What? Completing the top three peaks of the Yorkshire Dales, plus the hike between them
Distance: A marathon (26 miles approx, or 42km, possibly slightly under)
Completion time aim: Under 12 hours
The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge is possibly one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. Both physical and mental strength were required to complete it and even then it is not easy by any means.
On Saturday the 7th of May, we set out from our cabin to begin the hike at the Pen-y-ghent Cafe in Horton-in-Ribblesdale. You clock in at the cafe at the beginning of the day and clock out when you make it back (assuming that you do…if you don’t I’m guessing they send out search parties).
Basically, the challenge is a huge loop involving the three mountains of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. The terrain is steep and though the paths are well maintained, at times you may find yourself cutting across muddy ground (there are two ways to get from Pen-y-ghent to Whernside and the shorter one is faster but more marsh-y).
We divided our day into three main sections – 14km, until the road between Pen-y-ghent and Whernside. 16km from the road, up Whernside, down to the next road, where there is a pub for all of you who think you might deserve a beer after two peaks. Then up Ingleborough.
Finally, another 10km stretch where you’re just walking downhill for 10km and across fields.This stretch was gruesome. Your feet are sore, your mind is sore, your eyes are blurry from watching your footing on uneven ground and you’re just praying that the next little hill will be the last one. The glimpses of the village in the distance on this 10km stretch really don’t help either!
But I digress…let’s talk briefly about the peaks and what to expect:
Pen-y-Ghent: Steep but over quickly. You will have to scramble a bit rather than just hike to get up the top section of this mountain but the view was worth it. This is generally the peak that people ascend first (although some do the route the opposite way around). You’ll walk across fields for quite a while from the cafe at the beginning before you get to the mountain, and if it has been wet these fields will be very muddy and slippery.
Whernside: This mountain was tough. It’s a very gradual descent so you’ll find yourself wondering when it’s over. We actually had the most amazing weather to do these peaks – it was a little cloudy, but sunny enough that it was pretty warm but not too hot. However, up the top of Whernside it was VERY windy. Make sure that your backpack is fully strapped on and tightly or you will risk getting blown about.
Ingleborough: The terrain up to this mountain is basically just through fields. However, there is one section where you have to ascend about 150 metres on what I’d estimate to be a 70 degree angle (maybe slightly less). There are many stairs which go straight up and many more steep zigzagging stairs. This bit is one of the toughest things that we did all day (and there are two more steep bits after that until you reach the top!)
- Pack loads of water. I know that you will have to carry it but do not risk dehydration on this walk. I would suggest 4-5 water bottles (but remember that you can refill at the pub after Whernside but before Ingleborough).
- Pack loads of snacks/food because hiking makes you hungry.
- Wear a comfortable backpack, preferably with chest straps. A pack with lots of water/heavy clothing in it will only feel heavier as the day goes on so it’s best to be able to spread the weight using straps.
- Waterproof hiking boots with ankle support are best for this route. Though the majority is paved, some parts are better than others and you really don’t want to risk injury from stepping on an uneven stone. But only you will know if you feel comfortable doing it in sneakers/trainers.
- Pack layers. You may be sweating down the bottom of the mountain, however up the top the temperature may be far less. The weather can also change rapidly, so it is advisable to take thermal layers, extra jumpers, a beanie, gloves and waterproofs in case you get caught in freak weather.
- It is a very long route. If you think you will be taking longer than the approximate time of 12 hours provided, then start earlier in the morning as you don’t want to be doing it in the dark. Also, please consider your own fitness levels and do what is best for you, even if that means not completing the entire challenge. Safety is a key priority. The mountains feel more difficult as you go on but that it because you’re getting more and more tired.
- To take photos with the marker stones on the top of each mountain!
- Celebrate your achievement when you’ve finished…it’s awesome!
- MAKE FRIENDS! If you’re doing this challenge, you’ve probably already decided to do it with some friends. But along the way, you’ll meet people who you’ll probably keep pace with for most of the day. We took photos for a group up the top of Peak 2 and on Peak 3 did the same, they joked that we were their personal photographers. You’ll meet groups and make hiking friends who will motivate you and spur you on. It’s such a community!
We completed the challenge in 9 hours and 50 minutes. We started the day at 8am and finished at 5:50pm. We took minimal breaks, none longer than 15 minutes and we had a blast.