THREE PEAKS CHALLENGE: THREE OF A KIND

Climbing the highest peaks of Wales, England and Scotland is a true national challenge.’

“Stop the car!” As if our lives depend on it, Linsay pushes the brakes and puts our red Fiat 500 at the side of the road. ‘Take your camera. The sunrise is amazing.’, and I point to the spot we’ve just passed where a red colored sun rises above the mountaineous horizon. She takes her camera and runs towards the place we’ve just driven by. It is 5.20am and we’re on our way to the start of the Miner’s track.

A recommended climbing route to the sumit of Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales. Snowdonia, the national park in the smallest country of the UK may well be a hotspot for cyclists, hikers and tourists, at this moment it seemed like we were the only people for miles. It had been the main reason why we were on our way this early in the morning: avoiding the big herds of climbers that would their journey towards the summit of Snowdon later today. The panoramic views of a brightly coloured sunrise above the horizon was a second motivation to set our alarms at 4am.

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Sunrise above Snowdonia

‘We haven’t started walking yet, and already we have some amazing pictures.’, Linsay says, scrolling on her camera while I’m preparing a backpack and lock the car. Only one other climber beats us to being the first ones off. The fact he choses to take a different route uphill ensures we’re the only people on this route for the ascent of what will be the first peak of our Three Peaks Challenge.

 Snowdon (May 1st 2015)

It’s quarter past six when we set our first steps on the Miner’s track. The ascent may be on a steady pace, it takes a lot of time before we completed our first kilometer. Not least because of the many photo-ops we’ve made well use of. This doesn’t get better when we get our first sight on the pyramid-shaped peak of Snowdon. With a summit looking like it has been dusted with a layer of icing sugar, it would make it a lot easier to recognize our goal during the whole hike.

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Soon after, the asphalt path of the Miner’s track is exchanged for a more difficult to walk on route made by huge boulders. It makes us feel like an army of ants slowly moving uphill. The surrounding mountaineous landscape enforced this feeling. ‘Is the pace not to high?’, I ask Linsay, realizing that we’ve been moving quite fast as a result of our enthusiasm. It’s her first mountain ever, and despite being only 1085 meters of altitude, the fact that the route starting at Pen-y-Pass is situated at 359amsl makes it a physical effort not to be underestimated.

‘Can I take another sip?’, Linsay asks when we take a break at a place where the huge boulders are providing us a seat. I pass her the bottle of water and look down to the route we’ve traveled. A large blue lake, split in half by the Causeway, a path resembling to a dam, is dominating the landscape. ‘We’re at 723m’, I read at my altitude meter. ‘We’re ascending fast.’, I encourage her. An hour has passed as we reach the ridge that would lead us to the summit of Snowdon. ‘Wow, it’s quite windy up here’, Linsay said shocked, holding her hat firmly to her head. The weather had been perfect during our whole ascent, but once we’d reached the final ridge, wind had picked up. With a strong wind blowing our faces, we commenced our final ascent. ‘Be careful with the steps you take.’, I shout against the wind, hiding my hands up my sleeves to withstand the cold. Slowly we’re pounding against the wind, Linsay following my traces shortly. Being on the summit longer than necessary is everything but comfortable so we march up the final steps to the highest platform of the mountain. ‘Do you have your camera ready?’, I ask. On the platform the wind has free shot at us, and so we’re in a hurry to take our summit pictures. ‘What a view!’, Linsay says, impressed by the panoramic view offered by the highest point in Wales. On the one side Snowdonia and on the other the impressive coastline we’ve traveled along the past few days. We embrace each other, partly to celebrate our efforts and partly to keep upright from the strong winds. ‘Congratz, you made it!’, I congratulate her. ‘No, we made it.’, she says. She is right. Our first peak is in the bag.

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Scafell Pike (May 3d 2015)

“With this weather, we never make it to the summit. No, even worse, with this weather I won’t even start the climb.’ She’s right. Climbing Scaffell Pike in this kind of weather is impossible. After having run through our options, we decided to head for Lake District National Park, where Scaffell Pike is situated, despite the bad weather. We want to spend the night at the campsite in Wasdale Head, nearby the highest point of England. And who knows, if it stops raining, we can climb the peak afterall. Our little bit of hope gets bigger when the owner of the campsite tells us the weather should be improving in the afternoon. ‘Even though the conditions won’t be ideal.’ He might as well have said: ‘Good luck, I’ll see you back tonight?’, because as soon as we heard ‘improving weather’, our decision was made.

‘No one will reach the summit of Scafell Pike today because of the weather.’, was the news we received this morning. A statement debunked when we ran into a few hikers who had made it to the summit, despite the terrible weather. Bad visibility would be one of the issues to deal with we assumed, observing a grey clump of clouds. We would have to use our map to make sure we find our way back down in case a thick fog would obstruct our views. Getting lost is one of the main reasons why a lot of tourists never make it to the summit since the highest point can not be seen from ground level. In the distance we see another group of hikers. It seems like they are doubting which path leads up to the summit and it doesn’t take long before we catch up with them. Their doubts are justified as we started doubting as well where the path lies in this boulder field. ‘It should be here’, I confirm after double-checking the map.

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After having spent some time scrambling on a route we were pretty sure this wasn’t the right way, we end up on a route that would lead us to the highest point. Standing at the edge of what seems like a plateau, a thick mist surrounds us, obscuring our view of where to head to next. Minutes later, we discover a cairn that would lead us further, we assumed. Most of the time, the next cairn is out of sight because of the low visibilty, making us wait for a while till the clouds clear for a brief moment. ‘There!’, I shout, pointing at a two meter high wall seeming to be some kind of platform. Numerous herds of hikers where all over the place taking their summit pictures. We didn’t get the amazing views as on Snowdon, but only two days after having reached the highest point of Wales, we summited Scafell Pike.

Ben Nevis (May 14th 2015)

Anyone willing to climb Ben Nevis will find it difficult to pick a day with good weather. The Scottish climate guarantees that you will have to keep in mind that nine days out of ten, you won’t see a thing from up the summit after having hiked a strenuous and long climb. Our date to climb Ben Nevis was set months in advance, and with the many days of rain we already endured, we could count ourselves lucky when we checked today’s forecast. ‘By far the most sunniest day and little to no clouds at all. We’re really fortunate.’, Linsay said, checking the weather forecast on her smartphone.

With this kind of news we didn’t have that much trouble getting out of bed at 3.30am, taking our backpack and hiking towards the start of the Tourist trail. Our early start is to avoid the daily big herds of tourists that make an attempt to climb Scotland’s highest mountain. ‘It’s five o’ clock.’, I check my watch while the first sunrays are reaching the valley floor and we hike our first meters uphill. The Ben reaches an altitude of 1344 meter, but since it starts nearly at sea level we have to climb every one of it. ‘No climber in sight.’ I notice with relief, knowing we’re probably on our way to have the best experience in the Three Peaks challenge so far.

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Every step uphill we’re taking, the view on the Highlands and lochs are getting better and better. ‘The famous Highlands with blue skies in the background. A rare view…’, I tell Linsay when we make another stop to take some pictures. I can’t keep count of them. Just like our time in Snowdonia, the spectacle between the sun and the hills of the highlands is the wet dream of every photographer.

‘Snow’, Linsay shouts full of enthusiasm when she sees the first layers of snow covering our path. We had expected snow during our hike since there are still some winter conditions on Nevis in May. ‘Which way for the highest point?’, I wonder, doubting between a higher plateau on the left and a high peak on the right. The difference in altitude seems minimal and not noticable from our point of view. Deep footprints in the frozen snow makes us choose for the left side. ‘Is this the summit already?’, I wonder, waiting for the thick layer of mist that had appeared to disappear. I turn my sight in every direction but can’t see anything higher than the place I’m standing. Facing my own contradictions, I accept the fact that this is indeed the summit of Ben Nevis and we have completed our Three Peaks Challenge.

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On our way down we run into more arguments why our early start was justified. Herds of tourists start their way up the mountain as if twenty touring buses just dropped them off. This huge crowds hiking up the peak is typical for the Three Peaks Challenge.

lijkt. Mezelf met argumenten tegensprekend leg ik me erbij neer dat dit effectief het hoogste punt is en we onze Three Peaks Challenge hebben voltooid. Just like Snowdon and Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis is a popular day climb. It’s in the nature of people reach out for the highest and most beautiful things. The biggest peaks of the UK, and we dare to say some of the most beautiful experiences as well.

Do you want to take on the challenge? Plan the Three Peaks Challenge with our e-guide! 

Three Peaks Challenge

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