RNRU 3 Peaks Challenge‘Ain't No Mountain High Enough?"
By Geraint Ashton Jones
Sometimes the hardest part of a challenge is the least expected. When Lt Cdr ‘Doc' Cox and Lt Ed Moss-Ward first suggested the 24-hour three peak challenge, to raise money for the charities supporting former U23 player Mne Aaron Moon, a certain amount of pain was expected. Screaming calves from the three ascents, painful toes and lower quads from the descents even the stiff back from long distance travelling in a mini bus was anticipated and prepared for. However as the history of warfare has repeatedly shown; it is not physical torture that will break a man but emotional torture. What was the hardest part of the challenge? That's easy. Having to listen, again and again to very poor karaoke of the 1960's classic "Ain't no mountain high enough".
As to the challenge, well the short version is easy - it was met.
Following a long ‘Friday the Thirteenth' journey from HMS Collingwood to the JSMTC accommodation at Ballachulish the team woke early Saturday morning to perfect conditions for walking up Ben Nevis, some high cloud, still air and not too warm. Following the short drive around to Glen Nevis the challenge started at just before 09:00 Saturday 14 July. The idea, over a pint, of Lt Cdr Michael ‘Doc' Cox and Lt Ed Moss-Ward to raise some money for the charities helping former Navy U23 player Aaron Moon was underway. Turning back was no longer an option.
Early enthusiastic banter died down as the initial steep section of ‘The Ben' kicked in. The group quickly split in to two distinct sections - the under and over forties. Ed and playing colleagues of Aaron, SLt Matt Kitson and NA Chris ‘Cinders' Ellors were soon into their stride and making good progress up the track. Behind came the former U23 team support members. U23 Chairman, Cdr Iain Whyte, Team Manger John White (ex WO RN) and head coach Doc were taking a more purposeful approach. They were accompanied by U23 sports therapist, Mel White, (honorary over 40) and former RNRU Director of Rugby, Geraint Ashton Jones (ex Lt Cdr RN).
For most of the ascent the group could marvel as the Scottish highland scenery opened up before them. On the summit plateau they passed Britain's highest War Memorial, always a poignant moment for a Service team and then after two and a half hours of hard work they were reunited for the obligatory summit photography.
There was still the last remnants of snow on the summit plateau and whilst acutely aware of rugby's omerta of what goes on ‘on tour' stays ‘on tour' a small quote from Shakespeare's Henry VI is appropriate - "Well could I curse away a winter's night, Though standing naked on a mountain top, Where biting cold would never let grass grow, And thinking it but a minute spent in Sport." For a suitable donation to the charity via www.justgiving.com/RNRU-3-Peaks-Challenge/, Doc will willingly give more details!
Though naturally easier than going up, the long descent of Ben Nevis does ensure that all team members climbed in to the mini bus at the bottom with sore quads and feet. Next up Scafell Pike but first the six hour journey to get there. With LH Jon Ryder at the wheel the team headed south and reached Wasdale Head ready to start the ascent of Scafell Pike just after 20:00. Scafell Pike was only being attempted by six of the team and again the three U40's with soon ahead. The start of the climb was met with a couple of showers ensuring the path was wet and slippery. The blanket of overhead cloud took the diminishing light away quicker than normal and meant that the summit was reached in darkness at just before 22:00 for Ed, Matt and Cinders with Doc and Iain not far behind. Geraint made the summit just after 22:00 but rejoined the O40 group for the torch lit journey back down. The walk off Scafell Pike took slightly longer than planned as walking over the wet and very rocky terrain was not easy going and extra care was needed. However before midnight the team were down, refuelled with food and hot drinks and again driving south with LS(WS) Will Cairns at the wheel. A chance for some sleep for the walking team was taken although Will's love of nature and his commentary of all the wonderful Lake District wildlife, farm life and fauna various he was driving past did keep some awake for longer than planned!
Two down, one to go and before long the team were parked at Pen-Y-Pass ready for the final climb up Snowdon. Back to eight members Ed, Matt and Cinders were out of the mini bus and off before the vehicles' handbrake was on. For the others a little time was needed. Mel was employed to administer some needed strapping and then the final leg could begin. As team two reached the start of the last steep section, the zig zags up to Bwlch Glas they were met by the youngsters on their way down. Pleasantries and banter exchanged before the teams went their separate ways. However at 07:47, twenty three hours and eleven minutes after having the first team photograph at the bottom of Ben Nevis all the team had reached the summit of Snowdon within the challenge deadline.
Challenges like the three peaks don't just happen. They take a considerable amount of organisation, which involves far more than the team that took part. Doc, Ed and the whole team were grateful for the support they received from the Royal Navy Rugby Union, BLESMA.org, Codestorm plc, JSMTC Ballachulish, HMS Victory and HMS Collingwood. Without their support it would have been a far more difficult undertaking.
The final chapter of the challenge was also the most moving. Aaron Moon, the inspiration behind the original idea of Ed and Doc, joined the team at the top of Snowdon. Still recovering from the latest operation on his amputated leg Aaron made his way, with the rest of the team, to Snowdon's summit cairn. It served as a stark reminder about why the challenge was undertaken. For the team their discomfort, yes even that from the karaoke, was only temporary. For Aaron, and the many others being supported by BLESMA, he faces a lifetime of change and challenge through his Service to his Country. On top of Snowdon his presence provided the perfect end to a long but rewarding day.
One last photo and the RNRU 24 hour three peak challenge was complete.
The RNRU Three Peak Challenge was raising money for BLESMA, Rugby for Heroes and the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity. You can still donate to these worthy causes through the challenge teams Just Giving Donation page at: