As I changed out of my hiking clothes next to Seathwaite Farm somewhere in the Lake District, England, I felt a great sense of accomplishment for having completed the National Three Peaks Challenge. What is that? Well, it is a challenge to hike the tallest mountains in Scotland (Ben Nevis), England (Scafell Pike), and Wales (Mount Snowdon) in under 24 hours, including the driving time. In this day of ‘participation ribbons’, I can confidently and proudly accept one for completing the challenge in around…
Ok, so I did not attempt to complete them in 24 hours. That would be ludicrous and would not give enough time in-between to stop at the pub. I did however finish two of them in about 54 hours. And that includes a couple pubs and a visit to Carnaerfon. Not really the intent of the challenge, I know.
Even with a few Welsh and English ales in me, it is hard for me to believe that the “modern” record for completing the National Three Peak Challenge is 14 hours and 36 minutes. Less than 15 hours? I guess it should not be surprising that it was accomplished by a Scottish hill runner, a guy named Bob Wiseman. I have a hard enough time jogging 5km on a flat track with the wind at my back. I cannot imagine running uphill for 22km with an elevation change of 3km on rugged mountain terrain. Each hike is estimated to take 4-5 hours for a hiker in good condition. He finished the entire trip in almost the time that the average hiker can finish just the hiking portions. The math, fitness of this dude, and skill of his driver boggles my mind. I have to imagine a few traffic violations occurred on that trip. The normal expected driving time is 10 hours. That had to take some very impressive driving on some itty bitty side-view mirror destroying rural roads. If the driver was able to shave 1 hour off the driving time, that would be 5 hours and 36 minutes to complete the three peaks. No matter how you crunch the numbers, it is ridiculously fast.
However, despite not coming anywhere close to the official record, I was happy with 211 days. Achieving Scafell Pike brought an end to a series of hikes characterized by an ongoing battle with Mother Nature. During the first two hikes, I won a few rounds with her during the the ascents or descents, but she always got the best of me at the peaks, leaving me staring into her impenetrable clouds and either freezing cold or soaking wet. And as my best friend and I were enjoying the success of our Mount Snowdon hike, we were already strategizing the Scafell Pike hike from our Airbnb cottage in Beddgelert, Wales. By all weather forecasts, it looked like Mother Nature was again going to be a formidable adversary. Our best chance was to do the hike on the same day that we were leaving Beddgelert. The Seathwaite trailhead is a 4+ hour drive from there.
- Starting Point: Seathwaite Farm
- Ending Point: Seathwaite Farm
- Distance: 15.3 km
- Time: 4 hours 6 minutes
- Eating Place: None
Find a place to park along the road leading up to the farm. Walk thru the farm, which also has a hostel, to get to the trailhead.
Follow the trail until you get to a stone bridge. After the bridge there is a split just past the stone wall. This is where the trail loops. We used the right path for the ascent.
The path will climb up to another valley. The trail was often more clear on the Komoot app than it was on the ground, but you just follow the stream until you get to the Styhead Tarn lake. Climbing past the lake gives the first glimpse of the breathtaking views.
From this vantage point, you are kind of on a shoulder. On the lake side, you can see where you came from (from the Seathwaite direction). On the other side, you can see the Wasdale Head direction. One of the other possible trailheads for hiking up Scafell Pike starts at Wasdale Head.
From this point begins the real ascent. And the summit of Scafell Pike comes into view. It’s the little tip in the top middle.
Despite the presence of ominous clouds throughout the hike, there was no rain, and better yet they stayed high enough that it was possible to see the views from the peak. At last a little compassion from Mother Nature!
Of course I brought along a beer or two for the photos. At the summit, the moderately tolerable temperature gave me a chance to enjoy a Wainwright beer, named after Alfred Wainwright, a famous British fell walker, fell being the local word for hill. He is known to have hiked 214 fells in the Lake District while authoring several guidebooks. These 214 fells are sometimes referred to as the Wainwrights. It was an honor to drink his namesake beer at the top of the highest of these fells.
With the sun starting to set, we had to begin the descent earlier than we would have liked. The scenery on the way down was some of the most ruggedly beautiful I have experienced.
I remember thinking during this hike that this was probably the most impressive hike of the Three Peaks. Ben Nevis will ultimately be my favorite because of the whisky and the fact that I just find Scotland to be such an enchanting place. But the scenery of Scafell Pike went far beyond my expectations. Even though I climbed the tallest mountain in England, it certainly felt like I had barely scratched the surface experiencing the beauty of England’s Lake District. I tried my best to channel my inner Wainwright, but this made me realize one thing.
One Wainwright down, only 213 to go.