In December 2020, my wife and I welcomed our second daughter, Holly, into the world. Holly was born with PHACES association, a spectrum disorder made up of a collection of different features. Most children with PHACES have a haemangioma (strawberry birthmark) and one other associated problem. Holly has a large haemangioma on her face and a narrow artery in her neck.
Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and Southend Hospital have both been great and have given my family all the support and treatment that Holly needs. With the treatment GOSH has given Holly, the birthmark should have almost disappeared by the time she goes to school!
GOSH are specialists in diagnosing and treating rare and complex birthmarks, and without their help, Holly’s start in life could have been quite different. For this reason, I was keen to say a big thank you to the hospital.
The Four Peaks Challenge was thought up at the start of 2021 and planned for July – we will be walking up the highest mountains in Scotland, England, North Wales and South Wales in 3 days.
Jamie, Carly and I would start the challenge in Scotland at Ben Nevis (1,344 metres), which is the tallest of the 4. Then drive to the Lake District to climb Scafell Pike (978 metres) on day two, and on to Wales to climb Snowdon (1,085 metres) and Pen Y Fan (886 metres) on day three.
Our day started in Burton-on-Trent, a central location for the team to meet and 381 miles from Fort William, the town at the foot of Ben Nevis.
Although the journey was long – roughly 7 hours – it did take us through some beautiful scenery. First passing through the Lake District, albeit on the motorway, and then round Loch Lomond and through Glencoe.
We arrived at Fort William late in the afternoon with Ben Nevis towering over us in the distance. The challenge was about to begin!
The first day of the challenge was also going to be one of the longest. Not only did we have to reach the top of Britain, but we also had the long 6 hour journey to Wasdale in the Lake District afterwards. And, with England kicking off their Euro 2020 Semi-Final at 8pm, we had targets to meet!
Our alarms were set for 5am so we could get ourselves ready, drive round to the foot of Ben Nevis and start walking at 6am. It was an early start but also very quiet on the mountain. We passed a couple of small groups who started very early but generally had the path to ourselves for the first couple of hours.
We also feared the worst in terms of the weather. Understandable since we were in the Scottish Highlands. However, thankfully the weather gods were with us and gave us a beautiful warm and dry day.
The steps on the way up Ben Nevis were relentless – the path is well made but very hard work. Around the halfway point of the ascend, the path changes into loose rock as it zig-zags up the side of the mountain. Just when you think you’ve turned the last corner, another appears! The zig-zags finally came to an end, and we were greeted with a section of icy snow to contend with – not what you expect to see at the start of July. After a small snowball fight, we were closing in on the top.
We arrived at the summit in 3 hours 40 minutes, beating our target of 4 hours, and the views were spectacular! More often than not, the top of the mountain is covered in clouds, and visibility is poor, so we all felt fortunate to have a clear day. After spending half an hour to soak up the views, we began our journey back down the way we came. We had certainly timed it well as after we left the summit, the clouds started to come in. If we had taken a little longer to climb, I don’t think we’d have seen a view from the top.
The descent was quicker but harder on our knees – especially after halfway when we were back on the steps. Towards the end I started to feel every step in my knees, the small flat sections gave them a small rest, but the steps reappeared very quickly.
We made it back down by lunchtime and, after a quick change of clothes, we were back in the car for the long journey south to our campsite at Wasdale Head, at the foot of our next mountain, Scafell Pike.
(And yes, we did get there in time to watch the football!)
We woke up at the foot of Scafell Pike around 6.30am and while at ground level, the weather was kind. The top of the mountain was already covered in clouds.
Knowing Scafell Pike should be a little easier than Ben Nevis, we started a little later at 8am. It was humid when we set off, and the ascend was steep from the start. We made our way up the track alongside the flowing stream. The walk from the beginning was beautiful – looking back the way we came gave us a fantastic view of Wastwater lake. However, It didn’t take long to reach the low cloud and for the view to disappear.
Just like Ben Nevis, there were lots of steps and loose rock to contend with, but it was made worse with the cloud, making the rocks wet and slippery.
The views from the path were replaced with white clouds, making the ascend laborious as we kept our heads down to make sure we kept our footing.
Towards the top of the mountain, the path splits off, left is slightly longer but easier, and right is shorter but steeper. Although the plan was to go left, partly due to my fear of heights, I told Jamie and Carly to go right during a lack of concentration!
Once we had made our way up the steep section of the path, we were a few hundred metres from the summit and halfway through our four peak challenge. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the view from the top of Scafell Pike, although having had the view from the top of Ben Nevis the previous day, we couldn’t complain.
The journey back down was slow going in places, and since the cloud had come over, the rocks were very wet. Despite the slipperiness, we made it down in good time and in one piece, ready to set off on the 4 and a half hour journey to Snowdonia in North Wales.
Snowdon & Pen Y Fan
The final day of the challenge was also the toughest for several reasons. The day started early with the alarms sounding at 5.30am – we were aiming to set off up Snowdon by 7am at the latest as we had to make our way to South Wales for another climb afterwards. When arriving at the Pen Y Pass car park, we found out it was pre-book only, and we hadn’t pre-booked. Our hero Jamie offered to park down the road and run the extra 15 minutes, which we all decided was a good idea. However, this did mean we started off a little later than planned.
We took the Pyg track up Snowdon, which was by far the most varied of the four peaks. There was a mixture of footpaths and scrambles throughout the journey. Although the majority was a lot of fun, the final third was a real challenge for me and my fear of heights.
Like Scafell Pike, the top of Snowdon was in the clouds, visibility wasn’t great, and we also had rain to contend with. The peak was very busy when we had reached the top, so we only stayed for 10 minutes before making our way back down. The journey down was slow going. The rain and cloud had made the path very slippery in places, so we had to be careful with every footstep. Jamie decided this didn’t always apply to him and ended up using one large rock as a water slide. Thankfully the path was there to stop him from flying off the side of the mountain (he had the car keys!).
Once we were down from the mountain, we had the extra walk back to the car. I’d love to say that was eventless, but Jamie couldn’t remember the way, which resulted in Carly twisting her ankle. Jamie’s hero status had quickly diminished.
Wet, tired and in pain, we drove 3 hours to the Brecon Beacons, ready to face our fourth and final peak.
Pen Y Fan is the tallest peak in South Wales and a great one to end on. The path is very well defined and, although still steep, much easier than the other three before it. With the thought of a celebratory drink at the pub in the back of our minds, we marched up Pen Y Fan in 1 hour 1 minute (with Carly’s ankle strapped up!).
We were treated to magnificent views from the top, and it felt like a great way to end a challenging but incredibly rewarding journey with a great team.
We raised a massive £2,762!
Whist planning the challenge, we had to think of a fundraising target. We wanted to be realistic but ambitious, so we set the target at £2,500. I’m pleased to say we smashed it and raised a massive £2,762 for Great Ormond Street Hospital!
We are so grateful to everyone who has supported us and donated to the challenge. Knowing we were raising so much money for such a good cause really pushed us on to the end.
I would also like to say a personal thank you to Percipio for making the challenge possible. Also, a big thank you to Jamie and Carly for making up the team.