Thinking of doing the Three Peaks Challenge? Read this advice from the BMC first
It's the UK's most well-known mountain walking challenge - but the Three Peaks Challenge also has a dark side. Before you attempt it, here are some things you should know.
Like many of life's great (?) ideas, the notion of doing the Three Peaks Challenge is often born in the pub. You know the scenario. There's a group of friends, emboldened by beer, and one of them makes a suggestion - why don't we do that thing where you walk up the highest mountains of Scotland, England and Wales in one day? It's met with raucous ripples of approval. Let's do it in June. It'll be a laugh. And why not raise some money for charity into the bargain? Sorted - now whose round was it...
Let's hit the pause button here. The Three Peaks Challenge is Britain's most well-known mountain challenge. Thousands of people do it every year. Despite bad food, sleeplessness and gruelling motorway marathons, many have a rewarding, spectacular time that feeds a hunger for more mountain experiences. What's more, it helps to swell the coffers of the many charities which use it as a fundraising tool. So what's the problem?
Simply put, the Three Peaks Challenge has a dark side. Local residents in the communities affected by the Challenge complain of noise and disturbance in the small hours; small roads become choked with cars; Mountain Rescue volunteers are frequently called out to rescue poorly prepared walkers who have strayed off track or got into trouble; and many challengers unfortunately leave behind more than just footprints in their wake, with litter - and even more unsavoury waste of the bodily function variety - often miring the paths and car parks along the way. Ironically, the organisations which have to pick up the pieces are either national parks with limited resources or charities - what is the point in raising money for one charity if it takes away from another?
Of course, not everyone who takes part in the Three Peaks Challenge behaves like this, and defenders of the Challenge rightly point out that the numbers involved are only a fraction of the total numbers climbing the mountains every year (470,000 people walked up Snowdon in 2013 alone - only a small amount of those will be Three Peakers). The problem is that the nature of the Three Peaks Challenge gives it an impact out of proportion to the numbers attempting it. When you get huge numbers of sleep-deprived, boisterous people with bursting bladders squeezing into remote areas of the countryside with few facilities, all at a similar time of year, often in the middle of the night, ascending mountains in the dark, often with little idea of direction, there are bound to be problems.
The impact of the Three Peaks Challenge has become so great that the landowning bodies and charities involved in managing the three mountains - the John Muir Trust (Ben Nevis) and the National Trust (Scafell Pike) and the Snowdonia National Park (Snowdon) - have come together to try and tackle the issues, along with other stakeholders like the BMC. The BMC's Access and Conservation Trust has helped to fund a new website, the Three Peaks Partnership, which contains a wealth of practical advice for doing the challenge in a responsible way; or in other words, in a way which won't annoy anyone.
But as well as information, it also aims to provide inspiration. In a way, one of the biggest problems with The Three Peaks Challenge is that it passes through some of Britain's most extraordinary landscapes in a rushed blur, a groggy marathon of motorway driving and night-time trudging. Rushing up and down these mountains means you risk missing the richness of wildlife, geology and history which makes them so special. Why not take your time and do the challenge over three days instead? How about getting off the crowded main paths and finding more unusual ways to ascend the mountains? What about travelling between them by public transport - or even by bike? By using a bit of imagination, you can not only lessen the impact you have on the landscapes involved, but also potentially have a better time.
So the next time someone brings up the idea at the pub, point them to the Three Peaks Partnership.
Plan your Three Peaks Challenge using these links:
Learn about the mountains:
The BMC is an organisation which represents people who love the mountains; hill walkers, climbers and mountaineers. We continually work to keep our wild places open and accessible to all, as well as preserving the qualities which make them special. Joining can cost as little as £15.72 a year and gets you a great range of benefits. Find out more here.
Find out more about the BMC Access and Conservation Trust.