Climb Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon (the highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales respectively) in 24 hours from the base of the first mountain to the base of the last. (This challenge is distinct from the Yorkshire Dales Three Peaks which is to climb Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent and return to the same place in 12 hours.)
Ben Nevis (1344m, NN 166713)
Scafell Pike (978m, NY 215072)
Snowdon (1085m, SH 609543)
Why do it?
Bag the highest points in three countries with a time limit that's just manageable by averagely fit walkers who get themselves well organised, but that is never a certainty. Feel a big sense of mission as you combine epic driving with challenging walking all against the clock!
The popularity of the Three Peaks Challenge has created serious environmental problems on the mountains and in the local villages. It seems that these problems are particularly acute around Wasdale, due to the remoteness and the narrow roads unfortunately being coupled with the typical arrival times in the dead of night. You might like to consider the following ideas:
Don't do it!
Try a different challenge in order to spread out the wear on the mountains and to save the petrol you'll burn. See the examples below for ideas.
Go out of season
If possible, avoid high summer. May and September can be ideal times for both weather and quietness. In summer, consider going mid-week.
Be considerate in where you park, go to the toilet and fill up water. Ideally you will do everything away from the more fragile rural environments. Bring all your water for the challenge with you, to avoid running short and depending on often scarce local supplies.
All parties should have at least one person who does no walking and acts as the driver throughout. The driver can sleep while the walkers climb the hills. It's essential to any safe Three Peaks Challenge that the walkers don't have to drive, because they will be knackered and falling asleep.
All parties should also have at least one person who has done all three mountains, if not the actual routes, and who remembers the lie of the land. This person should know how to use a map and compass and should have experience of using them in the dark and in thick cloud.
All members of the group should be fit from recent hillwalking experience and prepared for the amount of climbing involved. They shouldn't be put off by the mist, rain and wind that will very probably hit them at some point in the challenge if not present throughout - not to mention the dark. Sadly it is not enough to be a group of fit people who have no recent experience of mountain walking in the UK, however fit you are.
Be realistic about reaching summits. If you're making very little progress and the conditions are very bad, don't be afraid to turn round and call it off. The temptation to press on for the sake of the challenge will be huge, but never let this cloud your good judgement. Your best chance of success comes from avoiding this situation, by having a good amount of hillwalking experience in the UK's particularly wet and windy mountains and by making sure all group members are up to it. It's also crucial to plan what you will do if some or all of your group has to turn back (due to lack of pace, bad equipment, injury). Who will go down with them, if the whole challenge is not to be called off?
Tips for success and comfort
Plan your driving route
Plan the route and ideally have a co-driver (who is not one of the walkers) to navigate. It would be a shame to miss the 24 hour deadline because of taking the wrong road!
Be neat with your gear
Everything is nicely packed in the car boot before the first peak. But once you return to the car, adrenaline flowing, you sling your stuff in and immediately the car is a mess. Some of your stuff might be wet. Keep a plastic bag handy into which you can put wet clothes, with another set of dry clothes to replace any wet ones. Having three different pairs of walking socks will really help - one for each mountain. It will help if each person keeps their gear down to the essesntials, especially in a small car.
Walk the routes beforehand
If you're in the mountains regularly in the months before your challenge, try to recce the routes on all three mountains. Saving time on navigation and wrong turnings can make a huge difference to your overall time.
The routes below are probably most commonly used.
Glen Nevis (Ben Nevis Visitor Centre or opposite Glen Nevis Youth Hostel) - Ben Nevis (1344m) via Tourist Path - Glen Nevis (694m)
Wasdale (by National Trust campsite) - Scafell Pike (978m) via Lingmell col - Wasdale
Pen-y-pass - Snowdon (1085m) via Pyg Track or Miners' Track - Pen-y-pass
Seathwaite in Borrowdale is an alternative starting point for Scafell Pike.
As for all mountainous walks in the UK, Three Peaks walkers should take a map and compass and know how to use them. One competent navigator (in cloud, rain and dark) per walking group can work OK but consider getting everyone in the group up to speed on basic navigation. The routes are not always clear. It's easy to lose the path, especially on rocky ground higher up. It is definitely not enough to assume there will be an obvious path to follow. You will also be walking in the dark on at least one mountain, so take a torch and spare batteries. At night it can also be very cold.
There are no real terrain challenges for the average walker in terms of scrambling. Under snow and ice all three mountains can be very different in character and would need winter equipment and skills - think carefully about whether the challenge is sensible.
Yorkshire Dales Three Peaks
Purely walking, setting off from one point and returning to that point. The mountains aren't as high but the challenge is both considerable and widely known about (i.e. your achievement will impress people!)
Scottish Three Peaks
Pick three notable mountains in Scotland, perhaps Ben Nevis, Cairngorm and Ben Lawers. Less driving and potentially better mountains. Eliminate driving altogether by tackling the Ben Nevis - Grey Corries - Mamores round.
Three Peaks Challenge by public transport
Give yourself a longer time, then use buses and trains to link up your mountains. It is all possible by public transport. For example: buses up Glen Nevis, trains from Fort William to Penrith, buses to Borrowdale via Keswick, trains from Penrith to Bangor, buses to Llanberis or Pen-y-pass.
Three Peaks Challenge under your own steam
Cycle between the peaks instead of driving.
Three Peaks Challenge over three days
Take each mountain as a daywalk in itself. Instead of rushing, you will have time to explore the mountains by the best routes. You won't need to walk in the dark. Also you can avoid disturbance caused by arriving in remote places at night. This three-day itinerary could be a good option for the end of a holiday in Scotland, if you live in Southern England or Wales.
Choose your own Three Peaks Challenge
Pick any suitable mountains in Scotland, England and Wales and link them up.