An introduction to The Old Bat’s Three Peaks Challenge

The National Three Peaks Challenge is a well known phrase amongst the more adventurous. This challenge involves walking the highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales within 24 hours.

The three mountains are:

It is a popular misconception that the three mountains in question are the three highest in Britain. Over one hundred peaks in Scotland are higher than Scafell Pike, and 56 higher than Snowdon.

I am not very interested in the popular national three peaks challenge. The main thing that put me off is the need to drive as fast as legally possible between the mountains. I decided that for me it would be more fun to cycle between the mountains and combine my love of hill walking with cycle touring. My daughter Kathryn was keen to join me and then my husband and Archie the dog also decided to come along. As Ian doesn’t cycle, a plan emerged to have our own National Three Peaks Challenge.

Cycling between the Three Peaks

Cycling between the Three Peaks

Our plan was to drive to Ben Nevis. We would all walk up and down Ben Nevis then Kathryn and I would cycle in a leisurely manner over a couple of days to Scafell Pike. Ian would drive down meeting us at pre-arranged campsites each night. We would then all walk up and down Scafell Pike and then continue to Snowdon in the same manner.

Earlier this year the legendary Ironman superstar Chrissie Wellington completed the National 3 peaks challenge with cycling in between in under 48 hours.

Their route was completely different to ours – they went from South to North – and the challenge was far greater as they kept going and did all the cycling and the ascent of the 3 mountains in under 48 hours. The only similarity between our challenge and theirs is that we walked and cycled.

We chose to walk up Ben Nevis on the mountain track and Scafell Pike from Seathwaite in Borrowdale. Our route up Snowdon was up the Watkin path which has almost 300m more ascent than the popular Pyg track which starts at Pen y Pass. We were most definitely walking up the mountains as Ian doesn’t do running.

We are experienced walkers and our steady sustained pace saw us reach the summit of the three mountains in good times.

Ben Nevis in 3 hours 40 minutes.

Snow on Ben Nevis

Snow on Ben Nevis

Scafell Pike from Seathwaite in Borrowdale took us 2 hours and 45 minutes to ascend.

On the Safell Pike trig point

On the Scafell Pike trig point

Snowdon on the Watkin Path (which has 292m more ascent than the more often used Pyg track) took us 2 hours and 35 minutes to reach the summit.

The Snowdon summit

The Snowdon summit

We were not racing and we did enjoy the walks up. Once we had reached the summits we took time to enjoy being up the mountain and I did not time the descents.

My daughter Kathryn is quite new to cycling and has never done anything like this before. Her bike for this challenge was a low cost aluminium Dawes Galaxy. It is quite heavy with bottom of the range components but it does have a wide range of gears and is suitable for touring. Kathryn had only used the bike for commuting a few times. She screwed the new SPD pedals on as we started and took the new shoes out of the box! Before this challenge Kathryn had only ridden over 100km in a day once. Kathryn is, however, extremely fit and a very good runner and triathlete. We cycled each day unsupported following a pre-planned route which kept us off main roads whenever possible.

Touring via minor roads and cafes

Touring via minor roads and cafes

We did complete our challenge and we all enjoyed it. The bare statistics are that we cycled 726 kilometres (451 miles) with 6797m (22,870 feet) of elevation. This averaged at 103 kilometres or 65 miles on each cycling day. The actual time we were cycling was 34 hours and 56 minutes (you can now see how it’s is possible to do this in under 48 hours).

The three mountains involved 45 kilometres (28 miles) of walking with 3337m (10,948 feet) of ascent. I didn’t record the mountain walks on the GPS but I estimate our moving time to be around 13 hours.

So without any stopping, or any breaks for eating or sleeping we would have completed the challenge in about 48 hours of effort. However, we spread this out over a 10 day holiday. And a jolly good time was had by all.


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