1 September 2008 by Pete Mathers
Wexas STAFF TAKE ON BRITAIN’S HIGHEST MOUNTAINS AND RAISE OVER £2,000 FOR THE Wexas TRAVEL FOUNDATION. PETE MATHERS WALKS US THROUGH THE DAY.
On a wet weekend in August, nine Wexas staff laced up their hiking boots and headed to Fort William, Scotland, with the aim of completing the Three Peaks Challenge: getting up and down the highest hills of Scotland, England and Wales inside 24 hours – Ben Nevis (1,344m), Scafell Pike (978m) and Snowdon (1,085m) respectively.
A glance at a guidebook said expect 14 hours of walking, 27.5 miles of loose and stony paths, a combined ascent of 2,900m and ten hours of driving in an increasingly malodorous minibus.
Why would we commit to such self-inflicted suffering? Well beyond the bragability rights was the chance to raise money for the Wexas Travel Foundation and its two beneficiary charities, Cool Earth and Africa Foundation. Wexas covered the cost of fuel and transport, with the carbon emitted by the journey vastly outweighed by the amount protected through donations to Cool Earth.
As zero hour approached, the nine of us (comprising seven walkers and two drivers) were making the most of a Loch Linnhe cruise. Yet despite the distractions of seals, eagles and porpoises, it was hard to tear our eyes from the mist-covered plateau of Ben Nevis. At five p.m. we crossed the bridge beside the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel and began our ascent up the Mountain Track, a wide and well graded path built a century ago to serve the observatory that stood at the summit.
Winding up the valley of the Red Burn, the track offered wonderful views of Loch Linnhe, surrounding valleys and mountain lakes. About half way up, the repairs that marked the lower track disappeared and rough and stony zigzags swept up the face towards the summit. Every year around 100,000 people go up Ben Nevis. That no more than a handful fall into Five Finger Gulley or off the edge of the vertical North Face is frankly surprising, especially considering the cloud that nearly always covers the peak.
‘Upon the top of Nevis, blind in Mist!’ wrote Keats when he climbed it in August of 1818. We faired no better, reaching the summit in a thick and chilly fog.
The descent was a race against the failing light, one we narrowly lost, picking our way down steep and slippery steps in the dark. By the time we reached the Lake District we’d felt the full force of the Scottish midge and managed little to no sleep. To make matters worse, we slid open the minibus door to swirling mists and scenes of a Biblical deluge.
Rain stung our eyes and filled our boots from the top. Little could be seen of beautiful Wastwater Lake, nor the path up the doggedly steep spur of Brown Tongue to the normally sheltered Hollow Stones, the halfway point of the climb up Scafell Pike.
On the exposed upper sections we stopped periodically to huddle like penguins. Our muttered curses and cries of encouragement were swallowed by the wind, the ferocity of which made short work of our light summer raincoats.
Cairns marked the way across the final boulderfield to the summit stonepile. Time for a photo and a few grimaced smiles. Then about turn for an equally odious descent. Yet despite the blue lips and saturated clothing, there was a primitive pleasure to battling the elements. Back in the bus we might have felt victorious, but the wind and the rain had cost us dearly.
By the time we reached Snowdon we’d an hour and forty-five minutes in which to complete the challenge, and the weather had failed to improve.
Against appalling conditions we’d given all we could. Time to move the goal posts. Getting up and down the final mountain inside 24 hours was out of the question, but could we at least reach the top before the clock ran down? We set off at a blistering pace, aching muscles invigorated by a fresh sense of purpose. But with ten minutes left the summit cairn remained hidden in mist. Each step felt like dragging a leg through treacle. “Two minutes,” bellowed Joe. “I can see the cairn!”
Soaked to the skin and bent double against the wind, we dug deep for a final push. Outstretched fingers reached for the finish line. We looked at the clock. Fifty-five seconds to spare.
That night at our hotel in Betws-y-Coed, we eavesdropped a conversation at the neighbouring table. “No way were we going up Snowdon today. Sixty-five-mile-an-hour winds at the top. You’d have to be crazy!” Crazy we may have been, but in 26 hours and two minutes – our total by the time we’d returned to the bus – we raised £2,378.50 for the Wexas Travel Foundation, helping Cool Earth to protect vital rainforest acreage, and Africa Foundation to build new school buildings.
You too can help by donating just £1 each time you book travel with Wexas. Together, we can make a real difference to people’s lives. The Wexas Three Peaks team comprised: Pete Mathers, Joe Legate, Amit Khadka, Pieter Stander, Alison Nicolle, Rachel Mostyn, Susanne Nuttall, Sue McAlinden (driver) & Justine Egan (driver).