Woodbridge Vets team take on Three Peak Challenge for Charity – find out how it went…..

Woodbridge Vets team take on Three Peak Challenge for Charity – find out how it went…..

By Martin Shave, one of the Vets team taking part in the challenge …

“The first time I attempted the National Three Peaks Challenge was in 2009 on a dark and cold October day. On that occasion, the weather wasn’t friendly and ultimately we failed to complete the challenge, preferring to not risk our lives than completing a treacherous climb up Scafell Pike. Since that time, I have attempted the challenge two other times, with the best attempt, timing at 27 hours.

“The build-up to this attempt was not ideal either. The team was created from members of the Woodbridge Football Club Veterans team; a group of people who are all over 35, with the majority over 40 years old. The initial group of eight climbers, was accompanied by an experienced long distance driver and use of the football club’s minibus. As the weeks progressed and we got closer to the challenge, climbers started to drop out for various reasons: injuries, holidays, work commitments and family emergencies. At this point, we were left with three climbers and could not justify the use of the club minibus (or driver) who were needed for a 1st team match that weekend. At this point we had a decision to make, and the three of us decided to go ahead, whilst driving ourselves. As we are heading towards middle-age, all we could offer was tackling the challenge in an electric car, which added an extra hurdle in being able to make the 24 hour target.

“Picking a date in August seemed like a good idea, as it was still summer and things were quiet at work. However, two weeks before the challenge, whilst on holiday, I started to feel the very tender toe associated with gout, which I had suffered with for ten years. On arrival back in the UK, I also tested positive with Covid-19. A week before the challenge, I was left with a very sore foot and decreased lung capacity.

“However, getting sponsorship in the current climate is difficult and I really didn’t want to let the side down, so I decided to push ahead with the other guys.  We decided to raise money for two charities close to our hearts, Tom’s Trust, a children’s brain tumour charity and Prostrate Cancer UK

“Jimmy and Chris arrived to pick me up on Thursday morning, shortly after I had taken my daughter to school to pick up her GCSE results. We loaded up the electric car and headed off towards Scotland. Living in Suffolk, the distance to go was showing at just over 500 miles. With stops for charging built into the journey, we travelled for over 10 hours, swapping the driving responsibility every few hours to share the load. If you have never been to the Scottish Highlands, the scenery is outstanding, and as we arrived just before nightfall, we were able to take in some of the beautiful scenery in the Scottish twilight.

“When you take on a challenge like the National Three Peaks, you want to ensure you get a good rest the night before, but you also want to keep costs down to maximise the fundraising. The hotel we stayed in was pretty basic and neither Jimmy or Chris managed much sleep. I was also suffering from a stomach upset and was feeling a little nervous about the following two days. I don’t know if it was general anxiety or a symptom of something I ate at Wakefield Services, but the discomfort, physically and mentally was real.

“The three of us started getting ready at 6.30am and soon after we headed out to top up the electric car, before starting the climb at 8.00am. As we walked out of the hotel, an American guy called us from behind, “Are you guys going to Ben Nevis?”. This guy had taken a last minute trip with his wife to Scotland from Arizona using airmiles; the night before, he had found out that Ben Nevis was the tallest peak in the UK and decided he was going to go for a hike, leaving his wife to travel to Inverness, where he would meet her afterwards. So, he joined us to the electric charging station and the inevitable McDonalds muffin, before driving the short distance to the Ben Nevis Visitors Centre. We arrived with 25 minutes to spare, before the challenge started, so our American friend left us to prepare, while he started the ascent by himself.

“I’m not sure whether you have tackled Ben Nevis before, but it is quite a consistent and intense climb. The only way I could describe it, is that it is like walking up a staircase, non-stop for three hours. Some of the steps are small, some are large and you really have to push yourself up. Ben Nevis has a well bedded in path and there is no chance of getting lost or going off the trail. Add to this the sheer volume of people on the mountain and you have a pretty simple climb. However, by half way, my breathing was challenging and although we were moving at a reasonable place, I was struggling to eat or drink at the same time as walking. This wasn’t a huge problem up the first mountain, but as energy levels dip later on, keeping up my food and drink intake will be vital.

“We managed to get up to the top of Ben Nevis in just under three hours, crossing the path of our American friend as he headed down after completing his own challenge. We were extremely lucky that the deep cloud cover on top of Ben Nevis had eased and we were able to enjoy the environment at the top before starting our journey down. We trotted for a large chunk of the descent, watching our footing carefully, as the stone path contains a majority of stones that are smaller than an average male foot. Now, after a few days, the trot down Ben Nevis has led to some serious toe and toenail damage, but at the time, we just wanted to get ahead of the target time of 5 hours. Indeed, we completed Ben Nevis in 4 hours and 45 minutes, threw our stuff in the back of the car and started our journey to the Lake District.

“The drive to Scafell Pike is a little under six hours from Fort William and we had built in a stop at Hamilton near Glasgow, where I jumped out to collect the preordered Nando’s, Chris ran into Lidl to replenish our supplies and Jimmy addressed the car charging. It was here that again my stomach started to misbehave and was causing some discomfort. We got out of Hamilton and away in reasonable time and continued the journey; however, in a challenge like this, you are forever pushing the car to (legally) get to your destination in the quickest time. This meant that the calculated range on the car was dropping quicker than we had accounted for, which caused us to divert for an extra top-up, wasting some precious time.

“We arrived at Scafell Pike around target time, if we could get up and down in four hours, we would probably be on course to make the 24 hour target. It was still daylight and we jumped out of the car and commenced the climb. Scafell Pike is about two thirds the height of Ben Nevis and a shorter path, but it is steep and intense. My breath by about 20 minutes into the climb had become very challenged. Both Jimmy and Chris are generally fitter than me anyway, but with the added complication of a recent bout of Covid, I was struggling. Jimmy and Chris were patient, as we trudged up the steep incline. Every step was difficult and I had to stop regularly to take on fluid and food whilst stationary. As we got half way up, the light closed in and pretty quickly we had strapped on our head torches, put on our waterproof jackets and continued the hike. Jimmy’s walking pole had given up on him and attempts to take it into position were failing.

“On occasion, we were greeted with small groups descending from the peak, all warning us of pretty horrible conditions at the top. We entered the cloud and visibility reduced to almost nothing. I cannot describe effectively enough about how bad visibility was as we reached the summit. You could see your feet, but that was almost it. The GPS watch was telling Jimmy that we were at the summit, but having been there before, I was aware that the top was marked by a 3 metre in circumference platform. We were busily looking around trying to find the platform, before realising it was less than 5 feet behind us. We had a quick photo on top of the platform and readied ourselves for the descent, when two other guys and their torches appeared over the stone ridge to join us at the summit. As Jimmy struggled to get the return journey working on the GPS, we decided to descend with our newly acquainted counterparts.

“Within seconds of leaving the top, we were lost. The GPS was still trying to kick in and with zero light, we found ourselves on an area of mountainside that wasn’t the path that we had travelled up just moments earlier. We split across the mountainside, so that we could still see each other’s lights, but enough to try to find a track. One of the other guys found the path and we manged to start our descent. Minutes later, our problems got worse; we were going down a different track to the one we had ascended, the GPS pointing us in a different direction. We made the error of traversing the bank to where the GPS was pointing. Within minutes, we found ourselves on the mountainside, with no path in either direction. The GPS seemingly pointing down a sheep track. One of the other guys started panicking, which became even worse as a massive clap of thunder sounded behind us around the summit of the mountain. Quickly, we slid down the sheep path to get as low as possible, as quickly as possible. Eventually, Google Maps came to our rescue as we were able to pinpoint our position and see the paths running adjacent to us to the left. We managed to get back to the path and continue our descent in the torrential rain, the paths looking more like rivers. As we stepped gingerly on the sodden rock steps, Jimmy fell onto his back, not helped by a working walking stick. In fairness, the stick wasn’t always a help; Chris falling at least twice and me sliding towards the foot of the mountain. By the time we got back to the car, I had never been that wet. All of my clothes, including the waterproof coat and boats were heavy and drenched. We got changed into drier clothes and this time stepped more carefully into the car, with the time now past midnight and a full hour or more over our target time.

“The drive from the Lake District to Wales was through the night and very difficult. We were sensible and did short stints at the wheel so that at least one person could get some sleep in the back of the car. I was struggling and the thought of putting all of that wet gear back on to get up Snowdon was not filling me with positive thoughts. My stomach was a problem still, my legs had gone and my breathing had been a challenge on both previous mountains. With time available likely to be a maximum of 3 hours 30 minutes, I uttered the words to the awake Chris that I may not make it up Snowdon and they would have a better chance of getting up and down in the time available.

“Snowdon was wet as well. We arrived in darkness, raining tumbling down and now with just under three hours to go. The 24 hour target had gone by this point, but my body had gone and I kept to my pledge, decided to rest whilst the other two climbed so that we could drive the 250 miles home with an element of safety.

“Jimmy and Chris ventured up the dark Miners Track of Snowdon, around the lakes. I had described the steep, climbing section of that path to them, but nothing could prepare them for what they arrived at. The climb at Snowdon is short, but it is a proper climb, a scramble, with large sheer drops. Again, like Scafell Pike, the path wasn’t obvious and the two of them went off track a few times, potentially putting themselves in some dangerous positions. Jimmy reflected after the climb that he was more nervous on Snowdon than any other mountain, which is saying something. However, they managed to complete the climb, reach the windy and wet Summit and return back to the car, just as the clock ticked over 25 and a half hours.

“The lessons and experience from this challenge were immense. If you are ever going to take on the National Three Peaks, you will rely on clear traffic. Any traffic incidents can ruin your attempt instantly. Secondly, weather and daylight are critical. If you have a clear day, where you can see the tracks of Scafell Pike and Snowdon, you will have an immediate advantage. We had wished that we had started Ben Nevis at 4 or 5pm, so that we could have tackled the long drive to the Lake District in the dark, taking on the other two mountains in daylight. To do that, you need a driver, someone who can sleep during the climbs and drive the 10/11 hours of the challenge.“

Visit the teams Just Giving page to donate >>  https://www.justgiving.com/page/woodbridgevets3peakstt

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