The Three Peaks in under 24 hours ~ Fabienne Coulon
The Cougar team completed the 3 Peaks challenge!
Wow! That’s the first word that comes to my mind when I think about this challenge, just WOW!
It was a women only event. We were 7 in the team, 5 walkers (Charlotte, Susie, Hazel, Clare and I) and 2 support crew members (Kerry and Karen).
Kerry and Karen drove us from Bath to Fort William on Friday 13th of May in our Cougar (our van’s nickname). They ensured our pit stops were in the best service statition possible and they genreally involved farmers’ shops. So we had good drinks and food on the way. The journey was an opportunity for us to get to know each other. Being from disparet places - Bath, Winchester and London, we had only met twice on zoom and a few of us had managed to do a long training walk together in Bath 3 weeks before the event. We also used the time to get settled and sorted our own corner of the van, as it was going to be our home for the next 3 days.
We arrived in Fort William early evening, dropped our bags at the hostel “Chase the wild Goose” and went for dinner at the well named Ben Nevis Inn, located at the bottom of Ben Nevis. The massif had its head in the clouds at that time (and for the whole duration of our stay there). So we could not get a sneaky peak of where we were going the next day. Of course being in Scotland, we had to have Haggis, venison sausages and black pudding for dinner!
On Saturday, we were up at a reasonable time after a good night sleep, had a good shower, prepared our gear and went for a very nice breakfast at the Highland Soap Larder. If you ever go to Fort William, I highly recommend this place, for the food as well as for the products they sell.
Then, it was time to head for the Ben Nevis visitor centre to finally start this 3 Peaks challenge. The objective was to climb the 3 highest peaks in the UK (Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scafell Pike in England and Snowdon in Wales) in less than 24 hours (driving time between the summits included).
At exactly 12:00, Kerry gave us the signal and off we went to conquer Ben Nevis! 16km (the longest) and a total ascent of 1330m (the highest). In the main the route is easy to follow, the challenge came over the last 2 kms before the summit when we encountered fog and snow (in some places almost knee high), so our poles were very useful. We quickly took a few pictures at the top and went back down on the same way we had come up. With all of us having a background as runners, we broke into a jog at point on the way down. At that time we were still quite fresh and the Ben Nevis trail has some nice runnable sections. We came back at the Cougar in a time of 4:44, a very good time. However, being a group of chatty women, we lost a bit of time when we were back at the van as we all re-organised our bags and went for a change of clothes instead of jumping straight in the van to hit the road as quickly as possible. From that point on, Kerry did not allow us to do this for the next 2 summits as the clock was ticking.
Summit of Ben Nevis
While Kerry and Karen were driving, we refuelled, took care of any niggles that had appeared on Ben Nevis and tried to rest. We arrived at the bottom of Scafell Pike at about 22:45, jumped out of the Cougar and kicked off our walk to conquer this second summit. This one is a 8.4km return walk for a total ascent of 922m. The challenges on this summit were the time at which we kicked off (almost 23:00, when we normally should be in bed) and the gradient (between 20 and 30%). This is where I personally had my low moment, which lasted the first 2 or 3 kms. But with the support of the others in the team, I managed to keep going and we conquered the summit in 1:56, in the middle of the night. It was a very clear sky and an almost full moon, so the view from up there was just beautiful. It was really worth it! We had some good laughs when coming down as Hazel suggested we were researchers collecting stones on the moon. It really helped make part of our descent easier. We were back down at the Cougar in a total time of 3:52 and this time we jumped straight in the van to hit the road as quickly as possible.
Summit of Scafell Pike
With only 4 hours between Scafell Pike and Snowdon, our priority was to try to get a little bit of sleep and eat as good a breakfast as possible. We started our walk to the top of Snowdon at 7:49am. That gave us a bit more than 4 hours to complete it. As our bodies were starting to feel the 2 previous ascents and the lack of sleep, we knew we did not have a minute to spare. We climbed Snowdon via Pyg Track, 11km return and a total ascent of 732m. There are not a lot of easy sections on that trail, with lots of big rocks that require you to step up and over, our legs felt each one. We conquered that summit in 2:02. The clouds that were covering Snowdon when we started the walk had disappeared. And we had a stunning view from up there! We took a few pictures and headed straight back down. We knew we had to be quick. But our legs were so tired that we could not entirely rely on them. In the end we managed to complete that walk in 4:05, which meant we completed the whole challenge in 23:55, with 5 minutes to spare!
Summit of Snowdon
YES!!! WE DID IT!!!
For me it was definitely one of the best challenges I have done so far, not just because of the distance (35.5km) or the cumulative ascent (2984m) but mostly for the team (walkers and supporters included). We worked so well together, supporting each other whenever one needed it, but also relying on each other to ensure that we were always keeping a good pace. Whilst all the while chatting and laughing a lot about anything and everything. Thank you so much Charlotte, Clare, Hazel, Susie, Kerry and Karen! I really had a blast with you, Ladies and I hope you did too!