Yorkshire 3 Peaks

On the last 2 days of 2020 I walked the Yorkshire 3 Peaks (Y3P) – Pen y Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. At this point North Yorkshire was still in tier 2 of the coronavirus restrictions and we had not gone into Lockdown 3.0.

The weather forecast was for a period of clear but very cold weather. There was already a covering of snow on the tops and frost at lower levels; I packed my thermals.

Enclosed footpath between Austwick and Horton-in-Ribblesdale
From Austwick to Horton in Ribblesdale

Because I wanted to start and finish at the caravan I added a few extra miles to the route but basically the start/ finish point is Horton in Ribblesdale.

If you are leaving a car in Horton then do park responsibly as the residents, understandably, get very upset by inconsiderate tourists each year. There is also a train station in Horton so you could also use public transport to get to the start point.

From Horton I took the path that goes via Brackenbottom scar but just before reaching the start of the climb up Pen y Ghent the snow covered path started to get really icy. I stopped and slipped my ice spikes on over my boots. This proved to be a good move as the actual climb was quite treacherous and many people were having difficulties staying upright!

Ice spikes on my walking boots
Ice spikes over my walking boots

The sun was shining now too so I was able to remove my jacket and tuck it into the mesh pocket on the front of my pack.

The shape of Pen-y-Ghent and much of the Yorkshire Dales has been shaped by the weathering of layers of limestone and gritstone. This has created the distinctive nose which is a great climb in good weather but can be treacherous in poor conditions. If you look carefully at the photo below you can see the line of people slowly making their way up (and down) the path.

Path up Pen-y-Ghent
Pen y Ghent

Once the climb is complete it is an easy walk along flag stones to the actual summit. Today the weather was so clear and quite warm in the sun so I took the time to sit down and eat a ham and cheese roll and drink my flask of coffee.

Me sat in the sunshine enjoying my lunch on Pen-y-Ghent summit
Enjoying a clear and sunny summit of Pen y Ghent

At the summit of Pen-y-Ghent is a trig point and a sheltered seating area. Next to this is a stile to cross the wall and then join the path which is also the Pennine Way to descend back towards Horton in Ribblesdale. Again I was glad to have the ice spikes on my boots so that I could maintain a good pace going down without worrying about slipping.

Snowy footpath descending Pen-y-Ghent towards Horton in Ribblesdale
Footpath descending Pen-y-Ghent

At the point the path levels out it takes a sharp left through a gate and down towards Horton, this is also the route of the Pennine Way. The Y3P route continues straight on, up a slope and across the moor towards High Birkwith.

Snowy track leading to High Birkwith
Track leading to High Birkwith

Eventually the track reaches the road and heads down towards Ribblehead. As I walked down the road it was starting to get dark so I put on my headtorch. Looking across towards Ribblehead I could see quite a few cars parked up. A few minutes later I saw what they were waiting for as the full moon started its majestic rise into the night sky. I did try and capture a picture but my phone didn’t really do it justice.

Moonrise over Cam Fell
Moonrise over Cam Fell

After crossing the road the route takes you right past the foot of the stunning Ribblehead viaduct. The sun was setting now which really set off the arches of the viaduct. This view has been photographed by many who think it is the viaduct used in the Harry Potter films but that is actually the Glenfinnan viaduct in Scotland.

Ribblehead viaduct at sunset
Ribblehead Viaduct at sunset

From here the climb up Whernside begins. It is an easy steady climb, initially alongside the railway and then the river before crossing both via an Aquaduct. Then the path gradient increases slightly up Slack Hill with Force Gill waterfalls away to the left. I passed a couple of people coming down off the hill but nobody else was climbing up. I walked to the start of the final steep climb and then found a place off the path to camp. With deep snow I got really cold hands pushing the pegs down into the ground so was glad to get into the tent and warm up.

MSR Hubba NX tent with the moon lighting up the slopes of Whernside
MSR Hubba NX tent with the moon lighting up the slopes of Whernside.

After setting up the tent I found my thermals and put these on along with my down jacket. I set out my mat and sleeping bag and then got my stove out to boil water for a hot drink and my evening meal. This was my first time trying the Real Turmat meals, I had chosen the Pasta Bolognaise and I was not disappointed; it was delicious. I also ate my second roll from lunch and enjoyed a drink of hot chocolate.

The temperature was well below freezing – I think it dropped to -6 deg C overnight! This caused a few issues with my kit which I would address before a further winter camp. Firstly the stove struggled to get the water to boiling point, whilst I had a mixed gas canister there are winter canisters available which have a 3 gas mix and a vapour mesh. Secondly I have a 3/4 length sleeping mat which normally is sufficient and offers enough support and insulation from the ground. Lying on snow and in such low temperatures, however, a full length mat would have been more comfortable. Lastly my phone initially refused to charge as it was too cold! I solved that by placing it with me inside the sleeping bag.

Real Turmat Pasta Bolognaise dehydrated meal
Real Turmat Past Bolognaise

I actually slept quite well, in spite of the cold, although I did have to sleep in my gloves and hat! I set my alarm for 6am so that I could get started early with a plan to be back home for lunch. In the morning I packed up quickly putting all my kit back into my rucksack just leaving the tent to last. Once this was away I tucked it under the lid of my pack and was ready to go. I still had plenty of water in my Hydroflask and a couple of nut butter biscuits to keep me going.

I had kept on all my layers and also my ice spikes over my boots which were definitely needed. Within half an hour I was at the summit of Whernside and peering over the wall at the trig point.

Trig point at the summit of Whernside
Trig point at the summit of Whernside

Whernside is said to be like the back of the Whale when viewed from the side and the climb up and across the summit certainly felt like this. After about a kilometre from the summit the path turns left and starts a steep rocky descent down to Bruntscar farm and then on to the road at Philpin. The sun was now rising over Ingleborough and promising another bright and clear day.

Herdwick sheep at Bruntscar Farm
Herdwick sheep at Bruntscar Farm

After crossing the road the route passes through nature reserve of Southerscales and then past the pot hole known as Braithwaite Wife hole ( I wonder how that got it’s name?). From here you cross the boggy area called Humphreys Bottom (great place names in Yorkshire!), luckily this has flagstones all along the path so that you don’t have to wade through the wet ground.

Looming ahead is the climb up Ingleborough called ‘The Ridge’, this is a short sharp climb which today was icy and frozen and not easy to negotiate. On reaching the top I met three people who really did not want to climb back down this way, this was a good decision on their part and I advised them on a more suitable descent via Souther Scales Fell.

The Ridge climb up Ingleborough
‘The Ridge’ climb onto Ingleborough

Once onto Ingleborough I was treated to a number of classic winter experiences. Firstly the rocks on the approach to the summit were covered in rime ice making patterns of ice across the rocks.

Rime ice on rocks on Ingleborough
Rime ice on the rocks of Ingleborough

Then as I crossed the summit plateau I glanced across to my right and saw a brocken spectre. This happened as the low lying sun behind me cast a shadow onto the cloud in the valley below. This enlarges the shadow and creates a rainbow effect around my head. This is the first time I have seen a brocken spectre and I felt quite privileged to have done so.

Brocken Spectre on Ingleborough
A brocken spectre on Ingleborough

The summit of Ingleborough was clear, bright and sunny and the views were amazing – all the way across to the Lake District fells looking north west.

Ingleborough summit trig point in the snow
Ingleborough summit trig point

Having reached my final peak it was time to head back home for lunch. If walking the Y3P then you would walk back to Horton in Ribblesdale across the limestone pavements of the Ingleborough National Nature Reserve. I chose to descend via Trow Gill and Clapham before taking the footpath across fields and back to Austwick.

Ingleborough summit plateau covered in snow

The Yorkshire 3 Peaks is a great route but I would definitely choose to do this out of season. In the summer months the route can become exceptionally busy with large groups taking on the 3 peaks challenge. I was also lucky with the weather, having checked various forecasts I was confident that, although cold, the weather would remain clear and dry. Poor conditions would make the route much harder and less enjoyable. If needed I could have camped in a lower more sheltered situation or even made use of a bunkhouse or campsite along the way.

My kit worked well with the exceptions noted earlier. Again I had packed specifically for the conditions and the length of time I expected to be out. I did have spare socks and some food that did not get used but everything else was utilised. The MSR Hubba NX tent coped well in the conditions and it definitely helped having the footprint to put down under the tent. For more information on the kit used have a read of my blog post about Kit for Wildcamping Expeditions.

Have you walked the Yorkshire 3 Peaks? How did you get on? Let me know in the comments below. Also click the link to follow me on Instagram and subscribe to my blog for notifications and emails about outdoor stuff.

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