The Three Peaks Challenge | Everything you need to know before you start

The three peaks challenge is a popular outdoor endurance climb in the UK. The challenge involves climbing Ben Nevis, Scaffel Pike, and Mount Snowden back-to-back. If you’re considering it as your next adventure, we've put everything you’ll need to know about the challenge in one place to save you time researching.

What is the three peaks challenge?

The three peaks challenge involves climbing the three highest mountains in the UK back-to-back. These are Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, and Mount Snowden.

Some people add a time constrain and try to do the challenge within 24 hours.

How hard is the three peaks challenge?

Climbing three mountains back-to-back is never going to be easy. Your experience will likely vary greatly depending on several factors, including:

  • The time of year
  • Weather conditions
  • Climbing experience
  • Fitness levels
  • 24-hour time constraint

What the 24-hour challenge looks like

The 24-hour challenge traditionally starts at Fort William in Scotland.

The traditional way of doing the challenge has you start your Ben Nevis climb at midday. This is the best way to avoid the traffic on your way to Scafell Pike.

You’ll arrive at Scafell in the evening which means the majority of your climb and ascent will take place in the dark. You should finish up at Scafell in the early hours of the morning, leaving you around 9 to 10 hours to drive, ascend and descend Snowdon.

Why sharing the driving is essential

Driving on no-sleep and tired legs is a recipe for disaster.

If you’re completing this challenge, make sure you evenly split the driving between your group to minimise risk.

Alternative itineraries

There is another way you can approach the 24-hour three peaks challenge. This involves less climbing in the dark and more driving during the night.

Fun facts

  • The fastest known three peaks climb took place on the 18th of July 1971. Joss Naylor was driven between the peaks in a rally specification Ford Capri by his driver Frank Davies
  • If you stacked the three peaks on top of one another, they’d make a combined climb that’s more than 3400 metres high!
  • Driving between the peaks means you’ll be on the ground for around 460 miles

What the basic challenge looks like

The alternative to the more intense 24-hour challenge is three peaks in three days.

This challenge gives you more time to take in the views on your way up and down, and removes the need for climbing in the dark.

The lack of a time constraint means you can take your time, soak in the views, and stop for some food midway through your climb.

The quickest route up each mountain

The quickest route up Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis is widely regarded as the toughest climb of the three. The fastest route to the summit is via the Mountain Path Track (10.5 miles). You might see this route referred to as the Pony Track.

If you’re climbing Ben Nevis first, we recommend you stay in Fort William overnight before making your way to Glen Nevis to begin your ascent at midday.

The Pony Track crosses the River Nevis and provides sensational views of Loch Meall and Stob Ban. Once you reach the summit, we recommend taking the same route on your way down.

The quickest route up Scafell Pike

The Wasdale Head route is fastest, most direct way to the summit of Scafell Pike. This path is roughly 5 miles long and starts at the Wasdale Head Village car park.

The quickest route up Scafell Pike moves through Lingmell Gill, Lingmell Scars, and Hollow Stones on your way up to the 978m summit.

Depending on your fitness level and urgency, you can complete a round trip up and down Scafell in around 5 or 6 hours.

The quickest route up Snowdon

The fastest route up Snowdon is the Pyg Track. The Pyg Track is one of six routes to the summit and is around 7 miles (11.2 kilometers) in length for a round trip.

The Pyg Track begins at Pen-y-Pass. This is a popular starting point for several of the other routes up the mountain. The Pen-y-Pass is located on the A4086 road and is a designated car park for hikers.

In terms of difficulty, the Pyg Track blends some very light scrambling with incline tracks and some steep staircases. Depending on the time of year, you’ll want to pack your waterproofs for the top.

Frequently asked questions

How long is the drive between each mountain?

The complete length of the drive between the start points of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, and Snowdon is approximately 464 miles. This takes around ten hours.

  • Fort William to Wasdale Head: approximately 5 hr 46 min (258.5 mi) via A82
  • Wasdale Head to Pen-y-Pass: approximately4 hr 39 min (205.3 mi) via M6

How much training should I do?

How much training you do is up to you. If you’re taking it easy and aren’t fussed about doing the three climbs inside 24 hours, you shouldn’t need to do much training if you’re already reasonably fit.

How fit do I need to be?

If you’re worried about fitness, we recommend trying out a local hike that’s roughly 5 to 6 hours long to see how you fare.

With each climb, there are plenty of places to stop and take in the scenery on the way up. Unless you’re racing to the top, you can take it relatively easy on certain stretches to recharge.

Can I do the three peaks challenge on my own?

Climbing alone is never recommended. 

This is especially true if you need to execute part of a climb in the dark. On top of that, because of the amount of driving involved, you should never attempt to complete the 24-hour three peaks challenge alone.

If you’re with a group, there’s more opportunity to sort out problems if something goes wrong mid-climb or during one of the driving sections of your itinerary.

If you are a solo climber, there are several companies that put packaged groups together for challenges like this. These excursions are a great way of making a social event out of your three peaks adventure.

Do I have to pay?

No. There are no fees required to climb any of the mountains.

Which climb is the hardest?

This is an interesting question. 

It’s generally accepted that Ben Nevis is the hardest climb as it’s the highest, however Scafell is the least well marked trail of the three. It’s not uncommon for people to get lost on this leg of the challenge, so make sure you’ve got a map at the ready.

Lastly, Snowdon is well marked and well populated. It’s probably the most accessible of the three, however as it’s the last climb of the challenge, you may well find it the hardest to get done. Who’d have thought climbing 1,084.6m on sore legs could be tricky?

Will I need to climb in the dark?

If you’re not fussed about time constraints, there’s no need to climb in the dark.

If you’re doing the 24-hour challenge, you will need to climb and descend one of the peaks overnight.

The standard way this is done is that you begin climbing Ben Nevis at midday on your first day. This helps you avoid the traffic on your way to Scafell, but does mean you will end up climbing it in the dark.

Other great walks, hikes and climbs in the UK

A new favourite outdoor adventure could quite literally be right around the corner. 

Click any of the links below to find your next walk, hike, or climb:

Last updated Tuesday 21 May 2024

First published on Tuesday 21 May 2024