The highest mountains of Scotland, England and Wales. Twenty-four hours. Six guys. Limited training. One rickety, old motorhome named Millwall. What could possibly go wrong?
Summiting three peaks in one day may not sound like any great feat to the seasoned hillwalker. Summiting the highest peaks in each of three countries, with a total climb of 10,000+ feet (3125 m) and 750 km between them, and doing it all within 24 hours… well that was a challenge for this group of six guys who held their training sessions in various central London pubs.
It is as much a physical challenge as a logistical one, with a fair dose of luck required – a motor accident or heavy traffic along the M74 or M6 could derail even the most determined of trekkers. Many have met this fate.
We started with Ben Nevis, the most northerly of the three peaks, and made our way south to Scafell Pike and then onto Snowdon. Those based in Scotland typically attempt the challenge starting in the south.
- Hit the road by 7am on Friday morning for the 10+ hour drive to the base of Ben Nevis
- Begin the challenge at 7pm with the 5-hour return journey to the summit of Ben Nevis in the early evening daylight. Complete descent by midnight
- Drive the 6 hours to Scafell Pike through the small AM hours of Saturday morning when there would be no traffic. Arrive by 6am
- Climb Scafell Pike in the early morning sun. Complete by 10am
- Drive the estimated 5 hours to Snowdon, hoping the Saturday afternoon traffic is light. Arrive by 3pm
- Which would set us up nicely to complete the easiest climb – the ascent and descent of Snowdon – within 3 hours. Complete by 6pm – with 1 hour of padding for mishaps
We collected the motorhome from a rental place in Millwall on Friday morning, and hadn’t had enough coffee yet to think of a more creative name. She certainly wasn’t beautiful, but Millwall proved to be a trusty companion and quite capable of handling sharp turns at speed on narrow Scottish roads.
Getting out of London on Friday morning moved at about the pace of Brexit negotiations. Finally escaping the M25 felt like an accomplishment in itself. By the time we started the Ben Nevis climb it was dark enough to require head torches at full throttle. The mountain was muddy, but with fresh legs we made good progress up the first half.
We knew it was going to be chilly near the top of Britain’s highest peak, but we didn’t expect to find 8 inches (20 cm) of snow covering the top third. And we didn’t expect to find sub-zero temperatures in late May. We found both. A few guys brought only trainers – and there’s a fair bit of sliding around in the dark illuminated only by head torches.
As we climbed over the mountains’ shoulder, the summit came into view. Bathed in moonlight, it was a striking and welcomed sight as we made the final push. On the descent in 2am darkness, we missed the trail leading back to the car park, setting us back 45 minutes. We had used 75% of our contingency time on the first peak. Brilliant.
Diverse terrains abound on the trek up Scafell Pike. We passed through woodlands, moorlands, and boulder fields on the climb to the rugged, barren grey peak. It’s a stunning spring day with a clear sky and temperatures in the mid-twenties. We alternated driving duties so everyone has had at least an hour or two of sleep.
The summit area itself is strewn with boulders and the top portion requires some scrambling. It turns out to be a brilliant trek – smooth, quick and rather friendly with other hikers cheering us on. With no serious missteps and everyone accounted for, we’re up and down within 2¼ hours, crawling back the 45 minutes we lost at Ben Nevis.
Saturday afternoon traffic plagues our drive to Snowdon. We lose close to an hour in heavy traffic, and after we struggle for what seems like ages to find a parking space – we’re now in a race against the clock to complete the final peak on what are by now, weary legs.
Prince Charles once famously called Snowdon “the highest slum in Britain”. Probably a bit harsh. It is relatively crowded, but is nonetheless a pleasant hike. The ascent is straight forward, though by now some guys are complaining of blisters (or was that only me?). Quick photo at the summit and it’s straight back down. After about halfway down it begins to look likely that we’ll complete within the 24 hours. Yet the car park refuses to come into view. Legs are kaput now. Each step becomes a chore. Then, finally, we see Millwall. Minutes later all six of us are down and done. Time check: 23:40. We’d done it with 20 minutes to spare – just enough time to have built a snowman on the top of Ben Nevis. Oh well, next time.
Images: 1: Sebastian Wasek/Alamy; All others: WildBounds HQ