On the weekend of the 23rd and 24th of June a team of Impact staff and volunteers conquered 3 of the UK’s highest mountains in under 24 hours in a gruelling fund raising challenge. Originally aiming to amass £8,000, over £8,500 has already be donated online and in combination with offline donations that are still being collected the final amount raised is expected to be in the region of £9,500 to £10,000.
The challenge didn’t get off to the greatest of starts with an arduous journey of 11 hours to our overnight stop at a motel just south of Glasgow. This was mostly thanks to some pretty terrible weather and some bad Friday traffic. We did however take the opportunity of the long journey to get well acquainted with the box of high energy snacks provided by the Impact management team for the mountains, most of which was chocolate!
Despite a relatively early start considering the challenge ahead we were treated to some spectacular views of Lock Lomond and Glen Coe on the journey north. Arriving in Fort William with a little time to grab some lunch, which is probably the greatest distance from Cornwall that most of us will consume a Cornish pasty, and then some of the group also took the opportunity to pick up some last minute essentials from the abundance of mountaineering stores. We then made the short journey to our starting point at the nearby youth hostel and proceeded to squeeze on layers or warm clothing and waterproofs in the mini bus. This became a pattern for all three mountains with us all slightly overestimating just how warm we would get over the initial stages of the climbs just above sea level, and then peeling off hats, gloves and mid layers after the first section of each mountain. Before setting off we gathered together in an excited group to thank God for bringing us safely to our start point and to ask for His protection.
Ben Nevis at 4,409ft is the highest peak in the country and has one main path up and down called the Pony Track. 80% of climbers use this path and for at least the first third of the mountain this is composed to downward slanting granite rocks at various levels. This was like climbing a very poorly constructed flight of stairs zigzagging up the face of the mountain, and given the wet weather that we experienced all weekend it was not long before we came across and descending climber who had slipped and was receiving attention. On our assent we had to cross a small waterfall that was gushing down the mountain as we entered the cloud line, another feature that we would discover on all three mountains, there would be no spectacular views this weekend. The path then flattened out before we entered the final stage, another steep rocky section with the path to the summer marked out by cairns, which are essentially giant traffic cones made of small rocks. As we neared the summit the temperature continued to drop significantly and we crossed large sheets of snow that also though slippery, made a refreshing change from the rocky track. More layers of clothing would have been required, however as we completed the final stages of the climb we were met with driving sleet that would have soaked us to the skin in seconds had we tried to remove our waterproofs to add a fleece layer. After a quick photo on the top and a 5minute break sheltered behind the disused observatory we made our way back down the slipper granite track to bottom, completing the mountain in a time of 4hours 30minutes. Our gracious support team had kindly prepared a warm meal of pasta, rather creatively served in disposable cups, to replace some of the energy used on the climb. We then hastily changed into dry clothes before heading south toward to the Lake District.
On the way to our second mountain, Scafell Pike, we stopped at a service station on the motorway and came across another team taking on the challenge. Their team leader showed us a photograph on his phone taken than morning by the Mountain Rescue Team of the roads in and out of the start point for Scafell Pike completely flooded. The decision was taken not to risk the drive in and out of the Lake District that would eliminate the possibility of completing three peaks in less than 24 hours if we couldn’t reach Scafell Pike through the floods. Instead we continued on our way to Snowdonia to climb two mountains back to back.
First up was Mount Snowdon, Wales’ highest peak at 3.560ft, the mountain that were intending to climb last. Having driven from Scotland on empty roads to relatively remote location, it was a quite strange arriving in a car park bustling with people at 3am. Despite the time and initially gearing up with head torches, we soon found that they weren’t necessary. On the way up we followed a relatively steep and rocky path called the Pyg Track which like Ben Nevis begins by gaining a lot of altitude before flattening out for a short section and then becoming steeper. The Snowdon mountain complex forms almost a horseshoe shape facing east, and once a third of the way into the climb, and just entering the cloud line, the peak was just about visible through the mist. Circumnavigating the step valley directly between us and the summit, the temperature continued to drop significantly as we reached higher ground. Unlike Ben Nevis we experienced little rain on Snowdon so we were able to add insulating layers of clothing without getting drenched. The weather did present once challenge however, and that was very high winds on the exposed summit. We climbed and descended the rocky summit cairn almost on hands and knees to prevent being blown off. After a quick photo and some more snacks the decent began, initially down the same route we took the option of using a path known as Miners to make our decent. To begin with this is much steeper and a significant amount of altitude is lost in a short space of time. However for the remainder of the track the gradient is quite gentle as it runs past the lake in the valley and alongside a large waterfall which connects it to a much large body of water. We completed Snowdon in a respectable time of just over 4hours and then recovered with a bacon sandwich and short break before making the journey of just over a mile up the road to our start point for the final mountain, Y Garn.
The benefit of not climbing Scafell Pike at 1.30am was just about to be eclipsed by the challenge of climbing two of Wales’ highest peaks with only an hour to recover in between. Y Garn which sits across a valley to the North East of Snowdon and measures 3,107ft, made a refreshing change from the first two mountains. Firstly we only encountered a handful of other climbers on the walk and for the middle section of the mountain at least we were walking on soft grass, not granite. This did however become an issue when it developed from soft grass in to mountain bog! The summit temperature conditions were also bearable enough to remain there for longer than 5 minutes, and on the journey down the wind picked up, clearing some of the cloud and giving is some stunning views toward Snowdon. We did however have to work hard for these perks as the mountain also threw up a number of challenges.
As a late addition to the challenge and being a mountain that none of the team had ever tackled before, team leader Neil had to decide on a route up and then ensure that we kept to it. To begin with this was challenging due to the path being so poorly defined due to the lack of footfall and the sheer gradient of the rocky section of the accent. At one point we climbed 400m whilst only traveling 800m laterally, which given the terrain was tough work. Navigating was to become even more of a challenge, however, once we entered the cloud line and visibility was reduced, at times, to 20ft. Neil resorted to using a compass in combination with the map as we set a bearing for a small lake which was our signal to change direction and head toward the summit. Turn too early and we would have missed the summit completely and walk past the lake without spotting it and we would have come across and very steep cliff. Having searched the lake for what seemed like ages, unsure if we were still on the path defined by the map, discussion began as to whether we should change our bearing for the summit and forget about the lake. As it turned out we were no more than 30ft away from the lake, and as we persevered with a few more step before abandoning our search, the pool of water slowly appeared through the mist. We then headed North up a rocky zigzag to reach the summit in a time of 3hours. This gave us only 1hour 45miniutes to decent if we were to complete the challenge on time.
Achieving our goal of three mountains in less than 24 hours was beginning to seem like an impossibility as we trudged our way down. However the path off of the summit was really well defined and as a result we were able to pick up and follow the route down a lot more easily than the way up. It wasn’t long before we realised that we were making really good time and the possibility of finishing within the time limit was still on. After carefully negotiating the steepest section of the mountain as quickly as possible, the walk became more of a jog and every single member of the team was flat out running down the last 100metres of the mountain to finish with 4minutes to spare. Greeted by a jubilant support team who had far more energy to celebrate than we did, we all left the mountains with a real sense of achievement. Before making the way to our overnight stop at a motel in Chester, we made the time to end the challenge as we had begun it, in prayer thanking God for what He had helped us achieve.
It’s quite a strange sensation being so tired right in the middle of the day, somewhat similar to jetlag, and it was weirdly ironic that the minibus which was an uncomfortable metal prison on the long journey to Scotland had become a comfortable refuge during the challenge. The challenge had become three epic climbs with a long drive in the middle, the next 12 hours was to become two epic meals with a long sleep in the middle. Needless to say, we all took full advantage of the breakfast buffet the following morning, and after a slightly better journey home, that was that. Three mountains in under 24hours and 1369miles covered on the road.
We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who supported the team over the weekend, both prayerfully and by making a donation. If you would like to make a contribution to the team please follow this link to the Impact Just Giving Page.