The Yorkshire Three Peaks is perhaps the best known single-day challenge walk in this country, with 40-km of rugged terrain, 1,600 metres of ascent (and descent) to be completed in an arbitrary 12 hours.
It is a beautiful route across some of England’s finest limestone landscapes, and I still feel a sense of excitement and elation when I stride across the three mountain summits, despite having walked them dozens of times before.
Yes, the summits of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen y ghent are special places. When I guide groups around this challenge walk, I plan it so that we have the summits to ourselves as I believe that the experience is just as important as the challenge.
Thousands of people take on this challenge each year, many of whom do so as part of a large charity event, often raising thousands of pounds for worthy causes and in the process getting fitter. But there are consequences of thousands of boots, such as erosion, litter and disturbance.
How to reduce your environmental impact
Personally, I believe we should focus more on the experience rather than the challenge, and there are many things we can do to help reduce our environmental impact:
1. There is a lot to be said for walking at a more leisurely pace and in small groups, without the burden of a 12 hour target. You get to see more, and share the experience with people you know.
2. Perhaps spread out the walk over a weekend, and use the Settle and Carlisle Railway to help you.
3. Carry a plastic bag to take all of your litter home with you, including apple cores and banana skins. Take only photographs, leave only footprints, as they say.
4. Give something back, by making a donation to the Three Peaks Project. Perhaps everyone who walks this route should donate a couple of pounds towards its upkeep? It might be a small price to pay for the protection of this environment.
5. Keep to the paths as much as possible, to avoid spreading erosion on the sides of the path.
6. Stay locally before and after your walk, and spend a bit in local pubs and cafes.
7. Car share if possible.
8. Consider the possibility of walking the route midweek and perhaps start at Ribblehead, where there are no houses. There are many benefits of starting at Ribblehead, with Whernside your first climb. You reach Horton in Ribblesdale mid afternoon, where there is a cafe to refuel, toilets to use and a train station with a service back to Ribblehead if you need to bail out. It also means that the last hour or so of the walk is along tracks and roads, which is easier on tired legs.
Enjoy the challenge, but most importantly enjoy the mountains.