The National Three Peaks Challenge

08/09/2018 – The National Three Peaks Challenge,  involves climbing the three highest peaks of Scotland, England, and Wales, within 24 hours.  The total walking distance was 23 miles (37km) and the total ascent is 3064 meters (10,052ft).  The three mountains are Ben Nevis, in Scotland (1345m) Scafell Pike, in England (978m) Snowdon, in Wales (1085m).

There were over 50 participants in our overall group, the groups eventually settled into the smaller walking group.  Our mountain leader was Adam, a splendid human being who held the group together all the way through the challenge.

Ben Nevis was by far the highlight of my day, drenched in glorious sunshine and on home turf; I managed to get up and down the Ben in 4 hours and 19 minutes a joy and a privilege to have had such a pleasant climb.  The organisation was first class and after having a quick cup of team we made for England and for Scafell Pike.  It’s never going to be an easy ride to driving 6/7 hours south, but it was a necessary evil and part of the challenge.

On arrival at Scafell, the weather was turning and not for the better, wind and rain began to hammer down and by the time we got on the mountain, it was a wet and blustery night.  Walking in the dark itself did not bother me, but the pace was fast and I struggled to stay up with my group.  Again thanks to Adam and Ice (another splendid individual) I was able to stay with my group, the downward descent was fast thankfully, and by this time the driving wind and rain had penetrated the waterproofs and the boots.  Sadly by the time I got to the hot food, it was all gone.  I have never been so disappointed not to have porage in my entire life.  Freezing cold and totally spent, I crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep for a few hours as the minibus traveled on to Wales and to Snowdon.

Arriving just as the day was beginning to break through the darkness we put on our wet, cold and damp gear and began our final push up the last mountain.  It wasn’t long before I found myself falling behind my group and as the gap became bigger and bigger I found Ice on my heals encouraging me up and up and up.  His anecdotal story-telling was just the tonic to take my mind off the fact that I simply had no fuel left in the tank.  Ice reassured me that I was not slow, just in a fast group and that I was making good time.  After eating several handfuls of jelly babies and downing a bottle of water, I found some energy to catch up with the team and to summit Snowdon.  The descent down was fast and easy and we were all soon back at the finish line and stripping off the wet climbing gear into some dry, warm clothes.  My overall time for the challenge was a very respectable 22 hours and 9 minutes.  One last comment on the challenge, the team I was in, was so supportive as a group and encouraging.  All seven of us crossed the line together at the end, I felt very privileged and proud to have shared this experience with them.

From a psychological resilience perspective, the physical challenge of the three peaks was far less demanding than the psychological challenge.   The human body is incredibly adaptable and when you think you can’t go on; it’s not the body telling you this but your mind.  The body can endure much more than the mind is able to comprehend.  For a few months now, I had been carrying demons in my mind regarding my ability to carry on with my PhD.  The lesson I have learned from the three peaks challenge is that I have in some way let the demons in and they are settling in and becoming very comfortable.  I have to ask myself if I want to kick them out or hand over the keys.


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