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Typical Schedule for the National Three Peaks Challenge

Three Peaks Challenge logoRemember that the Three Peaks do not have to be done in 24 hours for them to constitute a significant and memorable challenge for those who set out to climb them!  A 36 hour schedule is a popular alternative which reduces the anti-social impact on the local communities and avoids night time mountain ascents/descents.

The majority of three peak challengers start at Ben Nevis and finish on Snowdon, but of course it can be done the other way round, which may be more convenient if you live in Scotland.

There are no hard and fast rules about when and where the challenge should start and end, its up to the individual or team to decide, i.e. summit to summit, base to final summit, base to base or even sea level to sea level.  The most popular option is to take the time from the start of the first mountain to the base of the last, but anyone who successfully completes their challenge, whatever criteria they use, will have achieved an outstanding and memorable feat.

It is almost impossible to define "average" times for climbing the mountains because it depends so much on the individuals and conditions on the day, but as a very rough guide, typical times for fit walkers taking on a three peaks challenge in summer are:-

  • Climbing and descending Ben Nevis via the Mountain Track:    5 - 6 hours

  • Driving time from Fort William to the Lake District:                      6 - 6.5 hours

  • Climbing and descending Scafell Pike from Wasdale Head:       3.5 - 4.5 hours

  • Driving time from Wasdale to Pen-y-Pass:                                  4.5 - 5 hours

  • Climbing and descending Snowdon:                                           3 - 4 hours

Fell runners may well complete the mountain routes in under half the above times! 

Record time for the National Three Peaks Challenge: if fell running was an Olympic event then a certain Joss Naylor would have been one of our greatest medal winners!  To the best of our knowledge the still unbeaten record for the fastest overall time for the national three peaks was set in 1971 when the legendary fell runner Joss Naylor from Wasdale, driven by Frank Davies, a well known and respected climber and rally driver from Ambleside, completed the three mountains from sea level to sea level in 11 hours and 56 minutes using for transport a specially prepared 3.0L Ford Capri provided by British Vita Racing.

At the age of 76 Joss was an Olympic torch bearer for the 2012 London games - London 2012.

Under modern road conditions completing the challenge in under 20 hours is exceptionally fast, and most find completing in under 24 hours to be a challenging enough target. That does not stop competitive walkers and runners from trying to achieve a fast overall time on the mountains whilst allowing a fixed time for the road segments (10 hours is the most usual time assumed).

Under winter conditions the three peaks have been tackled over three days, but it is a serious proposition because of the conditions and short day length.  It requires the ability to navigate in a "white out" and good winter mountain walking skills, which include the ability to move confidently and safely on steep snow and ice using ice axe and crampons.

The challenge has been done by teams of runners in relay and as far as we know the relay record is held by a team of 5 runners, who in 1981 completed the run from sea level to sea level in 54 hours, 39 min. and 14 seconds.

It has also been undertaken by individuals cycling between the mountains. We think it has frequently been cycled in less than four days and the fastest recent single-push time we are aware of (July 2015) is an amazing 42 hours 55 min. by three lads from Yorkshire (Dug Wilders, Spike Ambery-Smith and Andy Graham)

However in 1980, Stephen Poulton, who was a serving RAF officer at the time and a member of the RAF Cycling Association, undertook a solo three peaks ride in July of that year that went into the Guiness Book of Records (unfortunately Guiness no longer record this type of challenge), his time was 41hr 51mins from sea level at Carnarfon to sea level at Fort William. His time from the base of Snowdon (Pen y Pass) to the base of Ben Nevis (the YHA Hostel) was just 40h 51m. As far as we know this is still the current record for the cycle challenge. If you have any further info. on fast cycling, running or long distance walking National Three Peaks challenges please let us know.

Also if anyone is planning an even more unusual three peaks attempt, by swimming, sea kayak or microlight for example, please let us know about that as well. Dont forget that the classic annual Three Peaks Yacht Race takes place in June and is a big multi-disciplinary event.

In a road vehicle based challenge the driving time can be reduced by climbing Scafell Pike from Seathwaite in Borrowdale, but usually most of this potential advantage is lost because the mountain route is significantly longer and more difficult to navigate than from Wasdale Head.

Please remember the modern challenge is not a race and drivers should keep to speed limits at all times and drive carefully, especially on the narrow unfenced roads in the Lake District which are often used by sheep (and walkers) at night, the sheep being attracted by the warmth of the tarmac.  Nothing justifies risking lives on the road. Driving times quoted allow for short rest stops.   Experience has shown that the way to achieve a good overall time is by careful planning, good training and accurate navigation on and off the mountains.

For safety, organisers of large challenge events will usually impose a minimum driving time between the mountains, i.e. teams will not be allowed to start climbing until the minimum driving time has elapsed, or they may have a standard total time agreed for the driving sections (10 hours for example), irrespective of the actual time taken.

The car park at Pen-y-Pass is very popular (and expensive) and it soon becomes full most days during the summer, so you may have to use it as a drop-off point only (no waiting is allowed so drivers make sure your passengers are ready to get out and go).

If starting from Wasdale Head in the Lakes please note that the pay and display NT car park at the head of the lake (Brackenclose) which used to be locked at night in summer (from 8.30 PM to 7.30 AM) to prevent disturbance to the adjacent National Trust camp site is now being kept open 24 hours a day and new temporary loos have been installed.  Three Peaks event teams are now being encouraged to use this car park rather than 'The Green' at Wasdale Head.

For Ben Nevis, the best starting point is the large car park at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre.

When planning a challenge schedule please bear in mind the need to respect the local communities and avoid disturbance at unsocial hours.  The Institute of Fundraising Code of Conduct agreed with the major charities states that teams should not arrive or depart inhabited areas (which includes Wasdale Head and Seathwaite in the Lake District) at anti-social times. Originally this was defined as between midnight and 5 AM, but in the latest version IofF members are asked to avoid 11PM to 5AM.

Remember that many groups undertake the challenge in the summer months and the effect of the disturbance is cumulative.  Responsible behaviour now by all will ensure that the event is able to continue, allowing others to enjoy the challenge in future years.

To see our range of special maps for the challenge and ordering info see map list

For additional information about three peaks navigation see navigation problems

To go to our main National Three Peaks Challenge information pages click here