Which of the Three Peaks is the Hardest?

Three Peaks - Pen-y-Ghent

The UK holds numerous hiking and mountaineering competitions each year. The Ten Tors hike in Dartmoor sees around 400 teams of school children compete to reach 10 checkpoints placed atop specified tors. Then there are the Cairngorms 4000s, which involves summiting 5 Scottish peaks in a single 21-mile circuit. There’s also the classic Welsh 3000s event where you must climb a whopping 15 peaks in 24 hours.

Perhaps the most famous of all these challenges are the Three Peaks treks. One of these challenges takes place in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, where three iconic summits are climbed in one day. The other involves scaling the three highest peaks of England, Wales, and Scotland in 24 hours. And the last two are lesser-known events that occur in Wales and Surrey. To figure out which of the Three Peaks is the hardest, let’s look at the different mountains and trails one must complete to gain these titles.

Yorkshire Three Peaks

Ingleborough 1 of the Yorkshire Three Peaks

The Yorkshire Dales is a bucolic National Park in northern England famed for its dry stone walls, sheep paddocks, and its picturesque vales. In this challenge, the three Pennine peaks of Pen-y-Ghent (694 metres), Whernside (736 metres), and Ingleborough (723 metres) must be scaled in 12 hours or less.

Hikers must finish this 24-mile loop hike and scale a total elevation of 1,585 metres to complete the challenge. Throughout the summer, events are organised regularly, and hikers can sign up to compete on their weekend of choice. Alternatively, many hillwalkers simply organise their own event and attempt the challenge independently.

When wondering which of the Three Peaks is the hardest, many say the Yorkshire event due to the short hiking time available. However, although the walking distance is high, the elevation profile is reasonable. Overall, this is considered a beginner or intermediate hiking challenge. The trail is clearly marked and well-paved for the duration. Loose rock and scree are common on the summits, but technical mountaineering skills are not required.

National Three Peaks

Scafell Pike one of the National Three Peaks

This challenge involves scaling the three tallest summits in England, Wales, and Scotland. Scafell Pike (978 metres) in the Lake District is the lowest of the peaks followed by Snowdon (1,085 metres) in Snowdonia National Park. The final summit is Ben Nevis (1,345 metres), the highest mountain in the British Isles.

Competitors must climb these peaks back-to-back over 24 hours. The total distance is 23 miles, one less than the Yorkshire Three Peaks. However, the altitude climbed is almost double at a leg-wobbling 3,064 metres. On top of this, the driving distance between the mountains is at least 462 miles which must be completed within the allocated hiking time!

Therefore, this is a challenge that requires lightweight equipment and a support team. Hiking and driving would be impossible without any time to rest and eat. This again begs the question: which of the Three Peaks is the hardest? The National event certainly has its challenges. It is a very difficult competition which is both mentally fatiguing and physically demanding. Professional events are often done to raise money for charities and participants are supported by mountain guides and walking maps.

Welsh Three Peaks

Pen y Fan one of the Welsh Three Peaks

The Welsh Three Peaks is another British hiking event but one that is considerably less popular than the others. It involves summiting three peaks that run north to south through Wales. Starting from Snowdon (1,085 metres) and then moving on to Cadair Idris (893 metres) before finishing with Pen y Fan (886 metres).

The walking distance is shorter in this challenge than the others (17 miles) but there is a gruelling total ascent of 2,334 metres. Again, due to the driving distance, this challenge must be completed in 24 hours. There are a handful of organised events each year which include mountain guides, transport, and refreshments.

This challenge is ideal for hikers wanting to avoid the crowds that are drawn to the National & Yorkshire Three Peaks. Hiking these peaks solo is a good challenge for any experienced rambler as these summits are well-marked and the driving distance between the mountains is more manageable than the National Three Peaks. Therefore, which of the Three Peaks is the hardest? Probably not this Welsh event, but it’s still great fun!

Surrey Three Peaks

Holmbury Hill one of the Surrey Three Peaks

This is the only challenge on this list to take place completely outside of a National Park. The Surrey Hills AONB are a cluster of forested hillocks situated to the south west of London. In this challenge, Box Hill (224 metres), Holmbury Hill (261 metres), and Leith Hill (294 metres) must be walked in one route.

In total, the walking distance is 23 miles, but the ascent is only 1,060 metres, far less than the other challenges on this list. Therefore, this is a good challenge for any beginner hikers wanting to avoid knee-buckling elevations while still attempting a long-distance walking event.

Official events for the Surrey Three Peaks occur twice a year, in April and November. It’s also possible to attempt this challenge alone year-round. When considering which of the three peaks is the hardest, the Surrey challenge is low on the list due to its short elevation and manageable terrain. However, hikers still require a strong mindset and a good level of fitness to complete this challenge.

Final Thoughts

Now we’ve looked at all the challenges, it’s time for the decider. Which of the Three Peaks is the hardest? In terms of distance, the Yorkshire challenge is the longest at 24 miles. For elevation, the National event is by far the hardest with 3,064 meters of ascent. Logistically, the National challenge is also the hardest as the peaks are the farthest apart and require a lot of driving to get between them.

Weather and trail conditions are probably equally problematic on the Welsh & National challenges. Overall, with the scores collated, it seems the clear winner of which of the Three Peaks is the hardest, is the National challenge. Now get training and try out these challenges to see for yourself!