In 2010, my brother mentioned that he had an ambition that he had which was to climb the 3 Peaks of Scotland, England and Wales within 24 hours. He had failed with a team for various reasons of poor luck. I believe he also failed because the team was only as fast as its slowest member. On top of that the driving was shared between the team, all of whom were obviously tired from walking.
In June 2010 we found that we had two mobility scooters to sell. In each case, Dennis arranged the advertising and sales on the internet and I would arrange to hire vans so we could deliver them. The first went to a guy who lived in a village just outside Edinburgh, the other was much nearer to us at Petersfield. For Edinburgh I hired a Peugeot Partner at a rate of £60 for 24 hours. Anything over that and we would be charged £120.
The Edinburgh job was significant to us as we shared the driving, and we did it with time to spare. I learned from that trip and previous trips to Scotland that I had the ability to drive long distances.
We were given a Ford Transit Connect for the Peterborough trip
A week or so later we were discussing the 3 Peaks again and I suggested that he should climb alone but have support in the form of a dedicated driver and, for reasons of my own, I offered to be that driver.
3 Peaks 2010
The first attempt was in August 2010. We set off at 19:35 to drive overnight to arrive at Glen Nevis at 06:00. We rested for a couple of hours and Dennis began his attempt on Ben Nevis at 08:21.
A small group of deer on Rannoch Moor
It ended in failure as Dennis suffered an injury on the mountain. He thought he might be able to walk it off on Scafell Pike so we set off. Dennis slept for much of the journey but he was in too much pain to even attempt Scafell Pike. We changed our itinerary and decided to find the Hardknott Pass for sightseeing and then we made our way for Windermere to have fish’n’chips. After that we set off to return to Slough.
My brother at the back of my car preparing for the ascent on Ben Nevis in August 2010
3 Peaks 2011
The second attempt occurred in May 2011 and was similar to the first. Again Dennis suffered an injury on Ben Nevis and again we went to Scafell Pike. This time he started to climb and I went back down the valley to make myself some food.
Soon after I had finished and packed up the gear I received a call on my walkie-talkie.
‘Gary, I’m abandoning the attempt and coming back down.’
‘Understood, what’s your ETA? Over’
‘Ten minutes. Over.’
‘No worries. I’ll be there. Out.’
Sunset on the way home
So again a failure but this time we had learned very much. Dennis hadn’t realised that he had a problem with one of his knees even before the first attempt and had to have an operation. He began a program of recovery then training and it became clear that he would be fully fit to complete the challenge when the time came. But what about me?
Planning for the third attempt
I knew that once he was fixed up he would be fit and that now the failure could be down to my driving. On each of the previous attempts we travelled directly from Slough to Fort William overnight. This gave us a break of about 3 hours to rest before the challenge began.
After such a journey couldn’t relax and wouldn’t until the challenge was over twenty four hours later. Add that to the journey from Slough, I would have to be awake for at least thirty six hours. Clearly a potentially dangerous situation.
I suggested that we still drive up overnight but arrive a full day before the challenge was scheduled to begin. We would take our tents so we could get a day and a night to relax and the journey wouldn’t be such a mad rush to get to the area as it had been on the previous attempts. We would wake up on the morning of the third attempt refreshed and ready to go.
Dennis’ route up Ben Nevis
The start point on Ben Nevis chosen by my brother on the first two attempts was difficult for him. He would start from the opposite of the valley Glen Nevis and at the other side faced an arduous climb to get to te trail proper at the very beginning of the whole challenge.
I studied the detail on OS maps and found a potentially better start/finish point which would begin and end with a much shallower climb/descent. During a holiday with a girlfriend in the area I surveyed part of this section and found it to be a perfectly acceptable gradient even for me. Dennis was sceptical and remained so until he saw it for himself and he became very enthusiastic about the suggestion.
We set off from Slough at 21:15 and arrived at Loch Linnhe on Day 2 at 06:30. We spent some time relaxing then I took Dennis to my suggested start point. He went little way along the path and returned very pleased and enthusiastic.
This has to be the ultimate expedition vehicle and I want one. If I had one I’d fit a slide so I’d look cool when I got up in the morning
We went to the Glen Nevis Campsite to book ourselves in and had our tents up by 09:30: It was generally wet all day and we found ourselves driving for miles just to kill time. It was a slow day. By the evening we filled the car with fuel and went back to the site. I had fish and chips from the site’s fast food kiosk. Dennis retired to his tent about 21:00 while I sat in the car listening to the radio until about 22:00 when I also retired to my tent with a secret bottle of port to ensure a good night sleep.
Dennis putting up his tent
I awoke the next morning at about 08:00 having had about nine hours relaxed I heard Dennis moving about in his tent so I called out to him:
‘Dennis, shall we get going?’
‘I’m gonna freshen up at the toilet block but I’ll skip breakfast until you’re on the mountain.’
We decamped by 08:00 and made our way to Ben Nevis Inn for Dennis to commence the 3 Peaks Challenge. He set off from the Ben Nevis Inn at 08:15 and I settled in to wait for him and took photos of chaffinches.
Chaffinches in Snowdonia are bold
Dennis returned at 13:13 having achieved the peak at about 10:36. The whole expedition was threatened when he stumbled right before the gate, just yards from the car. He reported his experience on the climb:
‘The path at the start was uneven but a steady consistent climb up the side of Glen Nevis. Near the top of the zig-zags there was a snowy ice sheet covering the track. Conditions at the top were awful as expected and a short snowfield had to be crossed. At the bottom I stumbled at about the last step.’
Dennis coming down from Ben Nevis
We didn’t make a fuel stop on this section. Carlisle was as much of a pain as I’ve ever known it to be. Mavis (my pet name for my SatNav) was no help as she decided to misdirect us through the town. Even so we got to Scafell Pike at 19:10.
Dennis started off at 19:15 and I drove back down Wasdale to make myself tuna pasta. When I returned to the car park I parked near the gate in case someone came to lock it shut and therefore lock me in. Dennis returned at 22:43 and told me he’d reached the summit at 21:15.
Scafell Pike is hidden behind the ridge centre right.
We set off for Snowdon at 22:47 and had 210 miles to get to Snowdon. We didn’t talk much as I had to concentrate on driving safely out of Wasdale on unfamiliar winding single-track roads that were lined with stone walls and it was dark.
Mavis played up again but Dennis had brought his SatNav as well so we hooked that up instead. It did cost us precious time though. Once we reached main roads Dennis reported his experiences:
‘A heat wave passed across Scafell Pike in the evening. Approaching the peak is a large boulder field where there is no track and great care is needed as underfoot is very unstable. Coming down in the dark I had a head torch but only needed it for the last 300 to 400 yards.’
Wast Water at night
As I drove as quickly as the roads and traffic would allow, there was a kind of tense anticipation building between us. Perhaps we might just achieve this ambition after so much previous disappointment.
We still had a way to go though. We had a fuel stop in an unfamiliar motorway services Forton on the M6 near Lancaster. That went fine but I was tired and my eyes were heavy. I passed a can of Red Bull energy drink to Dennis and said:
‘Open this for me and pass it back.’
The Red Bull did the trick (other energy drinks are available) and I was back on form, flying across North Wales on the A55 to Colwyn where Mavis guided us onto the A470 to Betws-y-Coed, I found this counter-intuitive but I decided not to argue with her. I wasn’t as familiar with this road but it did prove to be smooth and fast.
At Betws-y-Coed we were directed onto the A5 (finally a familiar road) to Capel Curig where we took the A4086 to the car park at the top of Pen-y-Pas. We arrived at the car park at 02:48 and Dennis was off in the dark at 03:02. Little for me to do now other than fill in the log and try to get some rest so that I could get us home. I managed just two hours sleep.
Dennis returned at 07:11 having achieved the summit at 05:20. This gave him a total time for the 3 Peaks Challenge of 22:41. He reported his experiences:
‘There were gales and rain in the darkness of Snowdon.’
Not much of a victory speech but I didn’t mind. For me this was a fitting triumph for the last challenge that I would ever team up to do with my brother.
Celebrating after conquering Snowdon and the 3 Peaks
As Dennis returned there was an elderly couple and they said to him:
‘You look pleased with yourself’.
‘I’ve just done the 3 Peaks Challenge!’
As I approached Dennis he pointed to me and said to the couple:
‘That’s my brother, he’s been my driver for the trip.’
The wife turned away from my brother and turned to me and said:
‘That must have been hard work!’ and gave me a round of applause.
This incident would dominate the trip home with Dennis mockingly moaning about it so I said:
‘She was just showing appreciation for the unsung hero of the trip. I found her quite charming to a point where I would say that if she wasn’t married she would still be single.’
We set off for home at 08:00. For Dennis the 3 Peaks was over but I still had 250 miles to drive. We stopped at Telford Services for coffee at 10:00 for half an hour. Later we stopped at a services near Oxford for a Burger King. By the time we got home I had driven 1,250 miles in 65 hours with a large portion of that at night.
I was pleased with all my contributions to the expeditions. On the third attempt I did all of the driving and I would point out that I also contributed 50% to the funding of each attempt of my brother’s challenge. I was glad that it was successful and even more pleased that there was no need for a fourth attempt.
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