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Five Peaks Challenge

Ian Saunders
December 24th, 2020 · 4 min read
  • What? Yorkshire Dales Five Peaks
  • When? December 24th, 2020
  • How far? 25.5 miles (41 kms)
  • Where? North Yorkshire, UK
  • Website: The Five Peaks Challenge | FastestKnownTime.com
  • Strava activity: Strava
  • Finish time: 9 hours 54 mins

Goals

GoalDescriptionCompleted?
ASub-10 hoursYes
BNew FKTYes
CFinishYes

Pre-attempt

The UK’s introduction of increased COVID restrictions, including a new tier 4 level, put an end to a planned FKT attempt of the Sussex Border Path with a friend on the 30th of December. The silver lining was that I would stay in the Yorkshire Dales for an extra week. Instead of doing our usual family Christmas 10ish km walk we decided to do something a bit longer. A quick search on trailrouter.com with “FKT Routes” enabled listed a number of interesting local options. One route jumped out, it was the right distance for a daytime attempt, an area I had not explored before and only a couple of FKT times. As homage to the popular Yorkshire Three Peaks route we settled on tackling the “Yorkshire Dales Five Peaks Challenge (United Kingdom)“!

Attempt

Start to Wild Boar Fell (0 to 9 kms)

Of the two previous FKTs of this route, one had completed the route clockwise and one anti-clockwise. Due to the short daylight we wanted to avoid coming down the steepest section, which most likely would be covered in ice/snow, during the night. As such we opted to tackle the route anti-clockwise.

Surprisingly we managed to wake up on-time and get on the road by 6:30am, after an hour of twists-and-turns on Yorkshire roads, we arrived at the “The Moorcock Inn”, which signified the start of the route.

As we begun the sun had not risen, and it was very cold. After crossing a train track we began our ascent up to Wild Boar Fell via Swarth Fell, as promised the path fell away, and we had to do our own route finding. Thankfully, I had uploaded the route GPX to my watch, and we used that to ensure we kept on course. After a km or two, I put my foot into a freezing cold puddle. That would be the end of warm feet for the next 10 hours.

Cresting Swarth Fell we were treated to some glorious views of the Dales, including a spectacular sunrise. We could see that the clouds were hanging low on the other peaks, hopefully the clouds would blow off before we got there. As we pushed higher to Wild Boar Fell, the temperature dropped precipitously, and required a few further layers to be applied.

Early start to catch the light Early start to catch the light

Lovely fell sunrise< Lovely fell sunrise<

Top of Swarth Fell Top of Swarth Fell

Frozen Wild Board Cairn Frozen Wild Board Cairn

Wild Boar Fell to High Seat (9 to 18.5 kms)

After arriving at the Wild Boar Cairn we quickly began our descent into the valley, almost straight away the wind picked up. We decided to jog down a few sections to stay warm, banking a few minutes for later! Hitting the valley floor we arrived in a small village with a number of houses, a few wrong turns here and there and we got to the start of the High Seat ascent.

The route up to High Seat was unclear, as most of the fell was covered in snow, the last section would also be a steep (50%+ gradient) slog. As we got started the path quickly fell away, leaving us to navigate again. For some reason, I got a bit disoriented and directed us too far to the west. After re-orienting ourselves, we realized that we would need to go straight up the fell path - it was really steep! As we pushed on we slowly made our way up. I was very glad we would face this as an ascent rather than a descent. Descending would have a far higher risk of slipping and having a bumpy ride down!

Cresting the top of the hill, we re-discovered the snow covered path, and pushed on to hit the cairn!

Sheep in the Valley Sheep in the Valley

Foot of the hill, it was steeper than it looks! Foot of the hill, it was steeper than it looks!

Ascending High Seat Ascending High Seat

Another snowy Cairn! Another snowy Cairn!

High Seat to Great Shunner Fell (18.5 to 26.6 kms)

From High Seat to we made our way through the snowy top to Gregory Chapel, and then Hugh Seat. Louise put on some spikes which she had brought. This turned out to be an excellent idea, and allowed her to move swiftly on the ice surfaces. I only had my trail shoes, to avoid slipping I needed to pay extra attention, but managed to keep the pace up regardless. Occasionally we would put our feet into an errant icy-puddle, resetting any warmth we had managed to restore.

There appeared to be a path from Hugh Seat to Shunner Fell, unfortunately with the rain and snow, the path was covered in partially melted snow and was just too boggy to use. This made the process very arduous, cold and slow. The final ascent to the top of Shunner Fell was very snowy, and extremely windy. Thankfully when we arrived at the Cairn, there was some respite from the wind as we hid behind the rocks.

View down from Shunner View down from Shunner

Shunner Fell to Finish (26.6 to 41 kms)

The descent down from Shunner involved dropping into a valley and then popping over a smaller hill, “Tarn Hill”. The descent into the valley would be very runnable in the summer, as the path was paved with stony steps. Unfortunately with this weather, the rocks were glazed with ice. This meant proceeding either on the sides of the path, or being willing to risk slipping and bashing your head on the path.

As the sun came down, we pushed our way up the final hill, and then down. The descent involved a little final route finding, but nothing too horrendous. As we arrived back at The Moorcock Inn, we were glad to be finished and finally warm up!

Post-Attempt

As I looked at the final time on my watch, we had managed to knock 35 mins off the previous fastest time which was a nice cherry on on the top! A well earned beer and fire awaited us at home!

Thanks to the folks over at https://thefivepeakschallenge.co.uk/ for establishing this route and providing great instructions. Hopefully many more will enjoy this new Dales challenge in the coming years!

Victory Beer Victory Beer

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