I sat at work wondering who I could blame for what was about to happen. In less than an hour I was going to be in a car for 10 hours, climb up a mountain for 9, then another 6 hours in the car before finally getting some sleep.
In a change to the normal Three Peaks Challenge our plan was to walk up the three peaks over the course of three days. Leaving after work on Tuesday and arriving back home on Friday evening. Allowing our group an easier pace and realistic goal, given that two of the five of us were wearing multiple joint supports!
We live in Kent and had a lot of driving ahead of us, our three day schedule included all 1,326 miles of it.
We started our journey to Scotland after I finished work and got onto the M25 at the worst possible time and inevitably hit traffic. Great start.
We drove through the night, making our way further North. I took over the driving a couple of hours away from the Scottish border and drove while the others slept.
I don't think it ever really got properly dark, it almost felt like we were chasing the sun. We crossed the border into Scotland and followed the motorway for some time, passing sleeping cities. After a while the towns got smaller and the roads narrower. Then suddenly a break in the trees revealed a Loch, bathed in the early dawn light, a great expanse of blackness. I felt like we had arrived in Scotland now, almost two hours after crossing the border.
This was the first time I had been to Scotland and seen a Loch and it was stunning, even when driving past at 50mph. The Loch stretched on and on — I kept catching glimpses of it long after I thought it must have ended.
The drive only got more breathtaking, but I was the only one awake to see it!
We passed Loch after Loch, wound round bend after bend and the sun continued its slow ascent, revealing more and more detail in the landscape. It was difficult to keep both eyes on the road with such beauty surrounding me, the early morning light was making a truly stunning image outside.
Soon though my fatigue and the realisation that it was almost 3AM put a bit of a downer on my appreciation of the landscape for a while and I concentrated on driving. Not that it was particularly taxing, most sensible people were in bed sleeping so we had the roads to ourselves.
Then Scotland hit me with pure rugged beauty in the form of Rannoch Moor. We drove over the brow of a shallow hill and there it was, stretched out before us, twilight just barely picking out its features.
The desire to stop and take a photo was huge! But we were on a schedule, so I took it all in as best I could as we passed through.
We continued on toward Fort William and after a little mishap with having the wrong postcode for the visitor centre we arrived!
We arrived at the visitor centre and my heart sank a little as I realised that after 5 hours driving and no sleep I now had a ~9 hour walk ahead of me. With that thought I got out the car and was immediately attacked by Scotland's most savage predator – midges.
Cue a hasty session of bag packing and boot lacing while trying our best to avoid getting eaten alive before we'd even started.
As we were taking this photo I think it dawned on all of us that this was really happening. We were in Scotland, at the base of Ben Nevis and we had a 9 hour hike ahead of us.
We said goodbye to Keith and headed off in the direction we assumed the start of the path was. After a quick bit of doubling back and actually checking we were on the right path we were on our way!
The clouds were low and sun was rising as we started our ascent, quickly coming up and out of the trees traversing across the lower slopes.
Nikki and Rosie bounded on ahead, full of energy and eager to pick up the pace, with James just slightly behind. Sheena and I followed.
After a while of following Sheena I noticed that her walking poles were much too short for her, she hadn't realised there was another section to them! I explained how best to set them up and she found they were much more useful then!
We continued on up into the mist and the clouds, hoping to find the halfway point soon.
Soon enough we were above the cloud base and the rising sun started to burn off and break up the mist. Making for a spectacular view.
An unexpected sight greeted us near the summit – snow! I hadn't realised there would still be snow on Ben Nevis in June, but there it was. Glistening in the sun, waiting to make us fall on our asses.
I tried channelling my inner mountaineer to dig my toes into the snow to find a solid footing, but my boots were too soft and that idea completely failed. Back to slipping and sliding it was!
The snow stretched on to cover the entire area around the summit and made our first ascent feel like even more of an adventure!
Reaching the top of Ben Nevis at 0930AM was surreal, given the choice I would normally still be in bed. Instead I was one of the five highest people in the UK!
The view from the top was absolutely stunning. We were above the cloud, in the bright sunshine, looking down at the landscape and could see the shadows of the clouds drifting across it. I knew while looking around that I would be back, this was a sight worth the effort.
I was sad to leave Scotland, my first visit having been so short, but I was excited and encouraged that we were on our way to Scafell Pike.
Soon enough though we were met with an array of brake lights and were promptly stuck in traffic soon after getting back into England.
Once we were clear of that initial delay the rest of the journey was quite uneventful and we found ourselves in the Lake District, apparently. I can't say the our entrance into the Lakes was quite as spectacular as into the Highlands but I could see hills off in the distance.
The hills in the distance stayed in the distance for quite some time even up until we were supposedly half an hour away from the YHA we were staying at. We double checked if we were heading to the right place but sure enough the mountains soon found us and we were searching left and right for that friendly YHA sign.
The GPS let us know we had arrived, but outside we could see no sign of the YHA. This didn't make any of us any happier, tired as we were. We faffed around for a while, turning around a couple of times before just accepting it wasn't where the map said it was and continuing on down the road.
Finally a sign, YHA 1 mile, success! We pulled up at around 2100, checked in, showered and went to bed.
I woke to James looming over me, my alarm having failed to go off, it was 5AM. I was surprised how little my body protested in getting out of bed. Bags packed and lunch made we headed out to the cars and set off for Scafell, after a short drive we arrived at the car park and prepared for day two of walking.
We set off and were once again waiting for the sun to come up to meet us. As it rose it cast some amazing shadows across the hills around us.
As we climbed we talked about the various aches and pains our group was having but surprisingly the general consensus was pretty good. The biggest mountain was out the way and today was the smallest of the three, motivation was doing pretty well. The sky was clear and the sun was shining strong up ahead of us, ready to take the chill off the early morning start.
We came up out of the shadow and into the sun, already warm and bright at 8AM. I was already regretting my choice to wear trousers. We were being almost too lucky with the weather on this trip!
After what felt like no time at all we were at the halfway point and pushing for the top.
The path up Scafell is much quicker than the path up Ben Nevis and before we knew it we were at the top. While not on the same scale as the highlands and without any snow, the view from the top was beautiful and well worth the effort.
No sooner were we at the top than we were almost back to the bottom, glad to be heading down as the day was getting ever hotter. It was really quite satisfying to pass so many people on their way up, knowing that we'd been there and done it already.
We made it down to the car park and set off for Wales. Not before getting this rather nice photo of a couple of trees.
I've been to Wales many times and walked up Snowdon twice before, but not having just climbed Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike in the two days previous. As always though, I was looking forward to being in Wales again as we made our way down from the Lakes.
Thankfully the journey wasn't too bad and we made it to Llanberis with enough time to get some food before heading to the hostel. Not before a slight confusion over where the turning for Llanberis was! We pulled up on the high street having found, to my surprise, two car parking spaces and headed to Pete's Eats. I'd been before so I knew I liked the place, but the food did take quite a while to come out and we were all pretty hungry so the others were less than impressed. In the end though the food came and everyone's hunger was suitably sated.
We had a short drive, up Pen Y Pass, before we could get some sleep. If you've not been to Pen Y Pass I recommend it, the road winds up through the pass skirting boulders the size of small vans. Some of which poke through the dry stone wall lining the road! Further away from the road rocks and boulders are scattered as if thrown like dice by some giant. So many rocks. The YHA is at the top of the pass, right next to the road and in a super convenient location for walking up Snowdon. You just cross the road and you are at the start of two different trails to the Summit. In the morning we would be taking the easier Miners track, which Nikki and I have both done before.
James and I headed out for a short walk after we'd checked in, to loosen up and catch the last of the light. We were a bit late to catch the sunset through the valley but I got a nice little shot anyway.
We walked a little way up the Miners track before heading back to the hostel to get some sleep ready to tackle the whole thing the next morning.
Once again we headed out early and were, for quite a while, the only people we could see on the mountain. It promised to be a warm day and we were glad to be starting out in the cool of the early morning, before the sun rose to meet us.
It was quite special to be, or at least feel like, the only ones on the mountain. Both times I'd been on Snowdon previously the trail was teeming with other walkers but now, we could see no one.
We made good progress up the start of the Miners track, thanks to its gentle gradient and good surface but I knew that things would start getting steeper soon. The Miners track somewhat lulls you into a false sense of security because it starts off so flat and well maintained. It carries on like this for probably two-thirds of the way, getting a little steeper and a little rougher but overall still pretty easy going.
It takes you past a couple of picturesque lakes before you get to the third lake and suddenly your nice, motorway like, footpath vanishes. In its place is an almost indiscernible trail leading up a steep slope littered with rocks. This section of the trail was steep and loose from the get go.
This was where Sheena made the decision to stay at the lake and wait for us to return. She'd done well to get to this point and her knees had taken a battering despite the supports and waking poles.
This left the three of us to tackle the steep path ahead.
This section is steep and the path swaps between being very well defined and almost non-existent. The pay off though is that you gain height very quickly so when you turn round to gauge your progress it's quite satisfying. A thought that quickly enters your mind though is that coming down might be tricky.
Soon we had reach the ridge line and were following the main path to the summit. We were all flagging at this point, so near to the end, and each step felt bigger and bigger. But we made it to the summit, took some photos and started to make our way back down, feeling proud to have achieved our goal.
I am always happy to be in Wales and am always sad to leave it but this time I was truly happy to be going home. I'd had a great time over the past three days, travelling to Scotland for the first time, the Lake District and to Wales.
My legs were questioning my choices, but my head was already thinking about the next adventure.