How to survive the three peaks 24-hour challenge

Ben Nevis halfway

Clinging to loose mountain rock amid gale-force winds, I looked to my friend Karen and thought: ‘what have you done?’

It’s always good in a crisis to find someone to blame.

Then I laughed, picked myself up, wobbling like a floating astronaut, and was guided down to a place of (relative) safety.

It was Karen’s idea to climb the UK’s three highest mountain peaks – Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon- in 24 hours. Most people opt for a party or weekend break for their 40th birthday ‘treat’ – but not this one. Myself and our mutual friend Clare were foolish (or brave?) enough to join her on this ‘Life Changing Challenges’ charity event.

Ben Nevis – battling ‘The Ben’

Our stroll began in earnest at 2.20pm on an unusually windy summer Saturday (even for Scotland). From here, we began the 1,345m-ascent of Ben Nevis. It began with us stripping off layers as we sweated under the heat of the sun (yes!). It ended with us attempting a ‘summit selfie’ in what weather forecasters would describe as poor visibility, with a woolly hat and 100 per cent waterproof hood not being sufficient cover (in August).

Scafell Pike summit

Scafell Pike – where’s the summit?

Next up (after a short nap in transit on our minibus) was Scafell Pike (978m) in the Lake District. The place to be, it appeared by the crowds, at 3.20am on a Sunday morning. With rave lights, or rather head-torches, we set off up the stone steps and ascended the gravelly ground and rocks to reach the top around day-break.
This was my bleakest mountain. I was close to tears on summiting. This was the result of a mixture of exhaustion and being left alone, unable to see the summit (an unusual occurrence on this challenge and rectified by local guides on the descent). Karen and I also grouped together from then on, despite months ago saying we’d all ‘do our own thing’. This made the experience much better.

Snowdon summit

Snowdon – are we nearly there yet?

This is a frequent question on this challenge to which our brilliant guide, Dave, always responded: ‘I don’t like to lie, so can’t answer that’. At least on Snowdon, last up (a mere 1,345m up, in fact), we knew the end was near if not in sight. This was the most attractive ascent, in my opinion, but that may be more due to the fact I could see the beautiful surroundings due to daylight combined with a bit of sun. It was a scramble to the top, quick photo ‘finish’ and then the long, misty ascent. Knees suffering (even with the aid of walking poles), we did it – and cracked open the fizz at the first opportunity! I finished in just over 25 hours, a proud achievement.

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Top tips

Expect the unexpected

It’s so British to go on about the weather, but that was my biggest challenge. I expected sleep deprivation to be the biggest problem. I didn’t expect brilliant sunshine, but you can’t anticipate that it will be Scotland’s windiest summer’s day since records began!

Food is your fuel

It sounds pretty obvious but when you’re trying to press on and avoid the weather, it’s easy to forget to eat or drink. I failed to do so often enough, and I should know better as I used to be a long-distance runner. Eat or drink something small each hour. Choose food you like. I was lucky enough to have a friend bake a selection of yummy healthy snacks for me. See how to bake them on the other blog.

Snowdon descent

Moment by moment

All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and repeat. And repeat. And again. It’s best not to think too much about far you have yet to go.

Let it out

When there’s a loo, use it. You never know when the next one is coming, and time is always of the essence. The same for tears/frustration – another emotional challenge will come soon enough so let this one go.

Lean on me

If the willpower is faltering, it is your friends who will get you to the top. Agree to either post a Facebook/Twitter update after each summit, or use a WhatsApp group or SnapChat. The feedback from your friends will power you on.
Similarly, put together some power anthems for those low points – if that’s your thing.

One of the nicest things about doing this challenge is that our trio have been in constant contact for months. We all live in different parts of the UK but we’ve been chatting online about hopes and fears for the challenge, and also supporting each other in our everyday highs and lows. I probably won’t climb the equivalent of a marathon in 24 hours for my 40th but I’m glad I did it – and with these determined two friends.

We raised £2,895 for our chosen charities, Mind, the Lullaby Trust and the Brain Tumour Charity.

Fancy completing your own challenge? Check out Life Changing Challenges.

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