SIAB ‘Blog in a Bag’ No. 18: The challenge of climbing the UK’s 3 highest peaks…

This month’s (slightly late) blog is from a great friend and supporter of the charity, Sarah, who took part in our 3 Peaks Challenge earlier in the month. It wasn’t without its ups and downs but here’s Sarah’s side of it and how she got on…

Hi School in a Bag supporters, my name is Sarah and I’ve been asked to write this month’s blog. Reason being that I have recently completed the 3 Peaks Challenge with the School in a Bag team.

I first encountered the Piers Simon Appeal a few years ago when I was invited to the launch of School in a Bag as a member of the Rotary Club of Crewkerne District at which I packed a school bag number 3880. Since then I have become far more involved in the charity firstly they were my chosen charity when I was President in 2012/13 and this was the first year that my Rotary club were involved in volunteering at Home Farm Fest. Since then we have helped every year since taking over the car parking duties and are very proud of the neat lines of parked cars!

Then 18 months ago I joined the School in a Bag team as a volunteer helping in the office. I am usually there every other Wednesday and help with the database. So some days I’m inputting the children’s names who have received SchoolBags or adding their photos. Others I might be in the barn (which is always a bit chilly!) packing up equipment for the SchoolBags. The guys in the office are a great bunch and I look forward to my time there. N.B Sarah does so much when she’s here! She helps setting up events, getting other bits ready for us, helping out across all aspects of what we do – oh, and makes a great cuppa :)

I took up walking a few years ago when my best mate Caroline decided for her annual leave that she would go to Nepal and walk to Everest Base Camp and I became her training pal. Caroline is also a member of Rotary and this year she is our President and one of her chosen charities is School in a Bag. We had been to a School in a Bag event at Home Farm and seen the presentation of their recent fundraising efforts showing 2015 3 Peaks and between us decided it was something we wanted to take part in this year.

We signed up not long after Christmas and then our training began. We both live in Chard and most Tuesday evenings we walked and tried to find lots of hills (being the highest town in Somerset it wasn’t too hard)! My husband is a member Chard Road Runners who run on a Tuesday and we would meet them for a pint after our walk, where lots of them gave us support and guidance on training for our forthcoming challenge. Thursdays neither of us work so we would do a longer walk, again looking for somewhere steep to walk up, often at the Jurassic Coast. Caroline’s a bit of a gadget girl and found an app that gave the gradient of where we had walked in a colour graph, so as we were walking we were always trying to guess what colour we were doing – usually we were estimating it was steeper than it was! Then as a keen cyclist I had a new gadget that gave the gradient so we could see as we were walking how steep the hills were. Nowhere around here was steep enough in comparison to Ben Nevis, Scafell and Snowdon.

So 4th August came around really quickly, thinking we had ages to get ready and fit for it!! And then the beginning of the week I came down with a chest infection which being asthmatic wasn’t too good and my inhalers weren’t doing the job, so after a visit to the doctor antibiotics and steroids were prescribed. But with two nights of not sleeping before setting off for Fort William I was starting to get a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete the challenge. I really didn’t want to let Caroline down, and we had already been sponsored by a lot of people so I didn’t want to say to them that I had failed. So I made the decision that I would go and try and if my lungs decided I couldn’t do it I would listen to them.

So the first day of our challenge was travelling up to Fort William. We all met at Home Farm at 5.30 am and were on the road by 6. It was great to meet the team. There was 8 of us plus driver Henry Simon. Melody was completing her 5th 3 Peaks, Jamie his 3rd. Brother and sister George (Georgina) and Rob had signed up only a month beforehand. Then there was Luke and Zoë from the charity. The drive took a long time in the mini-bus, we had a few stops in service stations and each time I “checked-in” on Facebook so that my husband and family could see our progress. 10 hours later we reached Loch Lomond which was stunning! From there the last two hours flew by as the scenery was so spectacular. We were nearly there – I was getting more and more nervous!!

We got to the Youth Hostel about 9 and after finding our dorm, making beds we met in the dining room for a briefing with Luke. Now I’m used to a very fun and jokey Luke from my days in the office at School in a Bag and he was then very, very serious showing us the OS map of where we were walking and how hard it was going to be and that we had to be careful in a few places where there were steep drops especially if it was bad weather. This was the point at which I started to cry!  I am a bit emotional to say the least and I was starting to panic that I just wouldn’t be able to cope with my coughing and breathlessness. Needless to say I didn’t sleep much that night either nor did Caroline on the bunk below me with me coughing and making the whole bunk bed shake. So that made 3 nights of not sleeping and I was about to do the biggest challenge of my life and walk up Ben Nevis, (oh and Scafell Pike and Snowdon)!! No need to worry about sleeping through the alarm at 5am, I was awake and couldn’t wait to start so that I would know if I could cope. Packing up in a small dorm trying not to wake the others sleeping in there was a task and a half. We had a quick breakfast and then met in the car park for our warm up at 6am, ready to start walking at 6.30. Only 5 miles to the top, I had taken my inhalers, steroids and Berocca, walking boots on, poles at the right length – we were off!


Sarah (on the right) and Caroline at the summit of Nevis!

Well the first part was STEEP! Lots and lots of steps and over 30% gradient. We had several stops at which point Caroline and I ate sausage rolls, fig rolls and dates to keep our bodies fuelled. Everyone was supporting each other I was managing fine. The views were so spectacular we had to stop to look at them often and with George being a photographer and Caroline with her camera capturing the scenery. So it took 3 ½ hours to get to the top! Guess what I cried! Rang my hubby and got a bit emotional! At the top it was clear so we could see the views. It was quite cold so we all wrapped up warm, my down jacket felt so cosy at 1345 meters above sea. We had a few photos with the School in a Bag banner and Camon Bear. Then to go down and it was a bit misty for a little while. We stopped a few times going down for rests too, down is just as hard as going up especially for those ex-hockey players with achy knees Caroline, Zoë and George. Each time we stopped my legs started to shake uncontrollably. We got to the bottom after 7 hours, 3 ½ up and 3 ½ down. We had done our first peak!   I had made it, I knew then that I could do Scafell and Snowdon. I was chuffed to bits to say the least. But Caroline had struggled with her knee on the descent so it was her turn to be worried about whether she could keep going.


Sarah and Caroline at the summit of Scafell Pike!

So we were then in the minibus again, this time on the way to the Lake District. Lots of time for updating Facebook with photos of our walk. My legs every now and then started their shaking much to the amusement of everyone else. I had taken with me a wooden massage roller so with that and a bit of stretching on the bus kept me amused for the journey and a bit of a sleep! Again more service station check-ins, one where we ate our evening meal and had our briefing for the next day and I managed not to cry this time. Some awards were handed out - I had the winner’s rosette to wear for the next day. We eventually arrived at Wasdale at 11 pm. We’d been up since 5am so getting into bed was bliss. And I slept!

Next morning was another early one. The sun was out and we had our second peak to conquer. And after more steroids, Berocca and yesterday’s success I was ready and eager to start. Again we had our warm up to do, thanks to Luke we looked like we were morris dancers! Scafell was quite different to Ben Nevis, we had still more steps but a lot of large cobbles to walk on which I’m sure would be very slippery when wet. We had a river to cross and I had visions of me missing the stepping stones and ending up with wet feet. By now the group were starting to gel more. Rob had won the pink helmet of personality and along with this honour he had to convince people it was his birthday and was getting a few high-fives from other walkers. As we got higher it got cooler and the clouds were getting closer so the final push was in mist and the terrain changed to large flat scree-like rocks and was very steep. I was so glad to have my poles to help. At the summit 978 meters again it was cold and this time misty so we didn’t get any views. More photos to take as a group and in our pairs. Again tears from me, however this time it was because we were scattering the ashes of my husband’s uncle who had passed away in February and had been a keen walker and loved his time in the Lake District. Going down Zoë, Caroline and George were struggling with their knees however George found that if she crouched down a little it eased the pain but looked hilarious! It was so much harder descending, thankfully having poles eased the pressure a bit. We got to the bottom after 6 hours of walking. This time my legs weren’t quite so shakey. Think they were getting used to it!


And the two at the summit of Snowdon!

So we were on the bus again. This time on our way to Wales. When we got to the hostel the weather was horrendous and we had seen the forecast of gales and heavy rain for the next day. Were we all going to be blown off the side of the mountain? Were we all going to get soaked and me end up with pneumonia? That night Luke, Zoë and Melody cooked a fantastic meal for us all of spaghetti bolognaise at the hostel. We again had our briefing and presentations, and I had the honour of being awarded the pink helmet of personality. Probably because I had been telling fellow walkers that it was Rob’s birthday and that was why he was wearing the pink helmet.

Thankfully the next morning the rain had cleared and we set off in grey skies, knowing that we would soon be in the clouds. It was very windy so how lucky was I that I had the pink helmet to hold my hat on! I started off my second birthday of the year thinking would I get as many high-fives as Rob, who would notice I was wearing a stupid hat, would my neck and shoulders hurt like mad from wearing it all day! Hey I was like the Queen having two birthdays! All the way up we were passing people and I was getting high-fives, even had a hug and kiss from one person! We walked up Pyg Track which in places was very steep with rocks to scramble up at times. When we got to the summit 1085 meters it was blowing a gale and so climbing the last few steps to the top were a bit tricky and after the mandatory team photo we went into the café. Oh and I cried again with the relief of summiting our third peak!   The café was packed and the queue was almost the length of the building. Whilst we were there drinking coffee our group decided to sing Happy Birthday to me, and then the whole café decided to join in – and to think I’d already had my birthday back at the end of May! Coming down again was very tricky with the terrain very steep, this time on the Miners Track and scrambling across rocks in the misty rain was a bit tricky. It was nice to get out of the cloud cover and feel a bit drier. We stopped at the first lake for a bit of stone skimming, then the last part was just a gentle amble back to the hostel, where Henry was waiting for us with champagne!

That night we went to the pub down the road for our gala dinner, me still wearing the pink helmet, but all of us in our 3 Peaks T-shirts. The mood was jubilant that we had done it, we had all conquered the 3 Peaks. Luke and Zoë presented us each with a bottle of champagne! A lot of laughter and a great evening to celebrate a great weekend!


The stunning Ben Nevis


Beautiful view of Snowdon

So we had done it, between Caroline and myself we have raised just over £2200 for such a worthy cause and knowing that this will fund 147 bags that will go to help children get a better education is definitely worth all the blood, sweat and tears of not just the weekend but the training beforehand. And would I do it again …… yes, I enjoyed it so much!

If you’ve enjoyed Sarah’s encounter of her 3 Peaks Challenge and think you’d like to give it a go then let us know! Next year’s event will be running 3rd-7th August – t really is possible to do with 11 months of training and raising the fundraising totals too and be great to have you on-board. Please email us: to let us know, or to ask any questions/concerns you may have.