Considered one of Britain’s toughest outdoor challenges with a total height of almost 3,000 miles, the Three Peaks Challenge involves climbing the three highest peaks in England, Wales and Scotland with spectacular views over the 26-mile trek.
This trek requires a good level of fitness and determination, and it is a very popular challenge for many charities raising money though sponsorship.
The three mountains are:
Snowdon, in Wales
Scafell Pike, in England
Ben Nevis, in Scotland
A popular misconception is that the three mountains that form the challenge are the three tallest on the British mainland.
Rather, they are the tallest mountains within each representative country:
Scafell Pike is the tallest in England; Snowdon, the tallest in Wales and Ben Nevis the tallest in Scotland — over one hundred peaks in Scotland are higher than Scafell Pike, and 56 higher than Snowdon.
Affectionately known as 'The Ben' and the highest of the three peaks at 1345 metres (4413 feet), Ben Nevis is located at the western end of the Grampian Mountains in the Lochaber area of Scotland, close to the town of Fort William.
The name, 'Ben Nevis,' is from the Gaelic, 'Beinn Nibheis.' While 'beinn' is a common Gaelic word for 'mountain' the word 'nibheis' is understood to have several meanings and is commonly translated as 'malicious' or 'venomous' therefore giving the meaning of 'Venomous (or malicious) mountain.'
Another interpretation of the name Ben Nevis, is that it derives from beinn nèamh-bhathais, from the word nèamh meaning 'heavens (or clouds)' and bathais meaning 'top of a man's head.' This would therefore translate literally as, 'the mountain with its head in the clouds' although this is sometimes also given as the more poetic, 'mountain of heaven.'
Unlike Snowdon and Scafell Pike, the path to Ben Nevis starts close to sea level, meaning much greater vertical ascent.
The summit, which is the collapsed dome of an ancient volcano, features the ruins of an observatory which was continuously staffed between 1883 and 1904.
Ben Nevis attracts an estimated 125,000 complete and a further 100,000 partial ascents per year, most of which are made by walkers using the well-constructed Mountain Track (Pony Track) from Glen Nevis on the south side of the mountain.
For climbers and mountaineers the main attraction lies in the 600-metre (2,000 ft) high cliffs of the north face.
Ben Nevis carpark postcode
The postcode for the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre car park is PH33 6ST. Parking here is £3 for cars, and £10 for minibuses and coaches.
Train travel to Ben Nevis is very straight forward. The local station is Fort William, with a sleeper train available from the south, arriving at 9.54am.
Ben Nevis route
A single path runs up Ben Nevis, from Glen Nevis, which can be followed from either Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, or the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre. Early on the two paths join, and then continue to a Loch - Lochan Meall an t-Siudhe. From this half way point, the path follows a zigzag pattern to the peak.
Popularly known as The Pony Track, this route is 10.5 miles long, 17km, up and down, and includes 1352 metres of ascent.
Standing tall over the village of Llanberis, Snowdon is a part of a close-knit family of jagged peaks and can offer exceptional beautiful views of Snowdonia, Anglesey, Pembrokeshire and Ireland.
Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa in Welsh) is the highest mountain in Wales and, at an altitude of 1,085 metres (3,560 ft) above sea level, and the highest point in the British Isles outside Scotland. It is located in Snowdonia National Park in North Wales and has is commonly been described as 'the busiest mountain in Britain'.
It is designated as a national nature reserve for its rare flora and fauna, and it is one of the UK’s most popular destinations for hiking and outdoor holidays.
Interesting Things About Snowdon:
- This mountain was used by Edmund Hillary when he was training for his Mount Everest expedition.
- The rare Snowdon Lily grows on its slopes.
- According to Welsh folklore, the giant, Rhitta Gawr, is buried on the summit of Snowdon. Rhitta Gawr was killed by King Arthur.
Snowdon carpark postcode
The postcode for the Pen y Pass car park at Snowdon is LL55 4NY. Parking here costs £10 all day, or £4 for 4 hours.
On Saturdays from Easter Saturday to the end of October, the Snowdon Sherpa Bus Service operates regularly between Nant Peris and Llanberis, taking walkers to the Pen y Pass car park, for £1.50.
Travelling home from Snowdon is best done by train from Bangor, which has good connections to the north and south via the West Midlands.
Snowdon boasts some of the best views in Britain and the summit can be reached by a number of well-known paths.
The summit can also be reached on the Snowdon Mountain Railway, a rack and pinion railway opened in 1896 which carries passengers the 4.7 miles (7.6 km) from Llanberis to the summit station.
Llanberis Path is the longest and most gradual of the six main paths to the summit of Snowdon. It offers fantastic views of Cwm Brwynog, Llanberis and over the Menai straights towards Anglesey. This is the most popular path amongst leisurely walkers as it is thought to be the easiest to walk in mild weather. But, in winter, the highest slopes of the path can become very dangerous.
Rhyd Duu Path
This path up Snowdon is the quietest of the six main routes to the summit, and the one that offers the most striking mountain scenery, especially towards Moel Hebog and the hills of Nantlle.
The path climbs gradually up to, and around the slopes of Moel Cynghorion to Bwlch Cwm Brwynog. It then climbs steeply over the shoulder above Clogwyn Du’r Arddu before merging with the Llanberis path, and then the Pyg and Miners’ tracks at Bwlch Glas, and then on to the summit.
This is the most rugged and challenging of the six paths up Snowdon, which leads along the foothills of Crib Goch. The route up Crib Goch and along the ridge is extremely dangerous and should not be attempted by novice walkers.
The path starts off wide and even, climbing gradually passed Llyn Teyrn to Llyn Llydaw, where the ruins of the old copper mine can be seen. From here, the path climbs steeply to Llyn Glaslyn, where it becomes a hard climb over scree towards the intersection of the Miners’ and the Pyg Tracks. The path then zigzags up to Bwlch Glas, and then on to the summit.
This is thought to be one of the most hard going paths up Snowdon, as it starts only a little above sea level. The path starts off wide and quite even, but becomes rocky towards the second half, and then crosses loose scree before leading up to the summit.
Scafell Pike, 978 metres (3,209 feet), is not only England's highest mountain but arguably one of the most stunning because of its remote location and breathtaking views. On a clear day, you can see Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and the Isle of Man.
It is located in the Lake District National Park, in Cumbria, and is part of the Southern Fells.
The quickest way up to the summit of Scafell Pike is the Wasdale Head route and this takes around 2-3 hours.
Confusingly, right next to Scafell Pike is a peak called Sca Fell. This is nearly as high as Scafell Pike (and from some angles looks to bigger).
Nobody knows who was the first person to reach the summit of Scafell Pike.
Scafell Pike carpark postcode
The postcode for Wasdale Head is CA20 1EX.
There are temporary toilet facilities at Lake Head car park and also at Wasdale Head Village Green, but these are very basic.
Scafell Pike routes
Two usual routes are available for walking Scafell Pike, from Wasdale Head and Seathwaite. Longer routes are available from Langdale and Eskdale.
Route from Wasdale Head
For the Wasdale Head route, park at the Lake Head car park. This is to minimise the impact on the local community.
From the Wasdale Head car park, follow the road to the footpath, and follow this over a footbridge and onwards to Lingmell Gill. Here, bear to the left, heading uphill before crossing the river and passing Brown Tongue, and continuing to the peak of Scafell Pike.
The Wasdale Head route is six miles long, up and down, and includes 989 metres of ascent.
Route from Seathwaite
From the parking, walk through the farm, over Stockley Bridge, to Styhead Gill. From Sty Head, continue to Corridor Route to Lnigmell Col, and on to the peak of Scafell Pike.
The Seathwaite route is 9.5 miles long, up and down, and includes 996 metres of ascent.
Both routes can be seen below, with Seathwaite in the North, and Wasdale Head in the West.
How to take part in the Three Peaks Challenge
You can take part in the Challenge in two ways — as a self-organised or a professionally organised event. Self-organised events are often the cheapest way to take part, while many groups will benefit from the assistance provided by professional mountain guides.
If you’re organizing your own challenge you MUST ensure that at least one of your team is capable of navigating with a map and compass in mist, rain and darkness.
All paths and routes up have their risks and dangers. These risks are increased during poor conditions (such as wet weather or poor visibility). In winter, straightforward paths can be come treacherous. If you are considering taking the challenge, then preparation is the key.
3 peaks in 3 days
Many people taking the challenge for charity events aimed to complete it within 24 hours. But there has been criticism regarding the impact that 24 Hour National 3 Peak challenges were having on the local areas and the negative impacts on local communities. Therefore it is now encouraged to take the challenge in 3 days, making it more sustainable and more enjoyable.
There has also been some controversy about the environmental impact of the Three Peaks Challenge. In an editorial in the British Mountaineering Council's Summit magazine, Jill Hudson argues that the Three Peaks Challenge should be shunned as it costs charities more to clean up after participants than they raise by taking part. Please take these into consideration:
- Do not park in passing places, Mountain rescue access points, private tracks or gateways, roadside verges or on the village green – this leads to serious problems of access, litter, fouling and noise for residents and visitors.
- Toilet facilities in the valley are limited - use alternative toilet facilities before you arrive.
- Litter - Simple, take it home!
- Prior to taking the challenge, please check the weather conditions.
- Know your routes and plan your journey
The Three Peaks shouldn’t be attempted before the end of April or after mid-October as Ben Nevis is normally in full winter conditions during this period. It is also advise to avoid weekends around mid- June, as the infrastructure at Glen Nevis, Wasdale Head and Pen y Pass haven’t been able to cope with sheer numbers in recent years.
This iconic British walking challenge has become the UK's most popular mountain challenge event and many groups raise thousands of pounds for charity, an excellent achievement indeed.
But nearly everyone who take on the challenge says they wish they had spent more time in each place, had longer to look at the scene, to take their time and explore more of the mountains.
If you want to attempt the Three Peaks Challenge, make sure you do it responsibly and with consideration for the environment.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.