My Father and I set off for Snowdon, our final destination.
I felt sick, exhausted and seemed to be hurting in every part of my legs, ankles and feet.
I needed to change my socks and get some arnica gel going but for a little while all I could do was sit there and ache.
I managed some water and ibuprofen. I also called Leanne but I can’t remember the conversation.
After a short while I managed to collect myself together and repeated my previous routine of massaging my feet, ankles and calves. I drank some more water, ate a few Lucozade tablets and started to feel marginally better.
At the top of Scafell Pike I felt ravenous but, once again, now I was back in the car my appetite had just gone. I can’t remember if I ate anything but I fell asleep fairly quickly.
I woke up when we stopped at the Charnock Richard services on the M6. It was 8:20am so I’d managed a couple of hours rest. I wouldn’t get any more sleep now until after the challenge had been completed.
I began to feel better. I’d expected an adrenaline kick as we neared the final mountain but it never came; still, knowing how well we were doing for time definitely gave me a lift. Most of the pain in my legs had eased and, although I felt physically tired, I felt as if there was enough in the tank to get me through the final leg.
I still needed to eat something though.
In the end I managed a ready-mixed tin of tuna and kidney beans in a tomato and jalapeno sauce. Eating this concoction at around 9am was exactly as disgusting as it sounds and yet, for some reason, it still seemed more appealing than eating cold rice.
I also managed a few oat cakes and another energy drink.
It wasn’t really enough but it would have to do.
Not eating enough was the biggest mistake I made. I should have drunk rice milk instead of trying to eat cold rice, and I should have packed and eaten a lot more oat cakes. Corn cakes would also have been a good idea (they’re similar to rice cakes) for some variety. I also have a good recipe for gluten-free and dairy-free chocolate brownies – they would have been good for a quick burst of sugary carbs.
We arrived at Snowdon at 10:23am and it was much busier than my last visit here only a week earlier. There appeared to be some sort of charity event taking place and there were plenty of people about.
I ran to the toilets in nothing but my tracksuit bottoms and a thermal vest and was suddenly aware of how cold it was. Not as cold as the Scafell Pike peak, to be sure, but if it was this cold at the bottom of Snowdon what would be it like nearer the summit?
My hopes of lightening my backpack load for the final climb were dashed. As much as I would have liked to leave everything behind and just get this final walk done, I had little choice but to pack up my warmer clothes again and take it all with me.
I decided to stick to the same route as last time and take the Miner’s Track up and down. The Pyg Track may be somewhat shorter but given the hammering my legs had taken over the last 18 hours I wanted the more gradual climb.
Plus, with the large amounts of foot traffic on the mountain, the less popular (and wider) Miner’s Track seemed to make good sense.
I began my final ascent at 10:27am, giving me 5 hours and 33 minutes to complete my journey. Last week the ascent and descent had taken me 4 hours and 10 minutes so I had plenty of time to play with.
My legs felt pretty good when I started out and I kept a good pace to begin with. I even felt confident enough to accept a woman’s request to take her photo on the bridge crossing the first lake.
My steady pace kept up until the ascent began and I climbed the first set of broad steps. My legs were really complaining now and while it had taken most of the ascent on the first two mountains for the thigh/groin pain to kick in, it now began throbbing almost immediately.
I was moving slower than at any previous point in the last 24 hours but the main thing was that I was able to keep moving.
This changed when I reached the steep section where the Miner’s Track climbs to meet the Pyg Track.
It wasn’t the pain that was affecting me now but a tiredness that I’ve never previously experienced. It didn’t feel like fatigue but more like an overall emptiness in my limbs. The expression “running on empty” had never felt more apt.
Despite my desire to avoid stopping to rest I found myself needing to take 5-10 second pauses at regular intervals during which time I had to will my legs to start moving again.
After Miner and Pyg joined up I pushed on but had to keep pausing, sometimes to rest, sometimes to let people overtake me. I wondered if some were amused by my lack of fortitude. If they only knew…
The final part of the Snowdon climb is a steep zigzag that carrys you up to the ridge. Then it’s a fairly gentle climb to the summit.
I remembered the zigzag being pretty tough so I mentally steeled myself to push through the pain and lack of energy and just focus on getting to the ridge where I knew things would get a little easier.
About 20 yards from finishing the zigzag the steps become very steep and require very large steps. I paused before one of these steps and genuinely wondered how I was going to manage the next few steps.
Mentally I felt up to it but my body seemed to be ignoring my requests to move.
It was at this point I spoke briefly to a man on his way back down. I broke my rule for the first time and told him I was nearing the end of the three peaks. I can’t remember exactly what he said but he expressed confidence that I was going to make it and that modicum of encouragement was enough to get me moving again.
I didn’t get his name and I don’t have the faintest memory of what he looked like but I’m very grateful to him nonetheless.
As I walked along the ridge I reminded myself that, although this is the last stage of the walk, it’s a longer stretch than it initially appears. The weather was worse than last week with steady sleet and sub-zero temperatures.
None of these factors seemed to matter though. Pain, cold, fatigue, I could cope with all it. It was the emptiness in my limbs that kept holding me up. Every 20-30 yards I’d stop and have to gather every ounce of mental will to demand my legs start moving again.
With hindsight I think I was feeling the effects of eating too little. I was trying to exert more energy than I’d physically consumed. Refuelling between climbs is so important.
The summit was packed with people, many of them clearly involved with some kind of charity event. I struggled up the last few steps and slumped over the summit marker before quickly going back down the steps and allowing myself the luxury of sitting down.
It was freezing cold, the sleet was swirling around and I was only a descent away from completing my challenge. But none of that mattered because all I could think of was how “done in” I felt.
I checked my watch to find my ascent time was 2hrs 15mins, virtually the same as last week (although this time around I didn’t waste time losing and having to relocate the trail). That left me 3hrs 15mins to get back down before the 24 hours expired.
Suddenly that extra time I picked up on Ben Nevis became very important. Without it I would be cutting it fine, but with it, barring a disaster, I should be able to finish well inside the 24 hours.
I decided then and there that I was going to forget any idea of trying to finish inside 23 hours – which was certainly doable – and just focus on getting down safely. I’d rather finish in 23 hours and 55 minutes and complete the challenge, than fall and break a leg trying to set a fast time.
I had a missed call on my phone from Leanne. Incredibly there is actually mobile phone coverage at the peak of Snowon so I tried calling her back. No answer.
Energy bar. Water. Time to go.
Now everything was downhill the lack of energy didn’t seem to matter quite so much. The pain in my legs and feet was worse than ever but as I’d learned during the last 24 hours, my ability to ignore this discomfort is pretty good.
In truth, I remember less about the Snowdon descent than any other part of the day.
I remember half-way down the steep drop to the Miner’s Track getting a call from Leanne and her joy when she realised I was going to complete the challenge in time.
I remember hanging up and almost bursting into tears for no reason that I can articulate.
I remember the relief when I got to the bottom of the Miner’s Track steps, safe in the knowledge that the rest of the walk was flat.
I remember, despite now being on the easiest part of the walk, my pace getting slower and slower.
I remember, at least twice, walking around a corner, expecting to see the car park, only to be gutted to see another long stretch of path in front of me.
And I vividly recall walking to the car and seeing 15:08 on my Dad’s phone.
Not too bad for a guy who, just one year earlier, was overweight, lethargic and had never climbed a single mountain in his life.
Despite my assumption that the nausea after each climb was a result of pain and fatigue, after I got in the car and began the journey to the hotel, I experienced no queasiness.
No hunger yet, but otherwise I felt fine.
It seemed to take forever to get to a point where mobile phone coverage resumed and I was able to ring Leanne. After that I enjoyed a final energy drink and tried to take in what I’d just accomplished.
At the hotel I enjoyed a long shower, a large medium-rare steak, and a large glass of red wine.
By 8pm I was in bed. I suddenly felt cold and shivery but it didn’t stop me falling asleep in just a few minutes.
I woke about an hour later feeling like I was burning up. I threw off the covers, wondered briefly if I’d caught a chill, and then passed out again.
The next morning I woke fairly easily. No headache, no cough, no cold.
But as for my legs…
I knew that they would be stiff and sore so when I swung my legs onto the floor I braced myself for the agony.
It actually wasn’t too bad.
More stiff than sore and after a walking up and down the room a couple of times they moved a little more easily.
Stepping into the bath was a little trickier but overall not quite as bad as I was expecting.
We got back to Leeds by lunchtime and, although I still felt stiff, I was able to walk with a relatively normal gait.
By lunchtime the following day I was feeling much more comfortable.
And by the following morning the stiffness had gone along with 90% of the soreness in more ankles.
I’d hoped for a relatively quick recovery but this was much better than I’d anticipated.
In fact my initial feeling on completing the challenge of “never again,” was soon replaced by…
Months later, the fact that I’ve completed the challenge still hasn’t really sunk in. There was just too much that happened in the 24 hours to be able to absorb it all properly.
Writing these blog posts has helped but I think I need to return to some of the locations and maybe even do one or two of the walks again to really allow it all to register.
On a final note, although I’m very proud of the fact that I completed the walk solo, the event as a whole would have been impossible without the support and encouragement of my friends and family. And, of course, the endurance, company and driving skills of my Father.
Thank you one and all.
For posterity, below is the log of my three peaks challenge, carefully recorded by my Father.
Three Peaks Challenge – Travel Log – Thursday, 23 May to Friday, 24 May
23 hours, 8 minutes
16.00 Start Ben Nevis climb from Youth Hostel
20.45 Complete climb
20.52 Leave Ben Nevis Youth Hostel
00.29 Stop for diesel at Asda Carlisle
00.44 Leave Asda Carlisle
02.13 Arrive Scafell Pike National Trust entrance
02.16 Start Scafell Pike climb
06.11 Complete climb
06.16 Leave Scafell Pike National Trust entrance
08.20 Stop at M6 Charnock Richard Services
08.32 Leave M6 Charnock Richard Services
10.23 Arrive Snowdon Youth Hostel
10.27 Start Snowdon climb
15.08 Complete climb
Category: Three Peaks Challenge
About the AuthorDavid Congreave began working online in 2001. He is now an SEO and Internet marketing consultant, a writer, and an editor. He lives and works in Leeds, UK with his wife, Leanne.
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