SUCCESS on the Triple Summit Challenge

18th Jun 2013

Sometimes you hear about an achievement that you struggle to comprehend.  Shackleton  returning all his team from near disaster in Antarctica. Messner summiting Everest solo and without supplementary oxygen.  Buck's Fizz winning the Eurovision Song Contest or Bobby Ewing returning to Dallas.  
Last week we heard similar, yet even more impressive, news.  After over a year of trying Peak Mountaineering sponsored athletes Ben and Tom Lewis confirmed they had pulled off the much sought after, yet previously unachieved, Triple Summit Challenge.
We are delighted that they managed to join us at the Peak Mountaineering office earlier this week so we could ask them about their staggering achievement......
Hi Ben and Tom.  A massive thanks for joining us today.  Especially when we know how busy you are with publicity events at the moment.
Ben It's not a problem.  We had finished our homework and our Mum said we had time to speak to you before Scouts.
So, it's been quite a year....and now the triple.  Wow!
Ben Yep.  We are really happy.  We've been after the triple for over a year and it feels like such a dream to have finally achieved it.
Can you tell us more about it?
Tom Sure. It really started when our Dad took us up a ridge line on Little Tryfan in the Ogwen Valley. I remember standing on the belay ledge with the steep drops on every side and just thinking to myself that I must have been born to climb ridges. It was a great place to be.  Later, he told us tales of famous climbers tackling ridges and gradually the seeds of what were to become the triple were sown.  
Ben For me me it was Dad telling us about Sandy Allan and Rick Allen traversing the Mazeno Ridge on Nanga Parbat.  That sounded gnarly, and yet I remember thinking we could still find an even bigger challenge.  One that would really shake up the mountaineering world and push the limits of the possible.
Sounds great. So what is the Triple Summit Challenge?
Tom Well, firstly we decided on the mountains we wanted to tackle.  We were looking for something big, bold and completely 'out there'.  Nothing, we came to realise, tops the seriousness of summiting the 3 highest mountains in the United Kingdom.  
This challenge isn't new and has even been achieved by a few select mountaineers before.  Hinkes managed it.  We heard a rumour that Messner may have done it but he's always denied it because there was a question over whether he had a permit for Scafell.  Bonington tried with a major team in the late seventies but that attempt was thwarted by the weather.  
Ben Once we'd chosen the mountains we needed to pick the routes.  There were a few established lines on Snowdon but we'd been sent some photos of a knife edge ridge that had never been attempted.  It was an awesome line listed on ancient maps as Crib Goch.
On Scafell we'd heard about a line that had almost been done some years ago.  It had become known locally as the Corridor Route.  We knew straight away that we had our line on Scafell.
Ben Nevis was to be our final challenge.  The highest mountain in Britain was also going to be our hardest.  It is so high we worried about the debilitating effects of hypoxia.  It also has significant snow cover and the peak sits in a blanket of cloud for about 360 days a year. The standard route has seen some ascents but locals had told us about a ridge that skirted around the back of the mountain and remained unclimbed.  It had been given the mythical name of the CMD Arête by local Fort William mountaineers. 
It all sounds like such an audacious challenge.  Tell us about the ascents themselves.
Ben I don't really know what audacious means but I can certainly tell you about the climbs.
Snowdon was our starting point and one of our most memorable ascents for lots of reasons.  The ascent almost failed before it started as we arrived at the Pen Y Pass base camp quite late and their wasn't room for us.  We were just wondering what to do when a large minibus of tourists left and we could claim our spot.  The ascent to the ridge went smoothly but, when we first got chance to view the ridge, we thought it was beyond us.  
The exposure is incredible and, despite our extensive preparation, we both wondered if we had the technical skills for it.  But, as history now shows.....we did!  Standing on the summit was a real milestone for us.  The challenge had started and we'd already gone some way to silencing the doubters.
Amazing story.  Scafell came next and I gather that the style of this ascent caused some controversy.
Tom Again, controversy is a big word for a 9 year old, but I think you mean people weren't very happy with our Scafell ascent.  
We always climb alpine style but we also know our limits.  When we looked at Scafell we knew it would be too much to push all the way to the summit without stopping mid way.  So, we had equipment portered up to Styhead Tarn for an intermediate camp.  That allowed us an early start to reach the top. If people aren't happy with that they always have the chance to do better.  
Some people also questioned whether the Corridor Route is actually a ridge but we are the only people that have succeeded on this line and our photos are clear proof.  It is fair enough to say that some of the way doesn't follow a ridge but near the top there is a clear section of broad ridge leading to the top.  We have no doubts at all that it fits our criteria.
Camping mid way up such a fearsome mountain must have been a very scary experience?
Actually it was a lot of fun.  We had hot chocolate, sweets and card games to take our mind off the day ahead.  Getting out of the tent in the morning to make an alpine start was the hardest part!
An alpine start eh.  Did you set off at 3 or 4 am?  
Ben Oh no.  After our breakfast and a few games of Monopoly Deal and Uno it was probably about 9am.  It was still hard though!
So.  The final challenge was your highest summit.  Tell us about that.
Tom Firstly, we like to come clean about any assistance we've had and we had some on Ben Nevis.  Our Dad has a key to the forestry track and we drove up the first section to the dam at about 300 metres.  But after that it was all on foot.
We ascended the slopes out of Coire Leis and made our way to the start of the CMD Arête.  All day the summit sat in cloud and we were unable to see what was ahead.  It was a terrifying challenge.  
Ben In the end traversing the ridge was actually the easy part.  At one point I lost my footing and at another our last packet of crisps almost blew off a ledge, but we stayed focussed and knew triple success was in sight. 
On the summit we felt very emotional.  A long journey was coming to an end and the magnitude of what we might soon achieve was overwhelming.  On the descent we followed the standard descent path and couldn't believe the hoards of well wishers that had obviously come out to greet us.  Most played it cool and walked past almost as if we weren't there, but we knew they were probably just overwhelmed by our great achievement.
What has it been like getting back to normal life?
Tom We've played it down really.  We told our teacher and she said well done.  Our friends seemed happy.  Our Grandparents were impressed.  We've heard a Piolet d'Or nomination is a possibility.  Others say the One Show are seeking an interview.  There are mumblings about Knighthoods.  Probably best of all was our Mum and Dad giving us a gold coin each.  Otherwise, we'll just wait and see.  We want to stay focussed and move on to our next challenge, but we also recognise the need to keep the sponsors happy.
So what is next?
Ben We have some great plans in the pipeline.  Dad showed us some photos of a stunning unclimbed ridge in the Alps named the Cosmiques Arête project.  Apparently a strong Polish team came close to an ascent in 86 but it still awaits a full traverse.
In 2015 we may tackle another sought after line called the Hornli Ridge on the Matterhorn.  There is a much disputed ascent but we believe this is still awaiting a true alpine style first ascent.
The year this space!
Thanks so much to you both.  It's been great to share the news of your superb achievement.      One final question before you go to Scouts.  What was the hardest part of the challenge?
Ben Easy.  Near the summit of Ben Nevis I felt I was losing consciousness.  I feared Cerebral Oedema but Tom rushed over and realised it was something a little easier to deal with.  My buff had just become so tight around my throat that I couldn't breathe properly.
Tom  My worst moment?  When we ran out of Haribo mid way along Crib Goch.  I was going to phone for Prince Will's to drop an emergency supply in his Sea King (he's a patron of the challenge) but in the nick of time Ben found a spare packet hidden in the bottom of his we manned up, chomped a few and battled on.
Thanks Guys.  Best of luck with the Piolet d' Or.