I walked the Yorkshire Three Peaks trail last Saturday with a group of colleagues. The entire route took 14 hours and it was one of the most enjoyable hikes I’ve taken.
My employer organises annual trips, either skiing, a city break or, this year, a hike. We picked the Yorkshire Three Peaks as it’s a circular trail and therefore easy to plan. In retrospect, a twenty-four mile hike was quite ambitious. We all gathered on a campsite near Whernside the night before and set off a little after half six the following morning. Out of thirteen walkers, ten finished the trail.
The Yorkshire Three Peaks is a popular route. Most people walk clockwise from Horton-on-Ribblesdale, but the route proposed for our group was anti-clockwise from our campsite, starting with an ascent of Ingleborough. This was actually a great decision, as we didn’t find ourselves part of a long procession around the peaks, but rather passed most of the other people walking that day.
I had a terrible night’s sleep the night before (which was also my birthday). One of the other campers on the site was a belligerent drunk, who spent the night shouting and swearing. I can’t have managed much more than three or four hours sleep. I was up about half four, having given up on rest, and slowly prepared my kit.
Normally, I do my long hikes solo, and at a slightly faster pace than is wise. Walking with other people slowed me down, which made the day more pleasant than I’d expected. Walking twenty-four miles was still hard work, but my feet certainly finished in better shape than they do after my solo hikes.
The climb up Ingleborough (723m) was busy, as we encountered a large number of charity walkers who had set off from the other side of the peak. Everyone was friendly, and the queue for photos at the trig point was brisk. We then made a slow descent to the town where Sally waited for us with a supply point. We were also bolstered by Alex’s huge bag of Kendal Mint cake.
Hill two was Pen-y-ghent (694m), which loomed as we approached. The climb up here is steep, requiring a little scrambling. I was nearly brained by a rock at this point, as one of our group had taken a higher path and dislodged some loose rocks. They clattered down without hitting anyone, but it was a shocking moment, as I’d not considered the ascent particularly dangerous.
Last time I climbed Pen-y-ghent it had been raining and the summit was cloaked in mist. This time the views were much better. On the way down we found ourselves battered by incredible winds. Pen-y-ghent means ‘hill of winds’ and it earned its name in our descent. We rested at the bottom of the hill where were saw skylarks who managed to hover completely still in the driving wind.
We passed the second supply point about three, but couldn’t find it despite mobile phones and walkie-talkies. Fortunately we had enough food and water to take us onto the next meeting point.
The walk from Pen-y-ghent to the base of Ingleborough (736m), the third hill, was the longest stretch of the journey. It took hours to cross the valley to Ribblehead with its famous viaduct. A couple of people dropped out of this stage, but the remaining ten went on to the final peak.
The walk from Ribblehead to the base of Whernside was further than I expected. Most walkers set off from specific points and were finishing elsewhere on the trail, so this stretch was now quiet, with a very different feel to the rest of the day. We passed the noisy drunk from the night before. Finally, we started the slow ascent up Whernside. On top of the ridge we could see the shadows stretching across the valley as the sun fell lower.
After twelve hours, we were about a kilometre short of Whernside, and it took another couple of hours to get down off that mountain. Still, peaking late is pretty much how I’m living my life. The whole group gathered near the trig point for a final photo, then hurried downhill as we were very late for dinner. As we descended, we passed one last group of walkers who were running even later than us.
One of the things I liked most about the 3 Peaks was it was a communal experience. Everyone you passed was going through similar things. I’m looking forward to doing it again.