How is it different to the Yorkshire Three Peaks?
The Yorkshire Three Peaks is a completely separate challenge, which climbs three hills in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough) in one 24-mile walk. Most people attempt to complete it in 12 hours, starting and finishing in Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
What’s the total distance?
There are two distances to consider on the National Three Peaks - walking and driving. If you follow the routes in this guide your total walking distance will be roughly 22 miles (10 for Ben Nevis, 7 for Snowdon and 5 for Scafell Pike) but you also need to factor more than 3,000 metres of ascent. The driving itself is a major challenge, with over 200 miles between each peak, and a total distance of more than 450 miles depending on your route.
How hard is it?
Quite hard! The Three Peaks routes on each mountain are steep, challenging walks that require good fitness. You’ll need strong navigation skills, suitable outdoor gear that can deal with all mountain weather conditions, and the ability to withstand sleep deprivation. You’ll be driving through the night if you do the 24-hour challenge, so it’s sensible to recruit a nominated driver who isn’t doing the walks or join an organised challenge that provides transport.
Do I have to do it in 24 hours?
Most people would recommend you didn’t. The 24-hour challenge means racing between each mountain, placing pressure on the local environment and amenities, and not getting chance to savour the landscapes that make the Highlands, Lake District and Snowdonia so special. An increasingly popular option is to spread it over three days, with a full day on each mountain.
Should I hire a guide?
That depends on your level of experience. In fine weather all three mountains are tough hikes, but if nobody in your group has experience of mountain walking then a guide is a good idea. Certain parts of the paths on each peak - the Ben Nevis summit plateau in particular - veer close to cliffs that in poor visibility, and without proper navigation skills, are very dangerous.
What maps do I need?
The following maps cover the National Three Peaks routes at detailed 1:25,000 scale:
- Ordnance Survey Explorer 392 (Ben Nevis)
- Ordnance Survey Landranger OL6 (Scafell Pike)
- Ordnance Survey Landranger OL17 (Snowdon)
- Harvey Superwalker Ben Nevis
- Harvey Superwalker Lake District West
- Harvey Superwalker Snowdonia North
We’d always recommend a printed map, but smartphone apps such as ViewRanger and OS Maps also allow you to download detailed maps and view your GPS position as you move.
What’s the best time of year to do it?
You can do the Three Peaks Challenge all year-round, but late spring to early autumn brings warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours. All three peaks require mountaineering skills in winter, and even in summer you could find deep snow patches and overhanging snow ledges near the top of Ben Nevis. The downside to summer is crowds, with hundreds of people attempting the challenge each day.
What will the weather be like?
Each mountain is high enough to deliver bitterly cold conditions even in the height of summer, which added to strong winds and rain creates dangerous conditions. One of the big challenges of mountain weather is low cloud creating poor visibility.
Will I get mobile phone signal?
Mobile signal is notoriously poor on all three peaks. You should always carry a fully charged phone to raise the alarm in emergency situations and if you’re using a smartphone app to navigate, download all maps to your phone before you set off so they’ll work without signal. Always carry paper maps as back-up.
Where can I park?
- Ben Nevis: large pay and display car park in the visitor centre at Glen Nevis (Postcode: PH33 6PF, Grid reference: NN122729).
- Scafell Pike: Lakehead pay and display car park is open 24 hours and perfect for anyone using the Hollow Stones path. (Postcode: CA20 1EX, grid reference: NY182074).
- Snowdon: Pen-y-Pass pay and display car park gives direct access to the Pyg and Miners’ Tracks but costs £10 a day and fills up fast! (Postcode: LL55 4NY, Grid reference: SH647556).
What about toilets and refreshments?
- Ben Nevis: toilets in the Glen Nevis visitor centre and plenty of places to stock up on food and drink in Fort William.
- Scafell Pike: public toilets in Wasdale and Seathwaite on the Borrowdale side of the mountain, but shops are scarce.
- Snowdon: public toilets at Pen-y-Pass and plenty of places to stock up on food including Llanberis, Capel Curig and the summit cafe.
Where’s the best place to stay?
- Ben Nevis: Fort William is a busy town with every type of accommodation, including a Travelodge on the high street.
- Scafell Pike: Keswick, Wasdale, Borrowdale and the surrounding towns, villages and valleys are popular locations with lots of accommodation.
- Snowdon: you’ll find a variety of campsites, hotels, inns, B&Bs and hostels in Llanberis Beddgelert, Capel Curig and Betws-y-Coed.
How much food and water should I carry?
A minimum of two litres on each mountain - perhaps more on hot days. Hydrate as much as possible between peaks and snack regularly as you’ll burn lots of calories. High energy snack bars, sandwiches, pork pies, bananas, nuts, chocolate and sugary sweets are all hillwalking favourites. Keep a big supply of food and water in the car.
How fit do I need to be?
If you have good basic fitness you should be able to complete the Three Peaks Challenge, but don’t underestimate the unique challenges of walking up and down big mountains with a loaded rucksack on your back. If you aren’t an experienced hiker, it pays to train before your challenge.
Can I take my dog?
Yes, but all three peaks have grazing sheep so keep your dog under close control and clean up after them. If you don’t walk your dog in the mountains regularly make sure they accompany you on training walks. The steep, rocky terrain can be tough if they aren’t used to it.
Are there bins on the mountains?
No, so take everything home with you!