Russell and Charlie from Go Ape Moors Valley summited and slept on three of the UK’s highest mountains to raise over £1,300 for the John Thornton Young Achiever’s Foundation.
In early November they set out to sleep three consecutive nights on the summits of three mountains in England, Scotland and Wales. They selected Helvellyn, the 3rd highest peak in England, Aonach Beag which is second only to Ben Nevis and Glyder Fawr, the 5th highest mountain in Wales. These are alternative summits to the traditional three peaks, but each gives a flavour of their marginally larger neighbours and also has their own unique qualities.
They made the 557 mile journey from Dorset to Fort William and as they passed the shores of Loch Lomond in the late evening their excited anticipation for the challenge ahead grew.
Their challenge began with their ascent of Aonach Beag, at 4,049ft. They started along a well-worn trail to the impressive Steall Falls, and many a passing tourist was obviously wondering why Russell was wearing a pink fish on his head! This was a dare from another Go Ape instructor to raise more money. As they passed the falls and left the tourists behind they could see the massif before them shrouded intermittently in cloud. As they reached 1,000m they were faced with a combination of sleet and wind but they battled on and reached the summit at dusk. They found a suitable spot to camp but the wind was so strong that they almost lost the tent whilst they were in the process of pitching it. They were cold and wet but sheltered in their sleeping bags and set about cooking up a hot meal.
A 5.30am alarm the next morning signalled the start of the next challenge and an end to a pretty sleepless night. Their tent was iced on the inside as well as the outside, and all of their wet clothing including their boots had frozen solid! Packing down the tent should have been a ten minute operation but it took more than forty five minutes as it was so icy. Once everything was packed away they were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise and clear skies that illuminated the impressive Ben Nevis to the west. Eager to get warm and aware of the time constraints of the challenge, they rapidly descended the mountain capped in frozen snow. After a few tumbles and an impressive slide by Charlie down a mountain stream, they made it back to the car park in only half the time it had taken them to climb the mountain.
Their journey to Helvellyn (3,117ft) in the Lake District was not as quick as they had hoped. They arrived in the dark so decided that it would be wisest to climb from Thirlmere to the west and save their eagerly anticipated scramble along Striding Edge for the morning. Once half way up the mountain it became obvious that their plan was in jeopardy. Aside from the rain, the wind was gusting so strongly that at times they had to just brace themselves to save being blown off of the trail. On the summit they quickly dived behind the shelter to catch their breath and revise their plan.
At the summit there was no ground near the shelter where it was suitable to hammer in a tent peg, and getting the tent out of the bag in wind which was so strong that they were struggling to stand up, was not going to happen. They decided that the only sensible thing to do was to descend the mountain and camp in the sheltered wood near its base. However they needed a photo by the summit cairn and to take a selfie with only one hand on the phone was to risk having the phone blown out of their hands! That is why there’s no summit photo of them together.
As they left the shelter to begin their journey down the wind blew so hard that it was impossible to make headway in a straight line. In addition they had to deal with both the disappointment of not being able to camp on the summit as they intended, or to experience the famous Striding Edge . There was also the physical challenge of tagging a descent in the dark, rain, wind and cold onto the end of what had already been a tiring day.
The following day they set off for North Wales where they would be climbing Glyder Fawr (3,284ft). Stepping out of the car in the Ogwen Valley they realised that due to strong winds they were going to have to revise their route to the top and their plan to sleep on the summit. Their decent would however been made in daylight and they were determined to find a camp at some altitude.
Their gentle lakeside approach was bookended by gusting wind and as they slogged their way up a steep section that Russell aptly nicknamed Mt. Doom, they were greeted by more strong winds. They made their way onto the plateau above a rock formation known as Devil’s Kitchen and with the light fading fast but no rain they decided to pitch the tent there and head for the summit.
They weighed the tent down with their bags and headed for their final summit. The steep scree path was a lot harder to make out than the previous evening on Helvellyn, and their head torches seemed on only to illuminate a few feet of rain that was now falling in front of them. They persisted and as the gradient decreased the wind strengthened again to the point where it was hard for them to stand. They could just make out the unmistakable rock formation on the summit and they dived into its lee side to get a break from the weather and snap a photo before celebrating their final summit of the challenge. The following morning they were told that gusts of wind in excess of 80mph had graced the top of the mountain that night, and so their decision to sleep at 700m was certainly a good one.
The final morning, at the bottom of the mountain, they were greeted by Charlie’s wife, Natalie and Casey, Russell’s sister. They were delighted to see them and excited by their phenomenal achievement. A cup of coffee and a pastry later they were thrilled to see that their fundraising total had crept over the £1,000 target that they had ambitiously set out to raise.
Here at the John Thornton Young Achievers Foundation we are so proud of Charlie and Russell and all that they achieved in the most awful conditions. It is the sort of challenge that John would have been keen to get involved in and we are so grateful to them for choosing his Foundation to support. The money raised will make a big difference to the opportunities that we can provide for young people in 2019 and if you would like to support them it’s not too late!