Jun 25 2011

Walk 31: Yorkshire Three Peaks

Hull Pot

route: pen-y-ghent, whernside and ingleborough from horton-in-ribblesdale
25th june 2011
distance: 24 miles
ascent: 5,266 feet
time: 12 hrs 20 mins (Sandra & Simon), 12hrs 55 mins (Dave, Graham & Leanne)
walkers: Dave, Graham, Leanne, Sandra & Simon

Walking is meant to be enjoyable, today however, I had the impression that it was going to be anything but enjoyable. Let’s get one thing out in the open right from the start, I had done the three peaks before, many years ago when I was younger and fitter. I have tried on a few occasions since and always given up for one reason or another (none of which I care to go into), so today it was about completion for me. For the others it may have been a different reason for doing it. G and Beaky had done it numerous times as I arrange a sponsored event every couple of years. L’Autobus would be looking to finish for the first time as they had both attempted it before, with Ramblo stopping after PYG and Wu Tang stopping at the same point on her first attempt and on her second it was after Whernside. I knew that they wanted to do it as much as I wanted to do it again, to prove to yourself that you can push on when things get tough as they would undoubtedly do later in the day. Having said that, over the last 17 months we had been walking a lot more often than we ever had before. That wasn’t hard though as our walking used to consist of the aforementioned sponsored walk every two or three years.

There was an expectation this time, or at least I had one even if nobody else did. The formation of the Rambling Badgers has meant that maybe I am fitter now than I was the last time I completed the walk, in a walking fitness sense at least. We would see in roughly twelve hours whether that would prove to be true but as the clock ticked to 7am we posted our details through the letter box in the cafe our walk had officially begun. We weren’t the first to set off, far from it as tens of people could be seen strolling down the road and into the distance. It always makes me chuckle inside to think of those who have no clue what they are letting themselves in for. Sure it starts off pleasant as you walk past the church and round to Brackenbottom but within 15 minutes of starting you are thrown into the first climb. On a day like today you couldn’t even see the mountain you are aiming for which probably helps but does mean that the day is a misty and wet one and it sure was. Pen y ghent is my most climbed hill ever and I feel like I know it pretty well. I didn’t need to be able to see in front of me to visualise where we were and what was to come. One thing I didn’t expect was a guy hunched over throwing up only a few hundred yards into the climb. I can’t believe for one minute this was to do with him being unfit, in fact he along with the rest of his group looked pretty athletic so I am sure it can only be put down to a few too many beers the night before. It wasn’t a perfect start to the day for him but we made pretty good progress and we reached the gate that leads you to the Pennine Way with the minimum of fuss. The climb from here is steeper and involves a couple of little scrambles but we negotiated those and followed the path as it levelled out near the summit, which we reached after 1 hour and 20 mins. Not world record pace but not too shabby either. We had made a decision at the start that the usual relaxing trig point experience with numerous pictures and snacks would be replaced with a more refined version. This involved a picture of the team followed by a quick video then we would be off. There would be plenty of stops and rests along the way but we were keen to keep moving and not leave ourselves too much to do later on it the day.

We left the hoards at the top and tried to steal a march on them to no avail. The walk is simply too popular and on any Saturday during the summer months there will be hundreds of people walking for all sort of charities. On top of that you have the “idiots” who are doing it just for a bit of fun, but maybe that number totalled just five, us five! The wind seemed stronger as we walked along the shoulder of Pen y Ghent before we reached a point we needed to make a decision. The Pennine Way (towards Horton) dropped away to our left but the three peaks route continues on and although it’s not really a footpath the sheer number of walkers mean the route is obvious. The reason for our deliberation was the two bogs that lay ahead. Black Dub Moss and Red Moss are boggy on a good day, but it had been raining all week according to the weather (and for a while before that) and I thought I may have a route around. It would mean walking an extra mile or so but I wanted to see what the team wanted to do. We decided to not go the traditional route and instead head back towards Horton although we weren’t the only ones doing this. I wasn’t sure if the people we were following actually knew what they were doing or just thought the path should be followed and hadn’t realised they should have gone straight on a little higher up.

Further down the path we left the Pennine Way and headed to Hull Pot. I had been here only twice before and was impressed by the size and scale of it. As far as sink holes go it is pretty big and before we reached it we could hear the water thundering over the edge. My previous visits had both been when Hull Pot Beck had been dry and therefore nothing was flowing into it. Today however it was different and we stopped for five minutes to watch the water as it disappeared below.

I put my camera back into my lunch box where it was staying to keep it dry and we headed off once more. Like sheep we followed the people in front without knowing where they were going but I knew it was the right direction to rejoin the route. The bog avoiding idea was shelved and we soon joined up with the main route but the trip to Hull Pot did mean we didn’t have to find a way across the beck. We slotted in to the steady stream of walkers and chatted with people for a while before they inch ahead or you leave them behind. On the whole everybody is friendly and approachable although the odd one or two don’t seem to want to do anything but walk, head down and avoid human contact. Each to their own I guess. Myself and Wu Tang got chatting with a young woman who was doing the walk for Macmillan Cancer Support and had a friend walking with her. Their group totalled about fifteen but those two had been left behind and were trying to work out how far through they were. She asked him if he thought they had done about 8 miles so it wouldn’t have been good news when I checked my GPS and told them it was only 5. They asked us a few questions and it became clear they fell into the category of haven’t a clue what they were letting themselves in for, especially when they said they set off at 6am. That was a full hour before us and we had caught them already even though we are no speedsters. We continued to chat to them on and off as our paths crossed. We would pause for a drink and they would go ahead but we would catch and pass them before pausing again. We arrived at the boggy section together and along with many others began to plot our way through the carnage. It is wrong of me to in any way compare this walk to the First World War because that was clearly a horrendous experience for all those who were there, but in a very, very very, very very, very very, very very, very very, very small way this area is my Somme. People were struggling across large areas of thick mud and trying their best not to sink. All around you could hear the moans and groans of those who were trying to get to the other side in a reasonable state. From time to time you would hear a cry from someone who had gone in but you couldn’t turn to see how far, you simply had to keep plotting your own path across.

Fortunately we all made it safely through that horrible section of the walk without much drama. I went in the furthest, to my shin but it wasn’t anything too bad. My feet were already soaked so a bit of bog down my boot wasn’t going to make much difference as we walked over the rolling hills trying to stay off the slippery sections form by hundreds of walkers over the previous weeks. A bit further on the terrain changes for the better with the squelchy heather covered moorlands being replaced by short lush grass which is perfect for walking on as it cushions the feet.

After the short grass is replaced by farm tracks we continued on making reasonable progress along with many others walkers who seemed to moving at our pace. The odd ones came through and went away from us and a couple were passed and dropped by us but most were moving at roughly the same speed. We crossed the River Ribble and walked through a small farm before we came out onto the B6479 which we followed for a mile or so before reaching the Ribblehead Viaduct and technically ending the first peak. This section had seen us walk 9.4 miles in just over 4 hours. It wasn’t the fastest time ever but then the record for the annual race is about 2 hours 35 minutes for the entire distance so we weren’t going to. The main thing was if we allocated 4 hours per peak we could complete in under twelve hours and that is the time to be broken by anyone wishing to join the Three Peaks Club. We were just behind on time but the first is the longest of the peaks so really we were looking good and after a short rest of 15 minutes or so we set off for the highest point in Yorkshire.

Myself and Wu Tang had climbed Whernside the previous week and had done the round trip in just over three hours so I knew we could build a little cushion for the last peak when we had tired limbs. As we set off alongside the Settle to Carlisle railway line we saw a train of about eight carriages come past us with people hanging out of the windows taking pictures and dozens of people waving as they rolled by and into the Blea Moor tunnel. I walked alongside G and were chatting with two lads from Sheffield who were doing the walk for the first time. Behind us Beaky was bridging the gap from L’Autobus to us and things were all under control. The aquaduct that carry water over the railway lines seemed to be the point at which things changed. Before that all had been good (apart from the weather which rained non stop), after this point came the struggles. I like to watch the Tour De France each year and absolutely love the mountain stages as one by one, people drop off the back of the peleton before the elite riders do battle. This was how the name L’Autobus came about as the sprinters often form a “bus” as they try and help each other over the high mountain passes. On a walk like this there were similarities as the first peak we did together but as we reach the beginning of the climb up to Whernside, Ramblo started to struggle. Myself, Wu Tang and G walked with her as we made progress along the purpose built path. Beaky had long since disappeared as he does on the climbs and would undoubtedly win the polka dot jersey if we dished one out. The progress was fairly slow but at least we were making progress and that is the key to things like this, stopping for ages to recover doesn’t get you anywhere fast, so I was happy enough we were going forward. We couldn’t see more than 50 yards in front of our faces so we simply had to concentrate on the small section ahead. Wu Tang and then G didn’t realise we had stopped and vanished into the mist. I have been here before and had to turn back so I was happy to keep trying to encourage Ramblo and slowly but surely we made the ridge that runs along the top. As I told her that the last little climb in front of us was the last before a longish flat ridge a woman walking alongside us said that was the best news she had ever had. About ten minutes later we had re-joined the others who were hiding from the strong wind behind the wall that runs along the top and we had reached the summit of peak two.

As we set off on the descent the hypothetical stopwatch was 6 hours 40 mins and whilst we were behind the time I had predicted before we climbed Whernside I still thought we could beat the twelve hour limit and in a small rallying call to the others suggested as much. We followed the ridge as it dropped gradually away from the summit trig before it turns south east and drops more steeply. Wu Tang isn’t too keen on these types of paths and as such I told her just to take her time and not worry about anything other than getting down safely. Sherpa G-String, Beaky & Ramblo waited for us a little further down the path as it levelled out and we set off as a group once again. We passed by the little farm stall selling pints of orange squash for a pound without stopping as we were carrying enough liquid in our bags. Not only that but all we had to do to hydrate was open our mouths and tilt our head back and we would be fine. The drizzle continued to come down as we reached the end of the farm lane and back out onto the road. We stopped for a few minutes to have a drink and I dished out my Jelly Babies once more. These had been quite a discovery, after I read in one of my walking magazines that they are good for energy boosts. As we ready to set off once again a woman who was waiting for her group of walkers to come by offered us a cup of tea which we all politely declined. I am not one for hot drinks anyway but everyone wanted to get going rather than wait any longer.

Considering the distance we had walked and the climbing we had done to reach this point I felt good and ready to go on. I had it in my mind before setting off that reaching the end of Whernside / beginning of Ingleborough would be within everyone’s limits. From here on it was an unknown for us in terms of distance we had walked in one day so we were about to find out if we could cope as we passed the Hill Inn on our right and took the gated stile into the field behind it. A small group behind us were deliberating if this was the correct route and I told them this was the route we had taken in the past. The guy was happy to go with “local knowledge” over the map although I made it clear I didn’t want holding responsible should it be wrong. I need not have worried because within 100 yards the path on the map came in from our left to meet us. I would say we saved about 300 yards going our way but it was still shorter and therefore less work for the legs. It had been a good number of years since I had got to this stage of the walk so the surrounding areas all seemed pretty new to me as we snaked between Southerscales scars and the wonderful Limestone scars. A little further on we passed Braithwaite Wife Hole which I couldn’t recall seeing on my previous visits. It is certainly something I won’t forget though as it is a pretty large shakehole only yards to the left of the path. Minutes later we reached a gate in the wall to our left and went though it and joined a purpose built stone path way. I dread to think how difficult this would be without this path in place. Water was running down the stones and either side of the path was a squelchy, boggy nightmare should anyone leave the path. We certainly didn’t as we made our way slowly upwards, pausing from time to time as Ramblo’s legs began to tire once again. As I have said numerous times before this is never an issue and she made it clear that she was happy for those capable to go on and she would see us at the top. Seconds later we had all buggered off leaving her all on her own as the pub was calling and we didn’t want to be hanging around. Don’t worry, we didn’t nor would never do such a thing. The Rambling badgers are all about team and we made our way onwards as a team. After a while myself and Wu Tang joined G in pushing on a little but we were always conscious on not getting too far in front. We reached the wall at the bottom of the steep zig zag section and regrouped for one final push to the summit. This section is pretty tough on the legs after roughly 19 miles of walking but others were finding it tough too as they stopped and moved to the side of the path letting us come through. Towards the very top of this path as anyone who has been here will know, is a small scramble for the last few feet and as myself and Wu Tang waited for the other three I received a phone call from a guy from work. This wasn’t this time to be worrying about things like that so a quick text was sent along the lines of ‘near the top of last peak what do you want?’

We had said before embarking on the final climb that we would wait to do the scramble together as I remembered it being a bit hairy. In truth it wasn’t that bad at all and my memories were formed while I was virtually out on my feet so it wasn’t hard to understand why I had this recollection of it. As the other three rejoined us we climbed the last few yards to the col that sits between Ingleborough and Simon Fell. I think it is fair to say everyone had tired legs by this point but onwards we went up the last climb to the flat summit. On the way up you pass the route back down to Horton and I overheard a guy ask his female companion if they should just head back as they were close enough to the summit for it to count. I don’t get this thought process at all. What if you get back and wish you had gone to the top? You have to do the whole thing again to say you have completed. It was about 600 yards to the trig point and once they were told that they followed us up. The flat plateau of Ingleborough is often covered in cloud and mist and today was no exception as we crossed the top into gusting winds which in turn made the drizzle that bit harder. All of this was acceptable though as we finally made trig point number three and the summit of Yorkshire second highest peak.

With the climbing done we had the small matter of returning to Horton to contend with, but it isn’t a small matter for a weary walker. I think it is human nature once you reach the top of the third peak to think that is more or less job done, but there was still nearly five miles to go. The initial section on the path to Horton was particularly slippery with churned up mud filling the gaps between greasy looking rocks. Wu Tang erred on the side of caution and once again I walked with her as the other three slowly disappeared into the distance. It wasn’t hard to imagine how someone could hurt themselves by going too quick and that was almost brought to reality when a woman to our left suddenly had both feet go from under her. It is hard to describe how she went down but both legs went straight out and her body seemed rigid and stiff and she went back almost in a straight line until she thudded into the ground narrowly avoiding banging her head. As she lay there one of her party asked her if she was ok and she replied without moving which was worrying. Fortunately she sat up gingerly and began to laugh about it but she was lucky to be laughing. After this tricky little section the path evened out and was much nicer under foot and we soon came across our fellow badgers who were waiting for us.

For a while the path was decent and we made progress although the spring had gone out of our legs. I still felt good though and was pretty happy with how everything had gone. I wasn’t begging for the finish line to arrive although I would have been happy for it to arrive sooner that it did, I wasn’t complaining. Another slippery section left myself and Wu Tang detached once again and we chatted away as we reached the old shooting hut to the left of the path and then Sulber Nick a bit further on. There was no chance of walking between the limestone scars and the wall as it was just one big deep puddle. Instead we had to walk over the limestone taking care not to slip before we dropped down to rejoin the path and more slippery madness. Beaky and Ramblo had continued on in order to put an end to the suffering her legs were feeling, G however was stood waiting, as anyone with a nickname of Sherpa should be and we continued down over the fields into Horton together. For weeks leading up to this I wondered what I would feel like when I see Horton station below me as I approach knowing I am just about done.

Finally we crossed the train tracks and reached the outskirts of the village. I felt too knackered to feel anything really, although that probably isn’t quite true. I did feel like I had more to give and could have done more miles had the walk been longer. Maybe that was because I had taken it easier with Ramblo up the last two peaks and with Wu Tang down the last two peaks. If I had gone faster earlier maybe my legs would have been screaming at me as we crossed the wooden footbridge over the river and back into the car park. To walk past the car to the cafe isn’t the best feeling in the world and especially when you find it closed. Our time of 12 hours 55 minutes won’t break any records but we had all finished and that was the main thing. I comforted myself with the thought that if we all hadn’t waited for others at various points along the way we would all have finished under the 12 hour challenge limit. It didn’t bother me we hadn’t done it quicker though, my goal for the day was to prove to myself I could do it and I had done that, with something to spare. As I began to take off my boots and change into my pub attire the aching soon started though. By the time I was ready to go for a drink I virtually waddled there as I had a severe case of chafing between the legs. That wasn’t going to stop me having a well earned lager though and we all sat in the corner of the pub having a drink and snacking on crisps. You could feel the sense of achievement but it wasn’t really obvious with people too weary to be boisterous. A refined half an hour ensued as we finished up before setting off for home and a well deserved bath. The three peaks walk is a monster of a walk of that there can be no doubt. Each Saturday throughout the summer there are hundreds of people attempting to do what we had just done. Some will succeed and some will fail. Some will enjoy it whilst others will vow never again. The strange thing is, in my experience, it isn’t a challenge you can walk away from. You will ache for a while after but as those pains disappear you are left with the achievement of what you did and that feels good. With each passing week you forget how much it hurts and retain only the good things and slowly but surely it nags away at you to come back and do it again. I would imagine that every single one of the five badgers who completed today, will be back for more, the question is… not if, but when?

Sir Edmund


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