Outdoors, Walking and hiking

What it’s really like to hike the Yorkshire Three Peaks

With a sigh, I pushed myself up from the floor and hauled my bag onto my back for what definitely felt like the millionth time that day, and what easily felt like the thousandth time since we began ascending the mountain we were now halfway up.

It was in the middle of the freak heatwave that England experienced in 2018, and I, along with my friend Emma, were midway through ascending the second of the three mountains we would be clambering our way up that day, having somewhat naively signed up to complete the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge in aid of Alzheimer’s Society several months earlier.

Looking around me, everyone was doing the same thing, which provided some comfort, and some people were giving up altogether, admitting defeat against the unnatural English weather and heading back down to the last checkpoint. As I looked up at how far we still had to go, I hesitated, along with Emma, and debated heading back down with them but without saying anything, we headed onwards. And upwards once again.

View from Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales

When we had booked our place on the 26-mile challenge back in December we had no idea that we would be completing it in what would end up being the best summer either of us had ever experienced in our lives. But while the 30 plus degree days had been fun leading up until the day, hiking with a backpack full of water and snacks on the 30th June was not such an enjoyable experience. But, miraculously, 11 hours after leaving the start line, we crossed the finish laughing hysterically to one another and grappling for the glass of prosecco that was being offered out to us by the staff and the ciders our parents were proudly presenting. We had done it. And we had done it without a single argument along the way, which in itself is quite an achievement for two people who have just spent 11 solid hours in the company of no one but each other.

Looking back on that day in the first few months that followed filled my mind with only memories of the pain that followed in the days afterwards. Looking back now and that pain is still there but what I think of now, more than anything is pride. Pride in myself for pushing through and completing the first thing in life that I truly thought I was going to have to give in to. Pride for raising nearly £1000 for Alzheimer’s Society, a charity that is truly dear to me after watching my Grandma live with the disease during her final year. And pride in doing it, despite the fact that so many people told us in the run up that they didn’t think we would make it to the finish line.

So, even though I think it is largely one of those experiences that you can only truly understand if you complete it yourself, here’s a little insight into what it is really like to hike the Yorkshire Three Peaks, and a few tips and tricks to help you out along the way.

Looking out from the top of Whernside whilst hiking the yorkshire three peaks

Preparing for the hike

This is perhaps (most certainly) where we went most wrong. Naïve in just how challenging hiking 26 miles and ascending three mountains would be, we completed the bare minimum amount of training that we thought we could get away with in the six months that passed from us booking our spaces to arriving in Yorkshire.

Alzheimer’s Society kindly sent out a training plan when we signed up to the challenge and we stupidly ignored it, deciding a few bike rides (complete with picnics), dog walks (also complete with picnics) and a five day trip to Scotland would do the trick.

I can tell you now that it will not. If you’re going to commit to hiking the Yorkshire Three Peaks, I’d highly recommend getting your training in motion as soon as possible. Hiking in the height of summer didn’t help us, but neither did not training as much as we should have done.

What to wear and take with you on your hike

What you will wear to hike the three peaks will vary depending on the time of year you go, as there were a fair few people hiking in shorts when we set off simply due to the unnaturally good summer we were experiencing. I can only, however, imagine the chaffing pain and the sunburn they experienced so it’s not necessarily something that I would recommend.

As a general rule, therefore, it would be best to throw on a pair of exercise leggings, and a breathable top - Alzheimer’s Society kindly supplied us with our tops as we reached our fundraising target several weeks before the day itself.

Above everything, make sure you have hiking boots that have been well broken-in before the day, and a pair of hiking socks. Don’t underestimate the difference that good shoes and, surprisingly, socks can make to your experience when it comes to hiking a hefty 26-miles through the Yorkshire Dales (or any countryside for that matter).

Similarly, be sure to carefully select your bag. It’s going to be on your back for a long time, so you need to make sure it’s capable of carrying everything in it that you will need and that it’s comfortable while doing so. In there, throw in a breathable waterproof jacket and some sunscreen (it’s England after all), a pair of sunglasses, a hat, some spare socks (always handy), your camera (if you can bear to stop and look around you, the views are insane), plenty of water (make use of the side pockets for easy access to your bottles on the go) and an array of food (we found blocks of jelly and a huge variety of sweets kept us going more than anything else).

Standing at the top of Whernside in Yorkshire
View from Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales
Reaching the top of Ingleborough
Standing at the summit of Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Dales

The day of the hike

Beginning at Horton in Ribblesdale, in the Yorkshire Dales, you’ll start with the standard warm-up that will do nothing more than remind you about your P.E days at school. It will make you feel stupid yet entertain you in equal measure and then seemingly all-too-soon you’ll cross the starting line shortly after 7.30am.

First up is Pen-y-Ghent at 691m, in the middle of the day you’ll reach the beast that is Whernside at 728m and finally you’ll ascend Ingleborough at 723m.

The route to Pen-y-ghent took us through the Pennine Way and up a steep ascent but you reach this one early in the hike so it’s by far the easiest of the three not only for being the lowest height but for the simple fact that you begin your ascent well before you’ve had the chance to tire.

Moving on, we reached Whernside. The biggest of the three, with a gradual incline that was a killer for more than just us, with many turning around or reaching the checkpoint on the other side and calling it a day. We, unfortunately, timed our arrival at the base of the mountain with the midday heat but after a very slow climb, the breeze atop the mountain was enough to halt our thoughts of giving in.

After Whernside, Ingleborough didn’t seem too bad at all. Consisting of a very steep incline, we reached the top far quicker than we did at the previous mountain. But by no means does that mean it was easy. Forcing us to clamber on hands and knees, and physically pull ourselves up to the ledge above at times, it was a beast to end with, but reaching the summit marker at the top nearly brought tears to my eyes. Of course, we then had the two-hour hike back down and to the finish line, but regardless at that stage we knew that we had done the hardest part and we were going to finish.

Hiking the yorkshire three peaks
Hiking the Yorkshire Three Peaks in aid of Alzheimer's Society
Crossing the finish line after hiking the Yorkshire Three Peaks

My number one tip for hiking the Yorkshire Three Peaks

Those final two hours dragged and consisted of a mix of near tears and elation. Which, to be honest, is how the rest of the evening and the next day went too. There is no other way to describe my experience of the Yorkshire Three Peaks but as one of immense highs and lows. I had never experienced such extreme emotions in such a short space of time, but looking back now, through the pain, it brings a smile to my face.

That hike taught me that I was, and am, capable of pushing through a challenge and for that reason alone, I will never regret signing up to hike the Yorkshire peaks.

But my biggest tip for anyone looking to complete anything like this, which will test you not just physically but mentally too, is to carefully pick who you will have by your side. I am unsure on whether I would have made it to the finish if I had done it alone. Throughout those 11 hours, Emma and I took it in turns to snap at one another, laugh at one another, motivate one another, and encourage each other on. And in a challenge that will drive you to the edge of what you think you are capable of, having that support alongside you is what you need more than any level of training.

An insight into hiking the Yorkshire Three Peaks
Hiking the Three Peaks Challenge
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