Last weekend saw the execution of a long standing goal of mine – to complete the National Three Peaks Challenge. As that Wikipedia article suggests, while it is usually the case that participants try to complete the challenge within 24 hours, many do make a more leisurely weekend of it, and that’s exactly what we did. Some people also club together in a minibus, but at nearly 1,300 miles, that didn’t really appeal to us. So, naturally, we took the M5:
So above we have this story’s cast, from left to right: The M5, Jonny, Neil, Henry and Ben. This photo was taken in Woking at around 6pm on Thursday evening, as we set sail for Carlisle. Needless to say we immediately came to a standstill on the M25, so took the opportunity to take a cheesy in-car photo.
The trip to Carlisle took nearly 5 and a half hours. We passed the time with a mixture of foul jokes and excellent music from our iPhones. Needless to say we also ate a lot – sandwiches, sausage rolls, chocolate éclairs etc – all most civilised. Having got so far north and west we marvelled at how late light faded as we neared the top of the M6 and Carlisle – a moody shelf of cloud covered most of the sky but left the horizon free to reveal dusk.
We checked into the Carlisle Travelodge to discover that Ben had indeed carried out his threat to book two double rooms. He claims that was all that was available. It certainly was by the time we got there, so we decided a few beers were in order to ensure a near-instant passing out.
The following morning we rose early to continue our journey to Fort William. I love the Lake District, but Carlisle isn’t a city I’ve got much inclination to spend time in – there are certainly prettier places nearby.
Still, that didn’t matter because we were soon back in the M5, on the M6 and then into Scotland. Once north of Glasgow, Scotland offers some stunning views, and we were in high spirits.
By midday we had found a McDonald’s for various preparations, and were at the foot of Ben Nevis to start our ascent at 12:35.
We were blessed with a clear day, which made for glorious views throughout our ascent.
The fine day did mean we were rather hot though, and this combined with our general lack of preparation meant we found the going quite tough:
After over 2 hours we were high enough to find a patch of snow.
Finally, after 3 hours of hard ascent, for the first time I reached the top of the UK.
This vantage point offered some seriously impressive views – here’s a quick 360:
Here we all are – on top of Scotland, and indeed the entire land-mass!
Here are a couple of other stills:
Frantic iPhone social media updates from the summit!
So after 3 hours of climbing it was time to descend:
Henry and I then thought it might be a nice idea to run the rest of the way down. That bright idea lasted maybe 20 minutes, but in that time we covered a huge amount of ground and had a lot of fun. A few close calls and general creaking of ageing joints made us realise that such activity on day one was foolish, so we slowed to a brisk walk.
The entire team managed the Ben Nevis section in 5 hours. I had climbed Scafell Pike and Snowdon twice previously, and can safely say that Ben Nevis really took the game up a level – the sheer scale of the Highlands is just that much more serious than the other peaks. Climbing Nevis had been a personal goal of mine since I first drove around its foothills in 2004, so I was delighted with this achievement. We were shattered, but managed to locate our B&B, and popped out to a local pub for a much deserved slap-up meal with beers. Here’s Jonny’s “monster burger”.
That marks the close of the first full day’s adventure. I was delighted to note that Henry and I were in a twin room rather than a double which was far more civilised. Worryingly though, Ben had ensured he once again got the chance to share a double with Jonny…
Saturday morning was overcast; a weather system had arrived on the west coast of the UK which was to set the tone for the day. Still, our B&B had a beautiful view:
Ben took the M5′s wheel leaving me free to snap away and marvel at the car’s overtaking prowess.
We estimated that the car’s total weight was around 2.2 tonnes, yet that magnificent V8 beat away sending us from corner to corner, around truck and minibus, with incredible ease. This was the super saloon in its element, and Ben in his. Henry was suitably impressed:
Much as I love the Highlands, trips there involve Glasgow. Which in my humble opinion, mings mercilessly.
As such I was delighted to escape back to merry England.
That delight was short lived. Carlisle was full of traffic, and the weather at Wasdale was rather inclement.
I’d like to thank Henry for this particularly unflattering photo:
As we started climbing, visibility became somewhat reduced:
At one point we had to cross a stream which proved to be quite a challenge:
We ended up in thick cloud. In stark contrast to the previous day’s climb where we found loads of people milling around at the top of Nevis, there was a lone member of Mountain Rescue at the top of Scafell Pike, and he was about to call it quits for the day. I tried to take a picture of the view:
And this is the only picture of any of us up there:
Despite being so stiff, it took us just a couple of hours to reach the summit. It was so unpleasant that we stayed there for just a few minutes. I then chose to run down – I had no wish to stay out in the cloud any longer than necessary! It was pretty hairy – I had a couple of slips and a minor dunk at the river crossing, but I managed it in 51 minutes keeping my total time under 3 hours which was pleasing. I also ran iMapMyRun, so have a crafty little elevation graph:
From Wasdale we had to move to Ambleside to locate our bunk house for the night. As luck would have it, this permitted me to fulfil another personal goal – to pilot an E39 M5 at full chat over the Hardknott and Wrynose passes (check those Wiki links if you don’t know what those are, especially the Hardknott one as it contains good pictures). Sadly, four up with luggage and minimal visibility weren’t ideal conditions, but it was a great run nevertheless. The M5 is an absolute animal, and it just ate up the 30% gradient hairpin bends – not without expending some effort mind – it’s rare that I know the LSD is hot, for instance! I really had to concentrate!
We had a few beers that night and an excellent meal in Ambleside – nice tasty local lamb!
We spent that night in a bunk house. Our room slept 10, but only 2 unfortunates were sharing with us. It was certainly preferable to sharing a double bed(!), but still a little weird. I took a top bunk and was pleased not to fall out. I was less happy to be photographed in the morning:
So I thought I’d return the favour:
So, it was Sunday morning, and time to blast to Snowdonia. That didn’t take too long:
That was a lovely little B&B, and the weather was nothing short of fantastic. After a quick bite to eat, we embarked on the Watkin path. As it says in that Wikipedia article, the Watkin path is “the most demanding route direct to the summit of Snowdon” and “starts at the lowest elevation of any of the main routes”. We had conquered Ben Nevis, so why not?!
Stunning views soon followed:
Towards the top the Watkin path gets rather hairy. Yes, this is a path – can’t you see it?!
We went the wrong way at one stage, so reaching the summit took 3 hours.
No group photo at the top – just this reverse iPhone shot of Jonny and me standing at the top of Wales:
A special mention for Jonny at this point. Our friend Ben was supposed to be joining other Ben, Henry and me for this trip, but unfortunately he couldn’t make it. I drafted Jonny in, and I may have failed to convey quite how much effort would be required and what sort of kit should be brought. Ben, Henry and I had all climbed Snowdon and a few other hills in the past. Poor Jonny didn’t have much hill climbing experience, no water pack, not even a ruck-sack. Ben Nevis certainly made an impression on him, and he had incredibly painful legs for the remainder of the trip (as did we all for that matter). Even so he soldiered on (with extremely entertaining wit at times), and has now really earned his stripes. So, Jonny – well done!
Soon after starting our descent we realised we had failed to take a group photo, so we took one near the top:
We opted to take a more interesting route down – along this ridge:
The overall Snowdon time was four and a half hours – not bad given we took a wrong turn on the way up and deliberately took a long way down. That night we feasted like starving animals in a rather average Chinese restaurant:
And so we returned to Woking on Monday afternoon – all safe and sound and in one piece:
So to summarise, some stats:
- 1,278 miles, at 25mpg, at an average of 51.2mph (£305 of fuel)
- 12.5 hours climbing time
- 10.5 hours transfer time from Nevis via Lakes to Snowdon
- 12 meals (significantly more than the fuel spend)
- 1 epic weekend
A massive thanks to Ben, Henry and Jonny for making this such an excellent weekend. It was a shame that more couldn’t join us – Ben and Robin were certainly missed – so here’s to them too. This trip was the M5′s swan song (and a mighty fine effort too) – it’s now on sale, so it makes sense to end this blog post with my favourite two photos: from Woking to the top of Ben Nevis – what a team!