The Three Peaks challenge

View from Ben Nevis
Well we did it, we managed to Summit Ben Nevis, Scarfell Pike and Snowdon within 23 hours.  Phew, what a journey!!

We left Guernsey on Thursday evening and travelled on the over night boat to Portsmouth, quite a civilised way to travel and ever so easy to sleep with the rocking of the boat on the sea.  So we arrived at Portsmouth early in the morning and were on the road by 7am headed north all the way to the Highlands, quite a daunting prospect.

In fairness the journey was actually not that bad.  I admit being ever so slightly concerned about this element of the trip, stuffed into a minibus for hours on end, but I guess you just get into that zone, plus I am fortunate to be able to read whilst travelling so many hours passed with me zoning out to books.

Our first stop was essential as something was wrong with the engine of our borrowed Salvation Army minibus so the RAC were called and we enjoyed a leisurely stop at a service station.  Thankfully that was the only forced stop of the entire trip, well aside from someone experiencing a moment of car sickness!
We stopped in Cumbria for lunch on our way up north and again over the Scottish Border for afternoon tea.  I found it really fascinating as we were cocooned in the little bubble of our minibus, 9 of us together, the youngest at 11 and the oldest at 47, men and women, a diverse bunch of personalities, stopping every so often and stepping out into other people's worlds, with all those different accents, landscapes and menus.  It never ceases to intrigue me, the nature of how others live, people and places, the reason I studied Geography at University.

In any event, the Highlands was a revelation to me.  My gosh such beauty sitting on our doorstep - well relative to travelling all the way to New Zealand.  Here it was right in front of me.  Reminding me that you just have to open your eyes.  And that you don't have to travel half way around the world to find beauty.

Ben Nevis
It was a beautiful evening up near Fort William where we were staying and we enjoyed dinner together in a restaurant overlooking a lake.  Stunning, especially as it stays light rather late up there so that the day just stretches on and the skies were beautiful with the evening sunset.  We spent the night in a Youth Hostel, in bunk beds and dormitories, something I have not done for quite a few years now, an experience in itself therefore.
I was up early the next morning and enjoyed 30 minutes of quiet time in the kitchen drinking tea before heading outside and indulging in a practice to stretch out my body after all that travelling.  It reminded me of the time I spent living in a village in the Himalayas, where I would practice Yoga each day out on the grass, the views of the mountains in the distance, that peaceful nature energy pervading the landscape and time out for me from the rest of the group.  I do wonder if half the joy of Yoga is indeed the fact that you can just be with yourself for a period of time, certainly helps one to centre.
After checking weather reports on all three peaks, an executive decision was made to begin the challenge earlier than planned.  Rather than waiting until 7am the next morning, it was agreed that we would begin at 5pm that evening (Saturday) to miss the forecast rain and wind the next day.  I am delighted that we made this decision, not least to spare us a day of sitting around getting nervous, but also because it meant we escaped all rain and only had to walk for an hour or so in the dark.
We spent lunchtime and the early afternoon in Fort William, enjoying the views and the sunshine and a spot of shopping (there is a good charity shop up there!) for food supplies and presents for those left back home, before heading out to the base of Ben Nevis for a 4.40pm starting time.

So it was quite an experience, not least because we happened to have chosen the same weekend as all the other groups undertaking the organised Three Peaks Challenge, but also because it was a sunny Saturday and so a number of other people were enjoying Ben Nevis.

I started out too quickly, heading the group, and hit a wall within the first 30 minutes.  Unbelievable really, I have never experienced this before and it was a bit of a shock to the system, because it didn't matter how hard I dug, I just felt like I had zero energy and was shaky and feeling a little sick.  Ewan was a star and carried my rucksack for me and we hung at the back of the group, one painful step after another one.  The start of Ben Nevis is an unrelenting climb, really not for the faint hearted.

Taking a break

We stopped after about 45 minutes and I was able to refuel with a health bar and water, which really picked me up and I was back on form for the rest of the walk.  I have always been rather fortunate to deal with mountain walking rather well.  In Nepal I gained the nickname, "mountain goat" for my ability to walk rather fast both up and down mountains, and it was good to be back in this zone, one foot in front of the other, mission on and all that.  We were walking against the clock of course!
The temperature as we climbed higher was a shock.  Sunny at the bottom so all I was wearing was shorts and a t-shirt and then all of a sudden the wind got cooler and we could see snow ahead of us so it was time for the jumpers and coats and gloves.  As we neared the summit the terrain changed, lots of cairns - a pile of stones - showed the way and the freezing cloud was low and covering the mountain so that you could not see so far ahead of you.  There were lots of people from what I can remember, slowly making their way to the summit and others quickly leaving for a fast descent.

I had a very strange experience, about 5 minutes away from the summit where my consciousness seemed to shift to a heightened state of awareness, everything felt tangible somehow and yet incredibly light and bright.  On the brink of an edge.  Very difficult to put into words.  Euphoric and yet not, perhaps simply an adrenalin rush.  Yet, there is something about mountains that has an effect,  not least the physicality of it all but also the energy.

At the summit of Ben Nevis
We stopped at the top for photos with the Guernsey flag, delighted to have made it up the highest mountain  in the UK.  Ewan had blisters so I helped him to pad those out, our hands getting frozen in the process, before a really quick decent to get into the warmer temperatures again and allow the hands to defrost!  The youngest member of the group, Peter, and I ran off at the end, my competitive edge getting the best of me (competing with myself may I add) as we both rushed to the end, which was almost a little pointless as we had to wait for the rest of the group in an area full of midges, before returning to the bus.  Needless to say I got quite a few bites, perhaps the lesson was to take it more leisurely!
Our minibus driver, Dave, greeted us with cups of tea, which we drank while changing our clothes - sweaty layers and socks off and clean ones on - not worrying about the nudity of it all, no time, before piling into the bus no more than 10 minutes after our decent, to head down to Cumbria and Scarfell Pike.

It had taken approximately 4.5 hours to walk up and down Ben Nevis, so it was approximately 9.20pm when we left Ben Nevis, ravenous for food, which played such a huge role in the challenge - making sure we were eating enough of the right things.  Not ideal to be eating sandwiches and health bars at 9.30pm, and again at 3am as we prepared for the ascent of Scarfell Pike, but an absolute necessity for the challenge.
As it happened it was of course still light by the time we left Ben Nevis, so we were able to gain views of the stunning Glencoe as we drove towards the border.  For most of us sleep did not come easily.  We had blankets and pillows but sitting up right in a minibus has never been a comfortable sleeping position for me and we were all a little wired so there was a lot of chatter and laughter, and some tense moments when one of the party felt car sick and an emergency stop was made for him to sort himself out.
Arriving into Cumbria at 3.30am it was dark and yet there were lots of other minibuses and people due to it being the organised Three Peaks challenge weekend.  So we set out with head torches and following each other closely.  After about an hour it was light enough to turn them off, which meant we had done rather well in limiting our night time walking. 
Sumitting Scarfell Pike

I didn't enjoy Scarfell Pike. The terrain underfoot, at least initially, ws much kinder than Ben Nevis, but it seemed to get cold very quickly and the mist came in and the last bit of the climb to the summit was eerie as you could not see that far ahead and I just wanted to get to the top and get down again. I was at the front of the group and had to stop every so often to check that I could see the rest of the group folloiwng behind, and at the same time pick the route to the top based on the cairns kindly laid for that very reason, a great idea, with spiritual context for me from Nepal.  We stopped for the obligatory photo with the Guernsey flag, before deciding to descend a different way to the way we had ascended.

Not ideal as we got our barrings wrong and went off down the wrong way, which meant that by the time our leader, Richard, had figured out the way we needed to go (the compass coming out for the only time on the trip, andf just as well he was reading it as I lost all notion of compass reading in that moment!), we had to head back up again, climbing over rocks for what seemed like forever, a little like walking over rocks on the beach back home.  It was freezing and I found it all a little disconcerting how easy it is to lose one's way, how the mist comes down so quickly, how cold it can get, how - essentially - nature controls everything and no amount of preparation can prepare you for that.

At the bottom of Scarfell Pike

I guess the combination of the physical stress, the cold and the rough terrain all concluded to create intense knee pain.  Phew.  I guess that will make me more compassionate for people who have ongoing knee problems, for it was really painful and made the descent a little challenging, physically and mentally.  I played around with directing my foot in different directions and relied heavily on my poles to be able to essentially swing myself much of my way down.  Still I wasn't the only one, everyone's knees were starting to complain and poor Ewan had to deal with his blisters too.
Peter and I rushed our way down the last bit of the hill, sadly no glorious sunrise to enterian us.  It was a relief to meet Dave at the minibu, while it was only 7.30sih, it felt so much later.  We changed and then headed straight out with our tea in hand, the minibus bouncing along the small roads, the Cumbrian landscape a vague memory as we re-fuelled, laughed and chatted before I sank myself into my book again.
It took us just under 5 hours to head down to North Wales and Snowdonia.  We made a stop on the service station for more sandwiches and tea -  I am quite sure I have never eaten quite so much in such a short period of time before!  Thankfully we managed to avoid any accidents or road delays and Dave's driving was brilliant, so we could relax in the back of the minibus.
Pressure was running high by the time we made it to Snowdon.  We had 4 hours left to complete the challenge and we were all feeling tired and the knees were aching, and yet there was a sense of excitement, that we may just do it.

Views from Snowdon

It was Sunday afternoon in July, and amazingly (for Wales anyway) it was not raining, in fact it was an unusually clear Snowdon day and as such, it was incredibly busy on the mountain.  Dosed up on anti-inflammatories (another novelty)  I went off as I have a habit of doing, by this stage we were all walking at our own pace, the intention being to simply finish as soon as you were able.  I love to walk on my own, meditation in action, zoning out and zoning in, incredible landscape and views, one foot in front of the other, digging deep, keep going, counting, breathing, processing, all these things help.

It was a lovely mountain to ascend, big sweeping paths and high climbs.  I was quickly joined by Peter and Richard and the three of us weaved a path through the throngs of people all the way up to the top.  I must admit there was a point where I looked at how much further we had to climb and thought "oh no!" but it kind of just happened, we made it.  All the way.  And refreshingly there were views and no need for gloves or coats.  It was lovely, albeit very windy, but you can't win everything!

At the top of Snowdon

The descent was even better.  Peter and I were competing with ourselves, and decided to go for it.  So me and my 11 year old friend flew down the hill, running at the end to make it home to the van for a 23 hour finish.  The rest of the group followed in dribs and drabs over the next 30 minutes.  Big smiles, hugs and kisses, all so proud of each other for finishing before the 24 hour time line.  And funnily enough, as we descended the weather started to change and as the tea was brewing and we were packing up the minibus the clouds started to spit - how funny that it should rain only after we had completed the challenge, answered prayers!!
We stayed at a YHA in Betsy-Coed that evening, all of us completely exhausted.  Not that I slept very well, far too wired!  The next morning was interesting, trying to clamber down from the top bunk was not easy as the thigh and calf muscles were incredibly distressed.  Wow.  I can't remember the last time they felt like that, perhaps from running a marathon.  All four women stretched out in the small dormitory, pigeon was interesting, so too just hanging in uttanasana.  Ouch!
We had time to kill so we gently eased ourselves around Betsy-Coed in the rain, a cute little Welsh town a focal point for lots of outdoor activities so has lots of mountaineering shops and touristy ones too.  I had wanted to visit for some time so it was great to finally fulfill that ambition and experience Wales and its Welshness again, having spent 3 years living in Swnasea in South Wales 18 years ago now.

The Stone circle

In the afternoon, we drove down to Salisbury where we were staying for the night, stopping en route at the incredible stone circles at Avesbury.  This is the first time I had seen them, incredible.  We stopped and took a walk in the rain, quite a painful walk in the rain, but an uplifting one too.  I am blown away by the stones, incredible.  There are ribbons hanging from the Beech trees, left over from the recent Solstice celebrations.  I stood and hugged a few of the stones, felt their energy, the others did too, and whether it was coincidence or not, we were all totally hyper and jovial in the minibus and into the evening, I have not laughed so much in one sitting for a long, long time.  Mind you, I have not laughed so much as I did on the trip, thank you to all the other group members for making it so memorable!

More stones

We drove past Stonehenge too, which seems so small after Avesbury.  Slightly annoying that you cannot touch the stones at Stonehenge, but that is a different story!!

We celebrated that evening over dinner and wine, lots of laughter and chatter, so many personalities, but everyone getting on so well together.  I loved every moment of the trip and feel quite sad to have finished.

And yet more of the stones

Yesterday we got to visit Salisbury, which is an amazing town, what with the river and the Cathedral and this amazing crystal shop.  It has truly been an eye opener to me that all of this sits right across the channel from us here in Guernsey.  I just can't wait to have an opportunity to return and explore all these wonderful places again, getting out into the fresh air, walking and seeing more of this wonderful world.

There have been so many revelations on the trip, not least new awareness of one's own personality and behaviour patterns and coping mechanisms when placed into new situations with people you don't know, but also that being out in nature like that does have some effect.  I realised this morning that time has slowed down again.  It is difficult to explain but it feels like there is more time in the day, that there is a life and a way of being, quite beyond the one lived here everyday.  Also a sense of one's smallness and yet one's connection and role in the greatness too.  Humbling I guess.
So to all those who have supported us and to all our team members who made it possible, THANK YOU.  I shall look forward to seeing that new roof on the house on Lihou and meeting my team members again soon - Richard, Emma, Peter, Jane, Laura, Paul, Dave and of course Ewan and myself - Om Shanti. xx


Ross DespresComment