I mentioned a short while ago that I was planning on doing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks walk with a friend of mine (Stuart, pictured right with Whernside many miles in the distance) and on Friday that’s just what we did. To recap, this is a 25 mile hike taking in three 700m peaks in Yorkshire (Pen-Y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough). It’s a particularly popular walk (on a weekend you can often see hundreds of people doing it) and seems to be one of these things people do for charity rather a lot. Every time I mentioned to people I was off to do it they’d ask me where my sponsorship form was! I just like doing things like this for the challenge, I don’t need a reason.
Since it’s not been the best summer for weather I wasn’t expecting sunshine all the way and I was not wrong. You’re supposed to check in at the cafe at Horton-in-Ribblesdale for both safety reasons (so you can check out again and they know you made it) and so you can get a card punched with your official time. Since we appeared at 9.30am the rather unfriendly bloke working there told us we were too late – they stopped letting people clock in at 9.10 (despite that the sign on the window said 9.30). A traditional warm Yorkshire welcome it wasn’t. I suggested to Stuart we throw a brick through their window with our times written on at the end but we decided against it!
We started up Pen-y-Ghent and were greeted with cloud and strong winds – not a problem. I was more focused on the 8 mile walk from the summit to the next hill, Whernside, so as far as I was concerned this was the warm up. Once we got to the top we were in the middle of a cloud (Stuart had foolishly said he’d never been to a trig point in clouds before which guaranteed that we would be). And then the long march to Whernside began. Naturally the heavens opened and we were hammered by strong winds combined with very heavy rain / hail which kept us entertained!
I’d been warned that the bog between these two hills was extremely hard going so decided to take a route around the worst part. This meant spending a short while actually walking in the opposite direction to Whernside, but it turned out to be the right choice as we made good time. After what seemed like forever (you can see Whernside in the photo at the top of this article and it’s miles away – and we were halfway there when I took it) we made it to the Ribblehead Viaduct (below) which is quite an impressive structure and served as our lunch spot:
Both of us were quite weary by this point and not entirely looking forward to the long drag up Whernside. But after a bite to eat we felt a lot better and carried on. Since we were into our stride it didn’t seem to take long at all and around 6 hours after we’d started we were standing on top of peak number 2. The clouds had cleared from Pen-y-Ghent and we could see just how far away it was and couldn’t believe we’d just walked it – it would have been a long drive!
We’d set a pretty good pace from the start that seemed fast enough that we wouldn’t be spending all day out but not too fast that we’d burn out. The descent from Whernside is short and direct, but rather steep. Highlight of the day was catching up to a mother, her mother and her young son (must have been about 4 years old). The young lad had a sheep’s jaw in hand and held it out to me asking what it was – I then told him and he informed me he was going to take it home with him to “scare granny” which made his mother and grandmother laugh. I then suggested he carry my bag for me to scare him but he thought it was too heavy and declined. He was full of energy and he’d just been to the summit too – it’s amazing what kids can do!
After another food stop we made the push to the summit of Ingleborough and the last of the day. Much of the route up the hill is on a very well made path – a line of large stone blocks making light work of the bog you’d be dragging yourself through if they weren’t there. Then the sting in the tail – a steep scramble onto the summit ridge which just about finished Stuart and made my thighs feel as if someone had set them on fire!
Following the thigh-bursting climb (I figured that if I went as fast as I could the pain would be over sooner) it was a short walk through the thick clouds to the trig point and shelter from the cold wind where Stuart took the following photo of me to demonstrate that I was quite tired:
And then it was time for my secret weapon. You should always have a secret weapon with you. You don’t have to use it, but if you have one you at least know you can. I had packed 2 cans of caffeine-loaded Red Bull to give us a boost if we were really shattered. I cracked one open and passed it to Stuart. I only had a few sips because it tastes so utterly terrible and for some reason I actually felt pretty good anyway. The secret weapon worked! Once we started on the trail back to where we started Stuart’s energy levels went back up again and we were forging ahead at our normal pace.
We found a sign post that claimed Horton in Ribblesdale was 1.5 miles away but I had both a map and after years of hiking the ability to know pretty much how far I’ve travelled over a given period of time. And both told me that it was more like 3.5 miles! All day whenever we saw a sign the distances were wrong by as much as 100% – I’ve no idea why.
So 10 hours and 50 minutes after we started, we got back to the car and sat down. The relief of getting off our feet was very nice indeed. But more impressive was that we didn’t actually get any blisters between us! I walked in my trusty old army boots and had brought 3 pairs of socks – changing them after each hill – which helped keep my feet in good condition. Stuart just had a decent pair of hiking boots (army boots aren’t really that good by comparison to a modern pair of hiking boots, they’re a compromise so you can run in them at the expense of stiffness).
I’m fairly sure we can break 10 hours if we do it again. I must have spent a solid 20-30 minutes map reading throughout the day. Stuart probably spent 15 minutes opening and closing his bag (he has one of these fancy high tech bags with 50 clips you have to close just to shut the thing). And with better ground conditions and weather we’d have been able to maintain a higher pace. But considering everything and that it was our first time I’m rather pleased with our progress.
I really enjoyed the day. To do it on our own, with nobody else around, navigating every step of the way, was satisfying. To know that even 10 years after I used to eat 25 mile hikes for breakfast I can still do it made me feel pretty good. To battle through atrocious weather and just have a laugh about it shows good spirit. And to do something that pushes you beyond your limits with a friend and share that experience is what life’s all about.