It's a long read.......but worth it.....
Initially we were meant to do it in June of this year and for various reasons we had to postpone it. We decided, maybe wrongly, to take on the challenge towards the end of October. The weekend the clocks went back.
And so the planning started. We’d crammed in various training feats – some of us getting the chance to climb mountains, hills where we live with our dogs, sand dunes where we live, the Welsh Three Peaks the weekend before! ….others taking on cycling challenges and some getting personal trainers in the gym and running to get us fit enough to take on the challenge in a dark and gloomy month.
To help us raise money we held a charity dinner in the Park Plaza in Cardiff at the end of September with a Welsh choir from Miskin called Tadau, a comedy act that will be doing a UK tour around the comedy circuit later this year, The Noise Next Door, and an auction and raffle – all hosted by Tom Shanklin. The event was a huge success. So much so we are planning our next one for next year.
As soon as the event was over we had just 3 weeks to get the final plans of our National Three Peaks challenge in place. And you’d be surprised what needs to be considered. Transport, big enough to allow people to relax properly, length of journey, refreshments, accommodation on reaching Fort William, kit list, sat nav to get us from one mountain in a minibus to another, dry clothes………….
We embarked on our journey to Fort William on Thursday 23rd October at 10 am, 2 hours later than planned. And with the many comfort breaks and food stops we arrived Fort William (2 hours north of Glasgow) around 10.30pm.
Have you seen on a map how far it is? You can get half way around the world on a plane and to a hot climate in the same amount of hours it takes to drive there! It’s unbelievable!
So the alarm went off at 4.45am so that we could plan to walk around 5.30am-6am. We were only 1.5 miles away in the hotel away from the base of Ben Nevis. A group photo, head torches on, hand torches and backpacks and away we were. Trudging up the enormous rocks of Ben Nevis in complete darkness, trying not to get our feet wet in the water running down the rocks, trying not to slip and fall over, trying not to exert ourselves too much right at the start. We did have 1344 metres to climb afterall, well on this mountain. We had another two to climb after it. But this morning’s challenge was to get up this one first and not think about the others.
One main path starting close to sea level meant it was a going to be a much greater vertical ascent. We were all hoping that it would keep at least dry!
The light started to make an appearance at around 7.15am where we could see the enormous scale of the mountains surrounding us, the lochs and the topography we were walking on. However the peak of Ben Nevis wasn’t to be seen. We zig zagged our way for two and a half hours up, where the landscape became more barren, more grey, the rocks becoming more fine, shale-like, slippery where it was difficult to get your footing. A little like two steps forward and two slides back.
The highlight for us all was seeing a stag at the top of a waterfall watching these intrepid walkers, wondering what on earth we were doing scaling such a mountain at this time of year.
Just as you think you must be there, there is another false summit, another zig zag in the opposite direction that seems never ending and relentless. Then the wind picked up, then some sleet which turned to hailstones. The hailstones were so fierce that it was like cats scratching your face with vicious claws. Clambering over the uneven rocks now made slippery by the wet sleet and snow we made our way eventually to the summit, with our waterproof over trousers like balloons on our legs. The temptation to base jump off the top was overwhelming!
And then there was the descent which, in a way, was more treacherous than the ascent as it was slippery, you are falling forwards, the pressure on your knees is immense and the water rushing under your feet over the rocks eventually seeps through your boots and socks.
Reaching the car park at the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre was the most welcoming feeling despite the rain – toilets and sinks and two hand dryers……..not enough to dry you out and warm you up but at least we had dry clothes and the sanctuary of a crammed minibus with weary walkers, wet clothes and a nigh on 6 hour drive to Scafell Pike.
On arrival at Wasdale Head for our walk up to Scafell Pike - 978 metres, the sun had already set and we had the views of a tiny bit of light over the mountains to the right.
Our ascent on this mountain would be done in the dark also. So the head torches went on, backpacks sorted and the map at the ready. This was going to be tougher with no sign of daylight until we would be descending Snowdon, no lights to show us the way, no proper path that we could find initially.
We got lost! 2 hours of walking and we had no idea where we were. Stuck in a ravine with a river running through it, two 90 degree cliff faces either side. We carried on up then ended up scrambling on our hands and knees, grabbing onto clumps of grass and heather to stop us tumbling. Tumble we did. Three of us. Whilst the others persevered in their determination to find out where we were! And another walk back down which took around one and a half hours to almost where we started from and then THE PATH! We found it eventually.
And so our climb carried on. With us walking back and forth over streams, dodging the water, helping one another across we made our second attempt at climbing the mountain and the summit. The weather stayed dry but 6 hours of walking and clambering to the top we then made our way back to the minibus. A quick freshen up and away we were to Snowdonia National Park – a 5 hour drive in the wind and rain.
Our late decent from Scafell Pike meant that we were behind, time-wise, to take on the climb of this mountain. Arriving at 6am we clambered out of the minibus in a hurry to make our way up the slippery huge stones of Snowdon - 1085 metres. And the rain set in. Within 20 minutes the rain was running off the ends of our noses, soaking us through to our skins. 2 hours of climbing and the wind was picking up, the landscape was becoming more desolate, the lakes magnificent, the views spectacular - which you could only see when the fog subsided.
And much like Ben Nevis, the zig zagging became relentless, turning each base of zig zag was another climb on slippery shale-like rocks, the wind picked up enormously, and the risk of literally being swept off our feet on the summit was overwhelming. Wet, cold hands, feet, bodies we rushed to take some photos with quivering phone cameras and ascend we did. That last turn on our heels to make our descent was possibly the most welcoming feeling of all! We'd reached three summits! We'd done it!
Another 2 hours and we’d be down at the base of the mountain! We were elated!
And the good news is, the cash is still coming in in aid of Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff. A charity whom so many of us, me in particular, are closely connected with for very personal reasons. And the support from the Bartholomew Hawkins team to enable us to do this has been both very generous and kind.
But of course, a challenge like this cannot be done without a driver!
Particular thanks goes to Andrew Griffiths who put up with us moaning, snoring, bringing damp clothing into the minibus, stopping the minibus countless times. buying us teas and coffees and even buying a pair of boots for me and without his jokes and patience, we would not have been able to do it. So thank you Andrew, from the bottom of our hearts.
If you're feeling generous you can still make a donation! https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/bartholomewhawkins1
What next? We are already thinking what our next challenge will be. Watch this space…..