We have completed the National 3 Peaks Challenge!

Just over 4 weeks ago, we – Richard, Neil, Ed, Jan, Jason, David, Hannah and I (Topaz) - took on the National 3 Peaks Challenge with the aim of raising funds to help Nordoff Robbins continue with the amazing work they do in our communities. We had a whole year to prepare and thought we knew what we were in for, however the challenge was probably one of the most difficult things the majority of us had taken on…

Friday 20th September

Our trip began with an early flight to Glasgow airport where we met with our 3 peaks guide Lee, from Adventure Café. We had a 3-hour drive up to Fort William with a stop on the way to stock up on fuel -in the form of pork pies, fruit, nuts, cereal bars and cheese – Richard and Jason were only one glass of port away from a full charcuterie board!

We checked into our accommodation for the night and walked next door for dinner at ‘The Stables’, delving into a fantastic choice with local and fresh ingredients, including fresh mussels from the adjacent Loch! After a pep talk from Lee, we all headed to bed for an early night with full bellies and a little anxiety about what the next 24 hours would bring.

Ruark team photo at southend airport

Saturday 21st September

It’s challenge day! We had a 4:30am wakeup call to get ready, consume a carb heavy breakfast and make sure our backpacks were packed for the mountain. Leaving at 6:00am sharp we drove to the foot of Ben Nevis, Scotland and at 6:30am started our smart watches and set off as the rising sun offered just enough light to see the path in front of us. After 90 minutes of brisk walking we stopped for our first break to refuel with a handful of dried fruit and nuts and some water before carrying on up the mountain. The closer we got to the summit, the steeper the mountain got, and the windier it became. Pushing hard against the gale and meandering towards what appeared to be the top, only to be fooled by the ‘fake summit’, as we saw a handful of fellow ‘3 Peakers’ aloft the strut of rock a few hundred metres further towards the clear blue sky. We finally reached the peak at roughly 9:30am where we were rewarded with fantastic views for miles over the Bens and Glens with the Isle of Skye nestled in the distance. Lee said it’s a rare occurrence to be able to see anything but clouds from Ben Nevis so we felt incredibly lucky to have such brilliant weather. We had officially reached the highest point in the whole of the UK! It was an incredible feeling, but unfortunately, we couldn’t stop for long! After a quick bite, and clad in our Nordoff Robbins T-shirts there was just time for a group photo before starting our descent.

Team photo at the top of Ben Nevis

We thought walking up the mountain was hard, but walking down soon proved an even greater challenge. With uneven ground and steep gradient, the descent required considerable concentration, control and a surprising amount of leg strength as we made our way back down with sore knees and a build-up of lactic acid in our weary calves and quads. I truly believe that if it wasn’t for the thought of cheese and crackers we may not have seen Jason again! After reaching the minibus we had 20 minutes before we set off for the Lake District where we were to be greeted by England’s tallest mountain. It wasn’t long before we all fell asleep for the 3 ½ hours drive to our first and only pit stop along the southbound M6 motorway. After alighting the minibus, this dedicated stop soon became a group stretching session, followed by consuming some of the ‘finest’ service station cuisine before embarking on the next leg of our challenge.

When we approached Scafell Pike, England at 7:30pm the sun was setting fast, the light was fading, and we could just make out the summit from the car park. Due to a slight delay coming down from Ben Nevis and some minor traffic we were now 45 minutes behind schedule to complete the challenge within the 24 hours. Lee advised us we would have only 4 hours to complete Scafell Pike and be back in the bus and so the challenge was really on now.

Our guide duly introduced a ‘breakpoint’ on the mountain, advising any of us who were lagging behind at this point to turn back and make their way safely back to ‘base camp’. It was now pitch dark and the climb was to become much more challenging beyond this point and needed formidable respect as the path became less obvious and more like a landslide of loose rocks. With this in mind, and as time was against us, we set off up the trail at a very fast pace and within minutes had to switch on our head torches as the night swallowed the mountain. The pace up the mountain was very fast and by the time we got to the ‘breakpoint’ some of us knew we wouldn’t be able to keep it up the whole way, so with a heavy heart Neil, Hannah, David, Jason and I (Topaz) decided to turn back and make our way to the bus to allow Richard, Jan, Ed and Lee the best chance to get to the top. It was absolute darkness and you couldn’t see a thing except for the odd bobbing head torch every now and again, Neil and I got separated from Jason, Hannah and David and as we walked ahead, we couldn’t even see their head torches.

Team photo on Scafell Pike

We reached the minibus at around 9pm and were grateful for some time to sleep without winding down country lanes. Feeling like I had just nodded off, I woke up to Lee knocking on the bus door at 10:30pm. We weren’t expecting them back until 11:30pm so asked if they’d made it to the peak or if they’d turned around – and yes, they had reached the craggy summit at 9:10pm and had run the rest of the way down! They exclaimed “we were pretty much free-falling down the mountain and wouldn’t have been able to stop even if we wanted to the momentum was so fast”. Due to their quick turnaround, it now meant we were 1 hour ahead of schedule and set for a good time at Snowdon! We took off and started the long journey to Snowdon, Wales.

Team photo at the top of Scafell Pike

Sunday 22nd September

The journey from the Lakes to North West Wales was one of winding roads and undulating landscapes resulting in a few of us feeling a little queasy by the time we reached the foot of Snowdon. It was 4am and we were ahead of time, enabling us to take 5 minutes to wake up and stretch the stiffness out of our legs before beginning the last leg of our journey. This was the first time in the challenge we felt ‘alone’ with no sign of anyone, an empty carpark and a lack of head torches on the track, something which there was an abundance of at the other two cols. We began walking up the Miners track, which was around 2 miles of flat (thankfully) steady incline. Everyone was feeling fatigued and moral was perhaps at a low but the flat start gave us all a chance to get the blood pumping and some life back into our bodies. Pretty soon we got to the end of the flat path and had to start climbing. Snowdon required a lot more ‘scrambling’ than the other two which one or two of the team found a little overwhelming and perhaps something they weren’t expecting to do. Nevertheless, we clambered on with the whole team intact and every so often we saw the bob of the odd headtorch near the summit, otherwise we had the mountain to ourselves for now.

We were all feeling it in our legs by this point, but Jason was really struggling with chronic knee pain. Although we wanted to complete the challenge within 24 hours, it was more important to us that we did it safely, and that we could all make it to the final summit. So, Jan walked alongside Jason, making sure he was ok and that he got up to the top. Finally, our scramble up came to an end and we reached flatter ground, we had a last stride up the mountain before we reached the summit at 6:45am! Once again, we had been incredibly lucky with the weather as the sun peaked out from the cloudy horizon as we approached the top of our final climb. After the short walk along the ridge to the summit the wind picked up and the temperature dropped, and for the first time, out came our coats and waterproof trousers for that much needed extra layer.

Team photo at the top of Snowdon

Jason’s knee was getting worse to the point where he could barely walk so a few of us decided it was best for him to get the train down to the bottom of Snowdon to avoid any more stress, It was about 7:30am at this point but we soon discovered that the first train wouldn’t come until 10:30am, and because it was so cold our guide didn’t want to leave him there with risk of hyperthermia. The group made the decision to take the longer but flatter route down the side of the train tracks. It wasn’t long before we felt our first raindrops of the trip and the journey down was a light, but continuous drizzle. The arduous ramble down again seemed to take a very long time, again testing our bodies ability to fight the lactic build up and testing our mental strength We shouldn’t take pleasure in other’s pity but Jason looked like he’d had a few too many as he staggered down the mountain side unable to bend either of his knees. Like a character from Monty Python, the Three Peaks weren’t going to defeat our Northern rep and with a continuous big smile on his face he continued spouting the jokes!

Richard, Ed, Jan and I walked ahead, dreaming of bacon and eggs for breakfast, with Neil in our wake with his head down and knees aching. Hannah and David followed and then Jason alongside Lee. When we finally reached the bus at about 10:30am we envisaged Jason being at least an hour, if not two. In waiting, we all had a freshen up, got changed in to dry clothes and brushed our teeth – I had never been so happy to sit in a van, and this is coming from a girl who feels travel sickness easily! Just 15-20 minutes later we saw poles waving in the air at the top of the hill, and Jason and Lee came whizzing down to the van, once they had reached even flatter ground Jason had got a second wind and came whizzing down to the thought of breakfast!

The challenge was officially complete! We headed into town for a very well-deserved breakfast at Pete’s Eats before starting the long journey home to Essex!

The team fast asleep in the van

We started the challenge at 6:30am on Saturday, and we officially reached the summit of Snowdon at 6:42am on Sunday! The important thing was that we did it as a team and continued to smile throughout. We pushed ourselves mentally and physically whilst experiencing some of the most beautiful views Scotland, England and Wales have to offer.

We would like to say a huge thank you to our guide Lee from Adventure Cafe, not only was he a fantastic guide and gave some very crucial advice and support, he was also a great guy and gave us lots of laughs both on and off the mountains! A huge thank you to our two drivers, Mick and Kevin, without them we would not have been able to get between the mountains, and although we felt queasy, we know it wasn’t your fault but in fact the country roads.

And last of all we would like to thank you, our supporters for all your well wishes over the last year and to everyone who has sponsored us and shared our story. Nordoff Robbins are a fantastic charity and we are proud to have worked with them again. We are just a little short of our £5000 target so if you haven’t already please feel free to donate a little something.

Our justgiving page is still open so if you would like to put in a final donation it would mean the world - https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ruark-audio

That’s all for now, we need to go and decide our next challenge!