Famous Mountain Challenges in the UK


View from Snowdon - one of the National three peaks

The National Three Peaks Challenge - scroll down for the Welsh Three Peaks +

The National Three Peaks Challenge is a demanding endurance challenge in which participants attempt to climb the highest mountains in each of Great Britain's three countries, Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scafell Pike in England and Snowdon in Wales against the clock. Often the target is to complete all three mountains from start to finish within 24 hours, not surprisingly this is called the 24 hour challenge.

The road based challenge involves approximately 10 hours of driving, hence a successful 24 hour challenge requires the walkers to be able to complete up to 14 hours of strenuous mountain walking within a 24 hour period, with two "rest" periods between the three mountains.

A Brief History of the Three Peaks Challenge:-

Great Britain's National Three Peaks Challenge has steadily grown in popularity over the years and thousands of people now undertake it every year.  The very first mention we are aware of of a Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, Snowdon summit, all within 24 hours "stunt" (it was not called a challenge in those days) was in the 1926 Journal of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club. It was written up by Charles F Hadfield. Details may be found in the famous climbing club's archive (1926 Journal, p278) published on their website at www.frcc.co.uk. In those days it was a complete novelty idea, and the real challenge was in motoring between the three mountains given the road network and cars of the day. The first attempts used Seathwaite as the starting point for Scafell Pike, we can assume that this made the drive more feasible, and no doubt the climbers of the Fell and Rock were very familiar with all the routes on the mountain.

In modern times there are various different options for undertaking this "event." The majority aim to complete the challenge within 24 hours, recording their time from the base of the first mountain to the base of the last, but there are no official rules on how it should be done, no official route, no official body overseeing the challenge and no official website. It could be said that this now very popular and diverse challenge has grown "organically" from the very grassroots of mountaineering in the UK.

In 1971 the famous fell runner, Joss Naylor from Wasdale, completed the challenge from sea level to sea level in just under 12 hours, and this is probably the fastest it will ever be done, unless someone is using a helicopter. For more details of Joss Naylor's outstanding feat (no pun intended) see our section on challenge times.

We have been involved with this mountain venture one way or another for about 25 years now and have experienced the mountains under many different conditions. There is plenty of information available about how to organise a successful and safe three peaks (not all of which is totally reliable unfortunately) and we have tried to bring together the best advice and experience on this website.

Whats involved:-

The first point to note is that the National Three Peaks Challenge is not reserved for the super fit. The walking pace required is steady and consistent rather than blisteringly fast, its an endurance event, not a sprint. It is of course a demanding physical challenge, but it is also a mental challenge and success requires careful planning and preparation.

A successful team challenge requires good organisation and involves attention to logistics, mountain and road navigation, driving abilities, communication, training, team work and group catering.  On top of that you will need the right equipment, stamina, determination and a bit of good luck!

If you are planning to have a go at the National Three Peaks Challenge visit our main challenge guide page and if you require advice please don't hesitate to give us a call.

The vital statistics of this mountain challenge are as follows:-

Ben Nevis, near Fort William, Scotland - Height: 1,345m  4,411 feet

Scafell Pike, Western Lake District, Cumbria, England - Height: 978m  3,210 feet

Snowdon, near Llanberis North Wales - Height: 1,085m  3,560 feet

Road mileage: 450 - 500 miles

Total ascent and descent: 2,900m  9,800 feet

Distance to be walked:  Approx. 44 km  27 miles

In summer people often attempt to complete the challenge in under 24 hours, but there is no reason why it should not be done over a slightly longer period (36 hours is now a popular option) for a more enjoyable adventure which does not require being on a mountain at night or the early hours of the morning with its attendant increased risk and anti-social aspects. Doing it over three consequtive days is still a strenuous challenge, but it can be more enjoyable and perhaps less anti-social.

Most teams will find completing within 24 hours a very demanding challenge even given ideal summer conditions and completing the challenge in under 20 hours is really outstanding under today's road conditions.  Even in the long days of summer a 24 hour challenge will most likely involve climbing one of the mountains (usually Scafell Pike) at least partly at night or the early hours of the morning.  This can be avoided by doing the challenge over 36 hours without really losing the key elements of the challenge. Under winter conditions it is occasionally attempted over a 3 day period by teams with appropriate experience.  For more info. about times and three peaks challenge records see challenge times.

Having the mountain walkers involved with the driving on the day in a 24 (or 36) hour challenge is a complete non-starter - challenge teams need good drivers / navigators to support the challenge and they are a very important part of the team.

Navigation issues should not be underestimated. Good weatherproof maps and a walker's compass, together with the knowledge of how to use them properly, are vital in tackling these mountains whatever the weather conditions. Safety and navigational accuracy is more important than just speed. This applies equally on the mountains and on the roads!

If you are thinking about doing the Three Peaks, or just want to see more information and related links visit our main challenge guide. Also see our Map List for a list of our special maps and guides for the challenge.

The Welsh National Three Peaks Challenge

The Welsh Three Peaks is an increasingly popular mountain expedition that encompasses three truly iconic Welsh peaks - Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons National Park - this is the highest mountain south of Snowdonia and has been made famous as a training ground for the SAS and the Ghurkhas, Cadair (Cader) Idris in the south of Snowdonia - an impressive and really outstanding mountain to climb, and one that should never be underestimated, and of course the highest mountain in England and Wales, the well known Mount Snowdon in the north of the Snowdonia National Park.

There is less driving to do than for the National Three Peaks and if people wish to do the Welsh Three Peaks as quickly as possible then they can be done in less than 15 hours and for some teams this is the target. Alternatively they can be done over two days, typically with the second day being spent on Snowdon ending with a celebration in Llanberis.

There is a variety of interesting routes that can be used to climb these mountains and Beacon Maps have produced a new set of three weatherproof laminated mountain guide-maps for the Welsh Three Peaks that cover the classic routes on these three great mountains - please see Map List for more info.

Ty-Hafan Three Peaks

Beacon Maps produce a special customised set of maps for the Ty-Hafan Welsh Three Peaks challenge in association with GE. These very clear but detailed weatherproof mountain maps highlight the Ty-Hafan routes and are only available for Ty-Hafan teams. Please contact us for details.


Snowdon 500
Welsh Three Peaks

The Snowdon 500 & Welsh Three Peaks Challenge events in aid of Prostate Cancer Research Centre have been an amazing success and Beacon Maps are proud to help support these events and produce special guide-maps.  These events have raised over a million pounds so far to help fight advanced prostate cancer. The 2016 events had to be cancelled unfortunately, but they were back again this year. More info from their website.

To get involved or to get more info visit Snowdon500.


The Yorkshire Three Peaks

The well known Yorkshire Three Peaks walk in the Yorkshire Dales National Park can be completed in less than 12 hours without using road transport and hence in some ways is a "purer" challenge than the National Three Peaks. There is also an annual Three Peaks Fell Race, the record time is believed to be 2h 29min set by Jeff Norman in 1974. Even though the three Yorkshire peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough are all well below 2,500 feet some people regard completing the Yorkshire Three Peaks walk to be more challenging in some respects than the National Three Peaks 24 hour challenge.  Much of the well used Yorkshire Three Peaks route is on reasonably good paths which have been repaired or remade in recent years, but some sections are very, very boggy, especially the section from Pen-y-Ghent down to Jackdaw Hill.  Recently a new route has been created that avoids the most boggy sections - see full story.

Most walkers start and end the walk at Horton-in-Ribblesdale and the famous Pen-y-ghent Café, which is also the local information centre in the village, has for many years operated a clocking in and out system for Three Peaks walkers.  If you complete within 12 hours you will be invited to join their Three Peaks of Yorkshire Club. The café is run by the Bayes family and they have a good range of maps and guides for sale and they are a good source of helpful advice for walkers. If you ask nicely they may mark up one of the maps for you with the best (and up to date) Three Peaks route - don't forget to use a map case to protect the map from the elements.

There are several maps available for the Yorkshire Three Peaks at various scales, including one in the Harvey Superwalker series at 1:25,000. We plan to add more information and maps for the Yorkshire Three Peaks shortly.

Other UK Mountain Challenges

Our upland environment provides endless scope for devising anything from a pleasant afternoon stroll to a challenging multi-day "expedition." The National Three Peaks have been completed using cycle transport between the mountains, by relays of runners and by using only public transport. The challenge can be extended to the whole of the UK by including Slieve Donard, the highest point in Northern Ireland.  A further extension makes the challenge an "International 5 Peaks Challenge" by also including the highest mountain in the Republic of Ireland, Carrauntoohil in the MacGillycuddy's Reeks, Co. Kerry. Occasionally this is done using helicopters for transport between the mountains!  In the UK a charity called the Railway Children organises a unique Three Peaks by rail every year and there is also an annual Barmouth to Fort William Three Peaks Yacht Race held in late June.

Tryfan - one of the Welsh 15

In North Wales we have the famous Welsh 15 all over 3,000 feet, the highest being Snowdon. They are all reasonably well grouped together in northern Snowdonia which means that they can be done as one continuous walk without using any intermediate road transport.  For many years they were called the Welsh "14 Peaks" until, after a new survey, it was decided that a summit in the Carneddau deserved to given the status of a separate mountain.  Completing the Welsh 15 in 24 hours is even more physically challenging than the National Three Peaks.  There is a lot of up and down!

Snowdonia 3000 Update: The Welsh 3000 nearly became the "14 Peaks" again, but a precision survey in 2010 confirmed the iconic 3,000 feet status of Tryfan - read more

Glyder Fawr above the Ogwen Valley and not far from Tryfan has also recently been re-surveyed and found to be just over 1,000 metres, making it one of Snowdonia's five so-called "super mountains" - BBC news story.

In the English Lake District Wainwright described 214 peaks in his famous guides to the Lakeland Fells, and for top-flight long distance fell runners there is the Bob Graham Round which encompasses 42 of Lakeland's highest peaks in 24 hours.

Although perhaps not strictly a mountain challenge Wainwright has inspired many walkers by his description of a fascinating northern England coast to coast walk starting at St Bees Head on the west coast and ending at Robin Hood's Bay in the east coast to coast.

In Scotland there are 282 Munros, which are Scotland's mountains over 3,000 feet, the official Munro list gets revised periodically and the number has recently been reduced from 283. Climbing all these mountains can provide a lifetime of challenge and entertainment - Munro Society.  Recently Fell runner Stephen Pyke got into the record books by completing a round of the Munros in just 40 days!

The BMC did a article about nine different mountain challenges recently, to read it click here

If you are interested in doing the National Three Peaks Challenge or any other mountain challenge careful preparation is vital.  Have a look at our challenge information page which has the information and links that teams will require to plan and prepare for the challenge.  The information is kept up to date and is based on many years of combined experience.

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