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Yorkshire Three Peaks Tips and Training

By 13th July 2020April 4th, 2021Resources, Summer, Tips, Walking
A stunning view from Warrendale Knotts. All three of the Yorkshire Three Peaks (Y3P) are visible - Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen y Ghent
A stunning view from Warrendale Knotts. All three of the Yorkshire Three Peaks (Y3P) are visible – Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen y Ghent

Introduction

Here are our Yorkshire Three Peaks tips and training ideas for someone walking the Challenge for the first time. The Yorkshire Three Peaks has become one of the most popular walking ‘challenge’ routes in the country. On a summer Saturday or Sunday, the number of walkers attempting the route can easily number in the thousands. Many of them will be doing this as part of a charity event, raising money for good causes. This is wonderful, especially if they can be mindful of the downsides that come with such large numbers (see below).

Some people may be ‘old hands’. They may have done the route many times and want to improve their personal best time. However, the overwhelming majority of walkers will be doing it for the first and, most likely, only time. They are excited, but nervous at not knowing quite what to expect.

If you are one of these people, then this article on Yorkshire Three Peaks tips and training ideas is for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge?

The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge is a circular walk, starting and finishing at the same point and taking in the summits of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent en route.

How far is the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge?

The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge involves a walk of around 24 miles (38.4km) with a total ascent of around 1500m (5000ft).

How long does the Yorkshire Three Peaks take?

The current record is 2 hours, 46 minutes and 3 seconds. For most people, the ‘challenge’ target time is 12 hours. Plenty of people manage it faster than this though.

What is the Yorkshire Three Peaks route?

The traditional route starts in Horton-in-Ribblesdale and climbs Pen-y-Ghent, then Whernside and then Ingleborough before finishing back in Horton. This is an anti-clockwise loop. However, there are 6 ways of doing the walk – clockwise or anti-clockwise and climbing any one of the three hills first.

How difficult is the Yorkshire Three Peaks?

Walking the route in 12 hours is well within the ability of anyone of average fitness and above-average determination.

What training should I do for the Yorkshire Three Peaks?

The best training is simply lots of walking. By the weekend before your Yorkshire Three Peaks attempt you should be able to comfortably walk 15 miles on Saturday and then 10 miles on Sunday. Running for training is not necessary and nor is walking up hills, although both will be of additional benefit.

What equipment do I need for the Yorkshire Three Peaks?

The minimum essential items of equipment are a good pair of walking boots that are well worn in (or trail running shoes if you are used to trail running); a waterproof jacket; and a headtorch.

An inspirational story

For many people, the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge can be very tough indeed. It can bring out quite some emotion at the end. It can therefore be very humbling as a guide. I will never forget one such occasion. One client, who was evidently not the fittest in the group, struggled on throughout the day. But although he was slightly slower than the rest, he never showed signs of giving up.

Towards the end, he asked me one of the most common questions – “Will we make it within hours?” I was delighted to tell him that yes, I think we would be doing. He then said “Thank goodness. It’s the second hardest thing I have ever done in my life.” The obvious question that I had to ask was “Oh? Well, what was the hardest thing then?” He looked at me and said, “Learning to walk again after my motor-bike accident.” He went on to explain how he had been horrifically injured and been in a coma for some time. I’m not sure how big a lump I had in my throat, but it was big.

Definition

What exactly is the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge? The idea is to do a circular walk which takes in the highest mountain in the Yorkshire Dales (Whernside) along with the second highest (Ingleborough) and the dramatic but smaller peak of Pen-y Ghent. The circular walk has to be completed within 12 hours. (Of course, you are welcome to walk the route more slowly, but the classic ‘challenge’ is to be within 12 hours.)

Yorkshire Three Peaks Route description

In a little more detail, the Yorkshire Three Peaks route entails reaching the summit of each of these peaks:

  • Whernside – 736m (2415ft), the highest in the Yorkshire Dales.
  • Ingelborough – 724m (2375ft), the second highest.
  • Pen-y-Ghent – 694m (2277ft), a relative baby at Yorkshire’s 9th highest, but many people’s favourite.

It is a circular walk, starting and finishing at the same point and taking in the summits en route. Therefore, the whole Yorkshire Three Peaks route involves a walk of around 24 miles (38.4km) and a total ascent of around 1500m (5000ft). This is basically a marathon with a few hills thrown in for good measure. So it’s no mean feat to complete it.

A map showing the route of the Yorkshire 3P Challenge
A map showing the route of the Yorkshire 3P Challenge

Nowadays, almost all the Yorkshire Three Peaks route is on good paths and tracks. There are a few stretches on tarmac roads; quite a lot on good quality tractor/land-rover tracks; and huge sections of gravel path or rock flag stones. More and more stones have been laid and the bog-trotting sections of years ago are thankfully long gone. There are still some parts where the route crosses farmland on a public right of way. Here there is little in the way of a path other than that worn by millions of feet before yours. Finally, there are a couple of sections near the summits of Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent. You will need to use your hands here, as you scramble over some steep rock steps.

Yorkshire Three Peaks route options

People are often surprised when I say that it is generally accepted that there are six different ways to do the Yorkshire Three Peaks route. “Six? How can that be? I thought it was one path in a circle?” It’s true that there is what many would describe as the “original” or “classic” route. This starts and finishes at the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale and walks in anti-clockwise direction climbing Pen-y-Ghent first.

However, you could walk it in reverse, going clock-wise – so that’s two possibilities. But between each peak the route descends back to the valleys and crosses a road. So it’s perfectly within the rules of the challenge to start at any of these road crossings and to go in either direction.

Therefore, with three different start points and two possible directions – 2 x 3 = 6.

There is one advantage of not doing the “classic” version, and this is to separate yourself from the majority of the others doing the walk. However, there are (minor) pros and cons for each route choice (including the “classic”). Your preference will depend on whether you prefer steep ascents or steep descents, and where in the day these occur.

One of the best tips for the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge is to consider one of the alternative options so that you don’t find yourself in a conga with 2000 other people in Horton at 6 a.m.

Local impact

The sense of achievement at completing the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge is fully justified; and if you have raised money for charity that’s commendable too. But it’s worth considering for a moment the potential downsides of doing the walk, and how you can do your bit to eliminate or reduce these.

Noise

Can you imagine what it must be like to live somewhere where several hundred people in large, excited groups walk past your front door every Saturday and Sunday morning at around 6.a.m? Then every Saturday or Sunday evening at around 6.p.m they are back again, letting out yelps of celebration? On your walk, please show consideration to the local people, especially in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, and pass through the village silently or as quietly as possible.

Erosion

I mentioned earlier the bog-trotting sections of the path which have pretty much gone now. This is because such a good path has been laid by the National Park. The wonderful Yorkshire Three Peaks walk has become a victim of its own success and the erosion caused by tens of thousands of walkers each year has meant that the route and the hillsides have really taken a battering. It costs £28 per metre to maintain the paths that have been created. You can do your bit to help first by sticking to the path; and secondly by donating a small amount. You can do this online or even in little cash-boxes that are around on different parts of the route.

Litter

Litter is unsightly and spoils the beautiful sights that we have all come to enjoy in places like the Yorkshire Dales. What’s more, it can be harmful (fatal) to farm animals and wildlife. If everyone doing the walk left all their litter it would take no time at all before the whole route became a gigantic landfill tip. The solution is simple – just take all your litter back home with you. “Leave only footprints; take only photographs.”

Here are some handy tips to help with this on the Yorkshire Three Peaks route:

  • DO remove (and bin) as much non-essential food packaging as you can before you even leave home.
  • DO take as few items of rubbish as possible.
  • DON’T take disposable plastic bottles (see below for what you should take).
  • DON’T dispose of any rubbish on the route, including fruit peel (which doesn’t belong there and doesn’t biodegrade anywhere near as quickly as you may think).
  • DO take a rubbish bag to carry all your rubbish home with you. And why not ‘do your bit’ and bring home an extra item or two of litter that never was yours in the first place.

Local economy

Walking itself is “free”, which is fantastic. Sure, it may have cost you something to come to the Yorkshire Dales – perhaps petrol for your car, camping fees, or if you are on a big event you will have paid your organiser, typically £30-£50 pounds. But none of this goes into the local economy. If you can, rather than arriving and leaving but contributing nothing, try and put some money into the local economy, typically by using pubs and cafes (more below).

‘Code of Conduct’

The Yorkshire Dales National Park have produced a handy ‘Code of Conduct’ full of tips for Yorkshire Three Peaks walkers. You can download this and share it with members of your party.

Levels of support

There are various ways of doing the Challenge with different levels of external assistance. They all have pros and cons so here are some tips and things to consider when you do the Yorkshire Three Peaks.

Un-assisted

By un-assisted I mean that you and your group are doing so without any help, guidance or logistical support from another party. This includes, for example, an event organiser. You will probably have driven from home, parked your car and met your friends at your chosen start point. Then you will have set off and walked until you return the car, then set off driving home.

You will be confident in your own skills to deal with whatever weather conditions you may encounter. Sometimes, the biggest challenge is dealing with the sun and the heat and not getting dehydrated. However, like any mountainous area of the UK, you will be prepared to deal with extreme conditions at the other end of the scale.

Pros

  • Simplicity – not dependent on anyone else’s arrangements.
  • Flexibility – you are free to change plans as suits you.
  • Satisfaction – the achievement and sense of satisfaction is all the greater when you have done something entirely for yourself.
  • Cost – there are no additional costs to be paid to someone else.

Cons

  • Self-sufficiency – you need to be self-sufficient in terms of carrying everything you need, including clothing, food and drink. This should include additional equipment for the group as a whole, that may not be immediately obvious. This could be a group first aid kit to deal with a major accident and an emergency shelter to protect the group in bad weather in an emergency.
  • Independent skills – you need the knowledge, skills and judgement to undertake a remote mountain walk. There may be a good path for much of the route, but you need to be able to navigate effectively, especially at certain points. The summit of Ingleborough, for example, can be very confusing in low cloud and poor visibility. It is featureless and it is very easy to get disorientated. This will lead to heading the wrong way, potentially onto dangerous terrain, and perhaps needing Mountain Rescue. If you are determined to do it alone, then make sure that your training for the Yorkshire 3P includes some skills training, not just physical training.
  • Emergency procedure – you need to know how to deal with accidents and emergencies in the mountains.
  • Abandonment and dropping out – you need to have some sort of plan for returning to the start point if one or all of you wish to abandon the attempt.
    • Just after Pen-y-Ghent (anti-clockwise) or just before it (clockwise), you can take a good bridleway track and descend straight to Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
    • From Ribblehead you can catch the train back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale (or vice versa if you started at Ribblehead).
    • From the B6255 road near Chapel-le-Dale you can walk along the road to Ribblehead and catch the train to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. You can do this in reverse if you started at Chapel-le-Dale.

Supported

By ‘supported’ I mean that you will walk the route itself on your own. But where the route returns to the valley, someone (with a vehicle) will be there to meet you and provide assistance.

Pros

  • Lighter loads – The most common element of support is to help replenish water bottles at the meeting points. This can reduce the amount you need to carry significantly. Similarly, extra food can be provided at meeting points. This also helps with reducing litter on the hills.
  • Changes of clothing – Again, weight can be reduced by having additional clothing or changes of clothing available at the meeting points. Simple things like a change of socks if feet have got wet can be an enormous help.
  • Advice and encouragement – Seeing a familiar and friendly face at the meeting points and getting a little bit of external encouragement boosts morale and raises your level of determination.
  • Dropping out – if someone does need to drop out, then these are the ideal opportunities to do so.

Cons

  • Cost – There will almost certainly be an additional cost unless you have managed to convince some friends or family to act as support for you. This is probably by way of paying for an overall event organiser whose charge will include the provision of support.
  • Loss of independence – The sense of satisfaction at completing the route can be reduced in some people’s minds. Perhaps a feeling that you have ‘cheated’. What’s more, you have to follow the rules set by the event organiser. This will often include a ‘cut-off’ time at each meeting place and parties who are too slow are obliged to withdraw and stop walking.

Guided

By ‘guided’ I mean that there is a guide physically walking with you for the whole of the Yorkshire Three Peaks route. This is not necessarily part of a supported event, although it could be. More likely is that you have independently hired a guide for your group for the day.

Pros

  • Encouragement – A guide will be offering advice and encouragement every step of the way. This includes being able to pass on detailed bits of knowledge when people are struggling – “I know this bit is steep and hard, but it will be over in 15 minutes” or “Well done, we have now done exactly one third of the distance.”
  • Pace setting – A guide will set the right pace for your group for your target time, be it 12 hours or 8 hours. They will keep you on schedule or be able to let you know that you could or must now accept a different target, if you have been moving faster or slower.
  • Physical support – In one or two places where scrambling is required, a guide can help you with coaching or physical support. If someone is struggling with their load, if you are lucky then your guide may offer to carry some items for you – within reason.
  • Group emergency equipment – A professional guide will carry group emergency equipment as a matter of course so that you don’t have to.
  • Navigation – A guide will most likely know the route intimately and have no need to navigate as such. However, if the visibility is poor then you are safe in the knowledge that a guide has the skills and equipment to navigate if necessary.

Cons

  • Cost – Hiring a guide will mean an extra cost for you.

Guided and supported

Guided and supported combines the last two, and is typically what you could expect on a large charity fund-raising event. There would probably be support vehicles at the valley roads and a guide walking with you throughout. It may not always be the same guide from start to finish, however.

Personal view

Having guided this walk numerous times in various different ways, I have my own opinion about it. This is that the most effective and enjoyable approach for clients is to do it in a guided, but un-supported, style. The combination of the pros and cons is a good balance. You genuinely do all the hard work under your own steam and carry everything you need for the day, so your sense of achievement is greater. But you also have the safety net of an experienced guide in an emergency and very specific knowledge and encouragement every step of the way.

Difficulty level

A very common question, both online and face-to-face is “How difficult is the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge and what training tips would I use?” This is obviously hard to answer because everyone is different. What some people consider to be not too difficult could be a challenge of a lifetime for someone else.

What I will try to do is explain a little more about the aspects that in my experience cause people the most difficulty. You can then factor these tips in to your own Yorkshire Three Peaks training.

Twelve hours walking

A challenge that entails 24 miles walking to be completed in under 12 hours means that for very many people, they will be walking for close to 12 hours? Think about this for a minute, especially if this is something that you don’t do that often. How many times in your life have you been on your feet continually for 12 hours, let alone been monotonously putting one foot in front of the other for 12 hours? This is the single hardest part of the challenge for most people. Sure, your body needs to be robust enough to cope with this – but that doesn’t mean super-fit (more on physical training tips for the Yorkshire Three peaks below). You just need to be in generally good health and of average fitness. But you do need to have bucket-loads of determination and be the sort of person who just doesn’t quit.

Steep descents

Yes, steep descents not ascents. In the bigger scheme of things the Yorkshire Three Peaks are not big mountains. They are fairly small even by UK standards. Some of the ascents are very gradual and you barely notice that you are gaining height as you walk. But, to be fair, there are some short, sharp, steep sections that really get the heart and lungs going. You may need to stop and catch your breath a couple of times. But what really tests people are the sections where there is a steep descent. Some struggle with a slight fear of falling and get very nervous. Many more struggle with pain in their knees. There is some information on preparatory training for the Yorkshire Three Peaks in the section below, along with a further tip in my archives to help you succeed on the descents.

Landmarks

It’s nice to know what to look out for along the way and have a little bit of information about major sights and landmarks, so here are some tips on what to look out for on the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge route.

Summits

Whernside

At 736m (2415ft), this is the Yorkshire Dales highest mountain. Unlike the other two, its shape isn’t that appealing. It is a gigantic whale-back ridge with none of the dramatic cliffs that the other two have. However, the views from Whernside are superb. Looking back across the Dales, you see Ingleborough clearly with Pen-y-Ghent away in the distance. Right down below you is the Ribblehead Viaduct. If you look the other way, to the west, you can see right out to the Lake District and Morecambe Bay. The origin of the name Whernside is probably from the fact that its summit gritsone rock was used to make ‘quern’ stones for grinding corn.

Tips and training for the Yorkshire 3P Challenge
The whale-back shape of Whernside, cast into shadow as the sun sets, seen from the route of the Yorkshire Three Peaks

Ingleborough

Ingleborough, at 724m (2375ft), is the second highest. It is a more complex mountain, with a number of ridges and valleys and hence a variety of routes to the top. It has a graceful and majestic shape with a huge flat top. This plateau was once an Iron Age defended hill-top fort. It’s name could be derived from two old English words – ing (meaning ‘peak’) and burh (meaning ‘fortified place’). On the slopes below, and just visible from the Yorkshire Three Peaks route, is the spot where the entrance to Gaping Gill is located. This is a vertical shaft into a deep cave system, where England’s tallest unbroken waterfall can be found (underground).

Tips and training for the Yorkshire 3P Challenge
The summit of Ingleborough, guarded by very steep slopes, towers above the limestone pavements below. A familiar sight on the Yorkshire Three peaks challenge

Pen-y-Ghent

Pen-y-Ghent is the smallest of the three at 694m (2277ft). Although it’s one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, it isn’t one of the highest three in Yorkshire. It’s merely the 9th. (Be grateful that the challenge isn’t to climb the three highest peaks, because this would actually entail a walk to Great Shunner Fell, a further 20km or so to the north.) Pen-y-Ghent may be the smallest of the three but many people view it as their favourite. It’s steep sides give the impression of an impregnable castle, where the cap of gritstone cliffs sits on top of the limestone base.

The steep rocky sides of Pen y Ghent, usually the first hill climbed on the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge
The steep rocky sides of Pen y Ghent, usually the first hill climbed on the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge

Ribblehead Viaduct

Ribblehead Viaduct is a hugely impressive stone viaduct. It carries the railway line from Settle to Carlisle through the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. Twenty-four stone arches carry the track some 32 metres above the moor below. Construction began in 1869 and in 1876 the railway line was opened. Around 2300 men worked on the viaduct and over 100 died in the process.

Tips and training for the Yorkshire 3P Challenge
The Ribblehead Viaduct in silhouette, with the summit of Ingleborough in the background.

Hull Pot

Three ladies explore the sides of Hull Pot in the Yorkshire Dales during a guided Yorkshire Three Peaks walk

Hull Pot (a ‘pot hole’) is a collapsed limestone cavern on the slopes below Pen-y-Ghent. It is clearly visible from the summit slopes (though not the summit itself) as a deep gash in the moor below. The bed of a usually dried-up stream leads into the scar. The stream actually drops underground further upstream and emerges as a waterfall at the bottom of Hull Pot. In heavy rain, however, the stream overflows and forms a huge waterfall crashing spectacularly into Hull Pot itself. Hull Pot is about 5 minutes walk from the actual route of the Yorkshire Three Peaks. If you have 15 minutes in hand then one of my Yorkshire Three Peaks tips is to go and pay a visit.

Force Gill

Tips and training for the Yorkshire 3P Challenge

Visible from the path on the slopes between Whernside and Ribblehead, Force Gill is a dramatic waterfall. It’s actually only the lower of a series of waterfalls. You can enjoy a view of it for a short while as you pass by. Or, like Hull Pot, if you have a few minutes in hand then a 5-minute walk will take you much closer to the waterfall.  You might even have time for a dip on a hot day – a great tip for cooling down during the Yorkshire Three Peaks.

Facilities

Everyone enjoys the views and landmarks on the route, but I probably get more questions about some of the more mundane but practical aspects. Bear in mind, that at its heart, the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge is a walk through a remote part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It isn’t Disneyland!

On the Yorkshire Three Peaks route:

Toilets

  • There is only one public toilet on the whole Yorkshire Three Peaks route. This is in the car park in Horton-in-Ribblesdale. However you have chosen to do the Y3P Challenge, please think about how you will manage your toileting needs. In particular, avoiding the need for a ‘Number Two’ on the route is essential.
  • Just outside the village of Chapel-le-Dale, just after the descent from Whernside (walking anti-clockwise), is Philpin Farm. Here they have converted a barn into a snack-bar and café area (see below). There are toilets available for free for snack-bar customers or for a small charge for others.

Cafes

  • As mentioned above, Philpin Farm snack-bar is excellent. They do a wide range of hot and cold drinks, hot snacks (e.g. hot bacon roll etc) and ice screams. Psychologically this is a great place to pause and eat and drink something to re-energise you.
  • Snack Van at Ribblehead. There is almost always a van parked up at Ribblehead offering tea, coffee, ice cream and hot snacks. Again, this is psychologically a good spot to refuel, and it is a scenic spot by a small stream too.

Before and after the route:

Cafes

  • The long-standing traditional start to the Yorkshire Three Peaks route was to go to the Pen-y-Ghent Café in Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Apart from serving good food and drink, they offered a clocking-in system as proof of your accomplishment. Years ago, when not so many people did the walk, there was a book that you signed. Sadly, since 2018 the café has been “closed until further notice” due to family illness. Nobody knows if or when the current owners will reopen or indeed if it will ever open as a café again. However, if it does, be sure to pay a visit.
  • There is another small café in Horton, the Blind Beck Tea Room. It seats 25 so it’s not somewhere to go in a massive group. It’s just out of the village centre on the way to Ribblehead and it is a lovely place for tea. A good tip is to to visit here the day before or the day after your Yorkshire Three Peaks attempt.

Pubs

  • There are two pubs in Horton-in-Ribblesdale where many will go for a drink after completing the route:
    • The Golden Lion Hotel.
    • The Crown Hotel.
  • If you have chosen to start and finish near Chapel-le-Dale (between Whernside and Ingelborough), then there is the Old Hill Inn. This is on the Ribblehead-Ingleton road, the B6255.
  • If you have chosen to start and finish near Ribblehead (on the route between Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent), there is The Station Inn near Ribblehead station.

Campsites

  • For the “classic” Yorkshire Three Peaks route, starting in Horton, many people camp in the village at the Holme Farm campsite. It’s superbly convenient and very well-maintained. However, it is in the heart of the village. Please remember to keep a noise to a minimum when striking camp at setting off early.
  • There is also Crag Hill Farm campsite, a short walk outside the village.
  • For camping on the route near Chapel-le-Dale, there is Philpin Farm’s campsite.

Other accommodation

If you are doing one of the other 5 options for the Yorkshire Three Peaks route, then there are a number of other simple accommodation options in the area:

  • Broadrake – This is former barn converted into high quality bunkbarn accommodation. It is at the foot of Whernside only just a few yards off the Yorkshire Three Peaks route, so it makes an excellent alternative start and finish  place.
  • Old School Bunkhouse, Chapel-le-Dale.
  • 3 Peaks Bunkroom – Located behind the Golden Lion in Horton.

There are also Bed and Breakfasts to suit all budgets within a 15-20 minute drive.

Natural world

Of course, many people have come to walk the Yorkshire Three Peaks as a ‘challenge’. Their mind is purely on the physical challenge. But it’s a shame to miss out out on appreciating the natural world around. This is what has made the Yorkshire Dales such a beautiful area. If you can, take a minute to read some information in advance, or ask your guide about it. Here some tips on what to look out for during the Yorkshire Three Peaks.

Geology

The Yorkshire Dales is most closely associated with being ‘limestone country’. This is typified by huge underground cave systems (which you won’t see!); and cliffs and limestone pavements, which you will see. On top of the limestone, formed deep under a tropical sea, the Yorkshire Three Peaks are topped by a cap of Millstone Grit. This very tough rock is the gritty debris laid down by a huge river system. The most recent effects have been by glaciers, when the Yorkshire Dales were covered by ice. These glaciers carved out the huge valleys which now separate the peaks. The glaciers all but carried away the gritstone layer, leaving just the ‘island’ caps of the peaks.

An amazing view of the Yorkshire Three Peaks (Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen y Ghent) with a limestone pavement in the foreground, seen during a guided walk in the Yorkshire Dales
An amazing view of the Yorkshire Three Peaks (Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen y Ghent) with a limestone pavement in the foreground, seen during a guided walk in the Yorkshire Dales

Flora

The Yorkshire Dales can initially appear uniform and dull – great expanses of seemingly the same grass. But look closer and you’ll see something quite different. There are no fewer than 17 priority habitats identified and being managed. This includes blanket-bogs that are helping fight climate change by absorbing carbon. In the cracks (or grikes) in the limestone pavement, little micro-climates develop. This allows plant species to flourish where they couldn’t on the exposed hillsides.

Fauna

A huge variety of birds and animals have made the Yorkshire Dales their home. While you do the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, you don’t have to try very hard to see some of them. Look out for the peregrine falcon, the fastest creature on the planet. Or perhaps you’ll suddenly spot some sort of mouse, vole or shrew scurrying away for cover beneath your feet.

Key timings and speed

Records

The current record for running the Yorkshire Three Peaks (via the currently accepted route) stands at a staggering 2 hours 46 minutes and 3 seconds. This was set by Andy Peace in 1996. That’s food for thought as you set off with a target time of 12 hours.

There are many other runners with hugely respectable times. Also, there are walkers who (with a little jogging downhill, perhaps) have times of 7-10 hours. However, this article is mainly aimed at someone who finds the whole thing daunting. For them, managing 12 hours will be a massive achievement.

Speed

To do 12 hours, you don’t have to run at all. You just need to walk continuously at a speed that is pretty much that identified by Naismith in his famous formula. The metric version of this is 4km/h plus 1 minute for every 10 metres of ascent. This speed is one which an averagely fit and healthy person could walk at without over-exerting themselves. At this speed, continuous conversation should be possible. You ought not to get out of breath (except perhaps on the short steep sections). Furthermore, you ought not to be getting too hot and sweaty (except perhaps on the very hottest of days).

Keeping pace

Above I mentioned how one of the advantages of having a guide was that they would help you keep the right pace. That’s not all they will do of course, so I have no trouble sharing my notes on timings for those that wish to do the route for themselves. So, here are my very rough timings for a 12 hour circuit. Each set of timings is for one of three possible start points and for a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. The time taken for each leg is given, along with the cumulative time to that point. The final column lists the actual time of the day that you should reach that point based on a 06.30am start. These tips should help keep you at the right pace for your Yorkshire Three Peaks target time.

Yorkshire Three Peaks training ideas

Having understood what they are letting themselves in for, the next question that some people will ask me is “What training should I do for the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge?” Others will say “I’ll be fine, I go to the gym three times a week”. Or “I cycle 100 miles every weekend so this should be no problem”. Or “I play a lot of rugby so I’m pretty fit.” Here are my views on physical preparation and some training tips for the Yorkshire Three Peaks. This is generic advice, and it won’t apply to everyone in all cases. But they are tips based on seeing lots of different people succeed – and fail – on their Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge.

Upright endurance sports

Earlier I wrote about what people find most difficult. You’ll see that it’s all based on being on your feet and walking for 12 hours. Therefore, the best training tip that you can follow for the Yorkshire Three Peaks is doing walking – and lots of it. Now, please don’t all the weightlifters, cyclists and rugby players take offence at this. But I’m going to make the sweeping statement that these forms of fitness are not especially useful training for the Yorkshire Three Peaks.

Other sports

Here’s why – in very generalised but brutally honest terms. Weightlifters and gym users – great, but big muscles alone won’t keep you walking, especially if it’s just big biceps. Rugby players – 80 minutes of explosive action punctuated by frequent rests is in no way comparable to 12 hours steady exercise. Cyclists – you’ve probably got great stamina and aerobic fitness and huge thighs and calf muscles, but you’re not even used to supporting your whole bodyweight for any length of time.

These are all great sports and everyone can be fit in different ways. All I’m saying is that these in isolation are not great training for the Yorkshire Three Peaks route. You need to do lots of walking. If you cycle and play rugby and swim and go to the gym as well, then that’s great. But you need to do lots of walking.

So, here are some tips for the most relevant training for the Yorkshire Three Peaks. You can incorporate these easily into your daily routine.

Walking

Once again, you need to do loads of walking. In once sense, training for the Yorkshire Three Peaks is really that simple. The longer you can walk continuously for, then the greater your chances of a successful and comfortable experience. Here are some ideas. The first two are absolutely essential. The third is a ‘nice to have’:

Essential

  • Aim to go for increasingly longer training walks over a period of 2-3 months. Build up your fitness and stamina gradually.  By the weekend before your Yorkshire Three Peaks you should be able to comfortably walk 15 miles on Saturday and then 10 miles on Sunday. If you don’t live near hills then don’t worry – on the flat is totally fine. If you do have some hills nearby, then great – you can build those in to your routes. You don’t need a heavy pack for your Yorkshire Three Peaks training. Carry just what you need in terms of food and drink for that walk.
  • Find every opportunity that you can to walk instead of some sort of mechanical assistance:
    • Walk to work – don’t take the car/bus/tube; or if transport is unavoidable, get off part way and walk the rest.
    • Walk to the shops.
    • Go for an evening or morning stroll of an hour or so every day. Dog owners have already got this one covered.
    • Take the stairs not a lift in the office.

Nice to Have

  • About a month before your Yorkshire Three Peaks, try and do a training walk that is specifically a hill walk if this is something that you don’t do regularly. For example, take a weekend in North Wales and walk up Snowdon. Or maybe come to the Yorkshire Dales  and do a training walk up one of the actual Yorkshire Three Peaks. This will do two things. First, the physical training will help strengthen your legs. Second, the psychological preparation can not be underestimated. If you generally don’t walk up large hills then getting your mind attuned to what this is like will stand you in good stead. Even more so if you’ve done some training on one of the Yorkshire 3P peaks themselves. Note: A word of warning. Training walks up other mountains are every bit as serious as your Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge event, even more so in the case of Snowdon. If you are unsure that you have the skills needed, then hire a guide. If your Yorkshire Three Peaks event is guided then you should probably think about hiring a guide for a training mountain walk too.

Strength training

To prepare your legs for the steep descents you need to build up a bit of muscle strength in certain parts of the legs. Perhaps you can do this through another form of exercise (e.g. gym work). But if not, you can fit this training for the Yorkshire Three Peaks into your daily home life without any difficulty. You can search online for how to do these exercises.

  • Squats – you can easily do these at home any time: while watching telly, waiting for the kettle to boil etc.
  • Lunges – as for squats, any time.
  • Calf-raises – as for the other two, but you can also do these while you are cooking, or washing up. You can even do them in the queue for the supermarket checkout.

Clothing & Equipment

What to carry? This is something that people really struggle with if they are not a regular walker/hiker in remote terrain. They tend to massively underestimate or massively overestimate what to take.

Success factors

These aspects are the ones that I think it pays to consider carefully and therefore my top tips for the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge.

Safety

You may think that this is a statement of the obvious, and in one sense it is. But while the concept of keeping yourself safe may seem simple, how to do it may take many different forms. Let’s not forget that while many thousands of people do the Yorkshire Three Peaks quite comfortably, it has the potential to be a dangerous event. People become incapacitated and die of hypothermia in the UK mountains in cold, wet, windy weather. Equally, people become hospitalised and die of dehydration and heat exhaustion when pushing themselves on endurance events in hot weather.

Keeping yourself safe, and improving your chances of success, will depend on having the right clothing and equipment for the conditions at the time. On one day, this could be a waterproof coat, warm hat and gloves. On a different day it could be a sun hat, lots of sun cream and extra water.

Hydration

Keeping hydrated is vital, so you need to take, and drink, enough water throughout. Medical advice is that the adequate daily fluid intake for an adult man in a temperate climate is about 3.7 litres. This doesn’t include replacing the fluid that you lose while exercising hard. So does that mean that we need to carry 4 or more litres of water with us? Well, given that 1 litre of water weighs about 1kg, I would strongly suggest not. Assuming an un-supported (see above) walk, here’s how I approach it:

‘Pre-hydration’ – Step 1

This means being thoroughly hydrated before starting the walk. Drink plenty throughout the day the day before, right into the evening. Beer doesn’t count in this regard. In the morning between getting up and setting off, aim to drink another 500ml (half a litre, a pint), gradually. This includes your morning cuppa etc.

‘Little and Often’ – Step 2

During the walk, drink little and often. The best way of doing this is using a hydration bladder pack and drinking tube. It’s very easy to keep sipping away throughout the day. I carry a 2 litre pack (and no more). Drinking this slowly throughout the day I keep adequately hydrated and by the end of the day it has just about all gone. What works less well is carrying a large 2 litre plastic bottle, pushing yourself up the hills and then gulping down half a litre at the summit.

‘Re-hydration’ – Step 3

While the 2 litre bladder will keep me ‘adequately hydrated’, it’s not totally enough. By the end of the day my body will be going into what some refer to as ‘water debt’. Therefore, when I get back down at the end, I will need to actively start replacing lost fluids by steadily drinking more water. But this is water that I didn’t need to carry with me. Again, at this point, beer doesn’t count.

Food

Food is our body’s fuel. Just the same way that our car burns petrol and needs filling up, so our body burns fuel and will need topping up. A simple rule of thumb is to aim to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. This is around 100 calories per hour (for this sort of level of exercise). The key here is, once again, eat little and often.

In the past, I’ve had clients ask “When do we stop for lunch?” Or, at one of the many short stops we have, someone will take out a huge plastic box filled with pasta and salad and start to lay it out on a plastic plate.

This isn’t the best approach at all. First, there isn’t generally time for a one-hour lunch break. For most people, the Yorkshire Three Peaks will take the form of 12 hours almost continuous walking with several 5-10 minute short stops. Second, we need to consume those 100 calories or so on an hourly basis (very roughly). The way to meet both of these requirements is by bringing food in the form of numerous small snacks, especially ones that can be kept in a pocket and pulled out and eaten on the go. Sandwiches, cereal bars, cake, flap jacks, fruit are all good.

Essential kit

There are three items of personal equipment that I generally view as essential for a client to have, regardless of the time of year or weather forecast. These are:

Boots

Boots should be lightweight but should also cover the ankle. These will give additional support to legs that are unused to prolonged walking. A good sole is essential on some of the grassy hillsides and scrambly sections. Casual trainer-type shoes are totally inappropriate. For someone who is an experienced trail-runner, then a proper trail running shoe could be the right choice.

Make sure you know how to carry out simple repairs to keep you walking – and carry a small repair kit with you.

Waterproof jacket

If the weather turns bad then a waterproof jacket is quite literally a life-saver. Enough said. Even if the weather is generally fine, the exposed summits can be very windy.  The wind will chill a tired, sweaty body very quickly. To make the most of your brief summit rest and get some more food inside, a jacket is essential to keep the chilly wind away.

Headtorch

In the summer months, ideally this will never come out of your rucksack. After all, there is far more than 12 hours daylight available. At other times of year, there simply aren’t enough daylight hours. Some of the route must be done in half-light or darkness. Even in the summer, things can go wrong (for example, a simple twisted ankle). When darkness comes, then the only way to continue walking and have hands free to support someone is with a torch that can be worn on the head. Thinking that the light on a mobile phone is any sort of substitute is a fool’s game.

Things to avoid

One item to avoid is clothing made of cotton. Cotton absorbs moisture quickly (which is why it makes a great tea-towel) but takes ages to dry. If you wear a cotton tee-shirt and it gets wet from sweat or rain on the first hill then you will spend the rest of the day wet. That wet layer will conduct heat away from your body 5-10 times more quickly and the heat loss is energy loss.

Personal kit list

A personal kit list for what to wear and carry in good weather and poor weather might look something like this.

Group equipment

Earlier on, a couple of times I have mentioned what I referred to as ‘group equipment’.  This is equipment over and above an individual walker’s personal equipment that a group ought to have between them. This will allow the group as a whole to deal with all circumstances, including unexpected emergencies.  If you have hired a professional guide, then they should have these things with them as a matter of course:

  • Map
  • Compass
  • First aid kit
  • Emergency shelter large enough to fit the whole group inside.

Personal Account

If you’d like to read a very relaxed, honest account written by someone doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge for the first time, then this eBook by Donna Chadwick is well worth getting.

Summary

The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge route is an excellent walk in a beautiful part of England. There is much more that you can get out of your visit than just a physical challenge. But completing it is a major achievement and you can be very proud of this. Hopefully, you have enjoyed reading the route information, tips and training ideas for the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. I hope they will improve your chances of success and make your walk more enjoyable.