Peak One: Pen-Y-Ghent

Posted on September 10, 2018

Vision Africa – A small charity with a big purpose!

Following on from his first blog Peter Leverton talks us through the 'up's and down's' of the first peak.

Peak One: Pen-Y-Ghent 

Elevation: 2,277ft / 694m

Coordinates: 54°09′19″N 2°14′59″W

Difficulty: Moderate

On Saturday the 18th of August myself and a team of 7 other adventurous individuals banded together to beat the Yorkshire Three Peaks in an effort to raise money and awareness for Vision Africa – this is the journey of Vicky, Sarah, Tony, David, Arunima, Matin, Josh and Peter

The Night Before

“Everything is packed” I convince myself following a little Dutch courage. Any sensible person would have made a list to check off, that being said any sensible person would scoff at the idea of a 4am departure leading onto 24 miles of Yorkshires toughest terrain (let alone the unruly prospect of pitching up a tent and camping at nature’s mercy afterwards). Needless to say sensibility is not my greatest quality. So there I was, lying sleepless in bed like a child on Christmas Eve, the excitement inescapable!

Five hours of fleeting moments of blissful sleep, broken by worry born from a dreamt up scenario involving helicopter rescue later the excitement had warped into dreariness backed up with just a hint of anticipation. I was up showered and dressed within 20 minutes, I marvelled at seeing 4am for the first time since my long forgotten days of clubbing.

It was remarkably quiet outside I almost felt guilty for the racket I made when starting my traditional pre-excursion game of Tetris with the boot of my car. Squeezing in the tent, cramming in a change of clothes, slotting in the self-inflating travel mattress, my rucksack and the almost forgotten addition of pillows, It was the late addition of pillows that sparked doubt deep in my gut about having forgotten something (I was struck with a great deal of admiration for those irritatingly sensible list makers) it felt remarkably like the feeling of queuing up for a roller coaster and wondering, as the screams whoosh past, whether this was actually a good idea… I downed the sensation in coffee (my go to solution for most problems).

After a brisk drive, I was at my friend Josh’s house, I snuffed my engine out, doing my part to save the environment, and I immediately assumed Josh had overslept. I toyed with a few comical idea of waking him up (my favourite involved honey, glitter and lots of cotton buds (ultimately ruled out due to lack of materials to hand).  During my slightly maniacal plotting, the subject of my devious plans emerged from the shadows, the biggest grin planted on his face.  The morning had begun rather comfortably and had put me in a good mood, a mood that dissipated upon sight of a car coming our way from the opposite direction. I was perfectly content with blocking the rather narrow road at 4am in the morning not expecting others driving about in the early hours of Saturday equally devoid of sense as me (but then we were in Doncaster). I had to awkwardly edge my car back to allow for this quite absurdly sized people carrier to squeeze past. Slight interruption over with, I trundled my car back to Josh so he could continue my game of Tetris. With nothing else to do, I watched the big silver washing machine scornfully while it drove away, only to stop at the roundabout, swung abruptly round and return back down the same road as if to challenge my disdain. I watched it stop and wait behind me…. He even had the cheek to toot his horn at 4am as if I had not noticed the wheeled monstrosity biting at the boot of my little hatchback. Out of pure stubbornness I refused to budge, Josh quickly abandoned the game of Tetris and stuck to the age old method of chucking everything in and jamming the boot shut. He hopped in the car and we were away, leaving the clinically overweight car to feast on a diet of our dust. 

The drive was a little less than 2 hours; the first half consisted of barren motorways suitably straight to accommodate my frequent sips of coffee from my favourite batman flask or ‘BatFlask!’ as I like to call it.  The second half consisted of snaking country roads, allowing me to fulfil my ambitions of rally driving while my navigator clutched his stomach, regretting his choice of breakfast that he so proudly described to me previously. We drove over bouncy roads and sharp turns trying to keep up with the fast approach of morning. We passed through a few dainty countryside villages so little that they seemed to consist of at most three houses and if lucky, a barn. They had a uniform sheep to people ratio of 67:1, the only distinguishing factor for each village being the breed of dog being walked as we passed by. As cute as these pups were, we were out of each village before we could harmonise our ‘awwwws’. Soon after passing through these tiny communities we found ourselves at our starting location, Horton- in-Ribblesdale. A lovely and comparatively large village, bisected by a large torrent of water tainted with a colour akin to Pepsi (or coca cola for the purists out there).

Photo taken at 6:30am the morning after the walk by a very soggy Peter Leverton.

Photo taken at 6:30am the morning after the walk by a very soggy Peter Leverton.

Left: Tony, Middle: Sarah, Right: Matin Photographed by Victoria Powell

Arrival

5:53 am. We pulled into a camp site in the sleepy Heart of Horton-in-Ribblesdale, leaving our gear in the car I followed Josh casually towards the centre of a community of tents pitched up in soggy grass. It was our hope to see Victoria stood on watch for our arrival but we couldn’t see her at all, we couldn’t see anybody for that matter, the door to a cabin that I assumed would be the office was locked; there were no sounds at all to suggest anything other than an over-abundance of sheep.

Vicky was the only other person we knew prior to the event and she is the woman in charge of Vision Africa’s fundraising, I relied heavily on her with all my fundraising efforts, her ideas lead me to 4 hours of baking and a loathing of flour, bake sales aside she was a human Zimmer frame when it came to supporting my efforts. My history with Vicky goes back many years, way back to the days of long corridors, rows of classrooms, glue sticks, glitter and those incredible zig zag scissors. To say Vicky and I were friends would be stretching the truth, we were associates sharing a passing smile every so often, my opinions of her have changed slightly since finding out about her role with Vision Africa this however is a topic to be covered at the back end of our journey so I’m afraid you will all have to wait.

Dawn finally came around, limp and half-heartedly, whimpering from a late, prosecco, ice cream and chick-flick fuelled night – now suffering a hangover of dull skies and smatterings of rain. Across England, birds were beginning to chirp, hedgehogs returned to their respective hedges and, emerging from a hefty sized semi-deconstructed tent, we saw Vicky’s face.

It was quite surreal watching her stagger from her tent like an extra from the walking dead, her eyes wandering around a void to the left of my face, it took every ounce of restraint to not whack her on the noggin’ and run, all it needed was a ritualistic “BRAINS” to complete the scene. I was all but ready to serve up a Josh flavoured distraction to aid my getaway (fortunately as an intelligent individual I know that the zombie apocalypse is at least 3 years away). 

I had not seen Vicky for many years and never in pyjamas, faced with this new and slightly awkward situation my first instinct, as with everything, was sarcasm. “Sleep well did we?” I said with a cheery twang that usually leaves me bruised, Vicky, now having located my face and yawned with great effect, sternly informed me that she “DID NOT” sleep well “AT ALL!” due to her tent suffering a midlife crisis in the middle of the night, or as close to one a tent can get. On top of that she regaled to us a quite thrilling tale of ghostly apparitions roaming the site in search for their long lost tents. Okay so I exaggerated slightly with the ghosts, they were actual drunken campers but I like to think they sounded very ghostly. I saw one camper who found the perfect solution to never losing his tent; he’d set himself up with a perfectly unique Tipi, it was the only Tipi on site, easily identifiable but not in the least bit out of place, I never saw him personally but I day-dreamed that he was a Native American named ‘Soaring Rattlesnake’ who owned a Casino in the States – I’ve never been to America so stereotypes are all I have to go on.

I snapped out of my dreams of Indian chieftains and ghostly campsites around the time Vicky finished updating us on her lack of sleep, I smiled to suggest I had been listening, an art that, by the look on her face, I have yet to perfect . She left to gear up and, never being one to be out done by a lady I decided to get prepared too. Me and Josh returned to the car, threw on our boots, grabbed our rucksacks and, while he double checked his pack I gorged myself on my Michelin Star breakfast of overnight oats, flavoured with sultanas, milk (it still tasted of cardboard). After breakfast we all congregated quite conveniently at a car belonging to David (I will provide introductions imminently).

Five of us stood around the boot of the car doing a terrible job of avoiding the drizzle. First there was me, a 23 year old self-proclaimed adventurer with an enthusiasm for any new experiences, making friends and taking off socks after a long day. Next to me there was Josh, taller than me dark hair but most light hearted by nature, we have an ongoing but unspoken rivalry to keep the friendship interesting. Beside Josh was Vicky already introduced however now she wore a look of preparedness that I couldn’t reach in my wildest dreams, then there was Vicky’s older sister Sarah - the spitting image of Vicky but ever so slightly taller. Next in line was Tony, he is father of Vicky and Sarah, as tall as Josh and twice as grizzled he immediately caught my attention with his marvellous job of dishing out teas and coffees. Manning the cooker was David, he is Vicky and Sarah’s Uncle and was referred to as ‘the Man with the Plan’.

It was at this point, surrounded by Vicky’s family that I started to wonder if I’d crashed some kind of reunion, a 24 mile walk isn’t my idea of a family get together but who am I to judge? My only saving grace was Josh and even then it felt unnerving standing next to someone content with wearing shorts in the pouring rain. Never-the-less introductions circled and I was warmed with the idea of getting to know these new people over the course of the weekend.

I was promptly informed that there were two more stragglers yet to turn up. The first to grace us with their presence was a short lady with soft brown skin and the waviest of hair, our introduction was slightly less formal in so much as I had to gleam her name from how everybody else referred to her, some people called her ‘Runi’ and others called her ‘Roony’ - I decided to play the middle ground and not refer to her by name for the rest of my life. What she lacked in height she more than made up for with her smile and uncanny knack for sarcasm. Our final arrival was the Man named Matin, he was taller than Josh and Tony and looked like he ate Yorkshire Peaks for breakfast, he seemed a quiet to begin with but I figured we had at least 12 hours to get to become acquainted, I settled on him being the one to seek out for a piggy back when things got tough.

With the whole team together Vicky gave us a quick pep talk after which I felt overcome with motivation and also slightly dryer. Vicky then handed out maps to each and every one of us with the route highlighted for our convenience; I was so impressed with her organisational skills and how much effort she had put into the challenge that I didn’t have the heart to tell her I can’t read maps for toffee. Everybody finished their breakfasts and coffees then we we’re set to go. Our original planned departure time was 6:30am it was now 6:55am which I reasoned was pretty good going under the circumstances, it was David that suggested we set off on the hour, we all concurred and then proceeded to stand about for 5 suspenseful minutes ….4 minutes…. 3 Minutes…2 minutes (I stuffed my map into my bag never to be seen again)…. 1 Minute….. My watch beeped and with a huge anti-climax we plodded down the road.

They were the first of our 65,000 step journey around the Yorkshire Three Peaks.

Photographed by Josh Hewitt

Photographed by Josh Hewitt

A Good Start

We got lost straight away.

On one side of a tiny little stream there was a path sign posted ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks’, on the other side was a path suspiciously devoid of signage. Logic would state that the signs would lead the way, obedient to the omniscience of wooden signs we continued. We must’ve sustained roughly 1 minute of walking before David stopped and said bluntly “We’ve gone the wrong way”. Having done the three peaks before and feeling  full of misplaced confidence in my memory of the route I elected to bring everybody’s attention to the sign that directed us this way, the conversation continued… (I stayed out of it having felt satisfied with my input). It was unanimously decided that my memory is something never to be relied on, a fact I have no doubt forgotten many times before. It turns out that the walk that we were doing had an aversion to signs, in a description of our walk online we were told specifically NOT to follow the Three Peaks signs. Whoever designed this walk had no consideration for the absent minded trekker, I felt wholly un-catered for. We turned heals, crossed a bridge and headed down a tree sheltered path on the other side of the stream.

I had clearly lost everybody’s faith, my previous conquering of the Yorkshire Three Peaks was considered by Vicky to be of great use and I did not want to disappoint, I decided It was time to give some navigational instruction albeit in as vague a way as possible to allow for any mistakes, “I remember from last time a left turn off a road and then the ground suddenly starts going up” I said confidently….. I must say the entire team were quite well versed in sarcasm.

Twenty minutes later and my instructions came of use! It was less of a road and more of a dirt path but there was a left hand turn and a steep incline to boot! I gloated as much as I dared and we all begin the climb.

Left: Josh, Right: Peter Photographed by Peter Leverton

Left: Josh, Right: Peter Photographed by Peter Leverton

Pen-Y-Ghent 

We were unfortunate enough to pick the first weekend of dreary weather for at least 4 weeks. It wasn’t quite raining yet but the sky was grey and the sun was nowhere to be seen. We turned left off the dirt path and passed through a heavy wooden gate marking the start of the Pen-Y-Ghent climb. As yet the first peak was out of site, lost far beyond the grassy green and somewhat foreboding incline we faced. I decided the only way for me to approach this was with gusto, I leap up the hill keeping pace with David who led the pack, Josh lurched upwards with the two of us, spurred on by his music, I forget the songs but I’m sure it was the kind of music you could walk away from an explosion to.

The team almost immediately separated, up front was David, Josh, Mat and I. Behind us, progressively becoming less visible as we walked higher into the mist and the clouds was Vicky, Runi , Sarah and Tony (who had previously agreed with David to keep at the rear). It wasn’t too long before we reached the top of the Hill where we passed through a second screechy gate, a glance to the left revealed the main climb of Pen-Y-Ghent, or rather it would have were it not for the mist that was being whipped around my the wind, enveloping everything. Most any other day I’ve no doubt it would look mightily imposing, leering over the countryside in all its glory, to us it looked less like a peak and much more like a Stratus (Google it, I had to).

From where we stood we made half-hearted efforts to seek out our team mates that had fallen behind but, alas, we were so smothered with cloud we wouldn’t be able to see them until they were right on top of us. Not knowing how far behind they had fallen back, the executive decision was made to keep on moving – I however, ever the anti-conformist, elected to wait for our companions, this was partly a supportive move, having done the peaks before I remember the first climb being as mentally challenging as it was physically, but it also allowed me the opportunity to rest my aching legs without anybody suspecting a thing, I was seen as a seasoned adventurer and had to keep the performance up, after all, I didn’t I spend my four weeks of fund-raising trying to grow a rugged beard for nothing. I remained at the gate while Josh, Mat, and David powered up towards the summit. I found a raised bit of ground to stand on and faced the wind in an effort to look majestic, I must say I felt majestic, and the wind had picked up enough to drown out any comments from passing walkers to suggest the contrary.

Tony was the first to eerily pass through the wall of mist into view soon followed by Sarah. If either of them were struggling they did well to hide it, we conversed briefly, I can’t remember what about exactly, most likely warm beds and hot chocolate. I do remember a strong gust of wind thumping us all simultaneously, Sarah’s cap took to the sky and various stiff legged walkers tried catch it before it got swallowed by the mist, thankfully she did retrieve it and screwed it down tightly on her head never to come off again. Sarah and Tony soon went on their merry way up Pen-Y-Ghent and I was again left waiting for the last of our crew. 

It wasn’t long before Vicky and Runi arrived. I quickly established, that the little Runi (she’ll kill me for this description since she is three years older, a fact she now holds over me perpetually), was not a countryside enthusiast, I surmised this by the way she hid behind anything and anyone to get out of the wind and the newly arriving rain; Vicky on the other hand was in her element, smiling gleefully while taking a sweeping video of the non-existent views (featuring yours truly). I explained that I was concerned for their well-being and wished to support them in the most chivalrous of ways to the top of the first peak. Based on the friendship I now have with Runi I have no doubt she likely made some comment under her breath in reply.

Left to right: Arunima, Tony, Sarah, Matin, Josh, Peter & David. Photographed by Victoria Powell

Left to right: Arunima, Tony, Sarah, Matin, Josh, Peter & David. Photographed by Victoria Powell

Runi went first followed by Vicky and then me, as we climbed higher the terrain sharply changed from a grassy slope to rocky steps, then the rocky steps turned to rocks with no clear route or arrangement. Runi was beginning to slow, she explained her fear of heights which had developed moments earlier when she realised that if one foot was misplaced one could easily slip off and vanish into the mist.  I offered to go first and between me and Vicky we steadily helped Runi to the top, I recall one moment in particular when an unusually strong wind slammed into us all, shaking our balance, it felt like everybody’s heart skipped a beat all in sync, one trekker above us had his coat open when the wind hit and it caught the air like a sail, I looked back to Vicky and we both stared wide eyed realising this man had very nearly taken flight. The dangers of the walk now becoming clear had visibly shaken Runi, I tried to reassure her and told her to put her feet and hands wherever I put mine on the logic that if I didn’t fall she wouldn’t either (I neglected to take into account her shorter legs, a fact Vicky had to bring to light when I heaved myself up tall rocks expecting Runi to be right on my heels) I had to help her up a few of the less cooperative rocks and little by little the ground began to level out, a few more clambers up and a couple of encouraging words from Vicky later and we made it to the top! 

A sense of accomplishment filled the air along with my heavy panting. It was around this time when Runi informed me of her disinclination to ever visit the countryside ever again; though her words were serious she wore her smile high on her face. We all shared our glee, turned and headed towards the Trig Point (the designated top/ selfie spot) it was no more than a few minutes away, when we arrived the rest of the band were gathered together cheering at our arrival – The First Peak was summited!

So far so good.

Watch this space for Peak 2 – The Ascent of Whernside.

Check out Vision Africa’s website to see who we raised money for and why we embarked on this great Yorkshire challenge - https://www.vision-africa.org/

Header photo credit (c) Can Stock Photo / chrizmo


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