Mountain Meanderings

The Real 3 Peaks Challenge

Back in 2013 just as I was starting to work as a Mountain Leader I was contacted by a good friend of mine (the irrepressible Rich Pyne of Rich Mountain Experiences) who’d had a shocking day collecting rubbish on Ben Nevis – an experience that rang true with the state I was increasingly finding the wonderful hills of the Lake District – but especially Scafell Pike. Together with two friends who work on Snowdon (Kate & Ross of RAW Adventures) an idea began to take shape….

All three of us earn a percentage of our living from the highest points in our respective countries – but more importantly all three of us work in the outdoors because of our love of nature – to see the hills spoilt with ever increasing amounts of litter and disregard – well something had to be done.

So why that name – well sadly it soon became clear that the rise of the outdoor challenge – the all too often one time adventurer in the hills, those simply getting the tick and missing the point – well they’re a mass contributor to the damage being done. And I don’t say that lightly – I’ve worked on numerous 3 Peaks, I like to think I’ve always led and informed my groups – but the sad truth is that as soon as the 3 peaks season starts – the litter, and specifically the litter on the routes and starting points for this event, appears in epic proportions. Clearly the Real challenge is in keeping these hills beautiful – and that’s not simply about picking up litter (though – boy oh boy do we ever…more of this to come further down) but also about interaction, education and inspiration….something we set out to achieve…

Initially we aimed for September hoping the weather would still be kind,  – intending that the main season would be winding down but the weather might still be kind – we were also and hoping that a few colleagues would come out and join us in giving something back…little did we know what we’d started!

(*the event has now settled into running the second weekend of October)

That first year 67 people turned up to help us (an impressive 34 for Scafell Pike) – we were astounded when the story was picked up on ITV but that was nothing to our shock later that evening when we realised we’d brought over 250kg of rubbish off the hills – we’d set events in motion & already people were asking us to do the same the next year – well how could we not.

It’s now 5 years later and the event has become the largest of it’s kind in the UK – something all of us are immensely proud of. We’ve each got our own routines – Snowdon ride the train up and clear downwards, the Ben shovel everything onto the path and operate as a Team, and on Scafell Pike – well I always say, with my tongue firmly in my cheek, that we have the most challenging task.

Unlike the other two hills we send people up from multiple start points in vastly different locations – and from those start points we then , depending on volunteer numbers, cover different routes. This approach has seen us get great results – people come back – they form their own teams and they do different venues – but its also let us eradicate a lot of the really old hidden litter – now, on Scafell Pike at least, we’re seeing an overall reduction in annual quantities – and I put this down to the really old stuff is gone – we’re now collecting the last 12 months waste.

2017 has been a real milestone for R3P – this year, due to surgery, I couldn’t be on the hill, but thanks to the ethos we’ve built up – that spirit of giving back – I already knew I had a team of Mountain Leaders who’d step up and lead 4 different routes – and on the day it turned out to be truly horrendous conditions (2 teams were turned back before the summit on safety grounds, Ben Macdui recorded winds of 74mph) – yet I still received glowing reports from all 33 participants.

We’ve also realised a long held ambition and expanded to cover more areas – this year we had teams out in the Peak District, Ben Lomond, Ben MacDui, Lochnager & Goat Fell – next year it’ll be even more. Even more heartening we’ve had multiple reports of outdoor companies that were working with clients on the day getting involved – our aim of educating and inspiring is taking hold.

Across the UK we’ve worked closely with partner organisations – The National Trust have given our volunteers free parking & chip butties, The Snowdon Partnership lay on the Train, John Muir Trust provide waste collection, the BMC & SMC along with a host of others provide publicity – it feels like a job well done.

So I said at the start I’d give a roundup of where we’re at:

2017 saw 109 vounteers, 8 mountain regions and a staggering 570kg of rubbish removed.

We had more banana skins than the jungle book, more plastic bottles than a recycling centre and a host of other unpleasantness. This year saw the now expected collection of underpants, a shopping bag full of chewing gum (just on Ben Nevis), a snack packet dated from 1987 and perhaps most interestingly a horse shoe believed to be from one of the ponies that used to take supplied to the observatory on Ben Nevis.

Overall we’ve now taken in the region of 2.5tonnes of rubbish from what should be our wildest and most beautiful places, we’ve built a network of volunteers and a huge social media following – and the message seems to be taking hold – we’ve a real sense that we’re going to be doing this for a while – the results speak for themselves.












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