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Three Peaks in 24 Hours

11

June 2018

Back in October 2017 a conversation between Andy Jacomb and Ivan Lowther of Elvet Lodge in Durham City resulted in a plan being hatched to lead a group fundraising Masons to the top of the three highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales and if that wasn’t enough, just to add a little spice into the mix they thought it would be a good idea to do all of this within 24 hours!

 

With the Durham 2021 festival selected as the beneficiary of this challenge, a date chosen and an ideal number of 27 walkers signed up it was then up to the individuals to put in the hard work training and fundraising to make the challenge worthwhile and keep their efforts focused. Social media then became alive with sponsorship requests and pictures of red faced Masons at the top of various hills, it really was a joy to watch.

 

10am on Saturday 26thMay saw the group assemble at Durham Services, load their luggage and walking gear into two minibuses and a Transit van and set of for Glen Nevis the location of their first challenge, Ben Nevis.

 

After a long bus ride, the group departed Ben Nevis Visitor Centre at 5.40pm, unfortunately the centre is only a mere 45ft above sea level, they would get no head start on this one!

 

Crossing the River Nevis by the footbridge, the path soon ascended steeply, and in the very hot conditions frequent stops were essential, and the party soon spread out into small groups and individuals.  The path has recently benefitted from much remediation work to repair the erosion caused by high numbers of visitors, so that it now resembles a large rocky staircase. Passing below Loch Meall an t-Suiche, a clear mountain torrent emerged from beneath a mini-glacier, remnant of the winter snow cap, and the opportunity to refill water bottles was gratefully taken!  The path then levelled out a little, but it didn’t last; this is merely the warm-up to the ‘Five Fingers’ – a seemingly unending zig-zag heading relentlessly upwards to the summit dome.  With the summit almost in sight, the path was obliterated by a steep slippery snow field, more like a ski slope than a trail!  Reaching the summit plateau, a huge snow cornice overhung a sheer drop on the left, with a jagged boulder field on the right; the summit cairn and refuge hut just 100 yards ahead over flat terrain.  At 1347m (4400ft), the temperature was chilly to say the least, so a quick scamper up to the trig point, refuel on chocolate bars, admire the amazing view, then head back down.  Most of those who made the summit did so within 2-3 hours of starting out.   The journey back downhill is often dreaded by many, as, despite assistance from gravity, the constant strain and jarring takes its toll on the knees.  The refurbished path definitely helped with the descent, as there were fewer areas of skiddy scree and stones to be wary of, and a firmer footing was appreciated.  As the day closed, and the light started to fade, our intrepid party returned to the car park and the welcome sight of the minibuses.  Not quite so welcome were the dense swarms of the dreaded Sabre-Toothed Midge, which hastened their retreat into the vehicles.

 

The party then drove through the night from Glen Nevis down and across to West Cumbria, reaching Wasdale Head for challenge number two, Scafell Pike!

 

Again, the weather was beautiful, but a stiff breeze was whipping up waves on the dark surface of Wast Water.  As with Ben Nevis, the path does not go far before it rises steeply, but again the trail has been reinforced and made good and the walking, for a while, was not difficult.  Heading up Lingmell Gill, the trail divides, the right-hand fork going up the near-vertical ‘Scramble Route’, the left taking a less perpendicular approach via Lingmell Col to the summit.  Those who chose the Scramble Route elected not to descend that way!  After the fork, the left branch continued to climb, the track becoming more steep and rocky, and several of the party reported being physically blown backwards by gusts of wind.  Ascent times were typically 1h50 to 2h20, reflecting Scafell Pike’s lower summit at 977m compared to Ben Nevis’ 1347m.  On the summit they met several other people, including a couple of wiry fell-runners who had already summited 3 and 5 times respectively that morning!  A few minutes were taken to admire the fine views; Wast Water, Sellafield and the Irish Sea to the West, Derwentwater and Cross Fell to the North, to name but a few. As before, the descent was achieved much quicker than the ascent, and by 11am the party were leaving Wasdale en route to Snowdonia – or so we thought!  Wasdale on a Bank holiday weekend is a traffic magnet, and the single-track road was passable only with the greatest of difficulty against the incessant stream of opposing traffic.  Nonetheless, and with some patient traffic management they escaped onto the A-roads of South Cumbria.

 

 

With two down and one to g it was time for Snowdon. The group had enjoyed two glorious ascents and their suntans were coming on nicely, but it couldn’t last.  Reports of thunder and lightning in Wales cast their own pall over the group, but despite considering abandoning the final climb, it was agreed that they would press on.  Rain greeted them in Llanberis, with clouds obscuring the mountain tops. Nonetheless, some of them set off walking from the railway bridge and headed up the road to the Llanberis Track, whilst some of the more eager participants were driven through the Llanberis Pass to the other, harder, steeper trail known as the Pyg Track.  The Llanberis Track follows the railway, with a much gentler gradient and even a café along the way.  The intermittent rain and humid conditions made for uncomfortable walking, and the thunder and lightning playing over the mountain tops to the West were unsettling to say the least.  At 720m the Llanberis Track reaches Clogwyn station and becomes steeper. A rescue helicopter hovered nearby, and some of the walkers wondered if they had a spare seat.  The temperature dropped sharply as cold winds from the north crested the ridge.  The cloud base also lost the will to fly and they were soon enveloped in a cold, wet wispy mist. At this point some of the walkers decided to follow the rail track to take advantage of the shallower gradient, as no trains were running.  This part felt the longest as every minute they expected to arrive at the summit, which seemed to simply recede into the clouds.  Eventually they reached what was probably the summit dome, and a set of granite steps led upwards (and upwards) to….  The summit cairn!  With more relief than joy, hands were placed on the trig point at 1085m, signifying the summiting of the three peaks within 24 hours.  Sadly, there was no spectacular view to reward their efforts, they were not tempted to linger and were soon making their descent.

 

Returning to the car park, they discovered that one of the minibuses had broken down (Sunday evening, Bank holiday weekend).  A pair of taxis were parked by the vans, courtesy of the AA, but some of the walkers had a stark choice to make; either take the taxi to the hotel and find their own way back home in the morning, or take the taxi back to Durham Services, right there and then!

 

What an amazing achievement by all 27 walkers including two non-masons who were more than happy to raise money for our very worthy Festival.

 

Big thanks must go to Ivan Crowther for organising the event, Johnathan Cubello for generously supplying the minibuses and support van and organising the routes and walking times, John Henry for organising the kit, David Turnbull for organising the driving routes, Mark Pinkey for supplying us with a fabulous blog (on which a lot of this article is written) and last but not least the support drivers including our Provincial Secretary, Tom Gittins (who said he would have climbed the peaks, but he had a bad knee!)

 

With life memories gained and real sense of achievement in the bag the fact that this challenge raised just short of £20,000 for the Durham 2021 Festival is absolutely amazing. Well done to everyone who took part in whatever shape or form, we salute you!

 

To view some of the pictures taken on the challenge click here

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