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The National Three Peaks Accordion Eco-Challenge

by Carmine de Grandis | @outdoorspirit1

Carmine de Grandis
Reflections on a personal challenge
A few weeks on from my National Three Peaks Accordion Eco-Challenge I have lots to unpack. I will start by telling you that I am writing this while injured. I learnt that I probably have a tear in my right calf and that I will have to be patient and disciplined if I want the healing to be as quick as possible.

Why am I telling you this? Simply because we pick challenges with a "romantic view" of us overcoming obstacles and coming out winners and unscathed like in Hollywood movies. Reality is different. When taking on a big challenge there is the element of pushing your limits further, yet the learning will come from successes, failures and consequences. Now you know where I am, I will tell you how it went and what are my take aways.

I decided to take on the classic British National Three Peaks Challenge, attempting to climb Ben Nevis (Scotland), Scafell Pike (England) and Snowdon (Wales) while travelling unsupported using public transport (trains) and my gravel bike, carrying my accordion which I would play on the mountains. I chose to do this at the end of March - technically the beginning of Spring. My main reasons were to build community, to be in nature, to inspire others, to travel using a more eco-friendly approach and to raise funds for Climbers Against Cancer.

When I planned my adventure, as this is what it was meant to be, I did not realise how challenging it would be. I have run up mountains before, mostly getting to the start using my own car. By choosing to use trains I thought I would have plenty of time to rest in between the run/hikes. It turned out to be a very rewarding experience, but much more challenging than I expected as I did not manage to sleep or rest at all on the trains.

Carmine de Grandis
Time of year and planning/preparation time
In January, two weeks after the Spine Challenger North, I set the date for my National Three Peaks Accordion Eco-challenge between 27th and 30th of March. I was too busy working and recovering, but did not want to wait too long before the next instalment of "An Accordion on the Mountains" #carmineaccordionrounds.

I should have realised that while I would have had an adventure sooner, I would not have had enough time to train and the weather would probably be wintry. I also left preparing my kit quite late and this meant I made some poor choices, the biggest being carrying too much weight.

Luckily Scarpa, Harvey Maps, SeatoSummit and Voom Nutrition supported me brilliantly. I had approached these brands because of their commitment towards the outdoors community and towards making eco-friendly products. Training was patchy and I mostly carried through the fitness acquired during the Spine Race with a few ad hoc days on the hills.

Carmine de Grandis
Travelling by train/bike/foot vs supported by my own vehicle
I chose to travel using public transport. I was doing this challenge in a self-supported manner, and I really wanted to make myself more aware of the impact I would have on the environment, trying to reduce my carbon footprint as much as possible.

My focus was about using trains to get as close as possible to the Peaks. This meant I had to plan well in advance and purchase tickets early to save money. I embraced this opportunity, but did not find it easy.

Travelling by train meant that I met some interesting people and could share my story and my cause with others outside the "outdoors community". However, so many train changes, stations and times made my head hurt. I am used to planning, but I did not realise how tight catching trains would be and that I would not manage to rest as I had planned during train travel. From the start of the official National Three Peaks Accordion Eco-challenge on 28th March, 5am, I slept about 2h30m over the next two days.

A few numbers: 21 train changes in 4 days, 3 countries, 1 gravel bike, Paniers weight: 13.6kg, Accordion Bag weight 13.5 to 14 kg, 70% CO2 emissions saving on equivalent 1235 miles car journey, about £240 for all train tickets.

Carmine de Grandis
The Mountains: failure and success
Being in the mountains is never a failure. However, the highest peaks in the UK in winter conditions are very testing.

I planned to climb the three peaks. In reality, I only reached 1200m on Ben Nevis due to high winds (65+ miles/hour) and snowstorms which made for very dangerous conditions. I stopped my climb to Scafell Pike once I realised that all the layers I had - and I had many! - would not be enough in the wind, rain and snow which would have come later so adjusted the plan to summit Rossett Pike instead. I promise you, I have been on Scafell Pike many times, but this time it was not meant to be - mainly due to fatigue as explained in the section above -. I did reach the top of Snowdon though. It felt like a real achievement.

The People and the community
One of the main aims of this adventure was about building community and sharing my passion for the mountains and music. While I did this unsupported - I carried everything I had and only accessed shops or opportunities available to everyone - I enjoyed it with some of my mountain running friends who joined me for parts of it.

Of course, I could not have done any of this without my wife's unwavering support and my children's encouragement. There were many more people and acts of kindness I received from strangers too. Playing at the Old Dungeon Ghyll and being fed by the landlord was amazing. Sharing the story with hikers and others at Bangor station was motivational. Sharing pictures and videos on social media with some American tourists was also key to connecting with people outside my circle. I wanted to keep my account real, so sharing and talking about the hardships and failures as well as successes on social media was very important to me.

Carmine de Grandis
The monster rucksack and the accordion music
So far, I have not talked about how much I love my accordion or playing music. Since I started running more (around 15 years ago), I have dedicated less time to playing music. This used to be my main hobby and passion. When my dad died of cancer I seemed to talk to him whenever I went for a run, whenever an unexpected bird appeared out of nowhere.

Dad and I had a difficult relationship. Our love for each other was unconditional, but we were both headstrong. I soon realised that I could celebrate how we complemented each other by doing what I liked and what he enjoyed at the same time. He loved accordion music, he bought me an accordion and paid for my lessons. Instead, I love the feeling of freedom and transcendence the mountains give me. I decided that I would run and play so that Dad and I could be together again.

This is the reason why I chose to carry my accordion on my version of the National Three Peaks challenge, playing on Ben Nevis, Rossett Pike (it was meant to be Scafell Pike) and Snowdon. Music is a universal language and speaks to all, especially when we are seeking meaning or closure and I love playing for myself and others like shepherds used to do.

However, carrying the accordion safely on a multi-day challenge is a logistical puzzle. The first problem is to find a comfortable bag to carry the instrument. There seems to be a lack of mountain bags which can fit an accordion… not sure why!?

I am grateful to Grivel who make a climbing bag which is comfortable and safe to carry my load… although rather big and cumbersome when it is very windy - this has led to a few near misses in winds above 50 mph. The bag I carried for 4 days weighed 14.5kg. This came up and down the mountains and on my bike too. With my monster accordion bag, I also had to carry all clothing, food and equipment to be self-sufficient. I mentioned earlier that I did not pack very well. As a result, I was carrying 15kg in my bike paniers too. 30kg turns out to be a lot of weight to move around the three countries of Scotland, England and Wales.

Carmine de Grandis
Fundraising for "Climbers Against Cancer"
My National Three Peaks Accordion Eco-challenge would not have happened without one of the main reasons behind it: to raise funds for Climbers Against Cancer charity to beat Cancer. We all know friends or family who have had to face this horrible illness. Many have sadly lost their battle, often too early, leaving young families and loved ones behind.

Climbers Against Cancer is a charity which supports research into cures for this illness which kills so many. My dad never gave up. He followed his routine, his plans and his dreams and all that made him feel fulfilled until the very end… and on the last day he set foot out of the house we went together to the top of a mountain and our hearts were one. The following day Dad fell ill, and we soon discovered he had been fighting cancer, unbeknown to him and to us. He died one month later. I will continue to challenge myself and raise funds for this charity because by supporting research into cancer cures, I feel I will help people to live longer and more dignified lives in spite of how short cancer can make them. I will also continue to raise awareness about Climbers Against Cancer as a charity because between climbers, trail runners and mountaineers there is a natural desire to support each other and encourage one another to succeed. Very few sports display this togetherness which in fact is like an 'extended family'. So far, together we have raised £1815 and if you would like to donate follow this link or if you would like to purchase the cool merchandise from Climbers Against Cancer follow this link to their shop.

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If you're feeling inspired by Carmine's story, and you fancy tackling your own National Three Peaks Challenge, then make sure you are prepared by carrying our lightweight and waterproof Ultramaps - Ben Nevis, Snowdonia North and Lake District West.

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