Scrambling the National 3 Peaks Challenge - Tips and Training Advice
What is the National 3 Peaks Challenge?
The national 3 peaks challenge involves hiking up Scotland’s, England’s and Wales’s highest mountains which are Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in 24 hours. Not only that, you have to scale all 3 mountains and drive between them in 24 hours too.
So What is the Scrambling National Three Peaks Challenge?
The 3 highest mountains are usually completed using their simplest or shortest path up. The paths usually taken are:
Ben Nevis: The Pony Track (10.5 miles, 1352m Ascent)
Scafell Pike: Wasdale Head path (6 miles, 989m Ascent)
Snowdon: Either the Pyg Track (7 miles, 723 Ascent or the slightly longer but less technical Llanberis path (9 miles, 975m ascent)
The Scrambling 3 peaks challenge means….you guessed it…scrambling up them instead of hiking!
What is scrambling?
According to the Cambridge dictionary it is “to move or climb quickly but with difficulty, often using your hands to help you.
Scrambling is essentially the middle ground between walking and climbing and is graded from 1 -3 with grade 1 being the easiest and grade 3 being the hardest. The grading takes into account the exposure and also the amount of easy climbing (i.e. using your hands) you have to do. Grade 1 scrambles usually do not require a rope but once you enter grade 2/3 territory a rope should be used for safety.
Which routes are Best to use for Scrambling the National 3 Peaks Challenge?
We decided to stick to grade 1 scrambles as we knew the challenge would be hard enough to complete in 24 hours without having to carry a rope and climbing rack with us.
Ben Nevis and Snowdon were easy to decide on as they both have stunning grade 1 ridge walks leading up to the summits. They are not technical but both much longer than the ‘standard’ routes up. Scafell Pike was slightly harder as there isn’t a popular well known grade 1 scramble to the top of it. The only well documented scramble is Broad Stand, however- this is a technical grade 3 scramble and not suitable without a rope.
After much deliberation we finally settled on the following routes:
(11 miles, 1506m ascent) We could have chosen Ledge Route (grade 1 scramble) which would have been shorter but neither of us had done it before and wanted to have a confident start. Both CMD Arete and Ledge Route start from The North Face car park in Torlundy.
Descent Route: We chose to descend down the Pony Track for ease and to make up time.
Scafell Pike via Dropping Crag
(6.5 miles, 989m ascent) We decided it would be easiest, given the added time pressure of doing longer routes and more ascent to stick with a Wasdale Head route up Scafell Pike. We studied various maps, scrambling guide books and from our own memories of the lay of the land and decided we would head up towards Pikes Crag and Dropping Crag and pick a scrambling route up and meet the corridor route on top. We were slightly worried about this bit as it would be in the dark so would have to navigate unknown, un-pathed territory with headtorches. Luckily we were both confident scramblers (and climbers) and managed to find a fun scrambling section up Dropping Crag and met the corridor route relatively near the top.
This is roughly the route we took:
The other alternative would be to start at Seathwaite and take the corridor route up Scafell pike however it’s a much longer route up and also is considered a walking path rather than scrambling route (although it does have a few small sections of minor scrambling).
Descent route: Our route started and ended at the National Trust Wasdale car park and we descended down the quick Mickledore route.
Descent Route: Crib Goch comes off the Pyg track (roughly ¼ of the way up) which starts at Pen y Pass. We knew we would be absolutely knackered by this point so opted to descend down the Llanberis path as it’s much easier on your knees.
What Order did we Do the Scrambling Three Peaks Challenge?
We started up Ben Nevis at 5pm and were down just before it got dark at 9.30pm. We managed to get over to start Scafell Pike by 2.30am. Luckily this meant we were actually scrambling up to the summit at sunrise so had some visibility on the bit we were worried about finding. We did this in 3 hours and managed to get to Pen y Pass by 10.30am. We were back down at the bottom of the Llanberris path by 2.30pm.
Here are our timings broken down:
- Ben Nevis via CMD Arete: 4.5 hours
Drive to Wasdale head: 5 hours
- Scafell Pike via Dropping Crag: 3 hours
Drive to Pen Y Pass: 5 hours
- Snowdon via Crib Goch: 4 hours
Did we Manage to do it in 24 Hours?
Quick answer- yes! We never in a million years expected to given the extra mileage and ascent to cover but we ended up doing it in 21.5 hours (including the driving of course). We actually never set out with the intention of doing it in 24 hours but we managed to do Ben Nevis via CMD arete in 4.5 hours (usually takes 8 hours) and we knew we had a chance of doing it. We then had the bit between our teeth and went for it which paid off.
How Hard was Scrambling the Three Peaks?
Honestly- it’s very hard! I would not want to attempt this challenge in anything but the fittest condition I could be. Probably the hardest bit was the driving in between due to being so tired. The tiredness made the scrambling and hiking extra hard but for me it was so much more enjoyable than the usual routes up (I like things a bit spicy though!)
Can you Drive The Challenge Yourself?
For anyone considering this challenge do not try and drive it yourself- it’s dangerous! Get somebody to come and help you and cheer you on and then you can nap in the car in between to get your strength back. The drive is long enough without you being knackered from the walking and scrambling and I'm sure somebody who recognises what you are doing will be willing to come and help for a beer in the pub at the end of the day!
How to Train for Scrambling National Three Peaks Challenge
- Get out scrambling- you will need to have a good head for heights to do any of the routes, especially Crib Goch and CMD Arete. You will need to be a confident scrambler to attempt this challenge safely.
- Climb lots of mountains- It sounds obvious but so many people attempt the 3 peaks challenge without actually training on the mountains. If you can’t do this I would advise doing the challenge with a guide or at least somebody experienced as the mountains are not be taken for granted and things can get serious pretty quickly.
- Train as much as you can on local hills- If you aren’t lucky enough to have mountains on your doorstep find some local hills to go and climb up. If they are small, go up and down them 2 or 3 times to get your fitness
- Fix any ailments-if you have dodgy knees or aching limbs get them better before doing this challenge- I am talking from experience here! Doing a challenge like this with crocked body parts makes it 10 times harder and usually makes your ailment worse. Go and see a relevant therapist and get it fixed first.
- Gym Training- You can do a lot of training in the gym however don’t rely on this as your sole training- there is no better preparation than getting out on the hills. The best type of gym work will be cardio exercise and lower body resistance training. If using a treadmill I would advise walking with the gradient up high to mimic walking up a hill rather than running on the flat.
Kit List for the Three Peaks Challenge
See our blog: essential kit list for challenge walks or click the banner below to visit our Amazon shop:
Essential Reading for the National Three Peaks Challenge
The Ridges of England, Wales and Ireland (Has information on CMD Arete, Ledge Route and Crib Goch)
Scrambles & Easy Climbs in the Lake District (Helped us when researching the best route to take up Scafell Pike. This book is has a lot more alternative less well known routes thean many of the other Lake District scrambling books)
Hillwalking: Official handbook of Mountain Training (A must for anyone getting into the mountains to learn the basics and staying safe)
Maps for the Three Peaks Challenge (always carry a map)We like Harvey maps best as they have a lot more detail on them and names of specific crags which is useful for scrambling and climbing.
Ben Nevis Harvey Map: A great map showing detailed crags and climbing routes on Ben Nevis, the Grey Curries and Mamores. There is also an enlargement of the summit of Ben Nevis which highlights dangerous descent routes.
Lake District Harvey Map: The best map for the Lake District with detailed sections on crags. In particular it has enlargements of Scafell and Pillar.
Snowdonia North Harvey Map: A highly details map covering Snowdon, Glyders, The Carnedds, Moel Siabod and Bewtts y Coed. It also has the whole of the welsh 3000's on the one sheet.
If you have any questions following reading this blog or any general adventure questions then please do contact us we are always happy to help.
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