Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Nov 1 2009

As the sun set over the flat fields of Suffolk, the waiting was over, the long hard struggle to get our fitness levels up and raise some serious funds for Camille's Appeal had come to an end.....

As the sun set over the flat fields of Suffolk, the waiting was over, the long hard struggle to get our fitness levels up and raise some serious funds for Camille's Appeal had come to an end. As of 8.00pm the intrepid Three Peak Challengers would be setting off to try and conquer the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales within a 24 hour period.

A number of the climbers had met at my house: Shane "Nice Goggles" Ling, James "Insomnia" Gibbons, Simon "Wee Dram" Thompson and my good self. The minibus arrived and we loaded up to head off to the Highlands and Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK. We made three more stops en route picking up all of our other participants: Ben "The Chrysalis" Stearn, Tom "Wrong Peak" Watkins, Wayne "Old Beauty" Jackson, Lee "Early Flatulence" Edwards, Stephen "More Bags Than Witney " Shave, Simon "Cliffy's Trainers" Stronach and Nick "I Live Near a Hill" Barlow. Our two drivers were Gary "Hard Right, Hard Right" Ling and Eric "Lighting Equipment for all Occasions" Palmer.

We had only been on the bus for a few minutes when Ben popped out his first can of Old Speckled Hen, and after a few cans had been destroyed his mission turned to sourcing some more beverages for the remainder of the evening. His quest did quickly fall on deaf ears. However, with the aid of a rather excited Stevo , they managed to succeed with their back-up plan, to annoy the pants off everyone who wanted to catch forty-winks in readiness for the challenge.

The miles and hours ticked over and with very few of us getting any sleep there was a sense that not staying the night before the challenge was biting off more than we could chew. Ironically, as I cast an eye to my right. Stevo had dropped off in his king size sleeping bag, and resting his head on the five pillows he had loaded onto the bus. In addition Ben had pulled his sleeping bag all the way over his head, sat on his chair and slipped elegantly into a cocoon on the minibus floor. For the first time the minibus was quiet, but very few slept, especially James who was shuffling constantly throughout the eleven hours.

We arrived in Fort William early, in fact a good five hours before we were supposed to start. We decided that we would start early as it wouldn't change which mountains we would tackle in the dark, and the only other complication would be traversing Glasgow through Friday rush hour. To complete our preparations we made a stop at the local Morrison's for breakfast. I and Herr Stronach tucked into a Full Scottish Breakfast, something that could only be described as an artery clogger . The fried bread was oozing heart failure, the seasoning was saltier than the Dead Sea and the sausage had been replaced by a flat rectangle shaped thing which was hard to chew than a rubber ball. Hey, beggars can't be choosers, so I blasted through the contents stopping only briefly to let the meat sweats subside.

We arrived at the base of Ben Nevis and organised ourselves ready for the climb. The challenge started at 9.30am as the eleven climbers set off over the bridge and up the path past the Ben Nevis Inn. This was the sign for Ben and Wayne to set the early pace, any indication that an early finish could reward a pint in front of a roaring open fire was enough for the group to be stretched. Although we were all trying to stay together, we were becoming stretched with a few of the other guys really looking like they struggling. The day was fine, and although a cloud engulfed the top of Ben Nevis, there was tranquility about the area. Within forty-five minutes the weather began to turn and as we reached the lake in the hills the gusts became gustier and the gentle spit of rain tapped against the waterproof surface of our backpacks. The mountain was fairly quiet, but a group of men on their way down had suggested that only a little further up, the gusts had become too dangerous and their guide had urged them down.

We decided to carry on and as predicted the winds got a lot stronger, and on several occasions nearly knocking me off my feet. As we continued the increasingly difficult climb up the face of the mountain I kept glancing a look up to what I thought was the peak, slightly smothered in cloud. This target became closer and closer as Shane, Stevo and I (as a mini group) made headway, left and right around the zig -zag path. As we immersed ourselves in cloud it became obvious that the peak was some way off. The distance we could see was only a few yards, the winds were gale force and the rain and sleet was attacking us from the right horizontally. The sting of sleet on the face and eyes was a lot to take on in addition to fatigue being endured by my legs. Shane took the opportunity to whip out his "Where's Wally" goggles, but for Shane's sake the fashion police hadn't made it up the slope that day.

After an hour of walking in the cloud we reached the summit. The area looks like nuclear fall-out, grey loose rock under feet, a couple of basic structures that have been battered to within an inch of their existence . We were clear what was behind us having climbed from that direction, however, a glance to the other side of the small plateau revealed shear drops that disappeared into the darkness of the rain filled cloud. We all climbed up the monument that signifies the summit as I desperately clung onto the stone so that I didn't get blown off the monument and close to the death drops. Shane took the opportunity to don a t-shirt that his daughter had prepared for him. As he struggled to get the shirt over his head I tentatively pulled the camera from my pocket and took a few photos. It wasn't long before we headed down the slope, and as we left the peak the remaining members of our group crossed our paths to take their place clinging on to the rock.

We raced down, and as Shane and I saw Ben and Wayne heading into the Ben Nevis Inn for a swift one, we jogged the last few yards to ensure that we made our own personal target of completing Ben Nevis in five hours. Due to the conditions we left Ben Nevis an hour behind our target time, and with Glasgow to tackle en route to Scafell Pike we had little chance of making it up on this particular leg of the journey. True to form, we took the full designated seven hours to reach the English peak, still an hour behind target.

It was 11.30pm, it was very, very dark, and very, very wet. As we stepped out of the minibus, my foot sank into the watery mud underneath and immediately drenched my fresh socks. We all were wearing head torches borrowed from a friend, which were worryingly faint from the outset. We stepped out onto the field to trek to the foot of the mountain and we immediately noticed an array of livestock excrement, randomly positioned in front of us. Si Thompson made the suggestion that we could be walking through a bull field, and just at that point a rustle alerted our attention to the right. With a quick flash of my torch I noticed a set of hooves circling us. Without a second of remorse I positioned myself behind at least two of my "pals" in case of sudden attack from the hoofed beast stalking us from the ten o'clock position. I do feel grateful for everything these boys were doing, but I wasn't about to take one for the team. Imagine my shame when a stronger torch revealed the dark assassin to be a sheep, in fact the whole field and mountain was covered in them. I'm not sure what they feed their sheep in the Lake District but by the state of the circular pat I'm pretty sure Kendall Mint Cake has something to do with it.

The early route was mild in its incline, but still quite treacherous . We only had one GPS between us and with a group of differing stamina's we had to work hard as a team to make a success of this attempt. We climbed slowly along a faint path, and as we stepped onto a particularly moist section I felt my left leg slide from underneath me and my knee crack heavily against a rock. It was one of those pains which immediately makes the joint stiff, but it was far to early to through in the towel. Working as a team isn't always easy, I was at the back with a few of the guys who were finding it hard to get going again after the hell we experienced on Ben Nevis. As I looked up, I noticed the last high-vis jacket of the front group disappear around a bend leaving just darkness in my line of sight. I did what any self respecting human being would do in this situation and cried out like an injured banshee. Sure enough three calls into the wild and the group returned to pick us up once more.

We walked and climbed for some time, before we started the only person to have worked with the GPS was James, but as he was using both his hands to caress his walking poles he had given the apparatus to the sprightly Wayne. This left us with a slight degree of uncertainty, could Wayne be trusted to follow the exact path shown on the GPS or would he go directly for the summit. As we trod over step banks of fresh moss and alongside a river that sounded like fearsome rapids, a number of us became more and more uncomfortable. We weren't on a path, we were heading up an angry sounding river and the terrain was becoming unpredictable. It didn't take long before somebody suggested that we abort Scafell Pike. We all have families, we all need to work, this wasn't a joke it was deadly serious. Ben and Wayne were confident they knew where they were and wanted to carry on, which they did, and the rest of us followed Lee's tracking watch back down the mountain .

We'd been gone for three hours when we arrived back at the bus. We had discussed how long we would give it before we called mountain rescue, but instead of monitoring this deadline closely we all fell asleep. Stevo woke to see in the far distance a head torch. We watched and watched this light flash with some degree of pattern from the same position on the mountain. I was increasingly thinking that it was a distress signal. Over the next thirty minutes we watched and watched and finally the lights made it back to the minibus and we had our full team back together. In true Brokeback Mountain fashion, we don't exactly know what happened on that mountain, but it seems that the guys made it, but not without their troubles. The terrain became nasty and at times they found themselves surrounded by dead-ends. The clearest moment of the group making the correct decision was Wayne falling off the side of a ridge. Wayne had promised to look after the borrowed GPS so as he fell he managed to twist his body round to hold the GPS aloft as his torso crashed against the surface below.

The target time for Scafell Pike was also five hours and it was just over that time scale when they returned from their adventure. We were now well down with a tough drive to North Wales.

Tom didn't make it up Snowdon , his knees had gone earlier in the day and he was struggling. I too felt really rough with flu like symptoms, but I really wanted to finish this mountain. I took my time with James, the two Simon's and Eric the driver. We made it up in two and a half hours. As we reached the peak I had began to feel weaker and weaker. There is a train that runs to the top of Snowdon and as I asked the conductor whether I could catch the train down, he replied by saying "Sorry, we all booked up with return tickets", I pleaded with him that I didn't feel very well and all the disgusting little Welshman could muster up was "Well, you shouldn't have come up should you?" If there was any occasion that summed up how much the Welsh and Scottish hate the English that was it.

Prior to the challenge I had recorded a short video of Camille laughing and saying "good luck everybody". At the top of Snowdon , James, Stevo and I all thought back to that video. I tried to hide my face, but with that image and the thought that any illness may quarantine me away from her on my return, was just too much. Under the cover of my waterproof I was a broken man.

We took the longer but easier route back down and met up with the rest of the guys to make the journey home. The first stop was a supermarket for a few of the guys to purchase their celebratory drink, and it was not long before the empty cans started to rattle left and right across the bus. Once drink is consumed, two things are guaranteed, people get drunk and people need to pee, a lot.

By the time we dropped Nick off at Sandbach services we had already had to stop at least four times. In fact Wayne's bladder was so weak he had danced in front of James for at least 75% of the journey. The rest of the journey was scattered with pee breaks, and finally we got home at 11.00pm.

The challenge was all for Camille's Appeal and we have raised some really good money. This was my first big involvement in fundraising and I feel proud that I have put my all into something so important. Next our attentions turn to the Christmas Ball, and we already have a few of the money can't buy auction items listed on the Camille's Appeal website ( for people to make silent bids prior to event.