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Yorkshire Dales Walks

Wharfedale Three Peaks Challenge

Date: 28th June 2014
Distance: 22 miles
Ascent: 4738 feet
Time: 7 hours 36 mins
With: On my own
Start Grid Ref: SD967722

Walk Summary:
A charity challenge walk from Kettlewell over Birks Fell, Buckden Pike and Great Whernside to raise money for the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association.

Route Summary: Kettlewell - Middlesmoor Pasture - Old Cote Moor Top - Birks Fell - Horse Head - Yockenthwaite - Scar House Cray - Buckden Rake - Buckden Pike - Tor Mere Top - Tor Dike - Black Dike - Great Whernside - Hag Dyke - Hooksbank - Kettlewell

Photos: Click on the photos below to enlarge.

Looking back down from the start of the first climb of the day
It was a cloudy morning in Wharfedale
Heading along Old Cote Moor towards Birks Fell
Looking back at the line of walkers on Old Cote Moor
The trig point on Birks Fell which was incorrectly identified as the summit
Starting the descent from Horse Head
Looking across to Yockenthwaite and Yockenthwaite Moor
Approaching the first checkpoint
The dry Wharfe at Yockenthwaite
The view of Wharfedale from near Scar House
Heading to Cray with Buckden Pike ahead
Stepping stones over Cray Gill
Looking back down the steep ascent on to Buckden Pike
On the top of Buckden Pike
The memorial to the Polish airmen
Although most of the route was fairly dry there was no escaping some of the peaty sections over Buckden Pike
Looking back at Buckden Pike
Great Whernside
Looking down along the length of Fears Gill Beck
Approaching the final climb of the day on to Great Whernside
Looking towards the top of Great Whernside
The top of Great Whernside - the final summit of the day
Looking down at Hag Dyke
Dowber Gill
With my certificate at the end of the walk

Walk Detail: When I first saw a Facebook post by the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association (UWFRA) advertising a Wharfedale Three Peaks Challenge Walk I almost immediately decided I wanted to do it. A 22-mile route from Kettlewell over Birks Fell, Buckden Pike and Great Whernside it promised to be the toughest walk I'd done since I last did the Yorkshire Three Peaks walk back in 2005. The only comparable walk I'd done in the meantime was the 21-mile Harrogate Ringway but that didn't include any hills.

Whilst I'd got quite a bit of walking in already during the course of the year I wanted to up the distance a bit on some practise walks leading up to the main event. In the end I only managed one long walk, an absolute classic 15 mile route over the Cleveland Hills, but that gave me blisters, something I rarely get. Then, just 11 days before the walk I woke up one morning with a lot of pain in my left knee, presumably I'd done something to it the previous evening whilst walking on Cracoe Fell. For a few days I could barely walk up and down the stairs let alone contemplate attempting the Wharfedale Three Peaks Challenge.

At the end of that week the pain had eased off and I went out for another walk in the North York Moors, a very enjoyable little walk around Tripsdale. Fortunately the walk didn't result in a flare up of the knee pain so I decided I could give the challenge walk ago. I still wasn't particularly confident though so as an extra bit of insurance I bought a knee support.

On the big day itself I set off early and was one of the first to arrive at about 7am. After registering in the village hall I then waited about in the field which was being used as the car park awaiting for the official start time at 8am. This was the first time that UWFRA had run this event and this perhaps led to some confusion at the start. Whilst I and a number of other walkers and runners waited patiently in the car park while 8am came and went individuals and groups of walkers could already be seen heading off up the fell straight from the registration point.

I waited until about 8.15am by which time there were not many people left waiting so I decided to set off. Even though I wasn't entering the event to try and race anyone the fact that I was setting off so much later than a lot of people meant that I felt I had to play catch up and so I set off at a fair pace and only when I'd passed a fair number of people did I ease off a bit. For some reason the organisers had seen fit to label the trig point on Birks Fell, at 607m, as the highest point of the fell even though it isn't and the summit is actually three metres higher about a mile to the north.

Although the true summit was only about a 50m diversion from the route I didn't bother making the detour, the walk was already long enough as it was and besides the top of the fell was at this point covered in hill fog so there wasn't much to see. Between the trig point on Birks Fell and Horse Head Gate I walked for a while with a nice older chap who had taken up long distance walking after retiring. He told me about some 100km walks he'd done which seemed far too extreme for me. As we neared Horse Head Gate he began to drop behind and I continued on my own once again on the enjoyable descent to Yockenthwaite.

The forecast was for a cloudy start to the day with sunny spells in the afternoon. The sun never materialised and it remained stubbornly cloudy with the odd spot of light rain on and off for most of the day. Normally the lack of sunshine and blue skies would have really disappointed me but on a long walk like this I actually felt grateful that it wasn't a hot sunny day.

After a nice easy stretch between Yockenthwaite and Cray (where there were some very tasty wine gums available at the check-in point) I crossed over the stepping stones on Cray Beck to begin the climb up on to Buckden Pike. I've been up Buckden Pike several times but this is the first time I've come via this route since I first climbed it in 2004. In the intervening period the path seems to have become much more clearer and solid.

By this point I was over half way through the walk and hadn't stopped apart from briefly to get some water out of my bag at Cray. So far my left knee which I'd strapped up was feeling absolutely fine. Perhaps I was overcompensating but I now began to get some pain in my right knee and hip. The upper part of the climb on to Buckden Pike thus became a bit of a struggle and I began to be overtaken by people I'd previously passed.

It was with some relief that I reached the top of Buckden Pike where I allowed myself the luxury of a five minute stop before continuing on. The section between Buckden Pike and Tor Mere Top is one that I know well and I was relieved to find that although still peaty in places it was nowhere near as moist as it has been on previous visits.

The descent from Buckden Pike to the next check-in point at Little Hunters Sleets was quite a gentle one and it gave my right leg a bit of recovery time. However, almost as soon as I started the steep slanting climb below Black Dike End the pain in my right knee came back and remained with me for the rest of the walk. Once I reached the top of Great Whernside I knew it was then only a shortish walk back to Kettlewell and indeed the descent via Hooksbank is one of my favourites in the Dales.

Eventually I made it back into Kettlewell and to register my finishing time at the village hall. In the end it had taken me 7 hours and 36 minutes. I don't know how that compared overall but I was very pleased with myself. Perhaps even more gratifying than my finishing time was the free pie and peas that I was then served and which I hungrily devoured.

Despite the confusion at the start and the pain I was in at the end this was a hugely satisfying walk especially considering that I'd barely been able to get up and down the stairs just a week and a half before. I'd also managed to raise £215 for UWFRA in sponsorship which made the whole thing doubly worthwhile. It is definitely a walk I'd consider doing again and has also reignited an interest in doing more longer distance walks.

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