Last weekend was one of the most tiring of my life. I’ve never been so utterly knackered.
I decided to sign up for the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge with work as we’re trying to raise money for Combat Stress. All the other events were running or kayaking and I can’t do either. This seemed like it would be a challenge but one that I could do. Little did I know.
For starters, the Yorkshire Dales is a lot further from Kent than we expected. According to Google Maps, which I’ve learnt to be pretty inaccurate in terms of journey times, it was going to take about 6 hours and 15 minutes. This was supposed to take the traffic into consideration but it look us much longer!
Once we’d stopped for dinner, we ended up pulling into the campsite just after midnight. We left Folkestone around 2pm and had been at work since 9am. It was a long day.
The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge
The Yorkshire Three Peaks are comprised of Pen-y-Ghent (694m), Whernside (736m) and Ingleborough (723m). The “circular” route that snakes through the dales is 24.5 miles long, and the challenge is to complete the hike within 12 hours. Thousands of walkers attempt the challenge every year.
The morning started at 6.30am when my friend’s alarm went off. It wasn’t welcome since we’d only had about 5.5 hours sleep. Once we’d got sorted, it was time to drive to the start point. Having arrived in the dark, we hadn’t seen the scenery at all. The peaks towered above us and it was a bit scary!
We checked in at the Pen-Y-Ghent cafe in Horton-in-Ribbledale at 8.07am. They have an antique clock with a stamping mechanism. The cafe used to stay open until the last walkers returned, but there was a sign on the door to state they no longer provide this service. I imagine too many people forgot to clock back in and it became impractical to continue the service.
The first peak on our route, Pen-y-Ghent is very close to the start. Having walked past the village’s historical church, we were nearly on the footpath to the summit.
The summit was 1 and three quarter miles up hill. There was no let up at all. We’d barely been going an hour and I was completely knackered! It was also boiling hot, which didn’t help with the sweaty mess situation.
The worse part was having to get to the top. I wouldn’t say I have a fear of heights, but I certainly have a fear of falling! The clamber to the top required climbing up some near vertical “steps” cut into the rock using your hands as support. The closer I got to this section of the path the more the panic grew. I hate walking along paths where there’s a drop on one side. I get this feeling that I’m going to lose my balance and fall.
As I stood, panting from exhaustion, looking up at the ascent I started to cry. I had no idea how I was possibly going to get to the top. The rest of the group had gone on without me. I’d told them I didn’t mind because I felt like I was holding them up but now I didn’t know what to do. I honestly thought I was going to fall off the edge of the mountain.
Then an angel appeared. Well, OK, not quite an angel but a lovely local lady called Tina. Without Tina, I’d never have made it to the summit. She made me take my time and helped me to focus on getting up the mountain and not the possible fall.
I didn’t feel any sense of achievement in reaching the top. All I felt was relief! But I knew how much further we had to walk. This was the first of three peaks. I had no idea how I was going to manage the rest of the challenge.
Walking forever a.k.a. the journey to Ribblehead
On the way down from the summit of Pen-y-Ghent we got to experience the new path. It was opened just last year and meant we could avoid the notorious boggy section. Looking at the map and the timings we knew this was going to be the longest section of the walk but it seemed like forever.
We seemed to zig zag across the countryside seeing fleeting glances of the Ribblehead viaduct that didn’t seem to get any closer. After a few hours I had to stop for a wee, cue me hunting for somewhere out of sight to squat in a field! Classy, huh! Part of me wishes I’d bought that Shewee! A change of socks and some plasters later we carried on. By this time, it was extremely hot and I was extremely tired. I began to stumble over my feet and I kept tripping myself up with my walking poles. I literally had zero energy.
We finally got to Ribblehead, where we stopped to refuel. I chowed down on a couple of peanut butter filled bagels and filled up my hydration bladder and water bottle, both of which were empty. I’d drunk a litre of Powerade and nearly 2 litres of water. Luckily we’d positioned a supply car here with plenty of water in.
Leaving the car was one of the hardest parts of the day. I just wanted to get in and drive back to our accommodation. As we were walking along, again I was miles behind everyone else, I just kept thinking how much I didn’t want to be there and how I didn’t think I could walk much further.
The ascent to Whernside summit is long and monotonous. Yes there’s some beautiful scenery but it’s miles and miles of uphill paths. A lady passed me while I was stopping to catch my breath. “At least this is the last one!” she said. “It’s only our second!” I replied. Her retort was “Oh God!”. Yup. That’s pretty much how I felt too.
Every step took all my effort. Reaching the stile I had a welcome sit down, but my group had already been resting several minutes. This is the problem with being slow. They just want to carry on but I needed to take breaks. I had to stop every so often to get my breath. They waited for me at certain points but no sooner had I caught them up and taken a sip of water, they were ready to get moving again! One of my friends gave me a couple of energy gels to take but these didn’t seem to do much.
Finally the top was in sight but it was still about an hour away. It was time to make a decision. I was asked if I wanted to go back to the car. However tired I was, turning around and backtracking was not on my agenda. We all knew I wasn’t going to be able to do all three peaks, certainly not before dark. It was decided that my friend, who was suffering with an old injury, and I would complete this second peak and then head back to the car.
This was when the tears started. However much I was struggling, I had wanted to complete the challenge. I think the gels gave me the energy to cry!
Getting to the top of Whernside was a mission. I was having to take breaks every five minutes or so because I just couldn’t summon any energy. I was so glad to get to the top because it meant we could go home!
To the pub!
The descent from Whernside is steep and unforgiving. I had to do most of it on my bum because I thought I might fall! Once we were finally back on the flat(-ish) ground we were able to quicken the pace slightly. Every step was painful because of blisters on my heels, toes and under the balls of my feet. My friend seemed to have got her energy back and was now geeing me on.
The pub was a welcome sight. We decided to go in, get a drink and call a taxi. We didn’t know if the supply car would have been moved and didn’t fancy the long walk in the wrong direction to find out. But just as we were waiting at the bar, the rest of our group passed! They’d been miles in front of us but it turns out they’d had a refreshment stop and then taken a wrong turn so we’d overtaken them. My friend decided that she wanted to continue the challenge so I was left alone to get back to the accommodation.
A pint of orange juice and lemonade and £20 later(yes, taxis in Yorkshire are bloody expensive!), I was finally back in Ingleton. Getting a shower and chilling out on the sofa was very welcome.
The group that carried on finally finished about 11pm. It was dark and raining by the time they got back to the car. Having heard stories of the near-vertical nature of the climb to the summit of Ingleborough, the final peak, I’m glad I didn’t do it!
I completed the Yorkshire Two Peaks!
Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? Even though I walked 20 miles over about 10 hours I can’t help but feel like I failed. People keep telling me I should be proud of what I achieved, and the words ‘good effort’ have been bandied around. Unfortunately, you can’t tell my head what to think. We set out to do the Yorkshire Three Peaks and everyone else in my group did it.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. I have raised £70 for Combat Stress, with another £20 promised by my grandparents. This money won’t go far, but it will help this mental health charity to continue their good work.
Have you tried the Yorkshire Three Peaks? To succeed you need to be pretty fit and have plenty of stamina. The next time I see mountains will be in the Lake District, but I’ll tell you now, I’ve no intention of climbing any of them!