Agreeing to participate in a UK 3 Peaks Challenge is no walk in the park. The commitment required to scale Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis, the 3 highest mountains in Wales, England and Scotland in 24 hours, is not to be taken lightly. And so, with lofty ambitions, 7 intrepid colleagues from games distributor Esdevium Games in Hampshire, arrived at the chalet on Saturday, for 2 days of “bootcamp”. The weekend weather forecast was appalling, with rain, thunder and cold temperatures predicted. Still, if the chosen charity of a Malawi orphanage wasn’t motivation enough to climb a hill, then the promise of hot tea and freshly baked cakes would surely spur the 7 on.
However, a 6 hour recce, undertaken a few days before on one of the planned routes, showed that the team may encounter more than just weather.
Shorts & flip flops weren’t the wisest of choices!
As we departed the chalet before lunch on Saturday, it was clear that fortune might well favour the brave. Under blue skies and sunshine, the team posed for photos, with the naive enthusiasm of not knowing what was to come.
From left: Frank, Rob, Ben, Mike, Alison, Dom, Steve, Mountain Guide Chris. And Skye the dog!
The objective of the weekend was not to simulate the 3 Peaks Challenge but to do 2 fairly strenuous group walks on mountainous ground, in order for the team to become used to walking on uneven terrain, gauge fitness levels, and assess equipment. They would then be able to return to the UK with 8 weeks or so to train; plenty of time to absorb the lessons learnt and make any necessary adjustments.
Our first walk departed from St Gervais, and meandered south up the river gorge towards the ski station of Les Contamines. Gently undulating, forested tracks with some steeper sections, were the perfect introduction to mountain hiking, with many of the team unused to this type of terrain.
With the glistening, glaciated peaks of Mont Blanc and its satellites towering ten thousand feet above us, everyone was in high spirits and full of enthusiasm. A steady pace ensued as the team settled into a rhythm, with regular stops to refuel and hydrate, essential for any day in the mountains. As we reached Les Contamines, the threatened rain arrived. Worse still, being out of season, the “ville mort” (dead town) as the locals call it, certainly lived up to its name. Nowhere was open for coffee!
We donned our Gore-Tex to protect us from the elements, turned north, and trudged towards St Gervais. These two set backs thankfully hadn’t dented the teams’ morale. But “Brokeback Mountain” was to come. Thankfully, the rain was just a passing shower, and as we started up a track towards the hamlet of Champel, everyone was blissfully unaware of the horrors that lay ahead. 500 vertical feet of climbing over a relatively short horizontal distance, meant the gradient was intense and unrelenting. Then it got steeper. With hearts pumping into the red, lactic acid building in the legs, lungs bursting to capacity, and some insane “sprinting” by Dom, the team made it, all vowing never to return.
Stunning views made “Brokeback Mountain” worth the pain!
This was the last climb of the day, and with the rain returning, retreat to the safety and warmth of the chalet beckoned. Hannah’s delicious, freshly baked victoria sponge cake, washed down with copious cups of tea, soon revived the spirits.
The evening menu included tartiflette, good, old fashioned mountain food packed with the energy necessary to replenish tired legs. A few entertaining games later, and joined by Mary Baker Eddy, Frankenstein, Seabiscuit (!) and a chap called Charlie the Tuna, it was time for an early night in preparation for day 2.
Sunday dawned, and it seemed our luck was in once again. Although the sky was leaden, it appeared the rain had passed through during the night, and we had reasons to be hopeful. After a hearty breakfast, and a quick “team building” exercise (involving some logs and a team expertly led by Frank!), we set off at 9:30.
Day 2 was to be intentionally more strenuous, designed to push the team a little more, and experience more sustained climbing, similar to the ascents encountered on the 3 peaks.
After a couple of hours gentle walking, we found ourselves once again, at the foot of Brokeback Mountain. Team spirits sank, mutiny was on the cards, and Chris became the most hated man on earth. But nobody said bootcamp would be easy! However, as is often the case, it’s never as bad as the first time, and with gentle encouragement, the team made it to the top, this time without any sprinting heroics! And I reckon if they returned to the Alps, they’d want to do it again!
Dropping down to 900 metres, and bolstered by the arrival of Hannah and Skye, the main climb of the day began. A steep path snaked through the emerald forests up to the hamlet of Montivon, and ascended some 400 metres (about 1400 feet), where a lunch stop awaited. Everyone climbed at their own pace, stopping regularly to let their team members join them. This will be an important element in the 3 Peaks Challenge, a endurance event as hard mentally as it is physically. It’s essential that the weaker members of any team are supported and encouraged by their stronger and fitter colleagues, so they don’t feel as if they are climbing alone.
Steep climb to Montivon
After a leisurely lunch and a refill of bottles from the regular water fountains (a luxury that won’t be encountered on the hills of Britain), we recommenced climbing.
Reaching an altitude of 1530 metres, higher than any hill in the UK, we decided to descend back to the chalet. A few team members tried out walking poles. All agreed they played a very useful role, especially for the long descents.
More cups of steaming tea, Hannah’s delicious and nutritious banana cake, an early pasta supper, and it was time for the team to return to the UK. One can achieve a lot less in 30 hours. I have no doubt that with a little more training, this team can complete the 3 Peaks Challenge with aplomb. They showed a good base level of fitness, excellent mental fortitude, a willingness to help each other out with encouragement when the going got tough, and most importantly, a more than liberal sprinkling of good humour.
And we ended up with a happy but very pooped pup.
In terms of numbers, on Sunday we ascended from the valley at 900 metres to 1530 metres, a vertical distance of 630 metres. Add the 150 metres of vertical for Brokeback Mountain, plus about 200 metres of additional climbing during the day, and we reach a total of 980 metres. For climbing Snowdon, the team will have to ascend from the Pen-y-Pass car park at 360 metres to the summit of Snowdon at 1085 metres, a vertical of 725 metres. Ben Nevis has a vertical distance from the visitor centre of over 1300 metres. And for Scafell Pike from Wasdale, about 900 metres.
Well done to the team from Esdevium for a magnificent effort, it was a pleasure to spend time with you all. Good luck in July, I know you’ll be fine. I hope the weather is as kind as it was the last couple of days!
The team at Esdevium Games will be participating in the 3 Peaks Challenge on 6th & 7th July 2012, and raising money for the Toy Trust’s Malawi Orphanage charity.
Please feel free to contact us for more information about alpine training weekends, for walking, mountain biking or road biking.