Here I sit writing this and editing photos, slouched in my chair, exhausted, knackered, drained, but smiling from ear to ear. There’s nothing like a last-minute planned, frantic road trip to put the cat amongst the pigeons so-to-speak.
A bucket list forerunner, I’ve long dreamed of scaling the largest peaks of Scotland, England and Wales. Now that Cornwall is my home, it somehow made sense to do them all in one sitting; making for the ever-popular 3 peaks challenge. This also fell nicely with my birthday, so what better way to celebrate life than with a 318 mile flight, a 1118 mile car journey and an ascent totalling 3407 metres…
Day one started at 5.03am, when not only did the fine gent to my right start snoring so loudly I thought I’d been caught in the midst of a natural disaster, but I realised he’d also left the curtains of the nearby window completely akimbo. Lying awake and staring at the lovely ceiling of the Glen Nevis Hostel, I contemplated the adventure the next few days had in store… so many things could go wrong; did we have the right kit, what if we got lost, what if the hire car broke down, could we actually climb the 3 highest peaks of 3 different countries with little-to-no training?
Our ascent of Ben Nevis (known affectionately as ‘Ben’ by Scottish natives) started at 8am from the free car park of the Ben Nevis Inn. Here we had a bit of brekkie (yogurt, oats and fruit), carefully packed our bags with what we thought we needed, and set off up the Mountain/Pony Track (formally known as the Tourist Track). We were treated to stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valley from the off, good paths underfoot and stopping only for water and to remove unnecessary thermal clothing.
The mountain forecast had suggested that there would be a windchill of -7 degrees at the top, but for the first few hours, we wondered how this could be, it was so mild we were all in T Shirts! Before long, our enthusiastic first day pace reached the halfway point of Red Burn, a larger stream that must be carefully traversed on protruding rocks. A steeper climb followed, which revealed the picturesque Meall an t-Suidhe Loch to our left and the start of an intimidating zig zag track up to our right. Nine seemingly never ending zig zags through plenty of scree (loose inconsistent gravel) later and we were faced with a 40 minute final trek through thick snow and fog. Before long, we had reached the slightly anticlimactical summit, complete with its stunning views (pictured).
After stopping to grab some snaps of the sights, still in astonishingly mild conditions, we started our descent. Three hours of knee pounding later, we were back where we started, the Ben Nevis Inn, just in time for one of my favourite beers – the hoppy Trade Winds by the Caincorm Brewery. So far so good – the perfect start to the trip (if lacking a view from the top)!
Four hours of driving after climbing Ben has taken its toll, and as such, we had all passed out in our hostel in Cockermouth pretty early. This, coupled with the absence of snoring, made for an excellent night’s sleep and we found ourselves staring up at Scafell Pike from its base at the Wasdale Head Inn refreshed and again excited. The second day’s weather was fantastic, so much so that shorts and sunglasses were firmly donned and scarves and gloves firmly discarded.
The path was more pleasant underfoot than Ben, but seemed a lot steeper. After climbing up the beautiful streamside path, we were greeted with a bowl like plateau. Here we could see Scafell Pike directly in front of us, with neighboring Sca Fell up to our right and Great End up to our left. Traversing this flatter part of the mountain through a field of boulders and sheep, we met a sharp zig zagged incline and a final ascent up through some tougher crumbly rocks. The summit delivered amazing views of Wast Water, surrounding peaks of Sca Fell, Great Gable, Lingmell and even Helvelyn and Lake Windermere in the distance.
Deciding to take a more challenging route down, we headed towards Lords rake, a very steep corridor of skree situated on the shoulder of Sca Fell. We opted out of scrambling up this perilous path in favour of scrambling down back to route we had followed up the mountain, stopping only to take daft pictures atop an attractive rock. By the time we were back at Wasdale Head, it was overdue beer and ice cream o’clock. Where better to celebrate conquering our second peak with a pint of local ale and bathing our feet in the nearby stream before the 4 hour trip to deepest, darkest Wales.
A few tasty pints, a very good curry and watching Eurovision with the sound off in a local pub, preceded an unwelcome 6am alarm in Abergele. Groggy from 2 days of solid climbing and driving, we were less than enthusiastic for this last peak – it presented itself to me as almost a formality. Things soon changed when we entered Snowdonia. These darker mountains looked different to what we had been used to on the days before and we were curious as to what lay ahead on the shaded path. Opting for the Pyg Track, to then veering off for the most challenging route, Crib Goch, we were prepared for a tough end to the trip – how tough was yet to be determined. The start of the Pyg Track was much the same as previous days, decent underfoot and a steady climb up to an breathtaking opening, exposing the peak itself and the small lakes of Llyn Llydaw and Glaslyn.
Here we took a sharp right and started scrambling up to the peak of Crib Goch. Although providing great hand and foot holds, there were some daring moments scaling the face of this wee beast, but after 30-45 mins of hard work, we were handsomely rewarded with this view:
Then the fun began, crossing an exposed ridge that has sheer drops on each side. Luckily conditions were near perfect, there was little more than a breath of wind and it was as dry as a dead dingo’s donger. Whilst not for the feint hearted, aside from a nasty obstacle that links two parts of the ridge, this route is nothing but fun, and I recommend that anyone with a penchant for danger tries it one day.
After another hour or so of hard work, this adrenaline-fuelled rock playground peters out and leaves a much more straightforward path that joins up with the train route. It’s then a simple climb to the top to get those all important snaps!
Descending the mountain via the alluring Miners Track (a much more straightforward route which hugs the two mountain lakes) we were back at the bottom. Legs weary, but absolutely chuffed, we posed for a photo (no time for a celebratory beer(!)) before embarking upon the long journey home.
A big thanks to Jenny and Simon for being awesome. Onwards to the next trip.
- If you maintain a good level of fitness, e.g. run or gym a few times a week, you should have no trouble with these peaks with the right equipment, even if you’re an amateur hiker.
- Check the mountain forecast (not just the weather forecast) – MWIS and Met Office are useful.
- Take a storm shelter. You could even be cheeky and buy one before you go and take it back if you don’t use it!
- If you have time, do Scafell from Wasdale – it’s beautiful.