed are at the bottom go the hill, a somewhat 2-3 hour trek away. So off we go. This, for me, is really difficult. I don’t have the determination driving me to complete the challenge anymore, so I’m running on less adrenaline and therefore feel more pain and frustration than I had on the ascent. It hurts, I am fed up and I want to cry. In fact, I get just 200m short of the hotel when my boyfriend rings from South Africa and just hearing his voice sets the tears off. I need to finish this now. The magnitude of climbing 3 mountains in 24hrs with little sleep, no good food and with a bad leg all hits me. However, I pull myself together, finish the walk and make my way straight back to a well-deserved shower.

3 peaks challenge

At Walkabout, we often say ‘walk for those who can’t’, and it really is thoughts like that that get you through challenges like this. The idea of failing and having to go home and tell everyone that you didn’t make it was also something that I didn’t want to face that weekend. I did that once before when I lived in Spain, was hideously out of shape and attempted the Camino de Santiago. I left after two days and had to get a bus back. I felt like such a failure. It was a massive shock to the system and made me want to turn my life around and get in shape. This time, just over five years later, I was fit and in shape, which is why injuring my leg was so frustrating for me. However, the one thing that I did have was mental strength. I was emotionally determined to succeed. And once again I shocked myself. I didn’t know how strong I was, or had become. And that makes me very proud.

As I write this now, two days after the final descent, I can still barely walk. Stairs are a real issue. I’m battling the London tube at rush hour and I need to use a pole or something to pull myself up and down every time I sit down, as my legs totally seize up. But I don’t care. The pain and discomfort will subside and only the achievement and pride will remain. Which is all that really matters anyway.

Now it is early 2015, I no longer work at Walkabout Foundation, but I created such memories and made great friends for life there, but want to thank everyone who donated and supported me along the way (and also thank you for your patience in getting this blogpost live!) I couldn’t have done it without you all.