Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in 24 hours
A team from Rugby St Andrews have successfully completed the Three Peaks Challenge. Here’s their story, written by Steve Kettleborough.
Just over a year ago whilst having a few pints with the Rugby St Andrews barman, Patrick Howard, we came up with the idea of tackling one of the toughest challenges that you can do in this country - climbing the three highest peaks of the UK: Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in 24 hours.
We soon realised we could not do this alone, we needed a team and more importantly an experienced leader. So we started to assemble a team with a few coaches from Rugby St Andrews RFC: Mike Wallace, Mike Dixon, Scott Marshall, Myself and Paddy. Was this enough? No, so we managed to pull in two super fit guys from my local the Lawford Arms, Carl (the machine) Wauby and Danny Bell.
We had our team but still no leader, until I got speaking to someone who now I regard as a good friend, Gary Smith ex-military qualified mountain rescue guide, but crucially, he’d done this before. Gary pulled in an assistant also ex-military Craig Douglas. The team was complete but were we ready? No, we certainly were not.
At our first meeting Gary explained what kit we would need and came up with a training programme for us all to complete. I think at that time we started to realise the enormity of the task, but he assured us if we stuck to the training programme we would get through this.
Our training programme consisted of a lot of gym work cardio – vascular and leg power building during the week. We also got together on an icy cold weekend and completed a 12 mile tab (tactical advance to battle) over the local fields and hills carrying a 10kg backpack this consisted of intervals of running and marching (mostly the latter for me)we would increase the weight we carried over a period of time to 15kg.
I thought the training was going well until we carried out a test climb up and down Scafell.
We completed it in quite a descent time but I realised I was holding the team back and offered to pull out as the whole thing had got bigger than I’d imagined. The team were having none of it, we had now evolved into a real team working for each other.
We arrived at Fort William the day before the ‘off’. Tents were pitched and we headed into town to ‘carb up’ so we all went to the pub for a few beers and a curry.
The next morning we were relaxed as we weren’t climbing Ben Nevis until 15.00 hours so we could get up and down and travel to Scafell during the night (less traffic).
Finally the time had come to put boots on and secure our packs. We lined up at the bridge crossing the Glen Nevis River. Simon the lead driver and time keeper shouted ‘go’ and we were off.
The team worked together keeping in constant radio communication so we could manage the pace to the slowest person (me). At about 400 metres we hit the snow line, this concealed the 300metre drop off the cliff edge. This made that section of the climb very difficult and dangerous especially as 2 people had lost their lives at this spot a year earlier.
We all kept together and snaked towards the summit taking a quick photo of the team by the small observatory that was built in 1883 to monitor the weather in Western Scotland. We descended in good time arriving back at the bus at 8.35pm for departure five minutes later.
The 6 hour 25min drive to Scafell was cramped, sweaty and with very little sleep. Arriving there at 2.30 am we had a quick stretch for a few minutes and we were off climbing again.
The climb up Scafell was very difficult as there are many drop off ledges and rock falls which are not clear at night. One mistake could end in disaster.
We had to pay particular attention to our guides Gary and Craig, and they really came into their own.
At about three quarters of the way up daylight began to break and made it possible to navigate our footings a little better through a sea of boulders, loose rocks and crevices.
On our ascent we encountered freezing fog and had to stay really close as visibility was very poor.
The descent was even tougher on our now, very tired legs. We were back down by 7.10am and within five minutes, the bus was off to Snowdonia. The journey was spent dealing with blisters, lost toenails and various muscle strains, but spirits were high with one peak to go.
We arrived at Snowdon 11.45am, and started the climb up the Pygg track almost immediately.
On reaching the first stile, with clear weather and a three mile tab to the summit ahead of us, Gary (leader) made the call to allow the team to split and each member to go for their best time.
He stayed with me as I was the slowest and struggling. Gary and his trusted hound Bergington pulled me through this (the dog literally) and with determination I didn’t know I had, got me up and down in just under 24hours.
Our fastest team member, ‘the machine’ doing it in 22 hours 35 mins.
This was the hardest thing I have ever done and need to thank the rest of the team of non-climbers: lead driver Simon Arnett, back up drivers Gwyn Owen, Geoff Pilling, Simon and Gary (c4 haulage) providing main vehicles and Scott Park (Wycliffe Suzuki) providing back up vehicle and Danny Bell (Fridge Express) our clothing.
Finally we did not do this intrepid challenge just for ourselves, the whole team managed to raise over £3,000. This was split between Help 4 Heroes and Rugby St Andrews Minis and Juniors.
Thank you to everyone that sponsored us.