“People think I am strong. I am not strong. There is a difference between a strong person, and a stubborn person who just wont put their sword down. I am the latter. Again and again and again…..pick the sword up, pick the sword up, pick the sword up” – Joy Bell
Last weekend 12 of us completed the 3 Peaks Challenge in aid of our friend’s daughter Sofia. It was a year in the making and after 24 long hours of going up and down the 3 highest peaks in the United Kingdom we were finished. Tackling any one of these three demons on their own merit is certainly a task that you must prepare for, let alone undertaking all 3 within 24 hours.
The first one we tackled was the mighty Ben Nevis, standing at a solid 1,345m it is the highest and arguably the most challenging of the 3 mountains. With a long hike up and down we were sure that in order for us to do well on this challenge we had to nail Ben Nevis in a good time and get down as quick as possible. However, Scotland and Mother nature had already conspired without our knowledge and more importantly without our consent.
The base of the mountain was of a mild temperature, lovely sunny day, but the top was the polar opposite, and I use the word “Polar” in a fitting way. We had snow on the peak with a lovely -10 temperature with wind chill. That came as a bit of a surprise I’ll be honest, as in Scotland we tend not to have snowfall this early and figured the met office was pulling our chain a little bit to test our resolve. Naturally we met mother nature with our own strength and finished the mountain in good time………back on the bus
Being on the bus gave us several things that were needed. Time to sort our admin, prepare our equipment and clothing for Scafell Pike, rest and make sure we got food and calories back into the body to undertake another hill….. but this time it would be in an unknown arena. THE DARK.
After circa 6-7 hours on the bus, we drove through the daylight and arrived at the mountain completely in the dark. We knew the drill, kit was already prepared ahead of time. Clothes on, layers on, head torch on – we are good to go! After another group hug, wise words between us and a reminder as to why we were doing this, there were no doubts in our minds as to whether or not this mountain would be a success or failure. To us, there was always only one outcome. As we made our ascent under the light of the moon and the head torches that bounced around in the dark, we could see the silhouette of the summit away in the distance.
It’s a weird feeling climbing in the dark, you lose sense of direction, you lose track of time, you lose track of your team as most of the climb is spent with an internal monologue and conversation. Apart from the usual “are you ok mate?” every so often, there was very little conversation or interaction. We had chem lights and hi-vis items that were specific to us, that way we could keep contact and recognise immediately who was part of our group and who was not. Additionally we each had comms in the form of walkie talkies which were good up-to 5km. If ANY of us had spread out that far, we had a bigger problem than just being lost…..we would fail the endeavour.
Let me just say that Scafell Pike, in the dark, while already fatigued is not fun. In fact dare I say, I more or less hated every single step on that hill. For those of you that haven’t climbed it, it’s not a pretty hill and it is not one with a lovely smooth path that await your crushing boots. It’s like walking on the moon. The scattered rocks litter the path and offer very little in the way of comfort or guidance. The likelihood of rolling an ankle, falling or even breaking something is definitely on the high side. Coupled with the cold night air, this one was definitely a mountain I hoped never to set foot on again. (We had visited a few weeks prior in order to recce it and it wasn’t any better during the day)
Summit reached, a swift photograph, group hugs, high fives and a quick snack thrust into our hands, we ate on the move and on the run back down the mountain. As you can tell from my previous comments, I hated this hill and it took even longer to descend the mountain than it did to ascend. Mainly due to the fact that the path and the rocks were sticking up like booby traps from an Indiana Jones movie and as it began to get colder, we just knew that falling on these was going to be like being punched with an iron fist. Cold, hard and without discrimination, it would punish anyone that was not paying sufficient attention.
12 tired men, stagger over the cattle grid, kick off their boots, acknowledge the bright moon, and jumped aboard the warm bus that await them. Still dark we moved off to the West, in the direction of Snowdonia. Now this was a mountain I was looking forward to. Having travelled to Wales once before to undertake the Pen Y Fan, I knew that Snowdon was going to be special. But was it going to be a worthy mountain to finish our challenge on? perhaps.
As we travelled through the early morning we grabbed a scant breakfast if you can call it that, before making our way to the car park at the bottom of Snowdon. The plan was clear…..we take the Pyg track up, and return via the miners track. The thinking behind this was that despite being a bastard to climb on the Pyg track, as far as walks go, its short and sharp. Thus saving the energy for the return leg along the more forgiving miners track. The only real negative to that being, that it’s longer to do it this way. A risk worth taking.
Now I can only talk from a personal point of view, but I was on autopilot for the whole of this mountain. Having been sick during a stop previously, I had literally nothing in my system by the way of food or calories, and I hadn’t been really drinking as much as I should have. Truthfully, my admin was shite, I was in a shit state, I was battling shingles before I had started the three peaks challenge but was it enough to stop us doing this or for me to stay on the bus? Was it fuck !
As we began our ascent, as per previous hills, we remember why we are here, afford some simple nods to each other and head out.
Physically I took stock, how am I feeling? Body is sore and tired, but I’m good,……do I have any soreness or pains?……no, do I have blisters?…no, do I want to quit?…..NO!
Mentally I took stock, how am I feeling? Tired, no sleep as yet,…..am I ready to go again, no but let’s get on with it, are there anymore mountains to climb after this one?…..NO, right then fucking get on with it.
I remember the beginning of the climb, it was cool and I only had my base layer on and a baseball cap, then it began to rain and I thought, we are going to get everything thrown at us on this hill. Turns out, that wasn’t far from the truth.
We kept climbing and at about 527m, I remember coming round a ridge to see the open expanse and the sheer wall of Crib Goch. I also remember reading that someone had perished on that very ridge and that it was to be respected, it doesn’t need another know it all falling from it today. As I was on autopilot for the climb I had to make a conscious effort to take in the surrounding beauty. It was very easy on the eye and in actual fact, it challenged any Scottish hill I had climbed to a duel of beauty. It was glorious, from the lake at the bottom of the mountain all the way to the summit, this was a wonderful hill to climb.
What made it better, was that we were all here together as mates. Mates that have known each other for over 20 years. Mates that had laughed together, been on holiday together, seen each other fall in love and get married.
Now we were here for the most important reason for us all to once again be together. Sofia.
If you remember back to when I mentioned my admin and food intake was shit, well it was even more shit now. I had burned through the food I had brought with me on this climb, I had not much water left and the greatest travesty ever had happened. I had absolutely F all sooky sweeties left to keep me going and that annoyed me more than anything. Sweets, none? WTF?!?
As we approached the summit, a massively cold wind had picked up from the other side and battered us as we stood from the quiet and mellow side. It was either really cold, or it was a mix of wet base layer soaked with sweat and the wind that chilled me to the bone. The thing that pissed me off the most, was that yeah I could see the top, but then I had to take my shit state back down the mountain and guess what? Now we start getting pelted with hailstones. Yeah! Fucking hailstones.
A poignant hand on the summit trig point and a photograph I can still see if I close my eyes. We had made the summit of all 3 peaks. Without a falter and without compromise.
No time to waste, with a swift hot chocolate and a steak bridie bought in the summit café we scoffed them down and headed for the miners track.
Remember I said that the miners track was a lot more mellow, but a lot longer for the return? Well I wasn’t kidding. It felt like every corner we took, another expanding path opened up to take us on another journey. By this time it was dry, no hailstones, just a little cold. My chat had more or less dried up at this point, it was one foot in front of the other towards the finish, I was done with taking myself up and down mountains, cursing constantly as my feet missed a foot hold, or a leverage point to climb from. The only thing I had in my head was getting back to the bus, having a massive hug with the boys and swigging a cold beer in celebration.
There it is…..the gate & THE BUS! That means the end, the finish line we have all been waiting for. As the smile returned to my face I got a sense of euphoria and sadness that it was coming to an end. Weird right ? I’ve more or less spent the whole time on this hill, pissing and moaning for it to be over and that I was done with it, and here I am smiling and if someone said to me at the end “Mate, you need to do it again“………..Id have taken a massive swig of beer, re-laced my boots, filled my water bladder and took my carcass back up the fucking mountain.
Why? because some things mean more to you when you are tired, you are sore, and in actual fact, when you don’t actually want to do something. Think about it, how many times have you completed something that you didn’t want to do or you didn’t think you could…..feels amazing right ? This is the exact same reason you MUST do it. The body will give you everything you need , it’s your mind you need to convince.
So here we are, finished, done, complete, burst. I like statistics because these in itself tell a story, here are some of the stats from the past 24hrs:
- We walked 39.2km
- We ascended and descended 5,522m or circa 17,000 ft.
- I burned 11,019 calories
- My heart rate varied between 53bpm – 217bpm (not a good high to have)
- We Climbed 3 mountains in 3 different countries in 24hrs
Why did we do this? Why did we put our bodies and minds through this?
……..For Sofia x
To give background and context to the post above, please read about Sofia and her family