Whether you're tempted by the Three Peaks or looking to create your own summit challenge, hillwalking addict Dominic Bates tells you what to expect, how to prepare and where to explore for your perfect Mountain March.
For me, almost nothing beats that magical moment of soaking in a glorious panorama from the summit of a hill or mountain I’ve just spent hours slogging my way up. The tired satisfaction and dumbstruck appreciation of views stretching for miles around are such a heady reward, you might find – like me – that upland walking quickly becomes an addiction. So now you know how amazing a Mountain March can be, which one of the hundreds of peaks across the British Isles should you choose?
Ben Nevis (pictured above), Scafell Pike and Snowdon (pictured below) – the highest points in Scotland, England and Wales respectively – are undoubtedly the UK’s most famous and popular summits, attracting many thousands up their flanks each year. While that means the main trails are usually pretty busy (on a sunny weekend, you’ll usually have to queue for your victory photo at the summit), the routes are well signed and maintained, so you’re never at risk of losing your way or scrambling off-piste. You’ll also have far-reaching views of stunning National Park scenery to accompany you every step of the way.
You don’t have to be super-fit to climb any of them, but allow more time if you need to take things slower (it takes six hours on average to get up and down Scafell and Snowdon; more than eight for Ben Nevis). And the golden rule for any mountain climb is to always leave enough in your tank to get back down again. The descent can often be far more punishing on your legs than you realise, so never be too proud to turn back early if you’re struggling to reach the summit.
Much more important than fitness, though, is conditioning of your feet. No matter how protective your footwear, you’re effectively hitting your fleshy extremities against rock all day so they’re bound to get battered and bruised. The only way you can guard against it is to build up your feet’s resilience through lots of walking (hilly or flat) in the months beforehand. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts!
Up for an even bigger challenge? How about checking off Scotland’s top ten Munros (summits over 3,000ft)? Or completing the Welsh 3,000s (all 15 of Wales’ 3,000ft mountains)? Ramblers are an obsessive bunch and have created hundreds of different lists of hills and mountains over the years, from Marilyns (English hills over 150m) to Wainwrights (Lakeland fells over 300m). They’re perfect for creating your own peak-bagging mega-challenge that none of your mightily impressed friends and colleagues would dare not donate to.
The UK is blessed with hundreds of diligently waymarked and maintained long-distance paths (check out this vast list), many of which take in the best local high-points over their challenging distance. So why not make completing one the bold mission of your Mountain March? The very best and most beautiful routes are the National Trails in England and Wales, and Scotland’s Great Trails, whose excellent websites are full of information to help you plan your expedition. Ranging from under 50 miles to almost a thousand, you can walk the entire perimeter of Wales along one route, or scale the equivalent height of Everest twice-over on the 630-mile South West Coast Path (pictured below). They’re the starting point for some true walking heroics.
If you can’t make a break for the hills or don’t have a head for heights, you could make up your own virtual mountain challenge using just your nearest set of stairs. Seriously! Climb 7,125 steps and you’ll have reached the summit of Snowdon. Do another 1,600 or so and you’ll be on top of Ben Nevis. Keep going for 58,000 steps and you can claim to have conquered the equivalent of Everest! You could be an Edmund Hillary without leaving your home.
For any (non-virtual) mountain walking, you should make sure you’re equipped with the following essentials:
A map and compass
Don’t just rely on your phone – reception disappears and batteries die.
Walking boots or trail shoes
Don’t try to wing it with trainers; you need decent grip and support.
Dress in layers
The weather can change in a heartbeat on the mountainside, so give yourself plenty of options to adapt. But…
Don’t wear cotton or denim
Both take an age to dry when wet and you’ll freeze when the wind gets up.
Plenty of water and snacks
Carry at least a litre of fluids and lots of high-energy snacks.
For a more comprehensive kit-list, check out the Ramblers' website.