The National Three Peaks Challenge: A Guide
The National Three Peaks Challenge
With a total ascent of nearly 1,000 feet, the national Three Peaks Challenge is one of the most exhilarating, physically and mentally challenging and thoroughly rewarding undertakings that can be completed. Allowing participants to enjoy some of the most stunning scenery in England, Wales and Scotland, the challenge is designed to be difficult but breathtakingly memorable.
Participants of the challenge are required to scale the highest mountain in each of the three countries within a 24 hour time period. With the obvious obstacles of physical tiredness, muscle aches and potential weather complaints, one of the greatest challenges of this mission is driving from one mountain to another. A carefully planned day makes the challenge entirely possible and thoroughly enjoyable.
Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England stands at 3,210 feet above sea level. Despite this being the smallest of the three mountains, the climb is difficult. The walk to the summit and return is at least 5 miles, there are various routes to the peak of Scafell Pike but in order to complete the challenge you are required to commence from Wasdale or Seathwaite.
The majority of Three Peaks participants opt to take the Lingmell route to the summit as, despite being slightly longer than other routes, this ascent is easier. The Mickledore route is more of a challenge, requires more scrambling and considered to be more tiring but this route captures the attention of the more adventurous. Scafell Pike is relatively hostile in that the paths to the summit are not clear and include rubble, rocks and boulders. Visibility can be significantly poor on this mountain and darkness draws in as quickly as light might reappear. Inexperienced and unsupported challenge participants regularly lose their way on this mountain and so it is imperative that planning is thorough and proper equipment is taken. The views from the summit are incredible and many walkers take their time to begin the return in order to benefit from the glorious sights.
Standing proudly at 3,560 feet above sea level, Snowdon is the second highest peak in the challenge and the highest mountain in Wales. The mountain attracts visitors from across the globe and is considered to be the most visited peak in the UK. The beauty of this peak is that there are clearly marked paths to the summit and scrambling is not necessary. Walkers should be aware that weather conditions and visibility can cause dangers on the mountain and so it is vital to plan ahead, pack supporting equipment and pay close attention to the weather on walking day. Many walkers opt to take the Pen Y Pas route which begins at 1,000 feet leaving only another 2,382 feet to climb. This makes Snowdon the shortest ascent of the Three Peaks and is considered by many as the least challenging. Most walkers aim to complete Snowdon in just over three hours.
At the summit of the mountain stands a railway station and cafe. The railway on Snowdon is over a century old and allows those who cannot walk to get to the peak to still enjoy the magnificent views. Don’t be tempted to take the train down though - walking is required in order to complete the challenge!
Scotland’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis stands at a somewhat intimidating 4,406 feet above sea level, making this mountain the highest in the challenge. The walk to complete this beast of a hill is just shy of 11 miles and is considered to be the most difficult, requiring the greatest levels of investment from walkers. Ben Nevis is recognised for its swift changes in walking conditions and weather and for this reason, only experienced walkers are encouraged to take on this walk in winter months. Snow and ice is a regular feature of Ben Nevis and so conditions can become dangerous and provisions should be made. The summit of Ben Nevis is home to a small hostel and weather observatory which was opened in 1883. Thanks to the observatory, there is a well constructed track to the peak of Ben Nevis, which was built in 1883 also by way of supplying the observatory.
How fit do I need to be to complete the Three Peaks Challenge?
It would be irresponsible to suggest that fitness is not a key factor in the likelihood of you successfully completing the challenge, particularly within a 24 hour time period. The three highest mountains in the UK are guaranteed to be challenging and provide a host of obstacles, not least tiredness and muscle exhaustion. That said, there is a lot to be said for determination. You don’t need Superman strength or years of mountaineering experience in order to partake and successfully complete the challenge, just a decent level of cardio strength and determination.
Mentally prepare yourself for the expectations of the challenge, recognise the likely tiredness and be prepared for the aesthetic beauty to be somewhat dulled by the need to move swiftly, and you’ll soon be set for enjoying one of the most exciting and rewarding undertakings of your life.
How should I train and prepare for the Three Peaks Challenge?
In order to maximise your potential for a successful completion and enjoyable challenge, it is vital that training and planning is prioritised. Physical preparation is key to your personal strength and capabilities and participants should begin a training programme as soon as possible.
The following training should be included to ensure maximum efficiency on training day:
- Hill and mountain walking to familiarise your muscles with various incline and decline walking.
- Learn to stretch fully in order to prevent injuries and muscles seizing up or losing their efficiency on the day
- Practice long distance walking on any terrain as this will help train your joints slowly and assist in preventing hip and back complaints
- Train using a backpack to ensure that you are experienced in carrying your equipment on challenge day
- Have a trial run prior to the full challenge. This should ideally include a walk up and down one of the included mountains, but if this is not logistically possible, choose the highest mountain to you and scale that to recognise potential weaknesses and vulnerabilities that you need to address.
It is also important to plan ahead for the required equipment that you will need in order to ensure that the challenge remains safe.
What equipment do I need?
The right Clothing
Due to the varying weather conditions, temperatures and levels of exertion, you'll need some high quality clothing with layerable coverage. Merino Wool clothing is perfect for the Three Peaks Challenge as it is temperature regulating, wicks moisture away from the skin and is odor resistant. Brands Icebreaker and Mons Royale have a wide range of merino wool clothing perfect for high intensity exercise, hikes & more! Be sure to also check out Smartwool's range of Hiking socks! Check out our Hiking Collection to see our top clothing recommendations for hikes, walks & challenges.
By far the priority inclusion to your kit, ensure that you have plenty of hydration at the start of each climb and that you are used to carrying the additional weight. Dehydration can be deadly and is sure to make you too unwell to continue
The likelihood is that you’ll eat your proper meals whilst travelling from one peak to another but it is imperative that sources of energy are added to your kit to help you quickly overcome any dips.
Whether you opt for high sugar content such as Kendal mint cake or energy gels, some small inclusions are likely to be hugely appreciated when needed. Never underestimate the significance of a celebratory treat at the peak of each mountain!
If the weather draws in, these three mountains can quickly become hostile and dark. Be sure to carry a well powered and bright torch or mag-lite.
A basic first aid kit
You’re not expected to be a paramedic but some plasters, bandages, antiseptic wipes and pain killers can be a God-send if accidents do happen.
A map and compass
GPS systems are widely available and used by hundred of participants, but it is vital that the old school map and compass is lurking in your kit as a backup in case technology fails at any time.