Anyone partial to the call of the wild should be familiar with Britain’s Three Peaks Challenge.
The National Three Peaks Challenge is an event in which participants attempt to climb the highest mountains of England, Scotland and Wales within a 24-hour period.
Often confused with the Yorkshire Three Peaks, this challenge sees walkers climb each peak in turn, driving from the foot of one mountain to the next.
The three peaks involved are Ben Nevis in Scotland (1,345 metres), Scafell Pike in England (978 metres), and Mount Snowdon in Wales (1,085 metres).
A popular misconception is that the three mountains in the challenge are the tallest peaks in Britain but they are in fact just the tallest mountains within each representative country.
The total distance walked is estimated to be 42 kilometres with the total ascent measuring 3,064 metres – twice that of the Yorkshire Three Peaks. The total driving distance is 745 kilometres, which is why it is recommended to have a designated driver that won’t undertake any walking.
Frequently climbed to raise money for charitable organisations, the record for the fastest National Three Peaks Challenge is held by Joss Naylor who completed it in 11 hours and 56 minutes in 1971.
Thousands of people tackle the Three Peaks each year and regardless of the time limit you set for yourself, the trip is about testing your own limits in ways you may never have thought about, from nutrition to recovery – all on a debilitating lack of sleep.
For the ultimate challenge, it is also possible to cycle between each of the mountains. Obviously this takes far longer and should only be attempted by well-trained athletes. The current record for cycling and climbing is held by Dave Sleath who completed it in 35 hours and 11 minutes in 1996.
- The most highly regarded trekking challenge in the UK
- Summit the three highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales
- See the sunset over Mickledore
- Explore picturesque mountain ranges and discover stunning scenery
If hiking Ben Nevis first, as most do, the starting point will be Fort William. Regular train services are available into Fort William from Glasgow and the south, taking around five hours.
If arriving from the South East or overseas, the nearest airport is Glasgow from where you can catch a train or you can fly into Inverness, and then take a coach service across to Fort William, taking about two hours.
To get back from Snowdon at the end of your challenge, take the train from Betws-y-Coed, right in the heart of Snowdonia, changing at Llandudno Junction for Chester.
From here you can catch onward trains to most parts of the country, including London Euston – with an overall journey time of around four hours.
The nearest airport to Snowdonia is Anglesey Airport which is 35 kilometres away or Liverpool which is 86 kilometres away.
Total challenge times include ascending and descending all three mountains.If you are aiming to complete the challenge in 24 hours then you should allow the following times for each mountain, including up and down.
- Five hours for Ben Nevis
- Four hours for Scafell Pike, from Wasdale Head.
- Four hours for Snowdon
These times are for the average climber, not elite athletes. For example, Snowdon can be completed comfortably by most people in around five hours.
The best way of testing if you and your team are able is doing a bit of practice on whichever mountain is closest to you. Add to these estimates at least eleven hours’ worth of driving.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
Although each mountain can be climbed individually by anyone of relative fitness, the challenge is not to be scoffed at.
Although the experience tends to vary greatly between different people, sleep deprivation plays a massive part and will affect some more than others, particularly with awkward sleeping conditions.
On top of this, for anyone climbing with a group, there are strict cut off times in place and generally anyone failing to meet the interim cut off times in place will therefore exceed the maximum trekking time available and will be required to return with a guide to the waiting support team.
Putting in the hours of practise on hills before the event is critical to success, ideally get some 10-hour days in before the event.
If you are hill-fit the climbs themselves should not be too hard. It is more of an endurance exercise than a mountaineering experience, and with an appropriate fitness plan beforehand, it will be much easier.
There is no need for a permit to take on the challenge nor to climb any of Ben Nevis, Snowdon or Scafell Pike individually.
Guided or Self-Guided
The challenge can be undertaken in two ways — either as a self-organised group or as part of a professionally organised event.
Self-organised expeditions are the cheapest way to take part, but mixed experience groups will benefit from the assistance provided by professional mountain guides.
Going with a guide will take the hassle out of planning and directions, and the designated driver allows walkers to try and catch some sleep on the road.
Self-organised groups can register their challenge to receive certificates and guidance on organising a safe and responsible challenge.
The challenge is best undertaken during the spring/summer months of May to September as there are longer days and generally better weather.
However, it is worth avoiding school and bank holidays as parking and local amenities are under considerable pressure during these busy times.
In terms of itinerary and timings for walking, people typically opt for one of two options:
Option One – Walking in daylight
As long as your challenge team has a dedicated driver, this is usually the best time plan, allowing you to climb Ben Nevis in the evening, then all walkers can have a six hour sleep en route whilst being driven to Scafell Pike.
This also maximises walking hours in daylight, making navigation easier.
- 5pm – Start Ben Nevis.
- 10pm – Finish Ben Nevis and start drive to Scafell Pike (six-hour drive)
- 4am – Arrive and start climbing Scafell Pike
- 8am – Finish Scafell Pike and start drive to Snowdon (five-hour drive)
- 1pm – Arrive and start climbing Snowdon
- 5pm – Finish Snowdon, and complete challenge.
Option Two – Long Day
This option allows both Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike to be climbed in daylight, and then ascends the slightly easier Snowdon path at night.
- 6am – Start Ben Nevis.
- 11am – Finish Ben Nevis and start drive to Scafell Pike (six-hour drive)
- 5pm – Arrive and start climbing Scafell Pike
- 9pm – Finish Scafell Pike and start drive to Snowdon (five hour drive)
- 2am – Arrive and start climbing Snowdon
- 6am – Finish Snowdon, and complete challenge
If you don’t fancy storming through it in 24 hours, there’s no reason why you can’t break the challenge up.
Many people complete the Three Peaks over three days, taking extra time to enjoy the local culture and support local businesses.
The best (and worst) thing about the challenge is that by completing it in 24 hours or less, there’s no sleeping involved so you don’t need to bring any camping equipment or shell out for accommodation en route.
However, depending on what time you plan to commence your first ascent, it’s definitely worth spending a night in Fort William beforehand to rest up and prep.
Equally, you’re going to want to have a shower and a sleep after you finish in Snowdonia. The region is home to a wide variety of accommodation options, from quaint bed-and-breakfasts and family-run inns to hostels and campgrounds.
Snowdonia is a great place to stay for a couple of days at the end of the challenge with plenty of attractions to visit.
In addition to its natural attractions, Snowdonia boasts some of the best man-made points of interest in the UK.
Some of the most notable include the exciting Snowdon Mountain Railway, the beautiful villages of Llanberis and Beddgelert, and the fascinating National Slate Museum.
Caernarfon is a walled town with an impressive and not to be missed castle and is a World Heritage Site Caernarfon is a World Heritage site.
Once you’ve recovered from your 24-hour challenge, you can get involved in more outdoor action, with everything from zip-lining and white water rafting, to rock climbing and paragliding, to name but a few.
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Difficulty||3/5 - 4/5|
|Starts at||Ben Nevis, Fort William PH33 6SY, UK|
|Finishes at||Snowdon, Caernarfon LL55 4UL, UK|
|Length of route||42 Km|
|Average time to complete||1 - 3 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||No|
|Highest point||1345 metres|
|Equipment needed||Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots, Water Supplies|
|Countries visited||Scotland, England, Wales, UK|