Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge

It's 5:30am on a Saturday morning and I'm remarkably awake having spent the last 6 hours sleeping fitfully in a B&B in Yorkshire. A six hour drive the evening before should have ensured a good night's sleep but I'm worrying about what the day has in store and Anita, four feet away in the other twin bed, is equally nervous. The reason? We're about the embark on the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. Similar in nature to the national three peaks challenge, this involves traversing Ingleborough, Pent-y-Ghent and Whernside and returning to your start point to make up a 25 mile circular walk within twelve hours. The difference is that there is no driving between mountains and it's possible to see where you've been and where you're going at most points on the route. Anita set me this challenge on my birthday last year and we just managed to squeeze it in before my birthday this year. In fact it was only on Friday morning that Anita manages to get herself some suitable foot gear and a set of waterproofs. We've not done much of what you would call training and are relying mostly on our general fitness to get us through. Nothing like preparation!
About to set off on our latest challenge!
By 6am we're scoffing toast, grabbing packed lunches from the fridge and I'm worrying about whether we'll get parked at the meeting point (will we find it, will I need to pay for parking, do I have enough change?). We're about to embark on some proper type two fun.
Our fearless leader, Sam
We arrive at the meeting point by the Old Hill Inn at 6:30 (parking is easy and free), and join the 50 or so other people being assigned to numbered groups and getting issued with an arm band to help the leaders keep track of everyone. Our leader is the lovely Sam. He leads all sorts of outdoor challenges and pursuits and is confident that we'll all get round. It becomes clear that breaks will be in sort supply today and that there's a lot of walking between mountains. At 7am we set off for our first mountain, Ingleborough. Most people and groups seem to start with Pen-y-Ghent so we avoid the crowds, which is just as well as there are so many of us.
Windswept at the top of Ingleborough
By 8:10am we've completed the first mountain. The summit is cloudy so we don't get much of a view but spirits are high and we're all still very chatty. We're getting to know the other people in the group, home towns, backgrounds, motivations and so on. We have a mother-daughter and two father-son pairs as well as a husband wife duo and several people like ourselves who are doing it purely as a personal challenge. The youngest in our group is 12-year-old Tom who does remarkably well (his father is an ironman so he can't complain) and 16-year-old Alex seems to be made of springs, running ahead often and the first one of us to get anywhere.
The walk to Pen-Y-Ghent gives the legs a chance to stretch out but the group stitches out as well. I lose Anita when she makes a pit stop and am still without her by the end of our first 10 minute break in Horton-In-Ribblesdale. I'm assured that she's with the group behind us as we set off for peak number two. As we start to climb the wind is picking up . We've been warned that there's some strong winds coming in later and if we're not likely to be off the last mountain by 5pm then we may not be allowed to attempt it at all. There's a bit of scrambling and gusts that almost knock me off balance. My nose won't stop streaming and I've given up dabbing at it with tissue. I reach the summit without Anita still and am wracked with guilt as I have my photo taken.

From the top of Pen-Y-Ghent we can see a dark, ominous looking peak that we are told is our next and final target. It's not quite lunchtime and we've done two peaks... it feels oddly achievable at this point. We're encouraged to keep the pace up during the long trek to Whernside with the promise of another ten minute break, tea and cake. The support van is indeed a welcome sight! Tea and cake never tasted so good and I finally reunite, all be it briefly, with Anita, who catches up just as we're about to set off again. She sends me on with her blessing.
On our way to Whernside, past a rather famous viaduct
The wind hasn't let up and drizzle is now whipping across our faces too but there's still chatter and cheer. It feels as though the end is in sight, even though it's only 1:30 in the afternoon. On our way to Whernside we pass an impressive viaduct which I recognise from Harry Potter. It cheers me up no end, almost as much as the father-son teams are buoyed by the sight of a hotdog van in the car park opposite. My legs are aching but I'm distracted by the sight of Anita bounding up to meet me. She's nabbed a lift from the lunch stop in the support van, with some of those who have had to drop out for whatever reason, to meet me so that we can climb the last peak together. I'm thrilled to see her and relieved that she's not suffering with any blisters or severe discomfort. I've probably been more worried about her than myself!

If I ever needed her it's now. The ascent is long, blustery, wet and tiring. Where as on the previous peaks it was the steepness that tired me, on this one it's just the trudging that is wearing me down. Anita is a non-stop ray of sunshine as I retreat into my shell and concentrate on where my foot is going next. I keep reminding myself that this is type two fun, fun in hindsight and that there's no possibility of me not completing this unless I slip and injure myself. We finally reach the summit and I manage to smile for a photo before pronouncing that I just want to get off this god-forsaken mountain as quickly as possible. There's no view so nothing to hang around for plus at this point I'm afraid that if I do stop, I won't be ably to start again!
Triumphant on top of Whernside
That doesn't turn out to be very quickly as the descent makes up for the gradient we didn't have to deal with on the way up. The rain has made the stones slippery and fighting against the wind is tiring. Eventually we get to the bottom and I stave off tears of tiredness with chocolate and peanut butter. Now it's just a case of getting back to the pub, which we do 10 hours and 40 minutes after we left.
We did it, and we have the certificates to prove it!
We are tired, achey and red-faced from wind burn but thrilled that not only have we completed the challenge but that we've done it together. Knowing that if we head back to the B&B for a shower right away we're unlikely to leave again, we head straight to a pub we found the day before to get a hot meal. If the other diners and drinkers are put off by our appearance then they are far too polite to say anything but no one asks us what we've just done, only how quickly we managed it.
Pie and custard that my dad would be jealous of
It was a fantastic day and a great achievement. I've never felt the need to tackle the national three peaks challenge, although I have climbed them all individually, and completing the Yorkshire challenge has just cemented that opinion. In my mind this is just as much of a challenge as you're on your feet the whole time. It was well worth doing as part of a group and I would consider doing it again in the future, or something similar. I'd have loved to have stayed a few more days in the dales and explored more. I've not talked much about the landscape or the scenery but both are wild, glorious, varied, stunning, and certainly not to be underestimated!
A well deserved glass of fizz before passing out
We booked through this website and have to say the information prior to the event and organisation in general was excellent. We stayed at the ever-so friendly Dalesbridge which was around 10 minutes from the start point and does a mean cooked breakfast (with vegetarian option).

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