The National Three Peaks Accordion Eco-Challenge by Carmine De Grandis

The National Three Peaks Accordion Eco-Challenge by Carmine De Grandis

Introducing the Golden Gate 2 ATR Reading The National Three Peaks Accordion Eco-Challenge by Carmine De Grandis 18 minutes Next Fontainebleau - Out in Front, Out of Favour by Eliot Stephens

SCARPA Athlete, runner and accordion enthusiast Carmine de Grandis loves a challenge - especially one which involves playing music in the mountains.

His latest challenge is likely to be his toughest yet - climbing the National 3 Peaks with his Accordion, playing along the way and travelling between the mountains by bike and public transport - all to raise money for charity.

We caught up with Carmine a couple of weeks after his challenge to find out how he got on.

Reflections on a personal challenge.

Two 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.

A couple of days ago I felt I had a very tight calf and did not listen to my body. Yesterday, while going over a small fence and jumping a low step I felt like someone kicked me. I later learnt that probably I 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 – still a few weeks -.

Why am I telling you this? Simply because we decide or pick challenges with a “romantic view” of us overcoming obstacles and coming out winners like the Hollywood actors in action movies who kill all their enemies and always come out unscathed. Reality is different. When taking on a big challenge there is the element of pushing your limits further. Yet the learning will come from both 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 a great charity which supports research projects into how to beat cancer, 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.

Planning and Preparation

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, Sea to Summit and Voom Nutrition supported me brilliantly. I had approached these brands because of their commitment towards the outdoors community and their commitment 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.

ECO Friendly Travel

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.

I was inspired by the Green Runners. A couple of their pledges are about using public transport to get to races and avoiding purchases by using pre-owned kit. 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 trains 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.

I was particularly tired during the night I attempted to climb Scafell Pike and the physical fatigue coupled with a very wet and cold night meant I had to change my plans for the ascent and bivvy in an outdoor wood lean to at Old Dungeon Ghyll afterwards.

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 1,235 miles car journey, about £240 for all train tickets.

In terms of kit I also used what I owned without purchasing anything else. I chose to use one pair of trail shoes, my Gore Tex Scarpa Spin Ultra for everything. I used my Sea to Summit sleeping set up, all the warm layers I had used during the Spine Challenger North and Voom nutrition I already had for big mountain days.

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.

I reached the top of Snowdon though. It felt like a real achievement. The conditions were quite challenging with a lot of wet slippery snow underfoot and very poor visibility. This time the wind was strong, but not dangerous and I had the necessary equipment and skills to reach the summit safely. I see this challenge as work in progress, a little like when playing football. Sometimes you win, other times you lose and often you draw. For me this challenge was always about adventure and facing hardship to test my limits. The mountains did not disappoint, and I gave it my all. A win in many ways with clear areas I can improve on.

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. In person, Nancy Connolly, a great friend, doctor and athlete, joined me on the climb to Ben Nevis.

I also shared a section of the first peak with Tom Owens. Tom is an incredible guy and a professional athlete with many accolades to his name. He lives locally and came to meet me on the Ben before heading off to work! If that is not friendship, what is?

Following the first peak, I reached Windermere station and another great friend, the Scarpa UK manager, Dave Suddes, joined me for the bike section. We reached Great Langdale in very grim, wet and dark weather. Having Dave there meant so much as I was feeling very tired. He is an amazing athlete and had supported me throughout in the organisation of my trip – thanks for answering my phone calls and emails.

Matthew Harris is another friend and talented athlete who now lives in the Lake District but used to be local to me in Norfolk. We saw Norfolk Trail Runners grow and became more passionate and daring in our outdoors pursuits. Matt supported me for the hardest part of this three peaks challenge. The night I tried to climb Scafell Pike I was struggling and constantly trying to work out how far I could go and be safe. He encouraged me and kept a watchful eye making sure that I would do as much as possible. He shared the joy of changing plan and summiting Rossett Pike. He also made sure I had a plan for sleep – he really wanted me to accept help, but knew I wanted to do this unsupported so he just asked me to talk him through the plan and the kit I would use.

Without a shadow of a doubt bivvying on such a cold night was a test of character. I am glad I had the same kit I had during the Spine Challenger North race with a combination of the Sea to Summit down sleeping bag and lightweight mat with a Gore-Tex Alpkit outer bivvy. Keeping dry was hard and generating enough heat was not easy. However, without getting my head down for 1h30m I would not have managed to continue.


Two more people who made my adventure special were Robyn Cassidy and Simon Roberts. Robyn met me before I climbed Snowdon at Llanberis after another very wet and quite challenging ride – the cars on the road to Llanberis and the spray scared me quite a bit. Seeing smiley Robyn made me feel positive again. At the end of my challenge Robyn and Simon were waiting for me.

Simon had spent a long day on the hills in similarly challenging conditions, yet he was there. I was so grateful as they represented all the people who had not been physically there but followed my journey all the way through on social media, sending lots of messages of support, encouragement and love.

There are many other people which validated this style of challenge in person. I am very grateful for Plas-y-Brenyn National Outdoors Centre, Scarpa partner, which invited me to talk to their guests as I completed my challenge. It was quite magical how so many people actively got involved in listening to my story and to my music. I am particularly grateful for the children who were there and loved the accordion so much that they had a go.

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.

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 dedicated less time to playing music. This used to be my main hobby and passion. When my dad died of cancer, I needed closure and 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 – which he helped me with by paying for all the lessons and buying my accordion when I was young.

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. Over the years, I have played Carols on Helvellyn and Scafell Pike, the highest Carol singing in England.

I have completed the George Fisher Tea Round carrying and playing my accordion on every top. I have supported athletes at many races and over many mountain tops with “La Bamba”, “Just one cornetto” and many more tunes. I have carried the accordion all the way to 2793m on the Monte Amaro, highest mountain of the Majella mountains in Abruzzo.

I played and ran a whole half marathon in my garden during one of the Covid lockdowns. I played running down Bowfell in the Lake District and carried the accordion during the Great Lakeland 3 Days and the Dragon’s Back Race, Scarpa sponsored events… but I wanted a mountain challenge which was both iconic and well known to most people in the UK.

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 have found the smallest and perfectly formed piano accordion to be my Hohner 48.

It is a reliable and sturdy instrument which weighs around 5 to 6 kg and has a nice sound. I would like to carry a bigger one. However, I cannot find a suitable bag. Key requirements are that the accordion bag needs to be comfortable, waterproof and fit all essential mountain safety kit, including food and water.

This is even more important in winter. I am grateful to Grivel which makes a climbing bag, Rocker 45, 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.

 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. I have always found that I seek solace in the great outdoors. It is my place to look for meaning and to experience peace and closure. I often describe the mountains or the outdoors as my church and my spiritual place.

Climbers Against Cancer is a charity which support research into cures for this illness which kills so many. John Ellison, Founder of CAC, has a very inspirational story and has left an amazing legacy. I would like to leave you with one of John’s quotes:” You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth”. 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 will 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 and use the code THANKS20% which is valid until the end of April 24.


A desire to help with planning and acting in an ecological aware way as well as a passion for sport and fellowship with music as a universal language of choice has helped me to create and live this memorable adventure for which I thank all of you who have shared it with me and will hopefully re-create in your own way and contexts. I look forward to reading your eco-friendly talent filled outdoor adventures. The sky is the limit…!