While my most recent adventure has a nice ring to it, it took me months of ‘umming and ahing’ to know what to do.
Turning 30 is a big milestone. You’re an adult (irrefutably so) and you hear all sorts of monumental tales of people doing insane things to commemorate the occasion.
Although as you well know, things aren’t so simple nowadays. You can’t just book an extravagant trip to Las Vegas, nor can you hire a private boat for a party in the Mediterranean.
But even if I could do those, would I want to? Is it really ‘me’? Would it give me something I’d talk about for years to come? And would I light up while talking about it? And finally, most of all, would I remember it forever?
See, while all the jazzy pre-covid iconic celebrations are sexy and glamorous, if I’d have done them, I’d have been doing them for them and not for me.
And at my age, I’m now too old to try too hard to please people. I’m too old to lie to myself and others. I’m too old to not do things I want to do; to ignore the burn in my soul for adventure and ultimately, to waste any more time on things that don’t make me smile.
Regular readers may know I have already done the infamous ‘Three Peaks’ – but not in the literal sense: where you tackle all three of England, Scotland & Wales’ highest mountains (Scaffel Pike, Ben Nevis & Snowdon) within 24 hours. Instead I done them separately at different times and loved them all individually.
They encapsulate everything I love about the thing we call life: unspoilt nature, physical challenge and overcoming adversity.
Ever since I finished Ben Nevis last year to complete the last leg of the 3, I’d wondered what it would be like to tackle all THREE aka the ‘THREE PEAKS CHALLENGE’.
I wondered if I was fit enough and what it would feel like physically, emotionally and spiritually. In good old English lingo you could say it was ‘definitely a bit of me’.
Obviously an idea is one thing, making an idea reality is quite the other. There were a few obstacles……
– I would likely have to do this solo as who could I really expect to drag on an extreme challenge like this?
– To drive it all solo as well as climb would be quite something; tiredness would be the biggest enemy.
– The potential to be lost (particularly at night)is high, where I’m far from a ‘mountaineer’
With all this in mind, I set my aim for sub 30 hours. I mean it’s a 30 theme after all and allows some breathing room. The 24 was something I’d gun for if it became feasible. Basically: I’d try to do it as fast possible within the circumstances mother nature allows!
Solitude was something I wanted to embrace as the ability to do things alone – and even more so enjoy them alone – is crucial as you get older and to your development as a person.
Fortunately my dear dad, as he always does, dedicated himself to help me once again. He offered to share the driving and ultimately be with me incase of emergency. I must admit I was glad of this offer and couldn’t refuse. Initially his plan was to climb Snowdon (the last leg of my 3 climbs) – more on this later!
The other issues such as getting lost and battling tiredness were ones I was simply going to ‘take a punt on’ and trust myself under pressure. Ultimately a strong psyche would prevail and I had faith in my psyche. Being old now, I know the stark difference between confidence and arrogance. If shit really hit the fan, I’d abort mission. Life is too precious after all.
Leg 1: Ben Nevis & The drive to Scotland
When you tell anyone you’re tackling a challenge such as this, hilariously, they worry about the drive to Scotland (from Essex) more than all the climbing and lack of sleep. When you pop the location of Fort William into Google Maps, you get a nice estimated journey time of 9 hours 16 minutes – and that’s without stop time!
We left at a modest 8:06 am and arrived at the Air BnB in Fort William at 8pm. Yep, 12 hours or so later!
Because of everyone’s worst nightmare: A CAR BREAKDOWN.
On the M74 just past the Scottish Border, the battery light came on my dashboard and I hadn’t seen this before. ‘Why’s my battery light on?!’ I demanded to my dad, who is a car mechanic and has been all his life. ‘I don’t know. It could be many things!’ He said. ‘What do you mean you don’t know?!’ I snapped. ‘We don’t fucking need this!’
We trod carefully on through the outskirts of Glasgow and eventually through Stirling and into the edges of The Loch Lomond National Park. We were worried but all seemed fine so far…….for now. Until I went to wind my window up as we approached a small town called Callendar, and I noticed the window crawled up at a snail’s pace.
‘That’s not good.’ We both said almost simultaneously. ‘Pull in at the next petrol station and we’ll take a proper look.’ Dad said.
And as I steered into the station, my power steering virtually died and the car came to a slow halt. The battery was dead. The car wouldn’t even turn over. My dad reckoned the alternator had gone and it had been stealing excessive power to the battery.
‘Well, can we fix it?’ Was my forth-thinking question. But with no tools or parts anywhere to be seen, and at near 6pm on a Friday evening in almost rural Scotland, miracles weren’t likely.
The plan was to hitch a taxi to Fort William (still some 80 odd miles away), check in and then find a hire car tomorrow along with an alternator, then fit it and get the car running by Saturday afternoon. We remained optimistic but optimism was met with some ferocious challenges……..there were NO cars available for hire in Fort William or even anywhere remotely close!
There were no places local to Fort William with the alternator in stock. The closest place was Euro Car Parts in Inverness – a good 1.5/2 hour drive away (EACH WAY). We were virtually screwed. What a shitter of a morning! And to add to this we’d got news that my nan had also passed away that very morning. We knew she wasn’t in a good way but we never foresaw this happening today.
Frustrations ran high and ideas were few and far between when I had a slight light bulb moment: could we buy a cheap old shitty car to use for now so we can still go ahead with the challenge? Gumtree to the rescue, surely?!
Low and behold, we did. Our car? Drumroll………a 2002 SKODA Fabia, 1.4 petrol! About as stereo-typically pants as you could get but it was a car with an MOT and it was mechanically sound. Game on!
Eventually we got to the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre and a rainy drizzle greeted us. As I glanced up to the Ben Nevis summit region, half the mountain was swallowed up by cloud cover. Completely different conditions to when I first climbed it, almost a year ago to the day.
But it didn’t matter. Bring on the added challenge, I thought!
If you’ve ever looked into the Three Peaks challenge in any capacity, you will have seen the most pressing issue is the timing: When do you climb what mountains?
Thankfully the research results were pretty clear: The consensus was to start Ben Nevis in the afternoon (4/5 pm), come down by around 9/10 pm (as darkness sets in), travel down to the Lake District overnight and hopefully arrive by 3/4 am to start the Scaffel climb (as daylight starts to break/minimising the time spent climbing in the dark).
So that was my plan too!
Except with everything that had happened, the original plan of exploring the highlands for the day then coming to Ben Nevis to start the climb, had been very disrupted. And I found myself with ants in my pants; anxiously waiting around draining my phone battery and not knowing what to do with myself.
I gave in to temptation and began my climb at 1:43 pm (2-3 hours before I should have really).
2 hours and 10 mins later I summited the big boy!
Views at the top were minimal and the conditions climbing up were more treacherous, but the sense of achievement was magnified tenfold from last time and I had all the motivation in the world; this was for my nan. She was the angel on my shoulder throughout.
It had been an emotional climb and one I ‘Vlogged’ throughout as I’d planned to make a YouTube video all about my adventures (there will be a video link at the end of the post).
Last time I climbed Ben Nevis I did it in 2 hours 25 minutes but I took the traditional path – around the lake. And I kicked myself last time for not taking the path linking directly to the main waterfall (a HUGE psychological checkpoint), and thus cutting off some of the traditional path. This time though, my plan was different. I was going to use that sucker and see what difference it made.
I was 15 minutes faster this time but I’d still say it was like comparing apples to oranges as the visibility and grip under foot when I was using the ‘shortcut’ slowed me down massively and I had to navigate my way by sound and general sense of direction.
However, towards the top this time round I maintained a much more fluent pace and didn’t burn myself out so early like last time. Maybe the cooler temperatures helped? But I was DETERMINED to climb this better and faster than last time and it was mission accomplished!
Another issue last time was the slow descent. I’ve never been particularly good on the descent despite being a pretty rapid and aggressive ascender. Dehydration and general fatigue ruined my descent last time, whereas this time I came back smarter. I was prepared. I’d done my homework. In the lead up to this adventure I began focusing on my quad strength and had been specialising on sissy squats and advanced shrimp squats – both are very quad based movements.
Historically I’ve always been posterior chain dominant in the lower body (fast sprinter, bubble butt, naturally strong at RDLs etc) and pretty useless at quad dominant moves. It’s quite common knowledge the descent is all about the quads so it made sense I would come down these mountains like a granny.
My total time of 4 hours 14 minutes should tell you the descent wasn’t an issue this time – and this is including time spent enjoying the top and being stuck behind loads of walkers in the main path of the lower parts of Big Ben Nevis.
As a strength coach by trade I love nothing more than a plan coming together and seeing a theory be proven correct. What I had done over the last couple of months was a real-world definition of the unicorn that is ‘functional training’.
38,000 steps later and with a total calorie expenditure (including my BMR and according to FitBit) of 6,300 calories, Ben Nevis was in the rear view mirror and it was time to tackle Scaffel Pike – the ‘easier’ of the 2 so far – or so I thought.
In my next post I’ll share with you the ins and outs of the second leg of the journey (SCAFFEL PIKE). If you’d like to see real footage of my adventure check out the video below.
Thanks for reading/watching! See you in the Lake District!
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