Approximately mid September 2015, my old school friend David Wilson started to talk about a walk up the Yorkshire 3 peaks. He was looking to fill a mini bus up with eager hikers and lead an expedition to fulfil the 3 peaks challenge. There are a couple of things that appealed to my inner workings there. Something I’d never done that wouldn’t freak me out (I WILL NEVER SKYDIVE!) and a challenge. Nothing phases me (bar skydiving), if I haven;t done it before I’ll give it a go. If I fail, then I’ve tried my best. This is the motto through out Eddie the Eagle too.
The Minibus picked us up on Friday evening around 6:30 and we drove on to Hawes in the Yorkshire dales. A lovely little village with more pubs than there are in Newcastle’s Bigg Market. In the main shopping street there were six pubs in a row followed by 2 clothes shops, an interior shop and another pub. We were staying in a YHA Hostel. Something that me and Catherine had never done before and were very open to the idea. Well… as long as we had our own room! Catherine wasn’t up for sharing a bunk room with a group of people she didn’t really know. So in exchange for doing the challenge that was her little luxury.
The Hostel was clean and basic, but to be fair to it actually offered more than I thought it would. Reception sold lager, beer and wine. They had a kitchen that you could order a meal from. Or throughout the day for a small price coffee and a cake. We’d oped for the self catering approach, which meant we filled the corner of a fridge up and were free to use all the kitchen facilities in a public kitchen. We’d eaten before the bus picked us up so packed our selves off to bed (a bunk bed and a single bed) to be ready for our 6am wake up call.
You can start the 3 peaks challenge in many locations, but this was chosen as a good location with an “easy” first climb up Pen-y-Ghent. After parking up the bus we headed towards a Cafe in the village that has an old clocking system to time your hike.
After a few pre walk selfies and photographs, David jammed a piece of paper under the door at the cafe with all our names on and the starting time. The cafe with the clock inside didn’t actually open until 9.00am and we were ready to walk at 7:30am.
Pen-y-Ghent (694 metres)
I would love to wax lyrical about the ascent up through the farms and pathways, but if I’m honest I’m not that into nature. So the best I can say is that we walked up through a cute village past a tiny school, which had an outstanding OFSTED review and up onto the hills. It wasn’t long before the relatively flat ground became a steep incline, but by about 9:30 / 10am we’d reached the top of the first peak. Pen-y-Ghent was in the back and ticked off the list.
What did surprise me was how popular the route was. People were pushing past as we plodded up the sloping banks. Some were even running in preparation for the 3 Peaks Race (May Bank holiday weekend).
We started the descent, which should have been easy, but put an entire different set of pressures on the feet. I could feel my snug boots touching my toes and my feet were warming up. Any comfort from the nice thick Hiking socks seemed to disperse. Our group or 17 started to spread out a little on the way down, which wasn’t a major issue until we hit the cross roads with the Pennine Way. We temporarily lost sight of the last three hikers in our group, who had been tending to an injured knee. After about 10 minutes Dave ran back up the hill to see where they were. He spotted them hobbling along the Pennine Way path and managed to attract the attention back to the other route and the rest of the group.
Whernside (736 metres)
Next peak was in our sights, but only just. It was miles away in the distance and naively I thought it would be the peaks that were the challenge. In reality it was the distance also. After a couple of hours trekking across fields and through gates we ended up on a road towards the base of Whernside.
This peak had a whole load of other challenges. Imagine it like a shark’s fin. instead of walking straight towards it we needed to skirt around to the far side of it to climb the gradual slope. This seemed to take probably an hour and a half or more, before we started to climb up the path. The Pathways are well looked after and in many sections have been improved with large stone slabs forming steps. These are much better than the shale and rock paths elsewhere.
We reached the top, well behind schedule and I forgot to take a photograph at the top as I was feeling a little spent at this point. We snacked up and sipped some water before starting the descent. The route down was a little bit of a shock to the system as it was very very steep. Catherine really really didn’t like this and I kept any nerves hidden. The steps here would have suited a mountain goat better than a hiker with big boots. I was tempted to slide down on my butt several times.
And this is where our challenge nearly ended. Catherine had reached her limit and was more than happy to stop in the pub (Old Hill Inn) at the next opportunity. This was also a check in point for the challenge (If you started there). I tried my best to convince her that we’d come this far and it was only 1 peak left to go. She was having none of it. So I jogged ahead to inform the group of Catherine’s decision.
David, came back and had a heart to heart with Catherine. “Look, we’ve come this far and there is only one more peak to go.” Pretty much the same stuff I said, but with the promise of some talcum powder and a change of socks he’d won her over. We were back on track.
Ingleborough (723 metres)
The distance between Whernside and Ingleborough is a lot shorter than peaks 1 and 2. But still a good hour and a half walk. We were well behind any schedules that had been made and were miles from any hill climbing records (which incidentally is around 2 and a half hours for the Yorkshire three peaks).
The Path to the base of this hill is a little boggy in places, but the paths had been rebuilt with wooden bridges / staging. This stretched for quite some distance. We moved around in the group a little. I felt if I was further up in the group Catherine wouldn’t be as likely to want to drop out, plus she was chatting to Andrea and Kate (David’s wife). I started to chat with Dave about the route and he pointed to the climb and why he’d purposefully not mentioned this part to Catherine. The “climb” was an actual climb! This section involved scrambling up a very very very steep set of steps with a rock face close to your actual face.
Catherine really wasn’t impressed, so I offered my hand like a rope that mountaineers would use. This meant several times that she nearly pulled me off my footing, but as long as she was happy I pushed on.
We reached the top, took the photos and started to talk tactics for the drop down. We were following a different route down which was more gradual and “easier”. As it was well trodden the speedier members in the group raced a head while David kept his eye on the straggling two (me and Cat).
We ached everywhere. Our feet hurt, our knees were paining, our thighs were pulling, Our hips weren’t happy and my back was really bugging me. Despite this the final stretch was 6 miles. I kept looking at my fit bit for the time as I was overly aware that it was 7.00pm and by 8.00pm it starts to get dark. It was starting to get dusky and we spotted a sign 2 & three quarter miles to Horton. We pushed on and kept loosing sight of the group. It got darker and the conversations were becoming very sparse. Catherine was starting to panic and didn’t think she could go on any further. I think she was hoping for mountain rescue to air lift her to the hostel.
Eventually we reached another sign post… Horton 2 miles. The previous three-quarters seemed to take an hour. It was getting darker and we kept questioning why did we even attempt this. David, Kate and his son started to creep into view as they’d slowed up their hiking to keep watch on us. At one point I called out to see if it was them of another set of hikers, just to be sure.
The last mile was pitch black. David had a torch out and Catherine just wanted to be home already.
Catherine: This is ridiculous
David: This is bloody awesome!
Eventually at around 10.00pm we stepped across a railway line entering into the village of Horton, where we had started about 14 hours earlier. The relief was expressed with Catherine’s chatter. You could tell she was happy as she wouldn’t shut up. I was spent, I needed bed. We had blisters on our Blisters. Catherine’s big toe had grown an extra toe, I had a huge blister on the on the base of my foot. It’s called a challenge for a reason and in the back of my mind I knew it would be painful.
Our team leader loved the adventure and with out his spirit the Hooper’s would have only done a two peak challenge. hopefully having a group with a mixed range of abilities doesn’t put him off organising other expeditions again. When it boils down to the adventure we absolutely loved it all except for the 26 miles of walking! Last year it wasn’t anywhere near a must do list, but I’m glad I did it and would have been very disappointed if we had stopped short, but I wouldn’t have let Cat know.