02 Aug CPS Three Peaks Challenge 2017
CPS Employee Forum have been discussing the idea of a corporate challenge since 2016 and Chris suggested the National Three Peaks. Once we had decided on our chosen charity, Mind, it seemed like the right time to get it organised. We put the idea out to the company and ended up with a team of 9 – David, Chris, Mike, Renato, Pedro, Ada, Katie, Kayleigh and Sorcha. After much research, we booked the challenge with a company called Maximum Adventure for the weekend of 29th July and set our JustGiving pages up to try and raise as much money possible. Our aim was to raise £4,500, £500 per team member.
We did our first training hike together in early June, a successful 9 miles through the countryside and hills, ending at a lovely pub in Wheeler End. Subsequent weekend walks took us all over the Chilterns from West Wycombe to Chinnor and down through Cadmore and Turville, the home of the Vicar of Dibley (cue pause for photos!). Each training walk got progressively harder and when we compared our final hardest one which had a total ascent of 2000 feet with our total 3 Peaks ascent of 10,500 feet, we soon realised how difficult the challenge was that we were taking on. During training we walked almost 100 miles, climbing 8000ft in the process and learning our strengths and weaknesses along the way.
The training walks also highlighted how much kit we’d need for the challenge – boots, socks, waterproofs, backpacks, head torches, walking poles, high wicking t-shirts, camelbacks… the list goes on. Hundreds of pounds spent between us, ensuring Mountain Warehouse will remain in Marlow for years to come. A final team de-brief on the Monday before and we were ready to go.
On Friday 28th July, we were picked up from the office at 12.30pm to head to Stansted airport. With our taxi driver refusing to listen to Google Maps, Mike ended up being the satnav just before we hit the back of an almighty tailback on the M25 which would have seen us miss our flight. Looking back, it was a clear indication of how the travelling was going to be for the whole weekend. After the wonders of an internal Ryanair flight, we arrived in Glasgow praying to the baggage reclaim gods that we’d have all of our bags in tow. Fortunately this was the case so after stocking up on supplies for the weekend such as snacks and water we then made our way to Fort William with our guide Stu. On the way to our hotel in Fort William we stopped at The Green Welly rest stop where we had some food and Stu gave us the briefing for the weekend, describing the conditions that we would expect and the terrain that we’d be facing. This did make some of the girls a little more nervous but it was a little too late to be backing out now.
We arrived at the hotel as the weather began to turn nasty and had enough time to drop our bags in our rooms and head to the bar for a few pints of Nessie to calm the nerves. David’s smugness in his new waterproof Rab trousers that were identical to the guide’s was soon quashed after learning that they were in fact not waterproof and the guide wouldn’t be wearing them in the morning. A running joke for the weekend was established before trying to get a good night’s sleep, the last one we would have until we got home on Sunday night.
With a full English breakfast inside us, we made the short trip from the hotel to the Visitor Centre beneath Ben Nevis. The weather remained terrible, with rain falling from the sky and the clouds blocking any visibility of the mountain tops. With our waterproof jackets and (non-waterproof) trousers tightly zipped, we met up with our local guide, Alan, before commencing the climb at 7:30. It wasn’t long before a difference in pace between the team forced an early decision about the success of the trip, leading to a split to allow the faster challengers to be able to make the summit in good time and keep us on track for the 24 hours.
Half an hour into the hike up Ben Nevis, Sorcha was told by Stu that she was going at a 9 hour pace, rather than the 5.5 hour one we wanted. Sorcha was going as fast as she was able so she selflessly decided to not attempt the summit but go as far as she could before heading back and meeting everyone at the bottom. Renato then decided he also couldn’t keep up the 5.5 hour pace and ended up joining Sorcha and Stu on their own journey up Nevis. They made it to 200m below summit before heading back down the mountain. Sorcha, Stu and Renato decided, to pass the time, they would become the ‘mountain police’… The trio stood by a sign half way up the mountain that said ‘Do not attempt this path, it is too eroded’ however lots of foolish hikers were still trying to attempt this path. Sorcha, Renato and Stu spent a small rest break advising people to take the right path, whilst eating cake and pizza that Stu had packed in his bag. Funnily enough, the rest of the group never got any of the cake or pizza, they were obviously very lucky. They made it back to the visitors centre at the bottom of the mountain and had to take shelter from the torrential rain while waiting for the rest of the group.
Around the half way point, the greenery started to disappear and a rocky surface was left as we zig-zagged up the side of the mountain. The temperature fell very quickly, almost with every step, soon losing all feeling in fingers and toes. By this point we were well in the clouds, with the howling 40mph wind turning the heavy rain sideward into our faces. As we reached the top the ground flattened and the wind grew stronger, with visibility down to just a few metres. A quick celebratory photo with the CPS flag was all the time we could afford before we turned around and headed for sea level.
As we re-traced our steps down the craggy path, everyone was in very high spirits as the feeling started to return to fingers and toes. The spring in our steps led us to overtake many walkers on the way down as the mountain started to fill up with walkers of all ages and the odd dog too. David and Pedro managed to skip ahead after getting past a particularly defiant set of walkers who managed to hold up the rest of the group, finishing in 5 hours 15 minutes, with the rest of the team around the 5 hour 30 mark.
Our jubilation at scaling the highest mountain was soon cut short when we learned that the minibus that should have been waiting for us was still sat in the hotel car park with brake failure. The garage were unable to fix it which meant Stu and Maximum Adventure had to organise a replacement. Given the company’s home in Manchester, they managed to hire a minibus from Glasgow to take us south while the replacement drove north to meet us for a changeover halfway – credit to the company for only losing 2 hours of our challenge time with their quick action. The trip itself took around 6 hours to Scafell, during which we soon learned that getting changed on a minibus and organising rucksacks while navigating the winding Lake District roads was a challenge in itself.
We arrived at Scafell Pike later than we would’ve liked which meant it was going to get dark very quickly as we climbed the mountain. We set off a little tired but still enthusiastic after doing so well on Ben Nevis. Renato made it onto the mountain but very quickly had to turn back, an old tendon injury had proved too much and he had to sit this one out. Very little could have prepared us for how relentless Scafell Pike would be, the constant incline over slippery wet rocks afforded little rest and it was clear very quickly that Ada and the boys (in particular Pedro who would be nicknamed the mountain goat) were going to be a lot faster than the rest so Katie, Kayleigh and Sorcha made the decision to climb the mountain in their own time and let the boys and Ada go off to get the time for the team.
Stu stayed with the girls, telling funny stories from his experiences taking other groups out, answering any ridiculous questions they had and making sure they were safe. Katie and Kayleigh, being just over 5ft each, struggled to get over some of the rocks and found this to be quite difficult, especially in the dark, but hiking poles proved extremely useful (if you can find the space in between the mars like terrain of Scafell Pike). The scratches and bruises on their legs the next day are proof of how much hard work it was.
Up the mountain slightly, Ada and the boys were making good pace with the local guide Mandy despite the relentless incline and difficult terrain. After the first hour, the grass again disappears to leave a vast mountain top of shattered rock. As we entered the cloud, the visibility worsened with our head torches only just lighting up enough of the path to navigate up – without Mandy, we would have been lost in seconds. The wind also quickly increased as we got to the summit, affording very little time to take a photo before returning to the relative shelter of the mountainside. The descent was treacherous and constant, leading to knee complaints from almost everyone bar Mandy who we had trouble keeping pace with as she hopped down without poles and with hands in pockets – a true pro!
The girls made it to 200m below the summit before they turned back to make sure they were back before the boys. Kayleigh and Sorcha decided to have a karaoke session on the way back down which helped us navigate the rocks in the dark – poor Stu and Katie had to listen to renditions of Tenacious D and Lonely Island. Nearing the bottom of the mountain there is a fast running waterfall you need to step across which was a lot easier when we crossed in natural light. Luckily there were guides there from other groups helping everyone across the waterfall in the dark which made a huge difference. There wasn’t a lot scarier than trying to navigate across a waterfall in the dark with just your headtorch for visibility, knowing a slip would end in getting completely soaked and most likely badly injured.
The girls made it back to the bus 20 minutes before Ada and the boys, giving them enough time to get changed and organise their bags for the next mountain, something much easier to do with less people and a stationary bus. They also got back just in time to miss the torrential rain that hit the others in the final throws of the descent before finishing in a highly respectable time of 3h 45m.
We left for Snowdon at 1am, with everyone doing their best to get comfortable on a minibus full of suitcases, wet clothes and the smell of deep heat. Katie would be awarded best sleeper, seemingly able to sleep at any point in any position, perhaps something to do with the student lifestyle! We arrived at a service station just after 4am to switch drivers and refuel, all confused as to why there was still 2.5 hours to go until Snowdon. Unfortunately due to some torrential rain that we caught the beginning of at Scafell, the driver was unable to travel more than 30mph for the initial journey, ultimately losing 2 hours and the chance of completing the challenge in under 24 hours.
Unperturbed, we arrived at Snowdon at 6:30, sleep-deprived and stiff-legged. We donned boots and gingerly exited the bus, prepared for the final hurdle. The start saw an immediate gap created with David, Chris, Mike and Pedro forging ahead with our new guide Sam, keen to scale the mountain as fast as possible. We knew we couldn’t make the 24 hours after losing so much time on the bus journey down (even though we learnt of a £20,000 reward for the first person to scale the summit and back in under an hour – maybe next time!) but if we could bring the total climb in at under 13 hours, at least we’d know we couldn’t blame ourselves for the time failure.
The first two-thirds of Snowdon is relatively pleasant compared to the relentless incline of Scafell Pike with rocky steps interspersed with shallow inclines allowing the boys to make excellent progress in the first hour. We were even afforded stunning views of the nearby mountains, valleys and lakes, the only time we’d actually seen anything of the neighbouring scenery all day. The final third got a lot trickier with steep craggy rocks to ascend as the cloud and fog enveloped us, but we were at the top in under 2 hours, ready for the obligatory photo and the need to walk down from the exposed plateau before being blown down by the savage wind.
A little way down, Stu had stayed with Katie, Kayleigh and Sorcha again and was forced to tell more stories and interesting facts, deserving a medal for putting up with the girls. They soon found Ada, who had fallen behind from the boys, however she had taken a wrong path and Stu had to shout for her to come back down… we have no idea where she was planning on going. Ada decided to stay with the other girls and go as far as they could before coming back down to meet the boys at the end. The girls again got to 200m below summit and decided to have a snack and rest before heading back down, taking advantage of the stunning views for a perfect photo opportunity. They were all disappointed not to make the summit however they knew the boys were striving for a competitive time so felt it wasn’t fair to make them wait; an example of the amazing team spirit in the group.
At the summit, it soon became apparent that a knee injury would slow David down on the descent so after the initial difficulty of the jagged mountain top, Pedro, Chris and Mike went ahead to ensure a solid finish time, while Sam made sure David (aka Jake the Peg) got down in one piece. The first 3 finished Snowdon in an excellent 3 hours 20, with David joining the finishing party 10 minutes later, giving us a total climb time of 12 1/2 hours – very much under the 14 that would generally be estimated to complete the challenge in 24 hours. We just had time for a quick photo in our Mind t-shirts before packing up, changing into more comfortable attire and heading to Chester to catch a train to Milton Keynes and a minibus back to Marlow, all arriving home around 4-5pm on the Sunday.
All in all, the Three Peaks Challenge is an extremely exhausting thing to attempt, both mentally and physically. Some of us found that our brains gave up before our bodies did, our legs ending up on autopilot while your brain is telling you to stop and go home. As well as climbing three mountains, the team also had to live on a mini bus for over 24 hours – eating, sleeping, changing and travelling to each destination. Sleep deprivation leads to the simplest things becoming highly taxing – trying to organise your rucksack and clothing for the next peak in a confined space on a moving bus becomes tremendously difficult.
The challenge really does test the best and we had the most amazing group of people for the task. The team did an excellent job and have all said how proud they are of each other and themselves. By the end we were all still very much friends – we had shared snacks, cups of tea from Mike’s thermos, deep heat, pain killers etc. and were still smiling and joking on the journey home – a true team effort. We made sure we picked up some beer for the journey home, we deserved it after what we had achieved. An experience like no other, one we have even said we would do again, but perhaps the 3 day version to allow us to enjoy it a little more and hopefully sample some of the amazing views (apparently) on offer at the top of the peaks. To think that we have raised £4,500 for charity is also a great feeling.
We couldn’t have done the challenge without our supporters! A big shout out to everyone who sponsored us, this was our families, our friends, our colleagues and even each other, we wouldn’t have raised as much money as we did without the love and support of you all. The next shout out goes to our wonderful guide Stu! Stu was a fantastic addition to the team, telling us everything we needed to know, making sure everyone had the best experience possible and keeping us all safe on those treacherous paths in the dark, the wind, the rain and the -4 degree wind chills. He did spend most of his time on the mountains with the girls and for that Stu, we salute you. The next group of people we need to thank are the directors at CPS for agreeing to fund the trip, this ensured we were able to raise as much money as we could for Mind and afford to buy all the required kit. This really meant a lot to the whole team and without the support of them we would never have been able to have this once in a lifetime opportunity which we will never forget. For all of those who supported us, we hope we did each and every one of you proud.
The very last shout out, and the most important one, is to each and every member of the CPS Three Peaks team. Thank you for giving up your weekends to train, missing out on time with friends and family, for buying the right kit and sharing the best tips on where to buy everything. Thank you for supporting each other through the experience, sharing your snacks, allowing team mates to steam ahead or slow down to their own pace. Thank you for making it an extremely enjoyable weekend, no matter how tired and smelly we all were. We could not have picked a better team and we are looking forward to the next adventure.
We managed to reach our target of £4500 however if this blog has inspired you to donate then you can do so here.