On Cloud 9: Conquering the 3 Peaks Challenge


At ANS, our Corporate Social Responsibility is super important to us. As a born and bred Mancunian organisation, the passion and community spirit of this great city runs through our blood. We put on all sorts of fundraising events across the year, but our biggest event takes place in the summer for RMCH. I love taking part in the ANS charity events especially when it’s for a good cause. We’ve realised that challenges that involve blood, sweat and tears (literally) help us to raise the most money. I guess people will pay money to see us suffer..

Having taken part in Tough Mudder for many years, I thought it was time for something new, so I suggested that we take on the National 3 Peaks Challenge. The challenge involves conquering the highest peaks in Scotland (Ben Nevis), England (Scafell Pike) and Wales (Snowdon). The total walking distance is an impressive 23 miles with a total ascent of 3064 meters (10,052ft) and the idea is to do it all in 24 hours.

We had 6 weeks to organise the event and before we knew it we had a team of 23 people crazy enough to take on what would be our most mentally and physically challenging test to date. All in the name of raising money for one of our partner charities very close to our hearts, Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital……Game On!

Saturday 6am – ANS HQ, Manchester, England - 10.5 hours until the challenge starts

The team was raring, ready to go, minus 1. Someone (no names mentioned) thought they could have a cheeky lie in whilst the rest of us were on time. There’s always 1 isn’t there?! With a bit of coordination, we managed to pick up our straggler at a service station, although their Dad didn’t look to happy about having to race up the M6 at 6am on a Saturday morning.

Saturday 4:30pm – Ben Nevis base, Fort William, Scotland - let the challenge commence, 24 hours to go

Back in my home country, I was already excited to start this mountain, but it’s no easy feat. Ben Nevis is largest of all the three peaks, reaching up into the clouds at 4,413 ft. Not a problem for the ANS Team – the cloud is our thing!

A couple of wobbles on the way up may have made some people turn back, but the ANS team spirit is stronger than that and we ploughed on. I don’t know if you have ever climbed Ben Nevis, but it is long. And I mean long. It’s 3 hours of relentlessly climbing steps and just when you think you’re getting closer to the top, you’re slapped in the face with another incline. People were coming down and telling us, ‘Just a bit longer!’, ‘Only 10 minutes until the top!’. Two words. Fake news.

Half an hour later and somehow, we make it to the summit. The rocks at the top of the mountain was like walking on a pebbled beach (although believe me, it was far from a stroll on the beach). Surrounded by cloud and mist, you can’t see much more than around 20 ft in front of you and it’s around -1°C. Like something out of a horror film. We weren’t going to hang around to have a tea party, so after a few phone calls home and a warming sip of Scottish whiskey we began our decent.

The way down is always quicker, in this case mainly because it was so wet – we might as well have been at a water park! In the pitch black you can only see what your head torch lights up in front of you and for someone that wasn’t much, since they brought a head torch but no batteries. It’s time like this when you really need the support of your fellow 3 peakers, such as encouraging words or a helping hand down the slippy path. Not for them to warn you of local werewolves and then impersonate them in the dark, making you jump out of your skin (I won’t mention the expletives that ensued).

As we reached the bottom, we spotted headlights. The feeling of elation was so overwhelming it took us a minute to realise they were in fact the wrong minibus lights. When we found the right one, we had to go and find 3 team members who had taken what we thought was a wrong turn. As it turned out, we had taken the wrong turn and they had gone the right way! They managed to separate from us with no guide, first aid kit or radio so we all got a big telling off for that.

As we descended, our radio would only work at random points. Our concerned organiser, Catherine, picked up just 2 words from a conversation I was having. These 2 words turned out to be “Mountain Rescue”. You can only imagine the horror on her face when she heard this. We made it back to the bottom in one piece and no Mountain Rescue in sight, much to Catherine’s relief.

Sunday 7am – - Scafell Pike base, Lake District, England - 9.5 hours to go

After a long trek the last thing you want to do is travel through the night in wet clothes when your muscles are starting to seize up. We had lost all concept of time and our body clocks were non-existent. Eventually we arrived at Scafell Pike feeling a little worse for wear. Running low on sleep, we looked out of the window to see monsoon season was upon us in the Lakes (to be honest that's the only season that occurs up there). Morale was dwindling slightly but nevertheless, there’s no rest for the wicked.

We were aware of a river we had to cross in order to climb Scafell Pike and we had been warned if it was flowing too fast, it would be unsafe to cross. However, ANS don’t go down without a fight! Waterproofs on, let’s go.

The group was in 2 minds about crossing the river, some thought of themselves as Indiana Jones whilst others were feeling a little less adventurous. As we got closer to the dreaded river, we were met by Mountain Rescue who were helping a poor chap down who had dislocated his shoulder attempting to cross the river. Well, that shorted the argument. But we had to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about.

We reached the river but, unfortunately, there was no celebratory tipple on this peak, just a group photo half way up and some disappointed faces. As predicted, the river was too dangerous to cross but we went as far as mother nature would let us. Feeling defeated by the mountain, morale was at its lowest at this point. Why should we continue to Snowdon when we can’t even finish Scafell Pike? We found motivation in our ANS Spirit and we all agreed to return to get some closure. We have unfinished business, Scafell Pike, we will be back.

Sunday 11am – Where were we here? - 5.5 hours to go

En route Snowdon and we decided the only way to get through the day would be to douse ourselves in deep freeze. We may have sprayed a little too much as the next thing we know Smooth Radio is on and there’s an 80’s karaoke sing-along on the coach! I’ve got to admit this really got us all going, and we arrived at Snowdon perkier than ever, you could even say we ‘peaked’. Another country, another fresh set of clothes, another service station meal and we were good to go!

Sunday 4:30pm – Snowdon base, Llanberis, Wales - 24 hours is up. Oops!

Starting that final mountain felt like we had two boulders attached to our feet, but we love a good challenge! We pressed on towards the summit, even doing some scrambling on the way (more than some of us had signed up for!) Surrounded by cloud, climbing the bleak, grey, slippy rocks, it felt like something out of Lord of the Rings. This was by far the scariest part of the whole challenge. One foot wrong and you were a goner.

We all knew there was a cold beer waiting at the top, there was no stopping us now. The peak was nearly in sight and... What a feeling. The most satisfying beer of our lives at the top to refuel and we were on our way down. I think the beer made the way down far more enjoyable than it was meant to be.

During the last stretch of our challenge our team of 23 became 24 as we picked up a lonely hiker who had lost his friends! Qas became one of us (unlucky for him) and he was very grateful that a bunch of loonies like us helped him to reach the bottom safely. Our fabulous organiser Catherine was waiting for us ready to hand out even more beer for the guys and some prosecco for the ladies. We couldn’t have done it without you, Catherine!

Even though we technically climbed around 2.3 peaks and not 3, we did it as a team and the experience was second to none. I can’t wait for the next fundraising challenge!

It was an absolute pleasure taking part in the event with everyone involved. Spending 42 hours straight together, we really got to know one another – warts n all! A massive shout out to Ronald McDonald as well whose fast food got us through the trip. And not forgetting the most important part, we raised a record amount of over £7,700 for Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital with all funds raised going towards the purchase of specialist equipment to diagnose and provide treatment to young patients more quickly and easily.

Check out the amazing work they do at the charity here.

Posted by David Graham