My name is Gethin Jones. I have a company called Unlocking Potential (www.unlockingthepotential. co.uk). I am an inspirational speaker, trainer and coach who works with prisons, charities and local authorities. I am also care experienced, prison experienced, substance misuse experienced, and most importantly human being experienced
Today I am not going to focus on what I do for a living. Instead I am going to share my story of how I completed the three peaks challenge (Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon) with a twist. The twist was that I did a headstand at the top of each peak, which means that I stood on my head on the highest peak in Scotland, England and Wales within 24 hours.
I decided to do this challenge as a fundraiser for Flying Solo (www.flyingsolo.org.uk). This is a charity that supports Portsmouth care leavers, and is close to my heart as I too am a Portsmouth care leaver. The charity is run by care leavers to support care leavers so that they have the support they deserve once the corporate parent responsibility ends at 25 years of age.
I am a 49-year-old man who still likes a challenge. Little did I know what this challenge was going to entail. I have a great set of friends and a group of us decided that we would do this together. We all did it for different reasons and mine was to raise £1,000
for Flying Solo.
We all knew that this challenge was going to be tough, so we committed to a strict training schedule. The three months prior to the challenge I went from training 3 times a week to 7 days a week. This would include pounding the streets in my new running trainers, bike rides, step machine, 10-mile hikes and a weekly circuit that we all attended. Let’s put some more detail in that… The runs increased to 7 miles a time, the bike rides were 25 miles and on the hikes I had a 10kg weight in my rucksack.
Three weeks before the event I picked up an injury in my knee. I was really worried that my challenge was over. I booked in a session with a physio who was able to do some amazing work on my knee and said I was fit enough to still attempt the challenge.
We were booked in with a company that would provide us with a lead climber to keep pace, a van and two drivers to get us between all 3 peaks. I remember clearly getting on the flight from the south of England to Scotland, I was filled with trepidation and excitement. I had climbed all three mountains separately and I knew that this was going to be the biggest endurance test I had ever given myself.
The evening before I created a playlist on my Spotify. I downloaded all of the biggest power songs that could help me to get the
rhythm I needed at the start of each climb. I knew from experience that the first hour is always the toughest. Your mind and body
screams at you to stop and it is at this time you need to dig deep.
Preparations were now complete, and I will now share with you a full account of the challenge ahead of me:
It was 7am on a brisk morning in the Scottish Highlands. We were all together, pumped, and ready to start. That first hour was as tough as I thought it was going to be. I dug deep and before I knew it, we were nearing the top of the mountain. It was only at this time I started to take in the scenery as up until then I had been concentrating on the next step. The view was spectacular, the clouds were low, and we were above them. You could see other mountain peaks poking above the
clouds, it was truly breathtaking. We only stopped around every 45 minutes to take on water and to either take off or put on a layer of clothing. The pace we climbed at was insane and even in that cold temperature (-5 degrees) I only had on a thin top and I
was sweating profusely.
As we reached the top we had snow and ice beneath our feet. I was soon elated to see that the summit was within reach. The feeling at this point was immense and we had a few minutes to have a picture of my headstand and do a video (you can see these on my Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter pages).
In no time at all we were on our way down. This may sound easy but it can be tougher than going up. Going down puts extra pressure on your knees and causes pain. You also have to keep a good pace and have to be very careful where you place your feet as the rocks are wet and slippery.
Before long we were at the bottom and we were then told we completed this mountain (up and down) in 4hrs 2 minutes. This was an amazing time, considering the last time I climbed Ben Nevis it took me over 7 hours. We were on the clock and had no time to celebrate. We had a quick coffee and a hot filled roll, and then it was in the van ready for the 6hr drive to Scafell Pike in Cumbria.
The journey between the mountains was no limo drive. There were 9 of us, 1 lead and 2 drivers with all of our clothing, equipment and food. We were hot and sweaty so you can imagine what it was like in that bus. We tried to get as comfortable as possible as we knew that we needed to be rested ready for climb number two.
We made it to Cumbria just as the sun was setting. I was about to climb my first mountain in the dark. I had climbed this before and it took over 6 hours. I knew it was a steep climb and we would have to cross a large stream and there was a lot of moisture and
moss on the rocks.
I again powered up my music and away we went. This climb was so tough. I’m not the tallest of people and parts of the mountain has high steps that really took it out of me. I could also feel my injured knee starting to twinge. I ignored the pain and kept remembering why I was doing this.
During the journey between mountains I had been checking my fundraising and I was already £500 over my target and this pushed me on. It was at the midway point that I took off my music as we all needed to motivate each other.
There were many tired legs but we were heading for another fast time. All of us wanted to complete the challenge so we pushed
and encouraged each other. We needed to come together as a team. We knew we were only as fast as our slowest team member and we decided to put these at the front so we could follow their pace. This motivated them and being in the front they picked up their own pace as they were leading not chasing.
I heard someone shout “there’s the summit.” I was gobsmacked as I couldn’t believe we were at the top. It was pitch black and we couldn’t see a thing. We were in the clouds and it was cold and wet. We all put our head torches down and got a picture and video of me doing headstand number two.
We then headed down and this journey was far more treacherous than Ben Nevis. It was really wet and slippery. Some of the guys slipped on the way down but thankfully no one was hurt. I was at the front when we reached the bottom and was the first
to hear that we had climbed Scafell Pike (up and down) in 3 hours 10 minutes. You could have knocked me
over, I was buzzing and at that point I was grateful for all those hours of training I had completed.
We quickly had a hot coffee and some porridge and then it was back in the lovely sweet-smelling comfortable van (I wish lol). The drive to Snowdon was 5 hours and we would be getting there around 2.30 in the morning. On the way I was checking
my fundraising and I was now up to £1,750. The feeling of knowing how much I was raising was giving me the
motivation to continue. I was also receiving regular messages from my partner, family, friends and supporters. Even though it was dark and cold, I did not feel alone.
We reached Snowdon in good time and the whole team were buzzing as we knew that we had what it takes to get to the top and finish on time. This time I didn’t use my playlist as I stayed close to the team. There was lots of chat and banter. The weather was completely different from Scafell Pike; the skies were clear and the night sky and stars were amazing.
The climb gets tough in some places and there was some scrambling. This was not easy in the dark, but it was a great experience. I felt like an intrepid explorer. The final part of the climb was steep, and it was such a feeling to know that I was about to do
my final upward step. The elation that I felt when I reached the top was something that I have never experienced before and when I completed my final headstand I was filled with pride. I knew I had achieved my goal for the charity, 3 headstands in 24 hours on
the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales.
It was now time to get down in a time that would mean that we would complete the challenge within 24 hours. I had done my research and out of everyone that attempts the 3 peaks only 40% make it within 24hrs. My enthusiasm to get down was about to
impact me in a way I didn’t expect.
I was literally taking my second step on the way down and my injured knee twisted, and the pain was piercing. I could not put any pressure on it and I had to lead with my left. Before long I was way behind and was unable to keep up with the team. I did not
want to let the team down and I pushed hard. Before long I started to get pain in my left knee due to the extra strain it was taking.
Out of the darkness came one of the team, Pawel Janik came to join me. Pawel explained that the time would stop once the first 5
got to the bottom. Pawel told me not to worry as I would not impact the team. This made me both happy and sad. I was happy that the team would still succeed but gutted that I would not make it in time. Pawel gave me some pain killers and he left me while I pushed on.
The extra impact on my left knee was starting to take its toll. I had to keep it in one position and all my weight was on the left side of my knee. As I hobbled down, I saw a light in the distance. When I got there, it was another teammate called Dan Chandler. Dan said he did not want me to finish alone and he would stay with me. This was so touching and having him by my side helped me increase my speed.
The speed meant that we started to catch up with the rest of the team. Before I knew it, I could see two other team members
Mark Legg and Freddie Hoare, and there were now four of us. I was not going to finish on my own and we were on track
to finish within the 24hrs.
As we went onto the final track, we saw that the rest of the team were waiting. I was so happy as I knew we started together, and we were going to finish together. My teammates asked if I could make it to the end and my response was, “yes, I have
half a knee left.” This made them laugh.
Out of the darkness came the finish line. We were going to do it and as I crossed the line, I let out a huge YES and punched the air. We had done all 3 peaks in 23hrs 34minutes. While walking back to the van the sun rose, and I reflected on this challenge, why I had done it and those we support.
My life as a child in care was filled with mountains. Many times I felt lost and alone. It always seemed that at times of need, strangers came out of the dark to support me. My experiences as a child built an inner strength, courage and resilience and it was this that got me through. When I got to the van, I had a huge smile on my face as I knew that I was now in a position where I can help other
care leavers see their inner strength courage and resilience.
Thank you for reading this and if you feel inspired you can donate to my Crowdfunder using this link. If this no longer works you can donate directly on the Flying Solo website. If you enjoyed this article please look out for the next edition as I will be sharing more of my personal story and what I deliver through www.unlockingthepotential.co.uk ◆