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6 unique mountain challenges to inspire your adventures

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Do you dream of great adventures when the block ends?

James Forrest speaks to six outdoor enthusiasts who have faced their own distinctive challenges.

With talk of Covid restrictions easing across all UK nations by spring, you may be allowing yourself to dream a little, or maybe even dream big.

In A Coast to Coast Walk, Alfred Wainwright encouraged hikers “to design their own cross-country marathons with the help of maps and not just follow other people’s routes”.

Quintin Lake’s epic 7,000-mile coastal walk around Britain is an example of this spirit. But here are six other intrepid enthusiasts who have created their own unique and inspiring journeys.

1. A five-day 160km trek to conquer nine 4,000 foot peaks in the Cairngorms and Nevis range

After what felt like an eternity in solitary confinement, I finally set out on my expedition. I had created my route from Aviemore to Fort William, combining some great days in the hills with a multi-day hike. The goal was to climb two groups of mountains over 4,000 feet – the Cairngorms and the Four Nevis Hills – and traverse Glen Feshie, Ben Alder and Loch Ossian along the way.

It all started brilliantly. I spent a magical day on the Braeriach traverse, striding across the sun-drenched plateau with the rest of the hike extending further ahead. But three days later, I hit an overwhelming low. Exhausted and dehydrated after five days of over 20 miles in the scorching sun, I realized I pushed too hard and got sick. I got free and didn’t make the last two summits.

I was devastated, but looking back on it now I wouldn’t have done anything different. The trip reminded me how lucky I am to have access to these mountains, how much Scotland has to offer and how uplifting the sense of freedom in the hills is. For five intoxicating days I barely remembered Covid existed, and even though I haven’t finished the nine peaks, I still have incredible memories of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

2. Walk, run and cycle 5,000 miles nonstop to the top of all 100 county peaks in the UK

In 2017, I climbed to the highest point of all 100 UK counties in a continuous 72-day expedition, walking, running and cycling 5,000 miles along the way. The idea was born after some failed expeditions to the Himalayas. I was always looking for a great and distant peak, with so many factors beyond my control, and I needed a change.

Inspired by Elise Downing, who ran the UK coast, I decided to look closer to home for my next big adventure. I’ve always been drawn to unconventional, human-powered endurance challenges, so going to the top of all 100 UK counties met expectations. The weather was regularly atrocious, there were times when I was pushed to the breaking point and even strained a quadriceps muscle on the fifth day. But I have learned to break the journey into tiny little pieces and not worry too much.

Despite the setbacks I still finished on schedule. I was continually amazed by the diversity and beauty of the British countryside and the British generosity received along the way, including a mysterious flapjack stalker. People often struggle for the great peaks, but sometimes the real reward is uncovering the hidden gems within our means.

3. A solo ascent of 13 peaks over 3,000m in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain

I thought it would be a fun idea to try and break a Guinness World Record during my annual vacation. This took me to a week in the Sierra Nevada of southern Spain: a snow-free and non-technical mountain range in summer with a high density of 3000m peaks. Alone and unsupported, my goal was to set a record for the highest number of 3,000m peaks climbed in a week – a 150km route I designed with 11,500m of elevation gain.

On reflection, I would definitely not recommend my path! Due to the nature of the disc, there was a lot of jumping up and down the hill, backing up on myself and generally avoiding the glorious ridge. What I did on the ridges was superb, though: easy to climb with block sides and views almost to the coast.

The hardest part was the heat and the lack of water: 30 ° C + and just a breeze. But the terrain and camping were great and I loved the north end of the ridge, especially the area northwest of Mulhacén (the highest peak in mainland Spain). I feel lucky that the expedition even took place in a year like 2020.

4. Bag all 104 “Hewitt” in Snowdonia in one year, walking 400km with 19,000m of elevation gain.

After completing all 214 Wainwrights in one year, I was looking for a new challenge. I enjoyed escaping the city and taking long hikes every weekend, and I didn’t want it to end.

Eventually I decided to take on a record-breaking challenge in Snowdonia. My goal was to climb all 104 ‘Hewitts’ – peaks over 2,000 feet with an overhang of over 30m – in the national park. I started the challenge in the snow in January, bagging my first five Hewitt’s near Blaenau Ffestiniog. After this positive start, I have consistently topped the peaks throughout the year, using my weekends to travel from Manchester to the wonderfully remote corners of Snowdonia. Before I knew it, it was November and I had joined my last two Hewitt, Yr Aran and Mynydd Mawr.

It was a great challenge and I saw some incredible landscapes. There were many trailless bogs and many miles of difficult terrain. I learned a lot about sailing and part of the horrible time was, well, character building. But most of all I felt lucky to experience Snowdonia’s breathtaking scenery. There is much more in the area than just Snowdon and Ogwen Valley, and I would encourage everyone to explore the lesser known forests and peaks. They are great and do great hikes.

5. Climb all 257 British “Nuttalls” – peaks over 2,000 feet – in five years

Five years ago I was by no means an outdoors person. I had never climbed a mountain before and mostly spent weekends at home. But I had come to a crossroads in life, after a traumatic experience, and I felt compelled to expand my horizons and get out. I wanted to challenge myself, get out of my comfort zone and see more of the UK.

I came across the Nuttalls mountain classification – 2,000 feet high with 50 feet of prominence – and challenged myself to climb all 257 in England. I was drawn to the Nuttalls because many are quiet and rarely visited. I was really scared at first, particularly when hiking alone, but over time my confidence has blossomed. I fell in love with the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales and enjoyed spending my weekends on mini peak trips.

Slowly my total increased and, after five years, I have finally reached my last peak. I couldn’t believe it and was overwhelmed with emotion. It had been the most incredible journey. The mountains gave me everything I needed: a purpose, amazing new friends and the chance to experience breathtaking landscapes. The mountains have really changed my life – and I’m still going. Welsh Nuttalls are my next target.

6. A 120km trek through the Cairngorms, bagging several Munros along the way

After the stress of the college final exams in 1977, I just needed to quickly escape to the hills. What better way than a long backpack through the Cairngorms, climbing as many Munros as possible.

Starting from Glen Clova, with friends Dave and Siân, we hiked Lochnagar Munros to Braemar, then up Glen Luibeg to the wild field among the ancient pines at Preas nam Meirleach (Robbers’ Copse) for three nights. The weather was splendid and there was still snow on the high peaks. One day we climbed Ben Macdui Munros; then The Devil’s Point, Cairn Toul and Braeriach group the next; before walking through Lairig Ghru and Chalamain Gap to Loch Morlich.

Looking back now, I am struck by how much it has changed over the past 40 years. The equipment then was simple and not light at all, and the food in the camp was poor by comparison. Our backpacks were nearly double the weight we would consider acceptable today. We didn’t know anything different back then and it didn’t affect our enjoyment. The trip solidified my love for the Scottish hills, ignited my desire to complete Munros and ultimately cultivated my lifelong passion for backpacking and wild camping in remote places.

The classic UK one-day challenges

Do you want to tackle something a little more proven? Here are the classic UK challenges.

The Three Peaks (National)

Climb the highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales – Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon – in under 24 hours, including guide. It’s an incredibly popular challenge, but some say it’s boring with too much driving and hiking in the dark – and it can be a big contributor to local environmental problems. For information on how to complete the challenge responsibly and to register your challenge, visit threepeakspartnership.co.uk.

The Three Peaks (Yorkshire)

This challenge is to collect Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, the three highest mountains in Yorkshire, in less than 12 hours. The route is approximately 39km (25 miles) with just over 1,500m of elevation gain.

Welsh 3000ers

An extremely strenuous day hike (although some start with a fork in Snowdon) chasing the 15 mountains of North Wales over 3,000 feet in height. Visiting the Snowdon Massif, Glyderau and Carneddau, the route is approximately 50km (31 miles) in total with nearly 4,000m of elevation gain.

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