Why did I write this guide and who’s it for?
This guide is intended to be a definitive source of advice and insight for any cyclist contemplating an Everesting. In recent times, I’ve repeatedly been asked for advice on Everesting and I decided to put all my tips in one place, here. I regularly update this guide (this version November 2021). There are numerous blogs and articles on the topic, but they mostly detail the experience, rather than attempt to help others with their own Everestings.
Also note, there’s a two part Podcast version of this guide, on the Everesting Podcast:
When I first heard about Everesting, back in 2014, the concept was new and advice was extremely scarce. The result was that I failed at my first attempt: my legs were good, but my planning was flawed. On the long drive home, I thought about all the mistakes I’d made and I resolved to get really analytical and thereby weight everything in my favour, as far as possible. A week later I tried again and succeeded. Since then, I’ve completed various types of Everesting and all the knowledge that I’ve accumulated is summarised below in my ’10 Steps to Everesting’. I hope that it helps and good luck with your ride!
Along with this guide, another key resource is the everesting.cc website, administered by HELLS 500. As discussed below, you’re going to need to visit this site anyway for various pieces of information, plus hopefully to submit your successful ride! Along with my 10 Step Guide, have a look at https://everesting.teachable.com/
Note, this guide is for cyclists planning to attempt an Everesting outdoors or In Real Life (IRL) as it’s known. I’ve written a separate guide for indoor virtual Everestings – known as vEverestings, here:
What does this guide cover?
Crucially, this guide covers 10 key steps that a cyclist should take when preparing for an Everesting, breaking each one down, in detail.
In order, these are:
- Understanding The Rules
- Picking your Climb
- Ride solo, or with Others?
- Picking a Date and Start Time
- Bike Prep & Training
- Base Camp Location and Kit List
- Nutrition & Hydration
- Recording the Ride, Lights and Recharging
- Mind Games and Chimp Management
If you’re going to spend c.24 hours on a single climb, pick somewhere you really want to spend time: The Agnello, Cottian Alps.
For anyone interested in a longer read, after step 10, I also go on to explain related things like the history behind Everesting, who are HELLS 500, the ‘SSSS’ family of Everestings and so on, but if your time is tight, just stick to the 10 advisory sections.
Just before we jump in, we should define what Everesting is, namely riding consecutive repetitions on a chosen hill/mountain/col/berg, up and down the same route, until your cumulative ascent reaches 8,848m – the height of Mount Everest. The ride has to be done in a continuous push i.e. you can stop briefly and repeatedly to eat, drink, etc., but you can’t go to sleep. For a normal amateur cyclist, no matter which climb you choose to attempt, it’s likely to be a 15 – 24 hour effort and a defining test of your physical and mental endurance. For the vast majority of people, it will be the hardest ride that they’ve ever attempted.
Providing you don’t sleep, there is no time limit for an Everesting attempt. Just keep pedalling.
A successful Everesting – proven via a recording on a GPS device (cycle computer or similar) – admits you to a unique club known as HELLS 500 and it’s been dubbed ‘one of the most exclusive clubs in the world’. According to Andy van Bergen, the founder of HELLS 500 “Mount Everest is unlike any other numerical target. It’s a symbol for anything big and momentous in our lives. The reason the concept of Everesting has become so popular is that it’s an icon that resonates with cyclists and non-cyclists alike”. The other beauty of Everesting is that it’s an ‘inclusive challenge’: something anyone can attempt, anywhere in the world, on any climb, at any time. As ‘back doorstep challenges’ go, it’s virtually unique.
I’m certainly not claiming to be anything special in the world of Everesting: there are definitely people who have done a lot more, gone further, done it (much) faster and climbed higher. I have however attempted 12 Everestings to date (I failed on the first attempt and successfully completed the next 11) and in so doing, I’ve thought long and hard about how best to prepare for and then execute the ride, from initial concept, right through to successful completion. In my circle of friends, I’m the planner, the organiser and the detail freak. I’m particularly attentive to ‘what if’? scenarios and prepare accordingly. I try to leave nothing to luck.
It goes without saying that cycling is inherently dangerous, as is any extreme endurance event. Combining the two, usually on public roads, involves genuine risk. I am not trying to encourage you to undertake an Everesting – you do that entirely at your own bidding. I’m simply trying to prepare you better and make you more likely to succeed, safely.
So, just to repeat, you undertake an Everesting entirely at your own risk and I, this website and its contents accept no liability for your actions, your safety, or your sanity. The fact that you’re even reading this guide means the last point is already in doubt.
Everesting in 10 Steps
Step 1: Understanding The Rules
Read The Rules (and I mean really know them): https://everesting.cc/the-rules/
You should really understand what it is that you’re attempting and note that there are some simple, but very firm ground rules, administered by HELLS 500. If you don’t adhere to The Rules, your ride could be rejected.
One of the beautiful things about Everesting is how simplistic it is: pick any climb you like, anywhere in the world: short, steep, long, shallow, high, or low. So long as it’s ‘up’, it can be Everested, BUT there are some key housekeeping points:
- ideally, you should aim to ride the entire segment/climb, although a recognisable sub-segment is now permitted. On the final repetition, when you’re certain you’ve reached at least 8,848m, you can abandon the ride and head downwards
- your effort must be continuous (you can stop as much or as little as you like, but you can’t sleep (I personally ALWAYS wear a heart rate monitor when Everesting, to erase any doubt about the validity of my attempt)
- and you must descend the same route that you climb (unless there’s a recognisable reason not to, such as a one way road)
If it matters to you, check the Everesting Hall of Fame to see whether yours will be the first ascent. For me, this has been a powerful motivator when choosing climbs: being the first person to Everest something iconic is a singular opportunity.
But there is actually quite a long list of rules to follow and you can and should read all about them: https://everesting.cc/the-rules/
If, having familiarised yourself with The Rules, you’re still in doubt, you can also ask questions in the Official Everesting Facebook Community: you’ll quickly be given the right answer: https://www.facebook.com/groups/everesting
Step 2: Picking your Climb
Once you understand The Rules, you can pick your climb. This is the fun part! For me, it has to be a climb that I REALLY want to spend up to 24 hours on! That’s almost certainly a climb that I like, for whatever reason and for most people, who will only ever ride one Everesting, it’s best to make it a climb that you feel suits your climbing style.
With eight IRL Everestings under my belt, I’ve now ridden all sorts: long shallow ones, short steep ones, two gravel ones and even one at altitude. As my confidence and knowledge increased, I took myself further and further away from my comfort zone. However, for first-time Everesters, I would say the perfect climb is:
- your choice
- close to home
- a fairly constant gradient
- ideally a climb you can do seated, somewhere around Zone 2/3
- not too many reps (you’ll lose quite a bit of time turning hundreds of times)
- well surfaced
- safe (i.e. has phone coverage, is relatively free of traffic, with good turning points at the top and bottom)
- works with prevailing winds
- has some shade
- has a natural site for a base camp at the bottom
- has a toilet nearby
Perhaps most importantly, it should be a climb that excites you and really fuels your mental resolve. You are going to have to really WANT to succeed and if you end up with doubts about your climb, 12 hours in, you’re much more likely to quit.
You also need to work out exactly how many laps are required. Do this carefully, yourself. Don’t rely on hearsay, in case it’s wrong! The Everesting Calculator is one useful tool to help you check: https://everesting.cc/app/lap-calculator/
Personally, I’ve always ridden the segment before and checked it that way. I’ve even gone as far as checking contour lines on a map! Leave nothing to chance…
Step 3: Safety
I’ve already warned you that there’s no such thing as a perfectly safe Everesting, just as there’s no such thing as a completely safe bike ride.
At the very minimum, have a think about the turning points at the top and the bottom, which are usually the trickiest places and often at junctions. Car drivers WILL NOT EXPECT you to be running reps and turning in the way that you will. If your descent has lots of joining points for cars (driveways and/or side roads), include that in your assessment. This was particularly the case on my second successful Everesting climb and I decided to use blinker lights all day to help keep me visible (* after my son Tom was involved in a life-threatening ‘car on bike’ crash in 2019, I now run blinker lights, front and back, on every ride. I think they’re the single most important safety measure you can take to improve your chances of survival on roads anywhere and everywhere).
How remote is your climb? My gravel climbs were totally wild, so I asked a friend to join me. He rode some laps, took some photos and generally watched over me.
Does your climb have phone reception?
Then think about how your chosen climb will be when your brain is fried, it’s dark and you’re really tired. Is it still a safe choice? What if it rains? Are you still happy with your choice?
How much traffic does it get at busy times? Have you ever ridden it at busy times? Maybe you should, to check? A weekend might be quieter?
You should also have a think about the descent. What will it be like in the dark?
Finally, you also have to get home safely afterwards! It goes without saying that anything other than a very short journey/drive home should be avoided. On my remote gravel climbs for example, I simply slept at my base camp once finished and drove home the next day.
Eyes on the prize. I’ve only ever seen one other HELLS 500 jersey while out on the road!
Step 4: Ride solo, or with Others?
I generally like to be self-reliant and the more moving parts you involve, the more chances there are that something will go wrong. Truly solo (the way I’ve ridden 8 of my 11 Everestings), requires a certain type of mindset – what I call Advanced Chimp Management (more on that in Step 10). A solo Everesting is a thing of beauty, to be truly cherished. The other big upside of going solo is that your pacing choice is entirely your own – as it needs to be. I recommend going really easy in the first third of the ride, so that when things get tough (as they almost certainly will around the 4 – 5,000m mark), you still have reserves.
However, as Andy van Bergen of HELLS 500 famously said “your legs need to get you to 6,000m and then your head needs to get you the rest of the way”. Having others riding with you will almost certainly help you to find the mental reserves to keep going. Even just having someone at base camp provides some moral support.
If you do attempt an Everesting with a friend, or even as part of a group, you should decide IN ADVANCE what you would do in the event that one of you abandons, or has a major mechanical, or crashes. Making these decisions on the day will be harder, with a fried brain and emotions running high!
If you go solo, you might decide to invite some friends (aka ‘Sherpas’ in Everesting speak) to ride a few laps with you. This offers you some degree of support, plus the distraction of someone to talk to – just be sure to ride at your pace, not their ‘fresh legs’ pace! If you can, spread these people out a little, so you have company for more of the ride. Your lowest points are likely to come around half-way and beyond, particularly if you head into darkness towards the end – if you have a really good friend, who doesn’t mind joining you in the final 2,000m, they could be a God-send.
My mate Kev set his alarm for 2.00am and joined me for my final lap on my first gravel Everesting – as moral support went, that was pretty amazing!
Hills with plenty of reps are better suited to riding with other team members: you can all ride at your own paces, but will coincide more often. In contrast, a climb with very few reps could see a team split up very quickly and never come back together, except for the odd wave when passing each other!
One other point – some roads don’t lend themselves to large numbers of cyclists doing unpredictable things e.g. turning at the top and bottom. Go back to ‘Step 3: Safety’ and reassess whether your chosen hill still feels prudent with multiple cyclists involved?
Step 5: Picking a Date & Start Time
For my first three Everestings, I put aside three or four days, spread across a three week block and kept them as clear as I could in my diary. That way, if the first date had adverse weather – a headwind, or prolonged rain – I could just delay to my second date and so on. It goes without saying that you want the longest daylight hours possible, so May, June and July are the best months (in the UK). Some of your ride will inevitably be in the dark, but ideally you want this period to be as short as possible.
Your alternative is to simply pick a single day in advance and hope that the weather’s kind to you. This makes little sense, but it’s sometimes your only option. My issue with this approach is that it requires luck and this guide is all about reducing the need for luck. An Everesting will be hard enough without having to ride into a headwind, or endure cold rain, so try to give yourself options.
Having said all this, my fourth Everesting broke all my own rules: I took four other riders, to a mountain 1,500km away and I picked a single day, 12 months in advance. In the end, we were lucky – the sun shone, the wind followed us and everyone succeeded. But it was absolutely NOT how to go about weighting the odds in our favour.
When your first assigned date arrives, be honest with yourself: is the wind right? Is it dry enough? Are you in good shape and healthy? Be brave enough to postpone to your next date option.
One of the questions people ask me most is ‘what’s the best start time?’ Science will tell you that you’re best starting after a good night’s sleep i.e. at 7/8/9.00am. While I’m sure the science is right, it doesn’t take into account the fact that most people will take 20 – 24 hours elapsed time to Everest and a 9.00am start will basically leave you riding through the entire night when you’re at your most physically drained and probably alone (not many support crew or Sherpas will stay with a rider through the night)! I was intrigued enough to try a 9.00am start on Everesting #5. I finished as the sun rose the following day, after a very long and lonely night. Personally, I’d never do this again!
My advice therefore is to get an early night and start at 2.00/3.00am. It feels hard initially, but then the sun rises, you already have a few thousand meters in the bag and crucially, you’ll hopefully finish around midnight. I think two half-nights is considerably better than one whole one, in practice.
The next thing to note is that there’s no time limit for Everesting. So long as you don’t sleep, you can take as long as you like. That said, I try to keep my stoppage time to a minimum. Even so, it adds up through the ride – my shortest cumulative stoppage time has been c.2 hours and my most has been c.4 hours.
The final question that comes up concerning time is ‘how long will the ride take?’
I was once told to take my single rep ascent time, double it and then multiply that number by the number of laps required. I thought this sounded ridiculously long. However, let’s test the theory: ascending the Cime de la Bonette took me c.2 hours and I needed to ride almost 6 reps. So, this theory would say 4 hours x 6 laps = 24 hours elapsed time. I tried really hard to keep my stops to a minimum, but my elapsed time still reached 21’19”. Other Everestings have been c.24 hours (a long/shallow gradient one and a gravel one), c.22 hours (a steep one, but to 10,000m) and c.20 hours (another steep one). So unless you’re a really gifted climber, you should mentally prepare for a 20 – 24 hour effort.
Everesting always takes longer than the maths suggests. Your final laps will be slower and your stoppage time all adds up. Mentally, you just need to relax into this fact and not fight it. Once behind, you can NEVER catch back up, so don’t even try. Relax and just keeping turning the pedals. Throw away your watch!
It’s unlikely that anyone will ever ask you how fast you did it. They’ll just know that you succeeded. I’ve never managed to actually stop checking the time and one of the cruellest things about Everesting is that your head constantly does the maths on the time a block of reps takes and how long you still have left to ride.
Step 6: Bike Prep and Training
Obviously you should give some real thought to your bike. In particular, can you modify it at all, in light of the climb you’ve chosen? I recommend you think about the following:
- are your gears adequate? Be honest with yourself: a 34 × 32 versus a 36 × 28 could be the difference between success and failure. Gravel bike gearing has opened up a whole world of possibilities when it comes to conserving power on really steep climbs
- can you make your bike lighter? Remove a bottle cage and that saddle bag perhaps? Fit a set of climbing wheels?
- have your bike fully ready as your first date option draws near. I destroyed a bottom bracket on my first Everesting and switched bikes – fortunately, I had a spare in the car!
- in particular, make sure you have new brake pads: 8,848m of down is a lot
- fit two cycle computer holders (see Step 9 below)
- fully charge your battery if using eTap, or Shimano Di2, or Campy EPS
- fit light bracket/s to your bike and check the beam alignment is correct
- fit new tyres if required
- charge everything: lights, cycle computers, phone, spare battery packs etc
Training for an Everesting could be an entire blog topic in itself, so I won’t even attempt to go into real detail here. What I can tell you though is this:
- I’m not a gifted cyclist. I only came to the sport in my 20s (I’m now in my 50s), but I am a lifetime athlete and I’ve ridden between 10,000 to 20,000km every year for the last 30! So I have endurance, if not speed! I’m also 6’4” or 194cm and my ‘race weight’ is 83kg, so I’m never going to fly up hills versus true climbers. So there are two bits of advice here: volume and self-belief!
- ride lots: 10 – 20 hours a week, with lots of consecutive days, which I think prepares you for the demands of an Everesting
- climb lots and practice riding reps (on your Everesting climb if possible)
- in the months leading up to an Everesting, I typically aim to do at least one 200km/4,000m ride, followed two weeks later by a 350km/5,000m ride. The latter will see me on the road for 13 – 15 hours and if I can complete that, I can almost certainly complete an Everesting
- riding a half-Everesting, known as Everesting Basecamp (4,424m) is another great way to prepare
- I often get asked about tapering: I favour a short taper: 10 – 14 days is perfect in my view
- If you’re looking for a coach to help you prepare, I can recommend my son Tom Townsend! He’s a fully qualified coach, working for Downing Cycling (arguably the best coaching team in the UK). Tom Everested the Cime de la Bonette, the highest road climb in France, aged just 17, so he knows exactly what’s involved and how to train for it. You can find his details here: https://sirguylitespeed.com/coach-tom/
Step 7: Base Camp Location and Kit List
Where you put your base camp is crucial (usually this is a car, but it might even be a car and a gazebo, or maybe even a tent). Unless your chosen climb is very long, I would always recommend locating it at the bottom: your heart rate and breathing will be lowest after the descent, making it easier to relax, eat and drink. It’s also more likely to be warmer and more sheltered than the summit. I take a comfy camping chair, a blanket to wrap myself in when I sit down and I turn the boot of my car into a really organised combination of kitchen, workshop and wardrobe.
Proximity to a toilet should be given serious consideration too!
As an Everesting goes on, your mental capacity decreases. The more organised your Base Camp is, the more stress free you’ll be. So, you need to be VERY organised and some sort of day bag that allows you to see everything at a glance is extremely helpful. I use a small suitcase, fitted out with a camera lens divider, to compartmentalise all the small bits of cycling kit that I need: chamois cream, lights, cables, spare tubes, lube, tools etc.
On my third Everesting attempt, I’d packed all my spare clothes into one big bag. About two thirds of the way in, with night approaching, I tried to find my arm warmers, but couldn’t. I ended up emptying the bag completely, but still couldn’t find them. A friend looked too – not there. When I got home the next day, there they were, in the bag all along! Your brain gets fried and hence it pays to be very organised with all of your kit.
This is what I take with me when Everesting:
- Spares & Bike related stuff: electrical tape * ass saver mudguard * mobile chargers & cables for computers, lights and iPhone * wet wipes and hand sanitiser * first aid kit and ibuprofen * pen * chamois cream * sun lotion and lip balm * spare tyre * spare tubes * chain lube * spare chain * chain tool * track pump * spare brake blocks/pads * toilet roll * spare bike if possible!
- Clothing: spare jersey * spare base layer * spare socks * spare shorts * knee warmers * leg warmers * arm warmers * gilet * wind shell jacket * rain jacket * cap * full finger gloves * beanie * overshoes * clear lenses/glasses for night riding
- Kitchen area: * cups * bowls * plates * sharp knife * spoons * kitchen roll
Step 8: Nutrition and Hydration
In the run up to an Everesting attempt – say three or four days before, I switch to a FODMAP diet. It’s worth researching this yourself, but in short, a FODMAP diet cuts out fibre and foods that ferment. This has the effect of settling your stomach down, making it less likely that you’ll experience stomach issues during your Everesting. Also research and look for foods with a low GI index.
The odd thing about Everesting is that it’s probably the longest ride you’ve ever done, but you have the potential to be better fed and hydrated than ever, with so many opportunities to stop and refuel.
However, there’s a big trap here – your body can only absorb c.70 – 90g of carbohydrate per hour. Your heart is working very hard to push oxygen to your muscles and will start to ‘ignore’ less important functions, such as digestion i.e. it reduces blood flow to your stomach and your digestive process slows down. If you keep eating i.e. overloading, at this stage, you’ll end up feeling bloated, followed by nauseous and potentially, you’ll either vomit, or suffer from diarrhoea. BE WARNED – many of the Everesting accounts I’ve read contain evidence of this problem developing in the later stages of the ride. It’s generally referred to as ‘Gastro Intestinal issues’ or GI issues for short.
So your goal is to eat just enough and drink just enough to fuel and hydrate adequately, without overloading your system. Some people seem to have ‘cast-iron’ stomachs and get away without being attentive to this, but not me and hence towards the end of an Everesting, I’m generally treading a fine between continuing to pedal and fighting off GI issues.
Things I eat while Everesting include: white rolls/bread * jam * cheese (in moderation) * salted crisps * salted peanuts * cold chicken/ham * rice cakes * bananas * soup * pre-cooked bacon (for the salt) * coffee * white bagels
I also have some energy foods to hand, but try to use them sparingly: Bounce Balls, Torq Chews, Veloforte bars, OTE flapjacks, Maurten hydrogels and OTE Duo Bars.
Also note, anything dry becomes really hard to actually eat as your ride goes on.
Many people have found switching to flavoured milk late in the ride can help them, but this goes against FODMAP advice and when I tried it myself, it ended in the worst GI issues I’ve ever had!
On the hydration front, try to stick mostly to plain water. It’s easy, by weighing yourself before and after rides, to work out roughly how much fluid you’re losing per hour and then apply this to your Everesting attempt. This knowledge should allow you to hydrate adequately during an Everesting. I even went as far as having a sodium test done, to know how much salt my sweat contains (some people lose far more salt than others through sweating, so this is a very useful thing to know when tackling ultra endurance events).
Along with food and plain water, be very careful to get enough salt and electrolytes, but again, not too much. A common mistake among athletes new to endurance events is to overload on electrolytes and thereby induce GI issues. Make sure that you test your choice of electrolytes well in advance: some very popular brands make me nauseous almost immediately! I have found great success with Torq Hydration mix. Personally, I don’t use energy drink mix – I get my calories via food and try to keep my drinks as natural as possible.
Avoid fizzy drinks too – the gas is likely to leave you feeling bloated and nauseous.
Step 9: Recording the Ride, Lights and Recharging
“If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen” so you need a failsafe plan for recording your ride. Although phones and GPS watches are now permitted (HELLS 500 verify your ride largely by checking the ascent data for each rep and then your number of reps), I would recommend using a cycle computer and personally, knowing that ‘in-ride’ failures and glitches can occur, I always run two computers, side by side, during an Everesting attempt (can you borrow a second one, if you don’t happen to have a spare)?
I simplify my screens to preserve battery life and turn my backlight down to inimum. I also practice using my lap counter (and work out exactly where to set the turning point at the top or bottom of the ride). I find this very useful for confirming the number of laps completed. I start this at my turning point at the bottom of the climb (NOT necessarily at my base camp).
I also take regular photos of my computers, as evidence of progress in case of a mid-ride failure.
Over time, cycle computer battery life has become increasingly impressive – a Garmin 1030 (when new) could last up to 18 hours in my experience. However, most people will still have to charge their devices, towards the end of a ride. There are now a multitude of battery packs that you can tape to your frame (I use an old piece of wetsuit to pad the frame and then electrical tape to attach the pack to the frame). However, whether the cable will be secure enough in the charging port to work reliably on gravel or rough roads or as you descend, is a bit of a lottery. Plus some charging ports don’t lend themselves to recharging on the go. As with almost everything else here, experiment first, so that on the day, you know what’s going to work with the minimum of fuss or delay. If you happen to have a Garmin 1030, there’s an amazing recharging mount and battery pack available. I run two 1030s when Everesting and simply switch them between the recharging mount as necessary.
Be warned: some older cycle computers start a power-off sequence when you disconnect a power source – not helpful if you’re Everesting! Again, practice recharging on the go and don’t get caught by this. Some even reset when you remove the cable – nightmare! Know which type you have, in advance…
DO NOT go by the ascent data showing on your computer. It will never be 100% accurate. At one point on my second Everesting, my two Garmins were 200m out of sync (more than two laps difference on that particular climb) and then drew back level again by about 7,000m! You’ve done the maths on how many laps are required to hit 8,848m – ABSOLUTELY STICK TO THAT NUMBER, EVEN IF YOUR COMPUTER SAYS YOU’VE CLIMBED MORE THAN YOU EXPECTED.
In my experience, computers actually have a habit of under-recording your cumulative ascent, meaning you may have to ride slightly further than you calculated, to get 8,848m of ascent showing on your screen/s. Just roll with it – you CAN do an extra few hundred meters, no matter how tough it might feel.
If you do have a disaster, it’s definitely possible to stitch together interrupted or multiple files. Again, the Official Everesting Facebook Group will have plenty of advice to offer on this topic, if you’re unfortunate enough to need it
Next, let’s talk about lights. The first thing is this: I use daytime blinker lights for the entire ride. Everesting involves doing slightly unpredictable things (the turns at the top and the bottom), plus 8,848m of descending is a lot and a front blinker, as well as a rear, may help keep you safe.
Personally I use the Exposure Trace and TraceR Reakt daytime blinker lights. I have two sets and just swap them in and out (recharging the depleted set at Basecamp) as the day goes on.
The other thing you need is the best big front light that you can afford, or borrow. Over time, I’ve gone for brighter front light, accepting that a little more weight is more than worthwhile in return for safer and faster descent times in the dark. Currently, I use an Exposure SixPack and I recharge it between my two ‘half night’ sessions.
I read a hilarious Everesting blog recently. The rider had chosen a local hill and contacted me for various bits of advice. However, he started later than I suggested and didn’t pay enough attention to his recharging strategy, so his lights ran out, half way through the second night session, in the last quarter of the ride. His parents, who were looking after him at Basecamp, then drove their car up and down the hill, to light his way. But they ran out of petrol and the whole attempt had to pause for a couple of hours while they waited for daylight and the local gas station to open! He succeeded, but it was a close run thing.
So, get your lighting and recharging plans really sorted!
Step 10: Mind Games and Chimp Management
This step may come last in my Everesting advice/check-list, but it’s possible that it’s the most important piece: as Andy van Bergen of HELLS 500 is quoted as saying “your legs need to get you to 6,000m and your head needs to get you the rest of the way”.
I completely agree – I think the mental part is at least as important as the physical part. Time and again, I’ve seen cyclists ride further and higher than they ever thought possible, but largely in organised events, where quitting wasn’t quite so easy. The problem, by contrast, is that an Everesting is self-designed and therefore far easier to walk away from. Coupled to that, many people find themselves alone, in the dark towards the end of their attempt and quitting is far too tempting.
So, I have four combined strategies for managing (fooling) my chimp and I’ve used them on every single Everesting to date. Professor Steve Peters book – The Chimp Paradox – is a useful pre-Everesting reference. In it, he explains what your chimp is – the part of your brain that tells you to quit – and how to manage it. We all have a chimp. The more big rides you attempt, the better you get to know yours. I’ve been doing big rides for over 30 years, so mine even has a name – Pete! A significant part of Everesting concerns chimp management.
Strategy 1: break your ride down into manageable blocks of reps: usually the number that you might complete non-stop, before needing to refill your bottle/s and eat something. So on a 100 rep Everesting, I’d probably break my ride down into 20 blocks of 5 reps. My goal at any point is simply to ride one more block and in this way, I fool my chimp into not thinking about the whole, but rather about the more palatable parts.
On my third Everesting, which was on gravel, I needed to ride 15 reps to hit 8,848m. By 6 reps though, I was feeling pretty wasted and I realised that I was in for a major struggle. I was less than halfway and Pete my chimp was grinning from ear to ear. I think anyone who couldn’t manage their chimp would have quit just then. I toyed with it and even agreed with Pete that if I failed, I wouldn’t come back, but I also decided to ride just one more lap. And then another. And so on. Somehow, I reached 12 laps in that way and at that stage, I knew I could find the resolve to ride three more, even though I was feeling truly rubbish by that point. This approach worked and my gravel Everesting was the first in Wales and only the third in the UK.
Strategy 2: I turn my Everesting attempt into an imaginary ascent of the real Everest! I do this by working out how many reps get me to key milestones on an ascent of Everest via the original 1953 South Col route. For example, let’s imagine a climb that gives 90m of ascent per rep and that we’re going to ascend 100 times, to get to 9,000m (52m further than necessary, just to be safe):
Starting at sea level, the first real milestone is Kathmandu at 1,400m. So that would be 3 x 5 reps. Next up would be Lukla at 2,860m, which is where most climbers and trekkers fly to from Kathmandu. The Everest Basecamp trek starts from there and 3 more blocks of 5 reps would almost get us there. Namche Bazaar at 3,440m would require just over 38 reps (so achieved during the 8th block of reps. Then, at 5,335m you reach the real Everest Basecamp, after 59 reps. I know from experience that if I can reach this height, I can complete the ride.
The next milestones come faster: Camp 1 (6,000m) at 66 reps, Camp 2 (6,400m) at 71 reps, Camp 3 (7,200m) at 80 reps and then, at just under 88 reps, I reach the South Col (7,906m). I’m now in the ‘Death Zone’! Next up is the Hilary Step (8,763m) at 97 reps and finally, on the 100th rep, I’ll ride through the magic number: 8,848m. Now to be fair, I grew up as a rock climber and consumed more than my fair share of books about Everest, so these two strategies combined allow me to compartmentalise the climb into manageable chunks, while at the same time providing genuine impetus and interest to ride on to the next place on my imaginary climb of the real mountain. I work all of the above out in advance of an Everesting and then tape the ‘plan’ to the top tube of my bike.
Strategy 3: I’ve ridden most of my Everestings solo, so I resort to audio books to keep my mind off the monotony of the first 5,000m or so! I only use one earpiece – for safety: I still want to hear approaching vehicles and I pause the narration for every descent. I once listened to Jon Krakauer’s book Into thin Air, about the epic 1996 storm on Everest and using Strategy 2 above, we arrived at the South Col together, which was pretty cool!
Strategy 4: this is what the uber ultra-athlete David Goggins, in his book Can’t Hurt Me, describes as ‘The Cookie Jar’ and I would say that it’s a combination of reaching for past memories of comparable achievements (for example, your longest training rides and other moments where you were tempted to quit, but didn’t and went on to succeed), plus keeping sight of the prize: the right to wear the Everesting and HELLS 500 jerseys, the knowledge that you did it, the associated bragging rights and kudos – basically focussing on the rewards that only completion can bring.
For me, on my first Everesting, it was the jersey that drove me. Is there a more exclusive but globally recognised jersey, outside of the pro ranks? I don’t think there is. Thereafter, my motivation became about Everesting very cool climbs and exploring the challenges of different gradients, surfaces and altitudes.
The bottom line is that YOU are really going to have to want to Everest. I mean really, really WANT it. Completing the ride, earning your grey stripe (as the Everesting jersey is often known), wearing the HELLS 500 jersey and earning all the associated bragging rights, has to burn inside you. For this reason, it really helps if it’s your idea rather than somebody else’s and if it’s a climb you choose, or feel drawn to.
I’m going to finish this section and in fact the whole 10 Step Guide, with a quote from George Mallory (the Grandson of THE George Mallory who disappeared high on the slopes of Everest, along with his companion Sandy Irvine, in 1924 – see below for much more about George and how Everesting started). George was the person who inadvertently gave rise to the concept of Everesting, via his repeated reps of Mount Donna Buang in Australia, some 20 years before Strava even existed:
“There are some things that are not well suited to being described in words. And one of them is the difficulty of finishing an Everest ride. So what can I say? I know some of you have one, or more, Everest rides to your credit. You will appreciate the enormous magnitude of the task and don’t need me to tell you. You have found out the hard way just how difficult life gets when you have ridden 6000m, there’s no gas in the tank and you need to hoist your good self up another 3,000m. For the first timers, can I suggest, respectfully, that you brace for the hardest day of your bike riding lives to date. Prepare to defend your true self against a barrage of negative inner thoughts that will insist that riding up Mt Everest is meaningless rubbish. In the early stages, maybe at dawn, or around 3000m, you may need to defend against euphoria and slow down. Towards the end, when riding your bike uphill becomes seriously hard, perhaps stop for a short rest if you need to. For me, the bit I found particularly challenging on Donna was starting laps 6, 7 and 8 because my legs shut down on the long descent [each rep gave 1,000m of ascent]. Take care descending. It’s now a bit over 20 years since I first rode Everest on Donna Buang. May THE FORCE be with you, each one of you, from the beginning and all the way through to the finish!”
Other Everesting Stuff to note (for those of you with time for a longer read and who want to know about the various types of Everesting, how Everesting started, who/what HELLS 500 is and how it’s linked to Everesting, etc):
What happens once I’ve submitted my Everesting ride via everesting.cc?
Once you’ve submitted your ride, please be patient: Andy van Bergen, aided by his wife Tammy, runs HELLS 500 out of his home in Melbourne. Bear in mind he provides a free service and this is not his day job! He or Tammy will pick up your submission as quickly as they’re able to – usually within a few days. They’ll check things out and then comment on your ride on Strava and then add you to the Everesting Hall of Fame. That’s it, your ride is then verified and official.
You are now Crew. You can wear the Grey Stripe. You are a Keeper of the Cloud. You are officially gnarly. Kudos to you.
Everesting Base Camp, Everesting 10k, Everesting Roam, vEveresting and vEveresting Base Camp and Run Everesting
Yes, the original concept has now spawned a number of variants! They’re all administered and verified by HELLS 500. Roam rides are quite rare. vEverestings are currently the most common! Each type has its own set of rules, which can be found on the everesting.cc website.
- Everesting Base Camp: all the usual Everesting rules, but only half the ascent! A great way to practice for an Everesting I think. The real Everest base camp is at 5,365m.
- Everesting 10k: most people simply tack extra laps onto their Everesting. It’s effectively committing to ride another couple of hours. Hard, but not ridiculous. Chimp management is essential – forcing yourself to ride on past 8,848m is quite difficult!
- Everesting Roam: this one’s trickier in my view. There are three simple rules: the ride must accumulate 10,000m of climbing, it must be at least 400km long and there’s an elapsed time limit of 36 hours. Personally, I’d add one more rule: no repeats of the same hill.
- vEveresting: yes, you can Everest from the comfort of your own home, using a smart trainer and Zwift! It’s an awfully long turbo session! There’s also a vEveresting Base Camp version – half the height and a great way to practice!
- Run Everesting: too hard for words, but the everesting.cc website will guide anyone crazy enough to try!
Believe it or not, Everesting can be quite addictive! For many, once is more than enough, but there’s a small group of riders, worldwide, who just keep coming back for more. To add a bit of spice, HELLS 500 dreamed up the four SSSS’s. As you’ve probably guessed by now, there are rules!
The SSSS’s stand for:
- Steep: you have to Everest in under 200km (so your climb needs to have an average gradient of around 10% or more)
- Soil: off-road. This is a tough one, evidenced by the fact that they remain a rare occurrence. Extra kudos for one of these
- Suburban: not sure I like this idea personally. Everesting and traffic don’t mix well
- Significant: a climb that everyone (well, cyclists at least), would recognise. Something iconic would be perfect. Everest itself would be wonderful (spoiler alert: it’s been done)
One of the rides must be to 10,000m, thereby qualifying for Everesting 10k at the same time.
How did Everesting start?
Fate is a wonderful thing. What chance that the concept of hill repeats, initially to 8,800m (8 reps of Mount Donna Buang, just outside Melbourne in Australia) and soon after to 10,840m, would be completed by a descendant of George Mallory, who disappeared high on Everest in 1924 and left behind him one of the world’s greatest mysteries: did he and his companion, Sandy Irvine, reach the summit, or not? We had to wait almost 30 years for the first confirmed ascent of Everest, by Sir Edmund Hilary, but we still don’t know for certain whether that was actually the first ascent, or in fact, the second!?
So, back to George Mallory II (yes, he has the same name as his famous Granddad). An accomplished rock climber, he was invited on an expedition to climb Everest from the north side – the exact same route on which his Granddad had disappeared, some 70+ years earlier.
In the USA, a small group of now legendary rock climbers, known as the Stonemasters, had their equivalent of Everest – the 3,000 foot face of El Capitan, in California’s Yosemite Valley. When winter made climbing on El Cap’ impossible, the Stonemasters would head to the nearby and much warmer Joshua Tree National park and climb multiple short routes in a single day until they reached the cumulative height of El Cap. It was a serious feat, a huge day and was much talked about in climbing circles.
Determined to be fit enough to have a fair crack at making the summit of Everest and then making it down again, George II started cycling up and down Mount Donna Buang, near his home town of Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, Australia. Each ascent gave him 1,100m of height gain. As George put it “In all earnest, in the Himalaya even too much stamina is not enough, if you want to be safe”.
Before long, it dawned on him, perhaps fuelled by the Stonemasters concept, that if he got really fit, he could cycle enough laps on Donna Buang to accumulate the approximate height of Everest in a single ride. He set himself the goal of riding eight reps – a cumulative height gain of 8,800m (yes, this is 48m short, but this was just a training exercise for George – he wasn’t using Strava (it didn’t even exist at this point), a cycle computer, or anything like that – it was just a personal goal in pursuit of a much bigger target – the real Everest)!
His first try saw him fail on lap two. Numerous attempts followed, each time with a higher cumulative finishing point. He managed six reps before niggly injuries and the onset of winter curtailed his attempts. Finally, in October 1994, he rode eight consecutive laps. While this wouldn’t qualify as an Everesting today, George had ignited a spark.
Then in November 1994, he completed a 10,840m ride on Donna Buang. While it still wasn’t a ‘thing’ Everesting had been born. George made it to Everest and was gratified to find that besides the Sherpas, he was the fittest person on the expedition. He made it to the summit successfully and had the reserves to also make it safely back down to Base Camp.
For almost twenty years, his Donna Buang feats remained largely under the radar. The spark was glowing, but it needed another Melbourne resident, Andy Van Bergen, to join the dots and fan the flames.
What is HELLS 500?
In the intervening period, a small group of riders in Australia were doing some really tough endurance rides. People talked about them – ‘those crazy guys doing 500km in a weekend’. They picked up a name: HELLS 500 and their motto was ‘In Search of Up’. Their founder, Melbourne based Andy van Bergen, chanced across an article by the Australian online blog, CyclingTips, detailing George’s feat. He decided to organise a group attempt, for members of HELLS 500 to replicate George’s ride.
Crucially, Andy decided that 8,848m would be the target and gave it a name: Everesting. He also came up with the basic rules: reps had to be up and down the same climb and no sleep allowed. Just as importantly, GPS for the cycling masses had arrived: the existence of Strava effectively turned this into a verifiable challenge.
Dotted around the world, a bunch of HELLS 500 riders succeeded and suddenly, Everesting was out in the open.
Like most things, it caught on slowly at first and then suddenly went viral. I first heard about it in the summer of 2014, just as the UK weather and daylight headed towards Autumn. Winter Everestings are not unheard of, but I didn’t fancy it personally, so I had a long wait before I could make an attempt.
I hunted around for advice, but found only one person who had even tried it. He’d failed on his first attempt (really tough climb, long way from home and poor weather), but then switched to a much more workable local climb and succeeded. He gave me some really useful tips and in early June 2015, I went for it.
Things went wrong even before I reached the foot of my climb – I forgot my Garmin and the cables to recharge it! I delayed my attempt by 24 hours. Then, arriving at my chosen hill, I opted to put my base camp at the summit, but it was windy and the gazebo had to be tethered to the car. The wind strengthened and the gazebo started to rock the car! The car alarm kept going off. I probably got a couple of hours sleep before starting around 5.00am. It was three degrees centigrade.
In the end, it was the wind that beat me. What I had thought would be a cross wind was in fact funnelling down the valley to become a full-on block headwind. My local knowledge wasn’t good enough. I also realised that I’d picked a really hard climb for Everesting – gradient wise, it was all over the place, but there were several spikes above 20%. It was long too – 8.5km and too much of that distance involved too little height gain. It was also a long way from home, which only made the logistics harder. Finally, the descent was technical: narrow, bumpy, dangerous: anything but relaxing. Oh and I’d put my base camp in completely the wrong place.
With just seven laps completed (of the 23 required), I climbed off the bike. I felt fresh, but my laps were just taking too long because of the headwind and I knew I’d have to ride right through the following night, but that I didn’t have a recharging strategy for my lights, so would have to stop for a prolonged period, at which point I would inevitably fall asleep and therefore fail.
I hadn’t climbed off my bike before. Ever. Sure, I’d wobbled on the odd ride, but I’d never actually stopped and quit. It was a whole new experience and I didn’t like it! On the four hour drive back home, I had plenty of time to work out what I might have done differently. I vowed to get really scientific about it and to leave nothing to chance.
Ten days later, I went for it again, but this time on a different climb, much closer to home. Local knowledge was on my side and some 24 hrs after starting, I’d completed my first Everesting. I’ve since attempted and completed 10 more, including an Everesting 10k, an Everesting Roam, two gravel Everestings, three vEverestings on Zwift and even one at altitude, on France’s Cime de la Bonette.
Need more advice or think I’ve missed something important from my ’10 Steps Guide’?
I’ll happily help if I can. Just email me: email@example.com
I have various people to thank, in particular:
- ASSOS of Switzerland for supporting me through rides that test my equipment to the max!
- The author Max Leonard, whose book, Higher Calling, explains all about the history of George Mallory II’s first Everesting.
- Charlie Sanders, my first source of advice on Everesting, in 2014.
- Andy van Bergen and HELLS 500, for turning this into a verifiable and recognisable challenge. Andy and his wife Tammy are basically legends!
- Kev Mellalieu, who played a huge supporting role watching over me on Mynydd Graean, the Cime de la Bonette and Stwlan Dam.
- Jimi & Janine of Two Tyred Tours (bespoke European cycling tours) who provided their vehicle for base camp and helped make the entire Bonette Everesting possible.
- Jonny Bell at Noble Wheels, who built bespoke hoops for all these rides and also built my Open U.P. for Mynydd Graean and Strata Florida (my two gravel Everestings).