The Three Peaks Challenge – comprising Pen-y-ghent 694m (2277ft), Whernside 736m (2415ft) and Ingleborough 723m (2372ft) is one of the oldest established walks in the UK.
The original 3 Peaks Challenge, whether nowadays you call it the 3 Peaks of Yorkshire, the Yorkshire 3 Peaks or just still, The Three Peaks is, by tradition, a grueling 25 mile+ rugged, high mountain walk over a variety of terrains and should not be underestimated. The challenge is to complete the route within 12 hours by any circular route starting and finishing at the same location.
The actual time taken will vary depending on the stamina of the individual(s), the prevailing weather conditions, your knowledge of the route or the quality of your route guide (paper or person) and if you get lost.
Whilst the walking is generally pretty obvious there are long sections of stony track that aren’t the best underfoot, the bog to traverse (or see alternative) & it is very long for a single day’s hike. It also includes three big climbs totaling 1612m (approx 1 mile) of ascent and descent.
As with all mountainous areas, the weather can change rapidly. Low cloud/mist can descend very quickly, especially on the hill tops. Heavy rain can turn a pleasant grassed track into a mud-bath and temperatures & wind can vary dramatically between the hill tops and the valleys. A hot/humid summer day can dehydrate the walker rapidly if enough fluid isn’t taken and dry, hard stony ground can affect tired legs badly.
There is no ‘official’ route, most people tend to take a route that differs slightly from the annual 3 Peaks Race (the race is slightly shorter, doesn’t traverse the ‘nose’ of Pen-y-ghent and goes directly up Whernside from near Winterscales farm).
Most of the walk utilises footpaths and bridleways that are public rights of way. The most common variation of the walk is the route from Pen-y-ghent Side to Ribblehead where, until the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 came into force, most of the common routes had sections of varying length that were technically a trespass, indeed a short section of one of the common routes is still, technically, such.
The challenge was well established for many years when Alfred Wainwright, the renowned compiler of famous Lakeland guides, described the route in his 1972 book, Walks In Limestone Country. Today the basic route more or less follows his ‘recommended’ route.