The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge is a 24-mile circular route incorporating the peaks of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, part of the Pennine range.
Thousands of walkers take on the combined ascent of 1,585 metres each year through the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park. This year, they were joined by three keen walkers from Rolawn. Paul Dawson, Allison Brooks and I accepted the challenge, with support from Jen Henzell, to raise money for the company’s nominated charity, Greenfingers, and this is our story.
Driving the wrong way down a one-way street wasn’t the greatest of starts but we’ll put that down to the ungodly hour and be thankful that our 3.30am departure from home got us to our destination, Horton-in-Ribblesdale, in good time.
By 5.45 we were off. Having parked in the overflow carpark (yes, even at 5.30 the main car park was full), we had a gentle warm-up walk to get to the starting point – which was good because the ascent starts almost immediately.
We’d decided to do the trek independently, rather than in an organised group event, because Paul is an experienced trekker, having crossed the Gobi Desert. This meant we could get a head start on the organised trips, hoping to avoid getting caught up in the crowds trying to pass on the narrow paths ahead.
Pen-y-Ghent is the first challenge when you choose to walk the traditional anti-clockwise route and this is where our journey began. Setting off in the dark, we couldn’t see what lay ahead. This was something of a mixed blessing – we couldn’t see what we were up against, which meant we were already well under way when we realised there was no turning back.
Encountering variable terrain, we made a good, quick start, spurred on by the amazing views of the Ribble Valley.
At a mere 694 metres, Pen-y-Ghent is the lowest of the three ascents and perhaps a good starting point as you feel a great sense of achievement reaching your first summit in just over an hour. Saying that, the walk over to the next peak then seemed to take forever!
Shortly after 9.00am, after a quick stop to change our socks (an essential tactic on any long-distance walk to protect the feet from sweat-induced blisters), we were ready to tackle the highest ascent – all 736 metres of Whernside.
Although this wasn’t as steep an ascent as Pen-y-Ghent it was very, very long! It didn’t help having runners pass by with their dogs, merrily jogging along like it was a walk in the park. It was hard to resist the urge to stick out a leg…
But it was such a clear day and the views were so good that we kept our cool and, sustained by an over-order of caffeine bars which Paul was quick to hand out to Allison and I whenever the pace started to slow, we made it to the ‘breezy’ top.
The descent from the highest point in North Yorkshire was really rocky which slowed the pace somewhat. By the time we reached the foot of Whernside, the converted barn offering proper toilet facilities could not have been a more welcome sight for us ladies who were struggling with the idea of the al fresco alternative.
Recharged by coffee and with water bottles topped-up by Jen, we made for Ingleborough, our final peak of the day. Mercifully, this stretch was much shorter than the distance between Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside.
Standing at the foot of the sheer 723 metre ascent ahead, I heard the words “I just need a minute.” This was followed by “another three days” in answer to a small girl asking her parents how long she had to keep walking. Allison was clearly feeling the strain.
And she might have been right, had it not been for the fact that we were so close to achieving our aim. On what was the toughest of the three climbs, we faced a new challenge. It took everything we had left to make it up the very narrow, very steep, single track path, with people descending towards us.
Nearing the top there was a little hump to get over before finally reaching the extremely windy summit – hooray!
Feelings of elation were soon dashed by the realisation that there were another 7 or 8 miles to go to get back to the car park.
All in all, our 4pm finish felt very respectable and after a quick freshen up and a change of clothes we headed home very happy with our completion time of 10 hours and 15 minutes.
I’ll be back next year with a target time of 9 hours and with 12 months of gym-based training behind me.
First recorded ascent: July 1887 by J. R. Wynne-Edwards and D. R. Smith in a time of 10 hours.
Fastest time: In 1974, the Men’s Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge (following the original fell race route) was completed by Jeff Norman in 2 hours 29 minutes 53 seconds.
Expected time: Under 12 hours.
Distance: The route is 24 miles (38.6km).
Height: Total ascent of 1,585 metres (5200ft).
• Water (two litres) – fortunately with Jen’s help we didn’t need to carry this quantity at any one time
• Compass/GPS – the all-singing, all-dancing watch took care of this
• Head torch – mini torches provided by Jen for the start
• Mobile phone – fully charged
• Spare socks – look after your feet and they will look after you
• First aid kit – essentials packed in a bum bag, Compeeds, plasters, ibuprofen, lip balm and tissues. We were brave and didn’t cry.
• Sunglasses & suncream – packed glasses, sun cream applied
• Gloves – packed but not worn on this occasion
• Hat – yes, worn by me up Ingleborough – with photographic evidence
• Waterproofs – most definitely needed but, typically, when you pack it you don’t need it
• Safety blanket – just in case!
• Camera – or in our case, a phone
• Walking boots – walking boots and good trainers, whatever it takes for your feet to survive.