6 unusual UK mountain hiking trails
© Alexander Kendall
Three Peaks Challenge? So last year. Try these mountain challenges instead...
Climbing the highest peaks of England, Scotland and Wales within 24 hours is known as the National Three Peaks Challenge. And guess what? It’s been done to death. Mountain leader Alex Kendall gives us the lowdown on the lesser-known mountain challenges in the UK.
1. Yorkshire Three Peaks
Selling point: A trail suitable for hiking newbies
Perhaps the second most popular UK walking challenge, the Yorkshire Three Peaks crosses Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent, three impressive hills in the south of the Yorkshire Dales. The route is circular and has 1,500m of ascent and descent, which people aim to complete within 12 hours. The traditional starting point is Horton in Ribblesdale, which has a train station and accommodation. A great walk and probably the easiest in this list.
2. Dartmoor Ten Tors
Selling point: You can make it as difficult or as easy as you want
The Ten Tors is a challenge for young people organised by the Army, where teams of six visit ten of the Dartmoor 'Tors' (granite outcrops usually on summits) in routes of varying length. But just because you can't do the official one doesn't mean that you can't set your own challenge! Have a look at a map of Dartmoor and pick ten tors to visit, trying to do it in one day, or two with a camp. As a good base for exploration, head to Okehampton which is near the highest tors.
3. Welsh Three Peaks
Selling point: Traverse unique peaks across Wales
Traversing the whole of Wales from north to south, the 21 mile challenge involves climbing Snowdon (north Wales), Cadair Idris (mid Wales) and Pen y Fan (south Wales). This is done in one push, including driving between them. On a long summer's day this can be completed in daylight, and a good target time is 15 hours. All three mountains are very different and dominate their local landscapes for miles, providing three very unique walks. A good starting place is Llanberis for Snowdon, finishing in Brecon near Pen y Fan.
4. Cairngorms 4000s
Selling Point: The wild Arctic plateau of the Cairngorms
There is no greater concentration of 4,000-foot mountains in the UK than the Cairngorms in the East Highlands of Scotland. Fate would have it that they are arranged in a large loop, making it possible to summit all five of them in one fantastic walk. It's a tough 21 miles as the route includes a descent and ascent of the infamous Lairig Ghru pass at the halfway point. For a walk in the wild this route is up there with the best. The nearest town is Aviemore which is easily accessible from the south, or from Inverness.
5. Lake District 24 Peaks
Selling Point: A journey through the best of England's highest mountains
If you want to push yourself over two days then this challenge is hard to beat. The actual peaks included change depending on who’s planning the route, but the traditional walk takes in Scafell Pike, Helvellyn, Fairfield and many more famous summits. Usual walking time is 12 hours on the first day and 10 hours on the second, with hopefully enough time to sleep between them! Be prepared for steep ascents and rocky ground. The usual start is Buttermere, with the overnight in Ambleside in the heart of the Lake District.
6. Welsh 3000s
Selling point: Push yourself on a classic 24-hour hiking challenge
One of the hardest classic walking challenges around, the Welsh 3000s takes in all fifteen 3,000-foot peaks in Wales. The aim is to complete the walk in 24 hours, from the first summit to the last and all on foot. Depending on the exact route, the whole trip is roughly 35 miles, and includes 3,500m of ascent and descent. During it you will cross three distinct mountain ranges, take in the scramble of Crib Goch, and summit Snowdon itself! If starting with Snowdon, head to Llanberis, which sits at the foot of the mountain. The usual finish point is in Bethesda.
For each of these challenges you'll need walking boots, a waterproof jacket and trousers, warm clothes, and plenty of food and water. Always take a charged mobile phone and a small first aid kit in case of emergencies. If you are doing the navigation then make sure you have maps and compasses and know how to use them.
Give it a go...
All of these challenges can be attempted independently or outdoor companies can organise these challenges for you and provide mountain leaders.
If you want to lead a challenge yourself why not do a Hill and Mountain skills course to make sure you know what you're doing?
Like this? Check out: How to win the world’s harshest race
Alex Kendall is a freelance writer and Mountain Leader living in South Wales. Follow him @Alex_Kendall