Three Peaks Challenge

For those of you that already know the details of the challenge please scroll down for some photos nearer the bottom of this page.

Anyone who has not donated yet and would like to, I believe you will be able to do so until 12th December 2010 by following this link.


Recently, some friends and I tried to complete the THREE PEAKS CHALLENGE. For those that don't know this involves climbing the tallest mountains in each of England, Scotland and Wales in just 24 hours.

My hope was that I could raise more money for charity than I spent on walking boots, waterproofs, head torch, hotel room, car hire, petrol etc otherwise I could have stayed at home and just wrote a cheque instead!!

Of course, all the kind donations go straight to the HEMS charity and do not cover any of my costs!

The Planned Itinerary

The basic itinerary involves driving from London up to the Highlands of Scotland on Friday night/Saturday morning then climbing up and down Ben Nevis (1344m) first, starting at 2pm on the Saturday.

Next, we planned to drive down to England and scale Scafell Pike (978m) in the Lake District at about 1am in the morning.

Finally, after another long drive down to Snowdonia in Wales, not having slept, we planned to climb Mount Snowdon (1085m), finishing before the 24 hours is up at 2pm on Sunday and drive back to London.

Just to add some extra comedy to the whole event I am/was amazingly unfit at present (due to a very busy year finishing my PhD whilst working at Smartodds) and so this feat definitely tested me to my limits!

The Three Peaks

The Charity

I put myself through this ordeal so I could raise some money for the London Air Ambulance (a.k.a. HEMS - Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) which provides a life-saving service, 365 days a year for everyday people within London and the M25.

Despite some funding from sponsors this does not cover operating costs and they still need help raising funds in order to keep providing this care. It is the only one of its kind in London, and was the first service in the UK to fly with a Senior Trauma Doctor and Paramedics on board.

The service has been pivotal in saving countless lives as it allows patients with very serious injuries to be transported to hospital for first-class intensive care treatment during what is known as "The Golden Hour", after which a much much higher proportion of people don't survive.

I have been donating to this charity by standing order for about 12 years now as they do sterling work and I have personal experience of the benefits they bring. My father was in a plane crash in 1991 and thanks to the HEMS service he had the chance to fight for his life for 10 whole days in the high-quality intensive care wards of the Royal London Hospital. Had it not been for HEMS he would have certainly died long before a road ambulance could even have reached him. Therefore, I hope you will all dig deep and donate to this worthy cause!

H.E.M.S. chopper

What happened?

Cramped 7 seater car
This was our 7 seater car. In truth it was a 5 seater car with 2 little fold out seats designed for use by a pair of 5 year olds. When those little seats were out we basically had no place to put our bags and had to sit with all out kit on our lap and between our legs. By the end of our trip we had driven well over 1000 miles (like sardines in a tin) in this car. The fact we had arrived and were out of the car (after about 9 hours of driving) explains why they all look so happy!

Visitor Centre at bottom of Ben Nevis
This is me at the visitor centre at the bottom of Ben Nevis before we set off.

Our group before the Ben Nevis climb
This is our optimistic group of 7 just before the 24 hour countdown began.

The easy bit at the bottom of Ben Nevis
The very first bit of Ben Nevis is made of these rocky paths that get steeper and steeper before they disappear altogether, leaving you to climb over bare rocks.

Piles of stones mark the route through the rocks
Piles of stones like this mark the route through the rubble on the upper slopes of Ben Nevis. My legs were aching a lot (especially my knee joints) at this stage!

A cliff near the top of Ben Nevis
This is me standing in front of a sheer drop very near to the top of the Ben. I look so happy because the bit before was very long and steep and the bit left to come was relatively easy in comparison, or so everyone coming down was telling us!

A view down a gulley at top of Ben Nevis
A view down the same gulley.

Some ruins at the top of Ben Nevis
Ruins of a little hut at the top of Ben Nevis. There used to be a weather observatory up here.

Happy to have got to the top of Ben Nevis
A knackered Will next to a plaque commemorating "the Fallen" at the top of the Ben. I look so happy as we had just figured out that climbing the Ben (1344m) was equivalent to walking up more than 3.5 Empire State Buildings (measly 381m) by stairs!

Summit of Ben Nevis
Here is a photo of Tom and I on the literal summit of Ben after waiting our turn for the photo opportunity. The green thing is a stuffed toy Loch Ness Monster which someone left up there for some unknown reason! So after 3 hellish hours on the way up, all we had to do now was another 2 hours to get down. Not as easy as you might think to go down, although definitely easier than going up!

Setting off in the dark at bottom of Scafell Pike
After 4 or 5 hours of speeding down Scottish motorways, and negotiating tiny little lanes in Northern England (where sheep seemed to like sleeping in the middle of the road) we arrived at the tiny car park at the bottom of Scafell Pike and headed off. This climb was particularly difficult as, apart from attempting it at night, it is also the steepest of the 3 peaks and pretty much the whole time you are climbing up rocks and rivers with no real path to follow.

Observation post at top of Scafell Pike
I might not look it but I was unbelievably happy and relieved to get to the top of the Pike. Each step was agony on my sore knees and although it was lower than Ben Nevis I think it was much harder as there was no let-up at any point. It was just steep the whole way. To get an idea, imagine climbing up the Empire State Building, almost 3 times, by the stairs. Now imagine these stairs are always about the height of 2 or 3 normal steps, so that each step has to be big. Now imagine those steps are actually slippery rocks, and that sleet and rain are bashing down on you. Also, imagine that it is pitch black and picture your head torch is not much good as there is fog and cloud all around. Combine that with a howling cold wind, and the fact we did Nevis not that long before, and you are getting the idea!!!

Summit of Scafell Pike
This is the little stone post marking the summit of the Pike. It is easy to see how much rain and sleet is falling. Not sure if you can tell but it is falling very diagonally because of the wind! Given the darkness and the conditions this was a real arduous climb that took longer than expected/hoped. One of our group had already fallen and injured themselves on the ascent, although thankfully not so seriously they needed carrying down! Our original itinerary had us back in the car by this time so spirits were quite low on the difficult descent as we were beginning to realise how off-schedule we had become.

Low visibility on the way down from Scafell Pike
This is my last photo of the challenge. The strange effect from my head lamp is probably down to the fog. In the background you can see the vague beginnings of sunrise some 3.5 hours after the climb began. We didn't get to the car until about 8am, which was only about an hour before we had hope to start climbing Snowdon.

The Difficult Decision

We headed off to Snowdon in the daylight, still optimistic we might be able to complete the challenge. Especially since Snowdon is by far the easiest peak (lowest vertical climb because car park is high above sea level, least steep, least rocky etc).

But after driving for a few hours we had to make the difficult decision to abort the challenge.

None of us really wanted to after having put so much effort in to the first two peaks, but it seemed the only sensible option.

Firstly, several people were nursing injuries sustained earlier in the day and so wouldn't have been able to climb as fast as the itinerary demanded. Secondly, the conditions on the Pike had meant we were already behind the itinerary schedule and had no room for slowing down if we were to meet the 24 hours deadline. Infact we would have needed to speed up!

Also, there were roadworks with 50mph or 40mph limits all over our planned routes which slowed us down further. We did make up lots of time by speeding on other stretches of the road, which eventually landed one team member a ticket and fine, but despite this we had to accept that we couldn't finish in time.

So finally, with heavy hearts, we headed back to London. Probably best all round, as after climbing Snowdon, dropping 2 people off in Northampton, and another 2 in Newbury, Tom and I (the two remaining drivers) were not sure we would be very alert/safe on the London roads by late Sunday evening after all that physical exertion without any sleep.

So that was the end of our challenge this time round, but we all agreed we would consider giving it another shot next Summer in better conditions, and may return to Snowdon sooner just to get that one under our belts.


Thank you to every one who has donated to the H.E.M.S charity on my behalf.

It certainly helped spur me on at the harder points of the challenge to know that people had been so generous for such a good cause!

At the time of writing (3pm, Monday 13th September 2010) we are up to 870.00 which is great! But, I am reliably informed (by a telephone call to the charity this morning) that each time the helicopter goes out on a mission the charity is charged 1300.00, so I have changed my target on the donations page to reflect that. I have also stuck 50 of my own cash on there to keep the ball rolling! What an amazing thing you are all part of - if we reach or surpass 1300.00 we will have literally saved a person's life with these donations!!

So if you haven't donated yet and want to then please don't hesitate and visit the donations page now!