A week has passed and the events of the weekend have had time to sink in. We made our attempt on the National 3 Peaks but we did not manage to complete all three. A combination of losing an hour on Ben Nevis and losing more time on Sca Fell Pike as a result of someone having to be winched off the mountain meant that we could not complete Snowdon in time to achieve 24 hours. We thought about climbing Snowdon anyway, just to complete the three mountains, but we had a number of different travel deadlines to meet so that we could all head back to our various ends of the country. The team had to make its way variously to London, Manchester, Scottish Borders and Stirling.
So here is the story of the weekend:
The London Boys travelled up to Manchester on the Friday, a journey that was not without its own incidents, and stayed the night at Stacey’s house. At 3am on the Saturday they picked up Cameron and headed north, arriving at my house almost dead on time. We transferred all of their kit into the van and headed for Stirling where we picked up the last member of the team before setting off for Ben Nevis.
Travelling through the Trossachs, over Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe gave some members of the team their first glimpse of the Scottish countryside, and the kind of conditions that we were going to be climbing in. Unfortunately quite a lot of other people were enjoying the scenery too and so we arrived at the Glen Nevis Visitors Centre a little behind schedule. By the time we had all disembarked and got our kit organised it was around 12:20 before we set off up the Ben.
Conditions were warm and dry at the foot of the mountain, but very humid, and so we were all feeling it as we climbed the first couple of hundred metres. Unfortunately we parted company with Cameron at this point. A groin injury sustained while completing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge as part of his training resurfaced and stopped him from climbing any further. He wandered slowly back down the mountain and joined the support team.
The rest of us pushed on for the summit, some faster than others. If you’ve never been up Ben Nevis then you should give it a go. Try not to go up in your trainers though. Even in the middle of July there was still some crusty snow at the top and the temperature was hovering around freezing, despite the warm and muggy conditions at the foot of the mountain. Be warned that it is a thankless grind. A relentless ascent that only really evens out at the top. The only reward is the view. When it is clear the view is amazing. It really does feel as though you are on top of the world. Unfortunately for us there was no view at the summit as we were shrouded in cloud.
The descent is as punishing on the legs as the ascent is on the lungs. We ground out the journey back to the van in a slightly shorter time than it took us to get up in the first place. Sore knees and shaky ankles slowed some of us down. The support team had done us proud and had food waiting for us on our arrival. We turned ourselves around as quickly as possible and then got on the road for the Lake District and Sca Fell Pike.
On arrival at Sca Fell Pike we found two things: that we had clawed back some time and were now only half an hour behind where we had hoped to be, and that the car park was closed. Undeterred we headed off into the darkness. It was now around 00:20 and we were expecting to spend around 4 hours on Sca Fell Pike. As we ascended we came across a group of people sitting to one side of the path. One of them was in her survival bag and did not look good. She was obviously in shock and the people that she was with were doing a good job of looking after her. I could see flashing lights arriving at the base of the mountain and so told them that the Mountain Rescue team were on their way. She appeared to have broken her ankle, and this was a lesson for all of us as the path became quite treacherous as the weather turned wetter.
We made it to the summit in around 2 hours. As always with the Wasdale route, the summit takes you by surprise. I couldn’t have been happier when we finally reached it. The weather had turned against us a little bit and so we didn’t spend too long congratulating ourselves before heading back down again.
The journey back down was fraught with danger. The path was quite clear to us, however the rain had made it slippy. The group’s pace slowed noticeably as we descended through the rubble, and the going got even worse on the actual path as this was now very slippery and I found myself on my backside quite a few times. As we descended we passed a group on their way up that told us that the Mountain Rescue team had called in a helicopter to airlift the injured walker that we saw earlier. Sure enough about 20 minutes later the sound of the Royal Navy Sea King from HMS Gannet reverberated against the side of the mountain. And so we stopped walking. Head torches off, sit down and wait. We watched the helicopter sweep the hillside with its searchlights, trying to pick out the injured walker. The winchman was sent down and the the helicopter moved away to stand off across the far side of the lake. After a time the helicopter swept back across Wasdale and hovered again over the injured walker. She and the winchman were brought back into the helicopter and they sped off in the direction of the glittering lights of Sellafield.
We resumed our descent. Time had all but defeated us now and this was made worse by the realisation that the team was rapidly accruing injuries that slowed us even further. When I reached the Support Team it was to find them relieved that the rescue was not for one of us. Despite all of our modern technology we had not been able to get a message through to them at the foot of the mountain.
The sun was up by the time the rest of the team had arrived at the van, and we ate our porridge while we debated whether to continue to Snowdon or not. In the end we agreed that there would not be enough time for us to get to Snowdon and climb the mountain within the 24 hour time limit for the challenge. In fact Snowdon could well have become a real problem for some of us and we estimated that it was likely that we were looking at seven hours to complete it given the physical state of some members of the team.
As none of us wanted to cause serious injury to ourselves or each other, nor have to be helped off the mountain by the Mountain Rescue team, we agreed that it was best to call an end to our attempt on the National 3 Peaks Challenge. We were left a little disappointed but the rescue on Sca Fell Pike had ensured that we could not complete the challenge in time. It also reminded us that the challenge can be a dangerous one and that our safety was paramount.
We travelled back up to Scotland and parted ways, but for most of us there is unfinished business. We have raised such an amazing amount of money between us and for that we thank each and every one of you wholeheartedly.