On Saturday 12th May 2018, I will embark on a solo kayak journey between the three mountain peaks of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon and climb to the summit of each of them. If the weather allows and I am able to make the crossing from Scotland to the Isle of Man, I will climb Snaefell too.
I'm undertaking this challenge to raise much needed funds for the cancer charity - Odyssey.
I will set out from the Loch Eil Outward Bound Centre close to Fort William and complete my adventure at Outward Bound Aberdovey, in mid-Wales. A journey of 855 km (paddling and on foot) and possibly three weeks in duration.
Alan Hinkes OBE, the only person from Britain to have reached the summit of all fourteen mountains over 8000m, has kindly agreed to be the Patron for my 3 Peaks by Kayak challenge. We met in 2015 in Leverburgh in the Outer Hebrides when I was in the midst of my sea kayak journey to every Scottish lifeboat station. He was looking for a place to stay for the night and ended up sharing the RNLI Leverburgh lifeboat crew room with me. I marvelled at his tales of adventure in the high mountains, but more to the point, I identified a fellow adventurer with a deep passion for wild places and the transformative qualities these hold for all of us.
I will be raising vital funds for Odyssey - a superb charity which enhances the lives of people who are living with, or have lived with cancer. Here's a brief description of their work in Odyssey's own words from their website:
The courses are free for the participants, which means that Odyssey have to raise money to continue funding these places, roughly £1000.00 per person. I aim to raise £10000.00 which will fund a complete programme.
The Odyssey courses are five days long and the charity aims to run these three to five times per year. The courses do not take place in remote wilderness; yet they seek out wild and peaceful places, rich in atmosphere. Through these courses they aim to astonish even the most imaginative participant, and to create such a diverse range of challenges that each person will often find themselves in a position of strength, and at another time tackling something they may find difficult.
The Odyssey course is an adventure in every sense, and as with all true adventures those involved embark on it with only a limited idea of what lies ahead. This means that I'm not permitted to detail a typical course programme here, because this will dilute the experience for any potential participants.
I'm extremely proud to be a member of the Odyssey staff team and have enjoyed working on their courses in Scotland, Wales and Shropshire. They have always been inspirational experiences for me.
The Three Peaks
The inspiration for this particular challenge has been within me since my teenage years. When I was nineteen in 1982, with three friends, I successfully completed the three peaks by car (a souped up Ford escort) in 19 hours, 1 minute and 21 seconds! This was before the concept of the Three Peaks Challenge became widely popular. For those who don't know, the Three Peaks Challenge refers to ascending each of the highest mountains in Wales, England and Scotland in under 24 hours.
I first heard of the Three Peaks Yacht Race which begins in Barmouth and ends in Fort William when I was working for Outward Bound in the 1980s and I was captivated by the concept. Here crews of five set out to complete the Three Peaks as a sailing / mountain running race. It wasn't until 2003 before I was able to take part in my first race and since then I have competed another two times. They were incredible experiences.
In 2009 I made my first attempt to kayak and climb the Three Peaks. Sadly, I had to retire when my tent was destroyed during a fierce storm while camping at St Bees in Cumbria. I console myself with the fact that I managed to kayak alone from Aberdovey to St Bees and ascend at least two of the mountains. This is an unfinished adventure project for me and I have been biding my time for the right moment to give it another go. 2018 then, is going to be the year I succeed! There are photos from this attempt on this page - here.
The kayaking route is straight forward but not without its challenges. I will be paddling from north to south which may be against the prevailing winds (who knows in these days of climatic uncertainty), but offers me greater opportunities when facing the major tidal gate of the Mull of Galloway. Paddling downwards, so to speak, enables me to traverse this stretch of potentially hazardous water at the beginning of the tidal cycle rather than worry about arriving at the crucial time after a long day of paddling. I have planned some ambitious open water crossings to minimise the overall distance and to make the most of my time. However, I will alter my route to account for adverse weather conditions and I have other route options up my sleeve if these circumstances befall me. Thankfully I do have time to play with, so any route changes can be accommodated.
The three mountains will be tackled on foot from sea level back to sea level. Quite simply, the mountains of Scafell Pike and Snowdon are going to take me a full day and I hope I'll be up and down Ben Nevis in time to put in a few hours of paddling in the afternoon.
I hope to complete the route in about three weeks, though the kayaking wisdom I have accrued through the years warns me to prepare for longer. Who knows what the weather will be like?
I'm incredibly fortunate to receive generous sponsorship of clothing and equipment from the following businesses (click on the links for their websites):
- Sea Kayaking Scotland - helped me with my sea kayak, a Nigel Dennis Explorer, for my 2015 in 2015 journey. Sahwira ('Life Long Friend' in Shona) is going strong and will be trusty steed for this adventure.
- Gael Force Marine - have gifted me a handheld VHF radio for my use for this adventure and my future kayaking ventures.
- Reed Chillcheater - sponsored me with a spray deck for my Island Peaks journey last year and this will be my spray deck for this journey.
- Celtic Paddles - sponsored me with a set of carbon paddles and a set of splits for my 2015 journey. These are still going strong and I love using them.
- Kokatat - sponsored me with a buoyancy aid and clothing for my 2015 journey. The buoyancy aid is still my favourite piece of kayaking kit.
- Art & Sea - sponsored my with art and logos for my kayak for my 2015 journey. These have stood the test of time and thousands of miles of paddling and are still looking great!
- YB Tracking - helped me out with my purchase of my YB Tracking unit.
Please keep in touch by dropping by to find out how my preparations are progressing.
The Cancer Connection
I have lived through what many parents dread - my child struggling with a life threatening illness. At the age of three, my son Christopher was diagnosed with a Grade 3 Ependymoma - a cancerous brain tumour. Within a week of his diagnosis he underwent surgery at Leeds General Infirmary where the tumour was successfully removed. Then followed eighteen long months of regular chemotherapy at 'Jimmy's' in Leeds, with bouts of serious infections and gruelling hospital stays. Through dedicated NHS care and professionalism, and with his own tenacity and spirit for life, Chris made it through and is now a happily married young man nearing his thirties.
Just as every other experience in my life, these worrying times provided me with an insight into the value of living well and the joy this can give. Chris is an inspiration to me. Through his hard fought early years, he has developed an insightful wisdom, far deeper than most, which he generously shares through his infectiously warm personality.
Cancer is a life threatening illness, but it does not have to be life limiting. Every day we are alive is a day to be well lived and this is what Odyssey intends to inspire through their courses. Chris through his joy for the world, reminds me of this important realisation.
The Outward Bound Connection
I will begin this adventure at Outward Bound Loch Eil close to Fort William and complete it at the Outward Bound Wales water activity facility in Aberdovey, visiting Outward Bound Eskdale en-route. I was an instructor (and then a team leader) at Outward Bound Wales and an instructor at Outward Bound Eskdale. Sadly, I never got to work for Outward Bound Loch Eil. However, the director for Odyssey, Hugo Iffla, used to work there, so the connection is made!
The ethos and philosophy of Outward Bound flow through my veins and continues to inspire me to live the life of adventure and self-discovery I'm fortunate to lead. I have long wanted to connect the three centres of Loch Eil, Eskdale and Aberdovey with a kayak journey, encapsulating the spirit of adventure I value so much in the organisation, and this is the perfect opportunity. The theme of living life to the full, realising that we are better than we know, and seeking every opportunity for growth and awareness, will match the primary purpose of this journey - my fundraising aspirations for Odyssey. In fact the Odyssey charity itself was born from the combined vision of two Outward Bounders and emulates the values of Outward Bound.
It will be lovely to visit the happy haunts of my past, traversing the paths I trod with countless groups, recalling fond memories of the many courses I delivered and the times I shared with inspirational colleagues. Outward Bound is more than a past employment experience for me, it informed me how best to live in the world.
I am an experienced and accomplished kayaker and kayaking solo is second nature for me. I kayaked solo around the coastline of Scotland in 2015. I am also an accomplished mountaineer and wild country traveller. I take the responsibility of keeping myself safe very seriously. Adventuring outdoors involves a constant process of dynamic risk assessment. Given the inevitable challenging circumstances I will face, my experience and wisdom will determine the actions I follow. Extreme eventualities may not be foreseen but they will be mitigated by sound preparation.
I will be totally self sufficient with the means to camp, sleep, don dry clothing, eat hot food, and safely sit out periods of stormy weather. I will have the means to navigate with electronic and traditional methods. Working with accurate weather forecasts and tidal information will be a vital ongoing process. I will have the means to communicate (coverage allowing) by cell phone and VHF radio. Throughout my journey on the sea I will keep the Coastguard informed. I will have the means to attract emergency assistance with my personal locator beacon (PLB), rocket flares, signal flares and signal smoke. I will have a satellite tracker which will update my location every hour (or less) and which will be visible on the internet to folks interested in my progress. This tracker will have the facility for alerting designated people in the event of an emergency but I will not rely on this. I will be wearing kayaking apparel suitable to the conditions. I will carry spare equipment and first aid. I know what action to take in the event of a forced exit from my kayak and I'm proficient in re-entering and continuing my journey if this should happen.
For the mountains I will carry sufficient means to keep myself warm if I'm forced to stop, I'll have waterproof clothing, I'll have the means to navigate in poor weather and the dark, sufficient means to light my way and the means of attracting emergency assistance if required.
This is an adventure which is well within my ability to undertake, but I'm not complacent. If the conditions become too severe to complete the challenge safely, I will stop and retire.