Yesterday myself and two amazing ladies, Leyla (This Day I Love) and Amanda, came together to climb the Yorkshire 3 Peaks for The Alzheimer’s Society. Over a period of twelve hours we were to climb three mountains, the highest being at 723 metres (for comparison Snowdon is just over 1000 metres), walking a total of 26 miles.
All fresh and raring to go!
I am not a walker or hiker by any stretch of the imagination. After half an hour I am usually at my limit and I much prefer to sit in front of my computer blogging and tweeting than being in the great outdoors. But as I turn 30 next Friday I decided I wanted to set myself a challenge. Something I could feel I have achieved, something I can be proud of.
Trying to relax on the eve of the climb
So yesterday morning we arose at the eye-watering time of 5am. Got dressed, pumped ourselves up and opened the curtains. It was raining. And by raining I don’t just mean the normal spattering, I mean brutal pouring down of water meaning that within five minutes of being outside in, you were soaked to the bone. Considering it had been baking heat for a month I was completely unprepared – both mentally and physically. I had no waterproof trousers. Which meant I would be trekking in the rain wearing only tracksuit bottoms on my legs for protection. I was utterly unimpressed.
We met at Horton-In-Ribblesdale along with hundreds of other walkers, most looking significantly more experienced than us, and gathered together to hear the briefing before we began our day. It was then we learnt that if we did not make the second checkpoint by 4pm you could not carry on for the third peak. This was quite a lot of pressure and meant for much of the trek we were rushing trying to get there in time.
The introductory briefing
So we set off on the first ascent. First lesson – if you’re a slow walker, start off at the front, not the back as we ended up doing.
Rain, mist and difficult terrain
Leyla and Amanda waving in the distance, half way up Pen-Y-Ghent
Me waving back
Pen-Y-Ghent, whilst being the smallest of the three, was a very difficult climb and by the top we were literally rock climbing. It was a good fun, I love a challenge, but quite difficult at times. It didn’t help that it was pouring rain, and with strong winds whipping around us it was freezing cold. We made it to the top in two and a half hours, which was pretty good going and had we set off earlier we would have been way ahead. Unfortunately we still had some catching up to do.
The final ascent of Pen-Y-Ghent
Amanda prepares herself
Celebrating on the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent – one down!
So we commenced the five and a half hour walk to the top of the next peak, Whernside. Standing at 728 metres, this was the tallest mountain of the day, however for the most part the ascent was a lot more steady. After leaving Pen-Y-Ghent in our wake it was then the hail began. it was heavy, it was painful and by that point I was close to calling it quits.
We’ve done ‘this’ much – trying to keep smiling
Struggling in the rain
After the downpour the ground was sodden and slippery and all our boots we full of water, meaning every step was met with a lovely squelch. We arrived at refreshment point after about an hour and the fantastic Discover Adventure team cheered us on and advised me to take off my sopping wet trousers that clung to my legs like curtains of ice, and instead walk in my shorts. I felt immediate relief and was so glad I took their advice.
Just a taster of how wet the ground was
We set back on our way, the peak of Whernside looming above us, shadows of the many climbers in front of us slowly moving along the peak like ants.
Whernside looming in front of us (far left)
We kept in high spirits, laughing and joking to keep ourselves going, and admiring the incredible views of the valley below us.
Just keep smiling…
Leyla enjoying the view
Amanda kept our spirits high
The fantastic Ribblehead Viaduct
A steam train crossing the viaduct
The closer we got to the next summit however, the harder it became and both Leyla and I had to keep stopping to catch our breath. Unfortunately Amanda really struggled with the climb and so on her insistence Leyla and I ploughed ahead, determined to make it in time for the third peak.
A quick stop for a photo at the top of Whernside
We reached the second summit and were advised if we got a move on to the next checkpoint, at the base of Whernside, we would make it in enough time to carry on. After a quick photo stop, we started the descent eagerly. However within ten steps disaster struck. I had been feeling my knees aching for some time and had put on the knee support I had bought ‘just in case’ a while back. What I didn’t realise was just how steep the descent would be and just had much my knees had been suffering. Second lesson – don’t push yourself too hard, too son. It is a long long day and overdoing it at the start will be your downfall later on.
After only a minute I stopped, frozen on the side of the mountain, unable to move. With each step my knees literally had bolts of agonising pain running through them. I could not believe it and shouted to Leyla that I didn’t think I could get down. She was incredible and ran back to me, grabbed my hand and told me that yes I would. She passed me her walking pole, which I used to take some of the weight and I gradually made my way down, taking one step at a time.
Part of the second descnet
If you have never seen the descent on Whernside you would not believe it. It took us two hours to creep down the concrete steps, on average double the height of your average stair and increasingly uneven and slippery. Leyla fell twice and, between trying to manage the pain in my knees and find the best route down, it was so slow going. I knew at that point there was no way we could make it.
From then on it was a matter of just getting to the next checkpoint. About forty five minutes from the bottom a fantastic crew member of Discover Adventure caught up with us, realised how much we were struggling and so took our packs and helped us along. Without him we would have given up so a huge thanks to Mark, you do not know how grateful we were for your help!
At the time of 4.25pm we arrived at the second and final checkpoint for us, Philpin Farm. We were sore, we were tired and we were feeling dejected. As we sat down and gazed up at the final summit of Ingleborough right in front of us, it felt like we had failed. All those people who had sponsored us and got behind us and we had let them down. It was a hard pill to swallow.
After a rest we took the minibus back to the finish line where we waited for Amanda and watched those who had been in front of us crossing the finish line. I can’t lie, I was so envious of their achievement and wished we had been able to complete the day. Amanda arrived about an hour after us and, like me, could barely walk. However she was still smiling and wearing her medal with pride. It was then I realised that finish or no finish, I achieved something that day. Whilst I didn’t complete the whole challenge I had set out to, I did a pretty large part of it. So instead of coming away feeling disappointed I decided to take away what I did manage:
I climbed two mountains, with zero prior experience.
I walked 18 miles, by far the furthest I have ever done.
I hiked for 9 hours in the freezing rain.
Despite being in agonising pain I managed to descend the highest mountain of the day.
I pushed myself and carried on, even when I felt I couldn’t.
So whilst others may look at us as failures – people on took on the supposedly easiest hiking challenge and didn’t make it – I will choose to feel proud of myself.
My medal for partaking
We have already booked for next year and this time we are determined we will complete it. Next time I will not be beaten.