Ben Nevis - Britain's tallest mountain


The goal is simple: to summit the UK's three highest peaks. But instead of driving between them, why not make things more challenging and cycle instead?


By Louis Watermain-Evans

The Three Peaks Challenge: Ben Nevis in Scotland at 1345m, Scafell Pike in England 978m and Snowdon in Wales at 1085m. Run or hike up and down Ben Nevis, drive to Scafell Pike, get up and down that, and then repeat for Snowdon. Over 400 miles of driving, and just over 20 miles on foot. You do the math.


Worst of all, you’re at the mercy of the British roads; traffic and speed cameras and all. Sure, it’s still a challenge, but if you’re an outdoorsy type like me it seems completely at odds with the spirit of a TPC to have the success of the whole thing riding on just how busy the M6 happens to be going around Birmingham that day. (And it’s always busy.)


So how about keeping the principle the same, summiting the three highest peaks in the UK, but instead of driving, why not cycle in between them?

Three Peaks Challenge: the route stretches over 400 miles, with more than 3400 metres of ascent

The time to beat


A “Pure 3 Peaks Challenge” isn’t my invention; Stephen Poulton first did it in 1980 in a truly impressive time of 41 hours 51 minutes. His record stood for over 37 years… until this summer, when Ross Malpass smashed it with a time of 37 hours 33 minutes. He averaged close to 20mph for the 430 miles of cycling; much of which was at night, while sleep-deprived, and with two peaks of running in the legs. Malpass, we salute you!


My brother, Torin, and I knew that this record was well out of our reach. But maybe we could challenge the unsupported record of 62 hours 55 minutes. We thought it entirely achievable, so long as we could stay awake, not crash, and stay injury-free. It also seemed enough of a challenge that I felt comfortable asking people to sponsor us, with all the money raised going to the refugee crisis in Greece, where I would be volunteering afterwards.


Our preparation was rushed, at best; at worst, wholly inadequate. But come the day of our attempt we had two fully functioning bikes and panniers stuffed to the brim with peanut butter wraps, energy bars, and waterproofs to protect us from the inevitable downpours we would encounter (given that our attempt was in October). We were ready. 

Fuel: Tribe bars for days

Easy riding


Snowdon flew by in 2 hours, and before we could even think about the scale of the ride ahead we found ourselves out of Snowdonia National Park and cruising towards England. I was wary of burning out early, so kept on insisting that we lock into an easy pace of about 14 to 15mph. The miles ticked over nicely, but the writing was on the wall when Torin started having knee pain and taking painkillers just 3 hours in.


192 miles later, after riding for hours on motorways cunningly named as A roads, and sitting out a heavy downpour at a service station near Kendal, we found ourselves at the base of Scafell Pike. It was dark, cold, and wet, but our spirits were high… until we started hiking. It very quickly became clear that Torin’s knees were causing him a lot of pain, and that getting up and down the mountain then cycling another 250 miles to Scotland and summiting Ben Nevis was pure fantasy. And so, about half an hour into our hike up Scafell Pike, trudging up the river that was cascading down the path due to the heavy rain, we called time on our Pure 3 Peaks attempt. We found a nearby hotel corridor to sleep in for a few hours and then hobbled our way into Keswick in the morning. It was a sombre end, to say the least, to an unforgettable challenge.

Recuperating in a hotel corridor after having to abandon the attempt

On a positive note, we raised over £1000 for the refugee crisis in Greece and shared an experience together as brothers that we’ll never forget. I’d say those are pretty good outcome.


Will we be back for another attempt in the future? 100%. But let’s be very clear, this is one heck of a challenge – one that shouldn’t be entered into lightly. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

About the author (right)

Louis was raised in London but has used every opportunity to get to the mountains. He currently works as a mountain guide in the Swiss Alps, and is always planning his next adventure. His favourite outdoor pursuits are running, trekking, cycling and climbing, but generally enjoys simply finding an excuse to get out and spend time in the mountains. Twitter: @marathonandmore


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