Take a walk on the wild side with John Hunston – taking the three peaks challenge

Scafell Pike

It’s evening, already dark, and we’re driving down Wasdale en route for Scafell Pike, says John Hunston – the walking mountain leader.

Early start for challenge

I can see lights all the way up the hill, and when we turn into the car park it is pretty full. The group I am with wake up and start to tumble out of the minibus, pulling on coats and boots. One stays behind, and two more soon turn back, unable to take the pace. We follow lights for most of the ascent and descent, and the team are in good spirits; many are from Mexico, and a mariachi style of singing punctuates the ascent. We are the first of our six groups to make the summit, and the first to return to the vehicles.

Three Peaks – madness?

What madness is this? Those of you who have taken part in a national Three Peaks event will know, but this was my first time and my mind was well and truly boggled at the numbers taking part. This wasn’t mid-summer, but mid-September, and countless folk were trogging up and down Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon, hopefully in 24 hours, for the dubious honour of becoming a Three Peaker. It was truly bonkers.

Wind, rain and Snowdon

After decent weather all the way, we finished the challenge in terrible conditions on Snowdon. However, the wind and rain gave the event a fitting climax and some of the team actually relished being out there in such a storm. Certainly the water gushing down the hill gave it an end of the world feel. There was much celebrating in the bus on the way back to Manchester and trains home.

Industrial mayhem

This mayhem is now an industry. Anyone prepared to put up with some serious sleep deprivation can earn themselves serious cash in setting up a Three Peak challenge event, and many do. Every weekend outside the worst winter months, buses full of people will be charging up and down the motorways and, worse, valley roads taking people to and from the road heads. The clients won’t have a great deal of interest in where they are and, in the case of the Lake District, won’t put any money into the local economy. The worse operators will rely on local Mountain Rescue Teams to bale them out of trouble, and all will rely on volunteer efforts to repair the footpaths they punish.

Team sprit

Having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience! I enjoyed the team spirit and I enjoyed trying to impart some minimal knowledge of the landscape we were travelling through. As we were driving out of Wasdale, I told them about Wastwater being the deepest English lake, to grunts of recognition (not that they could see it). A little further along, there were sheep on the road, so I told them about Herdwicks being born black, at which point I realised they were all asleep.

I won’t be repeating the experience any time soon, but next year I may be tempted to do another Three Peaks challenge. We might even get within 24 hours!

Isles of Scilly calling

On a more relaxed note, I have been in the south west for four weeks, one of which was spent, as most years, on the Isles of Scilly. Boarding the Scillonian at Penzance all cares drop away and three hours later you disembark, possibly a little green, into a world where everyone is happy, the sun usually shines and agapanthus grow wild. The beaches compare well with the Caribbean and the rockier sides of the islands provide fabulous viewpoints into the Atlantic swell. The limited accommodation keeps it nice and quiet, so please don’t go!

Back on the British mainland

Back on the mainland, we visited friends, one of whom accompanied us for a while on our slow odyssey round the South West Coast Path. Travelling clockwise we have now reached Morwenstow, just north of Bude, and a particularly spectacular section of the coast. The hills are steep and short, many with high steps cut into them, but the blackberries help ease the pain. We saw many kestrels hovering close by, often below us. The vast wastelands of gorse and bramble that cover the steeper areas of coastline are impressive in their impenetrability, and I was reminded of Wainwright’s description of Ill Crag as being a good place to throw a body from.  Can’t wait to get back next year and hopefully finish it off.

Lakeland homeland

On returning home to Keswick, it was good to see the fells once again covered in water. I went for a run and enjoyed sloshing along tracks converted to streams, with boggy patches once again marshland. I also enjoyed a trip to Northumberland for the hugely life-affirming North East Skinny Dip – 600 people stripping off and running into the chilly North Sea at dawn in aid of Mind. Another bonkers event, but definitely in a good way!

Five peaks, five hours

Finally, today I have been marshalling on the 5 (peaks) in 5 (hours), a family version of the 10 in 10. 170 or so people took part, mostly in family groups, and it was great to see so many youngsters getting out in the hills and raising money for the MS Society.

Here I must namecheck Yvonne and Duncan Booth of Keswick for the incredible work they put into organising these events and raising such a phenomenal amount of money for the charity. Can I suggest this is a much more worthwhile challenge than the Three Peaks….?!!!

John Hunston –  the walking mountain leader

John is a member of the Keswick Mountain Rescue – you can donate to this amazing, lifesaving charity online via this link: http://keswickmrt.org.uk/donate/

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