Bristol URNU Three Peaks Challenge September 2023 – words and images by Mid S Gupta
In September 2023, 12 of Bristol University Royal Naval Unit’s finest departed HMS FLYING FOX to head up to Fort William Scotland. After pitching their tents and scoffing some scran at a premier local establishment, the daring Officer Cadets, with an electric feeling of trepidation running through them (either for the adventure to come or from the 2,500-calorie meal they had just consumed), prepared the last of their kit and headed to bed.
In what seemed like just moments later, a surround sound cacophony of alarms rang out and were abruptly silenced as the Officer Cadets scrambled to not wake the entire campsite at 4:45am. The next thirty minutes passed by in a flash as sleeping bags were packed, teeth were brushed, water bottles were filled and … well and then we were walking! We knew that Ben Nevis, with its 14km and 1300m elevation, was a manageable start to our endeavour and we were quick out of the blocks. The sun rose whilst we were about halfway up the Ben, and whilst we all took it in, we made sure not to let too far off the pace as the sun only served as a reminder of what it was, we were racing against – time.
Reaching the summit, we met another group who were doing the challenge too and had set off ahead of us. These other adventurers set off as we were breaking out Moral-ibos (Starmix was the elixir of choice) and took the obligatory pictures at the summit. Not wanting to waste our efforts on the ascent, we were quick to head off back down the mountain (the Cox’n only managed to post to Facebook twice from the summit so we must have been rapid!). It was the last third of the way down where the sun remembered who he was and it was clear to see, from the sweat-drenched people climbing up, that whatever we thought of the early start, it was completely necessary.
Overall, we managed a total of five hours to conquer the first of the small hills (three up, two down), but we all knew that this was only the beginning.
Piling into the vans (which our support drivers had packed with water and the tents) we were all quick to dip into the ration packs and begin the refueling process as we zoomed towards our next challenge. We did make a stop on the way to visit Lochaber Commando Memorial which served as a reminder for the charitable cause we were supporting; the Royal Navy and Marines Charity.
Arriving at Scafell Pike, we were hot out of the van and onto the mountain. Setting off at a blistering rate of knots proved slightly foolish under the red-hot sun and after a slight adjustment to the pace, we managed an uneventful ascent in one hour and fifty minutes, to arrive with the daylight just fading. As we summited, we ran back into the other group of people but this time we comfortably overtook them, which was a massive ego boost, especially as we had seen one of their contingent significantly struggling about halfway up the mountain. This wasn’t some sort of sadistic schadenfreude, but more of a stark reminder of the magnitude of the challenge and how strong we were as a team to still be operating with such cohesion and lack of injury across the board.
Donning head torches, we completed the descent in one hour and twenty minutes to give a second small hill time of three hours and ten minutes. We were now on the home stretch.
To be completely honest I teleported to Snowdon. That’s not to say it wasn’t a long and uncomfortable journey, but the driving was expertly managed by our drivers and other than frequent stretches and calorie intake the journey was just an opportunity to rest and prepare.
Head torches were necessary for the Snowdon ascent as we set off from the van at 3:23am with a significant number of the group wearing blister tape on their feet (and some on nipples!) and some ibuprofen gel on sore knees. As we approached the final 70m elevation it became clear that our time was going to be close (maybe we should have paused the clock on our Commando Memorial visit), but after a marked increase in speed, and perhaps a little bit of a jog, the group made the summit and we had completed our challenge. All whilst the sun sat lazily below the horizon, allowing his sister to shine a crescent shape beam over the night.
Overall, the challenge was a fantastic show of team spirit and I’m glad to have done it with you all as my final University Royal Naval Unit Now for an ice bath!