How to Complete the National 3 Peaks Challenge in 24 Hours

National 3 Peaks Challenge
Dek, pictured on our descent from Scafell Pike summit

As I type this, it’s a week on from our National 3 Peaks Challenge. This time last week we were en route from Ben Nevis to Scafell Pike in Bumper. The National Three Peaks Challenge was harder than I expected and I think I’m still feeling some of the effects from it…or it could just be work, who knows! Ha! I did the National Three Peaks Challenge to raise money for Kirkwood Hospice. If you’d like to know why or donate, please click HERE. To find out more about the challenge, read on!

What is the National 3 Peaks Challenge?

The National 3 Peaks Challenge is a hike over the three highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales. This includes a 23-mile walk, including 3064m of ascent over the three mountains, along with a 462-mile drive in between…all to be completed within 24 hours! That’s the official line, anyway. The route we took totalled 22.5 miles, but it might be slightly longer if you take alternative routes.

What are the National 3 Peak Mountains?

The three mountains of the National Three Peaks Challenges and their heights are:

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Scotland (and the UK!) at 1345 metres. The elevation gain from the Visitor Centre car park is 1312 metres.

The dramatic views from the trail up Ben Nevis

Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England at 978 metres. The elevation gain is 898 from Wasdale car park.

Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales at 1085 metres. Elevation gain on Pyg Track is 735 metres from the JustPark car park and 965 metres on Llanberis Path.

For those who don’t know, elevation gain is the altitude you will climb from the start point.

You might think Scafell Pike is the easiest of the mountains to climb because it’s the shortest, but I don’t think it is. It’s tough! It’s steep and unpleasant. Ha! So be prepared – it’s not a walk in the park either.

How Hard is the National 3 Peaks Challenge?

The short answer is ‘hard’. It’s a long way to walk, the terrain is difficult in parts and you’ll be knackered when you’re walking in the early hours after not having much sleep on the road. But don’t let that put you off! Ha! It could have been easier but I’ll explain a bit more about that later in the post. We completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge as a trial run a few weeks previously. The walking distances are similar, but it’s all in one go, so we thought it might be a fair judge of how we’d feel on the National 3 Peaks.

It’s impossible to completely compare the two, but it was as close as we were going to get. Everyone we spoke to about the National 3 Peaks Challenge said it was easier than the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, but having completed both, I doubt their judgment! It is easier in some respects, but I don’t think it’s easier on the whole. But after all, it’s just one foot in front of the other a few thousand times, no?

Not only is it a long distance to walk, but there is a lot of ascents to climb, unpredictable weather to contend with and a very late night or very early morning to deal with…or both!

And if you have to ascend, that means you also have to descend. And that’s the bit that hurts! My thighs and right knee were fairly sore at the very end from all the impact downhill. Maybe I’m crazy, but I would 100% rather walk up a hill than down a hill. Anyone else with me?!

The benefit to the driving is that you can dry your feet out if you have baby feet, like my walking buddy, Dek. You can also take the opportunity to change clothes and maybe even get some sleep. But that’s about the limit of the benefits.

How Long Does it Take to Complete the National 3 Peaks Challenge?

We completed the National 3 Peaks Challenge in a few minutes under 22 hours. We got stuck in a little bit of traffic southbound on the M6, around Manchester, where three lanes merged into one at some road works. We lost about 20-25 minutes in the traffic. But aside from that, we had a clear run for both legs, stopping quickly for the odd pee, driver change and a quick leg stretch to prevent seizing up!

It’s probably worth checking if there are any expected roadworks on your route. This could affect the time you need to set off, should the roadworks be between certain times, for example. The walk itself would be fairly easy to achieve within 24 hours if you had a good run of traffic. But despite that, the National 3 Peaks Challenge will still be a difficult walk.

How to complete the National 3 Peaks Challenge in 24 Hours

Below is the timeline for our National 3 Peaks Challenge. Timings rounded to make life a little easier! We chose to get a decent night of sleep and walk into the next day, as opposed to sacrificing sleep and finishing early. Even in September, we got two summits in daylight, which were Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike. Bearing in mind, we hit some traffic, so on a good run, you’d have a bit more flexibility with time on the hills.

0540 – start Ben Nevis

0940 – complete Ben Nevis (4 hours)

Drive to Scafell Pike

1610 – start Scafell Pike

1900 – complete Scafell Pike (2 hours 50 minutes)

Drive to Snowdon

1210 – start Snowdon

0340 – finish Snowdon (3 hours 30 minutes)

National 3 Peaks Challenge Route

We opted to start the National 3 Peaks Challenge in Scotland and end in Wales, tackling Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and finally Snowdon. This is because Snowdon is only a couple of hours from our home, so we could get home and not worry about having to find alternative accommodation for a second night.

The other option is to start in Wales and end in Scotland, but it’s down to personal preference. Ben Nevis is a really enjoyable walk, but I’m not sure I’d want to do it as the final hill. It’s the longest walk, the highest mountain and has the longest drive to or from it.

Below is the National 3 Peaks Challenge car park locations.

Ben Nevis

Parking for Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis was the start point for our National 3 Peaks Challenge. In terms of car parks, there are a couple of choices, but the one marked on the map is the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre and was our choice for Ben Nevis parking. It’s the closest and there are toilets, but you have to pay. Parking at the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre costs £6 for anything over four hours. Alternatively, you can park at the Forestry Scotland Braveheart Car Park. It’ll add about 1.2 miles to your round trip, but the parking is free.

Ben Nevis Visitor Centre postcode is PH33 6PF. Braveheart car park shares the same postcode but you’ll notice it on the right before you arrive at Ben Nevis Visitor Centre.

Ben Nevis Route

In terms of the route up – just follow the signs from the car park. If you struggle to follow them, just follow the hundreds of other people heading up! This route will take you up the mountain path, which was previously known as the ‘tourist trail’. It was rebranded because the ‘tourist trail’ made it sound like an easy walk. An easy walk it is not. Ha! By the time you get back to the car park, you’ll probably be glad. In total, the route is about 11 miles or so from the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre car park.

The route up is a fairly straightforward one if you have good weather. If not, it’s fairly straightforward until you get near the top. As you approach the summit, the mountain plateaus and this is where you should be aware of the steep drops to your left. A few weeks before our walk there was news of a girl falling to her death from the top, so be careful.

Feeling good at the top of the Ben Nevis

Scafell Pike

Scafell Pike Parking

There are two start points for Scafell Pike. The one marked on the map is closer. It also has toilets and a cafe, with the cafe closing at around 4 pm. There’s also a shop at the National Trust campsite, should you need any supplies. The other car park is Wasdale Head, which is a couple of minutes further down the road but adds a little bit extra to your walk. If you’re a National Trust member, I recommend the first car park.

Wasdale Car Park – CA20 1EX

Wasdale Head Car Park shares the same postcode

Scafell Pike Route

Scafell Pike is quite frankly an unpleasant walk. It’s not that long but it’s fairly steep. It’s the smallest of the three mountains of the National 3 Peaks Challenge but the least enjoyable, for me. It feels like it’s just a thrashing for 2.5 miles. You can’t really go wrong getting up Scafell Pike because the track is well beaten.

Snowdon

Snowdon Parking

If you take Pyg Track up, you can park at the JustPark car park or Pen-y-Pass. You must pre-book your parking at JustPark otherwise they won’t let you in! It’s expensive though. The minimum price is £18 for an 8-hour parking session! Thankfully, Stacey dropped us off and then drove down to Pen-y-Pass to park the van and get some kip. It’s free to park in the lay-by from 8 pm to 8 am.

The walk from Peny-y-Pass to the start of Pyg Track is over a mile, so consider how much time this is going to add. We finished the walk and had to walk back to the van. To be honest, it was pleasant walking on a proper road for a bit.

Postcode for JustPark – LL55 4NY

The location for Pen-y-Pass is marked on the map above, under the National 3 Peaks Challenge Route.

Snowdon Route

This is the bit where I tell you it could have been easier. We chose to take the Pyg Track up Snowdon. The weather forecast was good – overcast with light winds. And when we arrived, it was looking good! But about 45 minutes into our ascent, it got bad, quickly. It was the night at this point and we were armed with our head torches and super flashlights. The rain came in, followed by fog. And neither head torch nor flashlight has sufficient impact when it’s foggy! The light just illuminates the fog. Ha!

Alternatively, you can take the Llanberis Path up. It might take you slightly longer but it’s easier and you can probably gain some time based on the simplicity of the track on your way back down. We met another group who took about 2 hours and 25 minutes to get up the Llanberis Path, vs our 2 hours up the Pyg Track. We gained about ten minutes on the way back down because Pyd Track is fairly slow going.

The Pyg Track isn’t so straightforward in parts, especially when you can’t see. It’s a tough path when you can’t see it, it’s slippery in parts when wet and you can expect to be climbing up and down some of the rocks.

Dek and me, rather wet at the top of Snowdon!

National 3 Peaks Challenge Logistics

The logistics are probably where the National 3 Peaks starts to get expensive. If you require accommodation at both ends, it could start getting pricey. Thankfully, we don’t live far from Snowdon, so headed home once we were off the final mountain. To keep costs low, we had one additional person with us to help share the driving, in the form of Stacey. We put her up in a little room that cost £50 for the night while we crashed in Bumper on the street outside.

Less than £300 is what we spent on food, fuel and accommodation, which included a 974 mile round trip from the Midlands. We went to Aldi the night before the challenge started to buy food for the whole thing, except for breakfast. Not being massive breakfast people, we ate a little at the very start of Ben Nevis then smashed a McDonald’s once we got off the mountain and collected Stacey, then we hit the road, stopping only to swap drivers and pee!

There are organised walks through the threepeakschallenge.uk website that cost £349 per person. These organised trips don’t include food or travel and accommodation the night before the challenge starts. They do, however, return you to Chester after the event. So if you don’t want to sort the challenge yourself, you can end up spending a small fortune to complete it. If you can’t find support to help you or aren’t’ confident on the mountain, then this might be the best option. But if you are conscious of the cost, you can likely complete the National Three Peaks Challenge yourself, with a little bit of effort to plan it.

National 3 Peaks Challenge Kit List

You must be prepared with the right kit for your National 3 Peaks Challenge. As with our previous walks up Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Scafell Pike, and the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, I was surprised to see people in such poor choices of clothing. Clothing that was better suited to the trendy bar on a Friday night than on a trek up a few mountains! You might regret not having the right kit with you, so below is a list to get you started.

Towards the top of Ben Nevis, we passed a group of young lads, one of which was wearing a pair of Nike Trainers. We managed to fly past them on the way down. Not because we were rapid, but because his feet were in such pain from every stone digging into his feet through the soft soles of his trainers.

The Basics

Water – you will know your own body’s needs, but you will need a litre or so for each mountain, plus you can refill and rehydrate on the drives.

Food – we opted for snacks on the mountains and left main meals until the drives. Again, you will know your own needs.

Boots – Some well worn walking boots with ankle support should do you. The terrain is a mixture of road, steps, stone chipping paths, wooden walkways and fairly well-beaten tracks. You need a pair of suitable boots to manage everything – trainers are probably not the best option.

Clothing

  • Base layer – I have a merino wool base layer which is excellent. Not only is it effective, it also doesn’t stink! It’s worth spending the money on a merino wool top for something like this. There’s a good article HERE that compares merino wool and synthetic materials. The problem with wool is that it doesn’t dry quickly, so I took a spare synthetic base layer which was offensively smelly after Scafell Pike! Ha!
  • Mid layer – some kind of microfleece should be suitable, just to keep the chill off, should you need to.
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Walking trousers – I have some really lightweight walking trousers. If they get wet, they dry quickly and are super comfortable and flexible.
  • Waterproof trousers – We had time to change kit between the mountains, so opted not to take waterproof trousers, despite rain being forecast on Ben Nevis.

Torch – you will undoubtedly need some form of torch for the National 3 Peaks Challenge. We had a head torch each and small flashlights, plus spare batteries. It’s very, very unlikely you could complete the challenge in daylight unless you’ve going to run the mountains!

Phone & charger – this goes without saying in today’s world. Phone signal is poor for most of the routes, so download your maps if you choose to navigate by tech and not a map & compass, but remember – relying on a mobile phone will always carry risks, so you may want to take a map and compass.

Hat & gloves – these two go hand in hand. Even if the weather is good, it’s likely to be windy on the peaks and if you’re stopping for food or rest, you might get cold quickly.

For Comfort

Anti-chafing rub – such as Bodyglide to stop your legs chafing. No doubt this would cause you a problem if suffer a bit of chafing and don’t have any anti-chafing rub to hand.

Compeed – for the hotspots on your feet. If you’re anything like Dek and have feet like a baby, you’ll need these. Look after your feet otherwise you’ll be in a world of pain by the end!

Sun cream – if the sun is shining you’re going to regret a few hours of being baked by the sun!

Sunglasses

Other Kit Considerations

Map & compass – It would never be a bad idea to take a map and compass, even if you’ve got your phone with mapping on. Belt and braces, and all that! The weather may change and you might need a map and compass but it’s no use if you can’t read a map and don’t know how to use a compass, so find out how before you set off. We resorted to the map to plan Pyg Track when we changed routes, so it came in handy.

Spare socks – if you have sweaty feet or no waterproof boots, you might want to take spare socks to change into between mountains. And you’ll have plenty of time to change on the road!

Emergency shelter & safety blanket – you might consider this a bit of overkill, but emergencies do happen. You’re better to be looking at it than looking for it, should you need it!

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