There are a multitude of Everesting blogs and a selection of quotes alone are enough to put you off, or at the very least, think again.
“I got back on the bike and gave it everything I had, but at 10pm, and after 18 hours, totally wrecked, I fell short by only 1,400 vertical metres”.
“It’s obscene when the first 3,000m of a ride is treated as a warm-up. It’s not often you have four grand in the bank before breakfast”.
“The last couple of laps were surreal; it was mechanical in my legs but my head was totally disconnected. Fighting off sleep, the lines on the road were blurred. I was crying and talking rubbish out loud.”
‘Everesting’: the concept of riding your bike, up and down the same hill, without sleep, until your cumulative ascent equals the height of Everest”.
8,848m in a single ride.
It’s a very big, very hard bike ride and a defining test of anyone’s physical and mental endurance.
Upon hearing about this, your first thought was probably:
- how ridiculous, I’m never doing that!
- I wonder if I could do that?
- I’m definitely going to do that!
Whichever of these fits you best, the chances are that you started to quietly ask yourself the single most important question, namely “which climb would I pick”? At that point, you’re taken a significant step towards an attempt.
Sounds familiar? If so, you should read everything below – in detail.
Before we get into detailed advice however, here’s a little background on me and on the origins of Everesting.
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, or preparing for, 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.
When I first heard about Everesting, back in 2014, advice was extremely scarce. Today, 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.
Now, five years later, there is one key resource that you should also visit – 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, but in recent years, it has added lots of advice and all of it is worth noting. I wrote this guide and then checked Everesting.cc. Reassuringly, we cover much of the same ground: https://everesting.cc/tips-advice/
I’m certainly not claiming to be anything special in the world of Everesting: there are definitely people who have done more, gone further, done it faster and climbed higher. I have however attempted seven Everestings to date (I failed on the first attempt and successfully completed the next six) 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 means the last point is already in doubt.
Setting the scene
First, before you get too sucked into the specifics and given you’re going to attempt what may well be your biggest endurance challenge ever, you should know some of the background around the concept and its history.
– what is Everesting?
‘Everesting’ involves riding consecutive laps on a chosen hill/mountain/col/berg, up and down, until the rider’s 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. No matter which climb you choose to attempt, it’s likely to be a 20 – 24 hour effort and a defining test of physical and mental endurance. To date, the shortest Everesting took around 10 hours and the longest took around two days (an Everesting ride is generally measured in ‘elapsed time’, rather than moving time. The closer the two are, the more impressive the overall feat is i.e. the rider took relatively few breaks and/or climbed fast. However, in truth, I’ve never been asked how long an Everesting took me – people simply know I did it and that’s the key measure – you either succeed or you fail).
Providing you don’t sleep, there is no time limit for an Everesting attempt. Just keep pedalling.
Everesting became a global phenomenon amongst cyclists in 2014 and many of the world’s most famous climbs have since been Everested. For example, Box Hill in Surrey, UK (of 2012 Olympic Road Race fame), has been Everested numerous times, with riders covering 370km and climbing the hill 75 times!
A successful Everesting admits the rider 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 amongst elite riders 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. As ‘back doorstep challenges’ go, it’s virtually unique.
– how did it all start?
Fate is a wonderful thing. What chance that the first known Everesting was 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 what if that was actually the second ascent?
(There’s one useful lesson here: it only counts if you get off the mountain safely i.e. you need to descend safely and get back home to upload your ride to Veloviewer: more on all this later).
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 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, a cycle computer, or anything like that – it was just a personal goal in pursuit of a much bigger target – the real Everest. He has since Everested at least six more times)!
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 1993, he rode eight consecutive laps. Everesting as a concept had been born.
George II 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 back down to Base Camp, safe and sound.
For almost twenty years, his Donna Buang feats (he went on to climb it ten times in one ride…) remained largely under the radar. Bear in mind that George Mallory II’s first Everesting feat was pre’ Strava. Turning this into a verifiable challenge for the general cycling public would have been next to impossible back in 1993. For almost two decades, nothing happened. GPS for the masses needed to kick in, overlaid by Strava.
– 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 on Donna Buang, for members of HELLS 500 to replicate George’s ride.
A bunch of them 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 and poor weather), but then switched to a much more workable 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 four more, each one harder than the last.
Here’s my formula and advice in 10 simple steps.
The Ten Steps to Everesting
Before we get started, there’s one bit of pre-advice. Go to Veloviewer https://veloviewer.com and set up an account. The basic version is free. This is a clever app, powered by your Strava data and it’s only via Veloviewer that you can submit an Everesting for approval to HELLS 500. So you have to have a Veloviwer account and here’s the tip: it takes a while when you first link all your Strava rides into Veloviewer. You don’t want to be hanging around awaiting when you’ve got an Everesting to upload, so do it now!
OK, with that done, it’s time to start planning your Everesting.
Step 1: Read the rules (and I mean really know them)
They’re here: https://everesting.cc/the-rules/
The first key step is to really understand what it is that you’re attempting and to understand that there are some simple, but firm ground rules, administered by HELLS 500.
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.
There are some key housekeeping points however:
- you should aim to ride the entire segment/climb
- your effort must be continuous (you can stop as much or as little as you like, but you can’t sleep)
- and you must descend the same route that you climb
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/
I’m amazed by the number of people I’ve met who haven’t bothered to read these rules personally, but have relied on hearsay. Given the level of effort involved and how emotional things will get if you realise you’ve broken a key rule, everyone who ever attempts an Everesting should read these themselves, really carefully.
I’ll give you an example: a friend told me he was going to Everest a local hill. I prepared a ‘top tube sticker’ for him (more on that below), with the number of laps he’d need to complete, linked to places on a real ascent of Everest e.g. 63 laps = 5,535m = Everest Base Camp. I was breaking the climb down into manageable pieces for him.
However, when I arrived at his chosen hill, I found that he’d decided to ride part of the climb, having been told that was fine by a mate. This wasn’t however the whole hill – the Rules clearly state that you should aim to ride the entire climb if possible, so I was immediately worried his effort might be in vain and also had to quickly try to rework all the maths on laps and ascent data. Given his emotional state at that point – almost half way through – I tried hard to pretend it was ‘no big deal’, but secretly, I was really worried! Telling him he had to ride more laps wasn’t great!
So, read the Rules yourself and plan your ride within them, to avoid any unnecessary stress. If you’re in any doubt about whether your climb is OK, then contact HELLS 500 and ask.
Step 2: Pick your climb
Once you understand The Rules, you can pick your climb. For me, it has to be a climb that I REALLY want to spend 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 they feel suits their climbing style.
I’ve attempted seven Everestings and here’s how I picked my hills:
One: the North Side of Bwlch y Groes – a long, beautiful climb in North Wales. Quiet road, stunning scenery and just a wonderful place to spend time. With hindsight, it gained height too erratically, I didn’t have enough local knowledge re’ wind direction, the descent was really technical (i.e. not relaxing), and I put my base camp in the wrong place. Duh. Failed.
Two: Bradenham Wood Lane – my local hill reps climb, just a couple of kms from home. I knew this intimately: easy gradient, consistent climb, which gears to use where, how to pace myself, exactly how long a block of reps would take and it had a perfect descent – no braking required – and a great surface. Succeeded.
Three: Whiteleaf – another local hill. Far too steep for me really (sections above 20%), but it was #23 in Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Climbs and mine would be the First Ascent. I wanted this hill BADLY. Tough descent, but I used disc brakes. Succeeded and in fact rode on to 10,000m (see HRS section re’ this next level of folly).
Four: Mynydd Graean (Gravel Mountain) – with plenty of experience under my belt, I started to get more adventurous. Generally, the further a climb is from home, the harder it is to plan for and execute, logistically. Where are you going to sleep? You can’t leave a hotel at 2.30am in the morning! I was however hooked on the concept of Everesting on gravel and the climb I’d found, 300km from home, was amazing. 10.3km long, entirely off road, stunning scenery. No access to services at all, so I had to take everything with me. I also had to think about safety. Hard climb, with gradients all over the place. Succeeded.
Five: Cime de la Bonette – this was the most audacious one yet, in the southern French Alps. The highest paved road in France and Europe’s highest Everesting to date. Stunning road – my favourite climb in the world in fact, good services, but tough logistics to get there and a huge gamble on the weather. Everesting at altitude was far harder than expected. Succeeded, but would never try an Everesting at altitude again!
Six: Stwlan Dam – a beautiful, dead-end road. A hard climb, which was Everested a few months before my attempt, but it was so stunning I remained committed to it. Succeeded, rode well, but had a major bonk, two-thirds of the way through!
Seven: Strata Florida – a 3km, perfectly graded gravel climb in the remote mountains of west Wales. Just a sublime place to spend 24 hours!
So, I think your climb has to really appeal to you, for whatever reason. Be careful if someone else picks the climb – will you really like it enough, when things get tough after 12 hours of riding? Does it suit your riding style, as well as theirs? The perfect Everesting climb is probably:
- close to home
- a fairly constant gradient
- ideally a climb you can do seated, somewhere between ‘Endurance’ and ‘Tempo’
- not too many laps (less than 50 is ideal)
- well surfaced
- safe (i.e. 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 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: http://www.everesting.io/
Personally, I’ve always ridden the segment before and checked it that way. I’ve even gone as far as checking contour lines! Leave nothing to chance…
Step 3: Think about 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 laps and turning in the way that you will. If your descent has lots of joining points for cars (driveways, 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.
How remote is your climb? My gravel climb was 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, when you’re really tired? Remember George Mallory Snr? It only counts if you get off the mountain safely…
Finally, you also have to get home safely afterwards! It goes without saying that anything other than a very short journey home should be avoided. On Mynydd Graean for example, I simply slept at Base Camp, as soon as I’d finished and drove home the next day.
Step 4: Decide whether to 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. So my first four attempts were solo. However, as Andy van Bergen of HELLS 500 said recently “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 may well help you find the mental reserves to keep going. Even just having someone at Base Camp provides some moral support.
Truly solo (the way I rode my second and third attempts – both successful), requires a certain type of mindset – what I call Advanced Chimp Management (more on that below).
If you do attempt an Everesting with a mate, 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 for it solo, you might decide to invite some mates 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 mate, 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 Mynydd Graean – my third successful 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. Go back to ‘Step 3: safety’ and reassess whether your chosen hill still feels prudent with multiple cyclists involved?
Step 5: When? How to pick a date
For my first four attempts, I picked 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).
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 is 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 fifth Everesting attempt 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? Are you in good shape and healthy?
Be brave enough to postpone to your next date option.
Step 6: What to take with you & how to organise your Base Camp: the Everesting 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 at that point, making it easier to eat and drink. It’s also more likely to be warm and sheltered. 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.
My check list for Everesting runs as follows:
- are your gears adequate? Be honest with yourself. A 34×32 versus a 36×28 could be the difference between success and failure
- 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 ‘Tech’ below)
- fully charge your battery if using eTap, or Shimano Di2, or Campy EPS
- fit light bracket/s to bike and check beam alignment is correct
- fit new tyres if required
- charge everything: lights, cycle computers, phone, spare chargers and make sure they’re in your bag/on your bike
Spares & Bike related stuff:
electrical tape * ass saver mudguard * mobile chargers & cables for computers, lights and iPhone * wet wipes * 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 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
Step 7: Food & eating
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.70g 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 diarrhea. BE WARNED – many of the Everesting accounts I’ve read contain evidence of this problem developing in the later stages of the ride.
Also note, anything dry becomes really hard to actually eat. As the day goes on, your body craves certain things and tastes and the moister, or more savoury that food, the more I tend to like it. I have used the following:
- water * squash to flavour the water * white rolls * jam * cheese * salted crisps * salted peanuts * cold chicken/ham * rice cakes * orange juice * bananas
I always take some energy food as well: Bounce Balls, Torq Chews, Veloforte bars and a couple of emergency gels: you may lose your appetite as the ride goes on and these things become useful at that stage.
Likewise, I use electrolyte mix, but very sparingly, since it can mess up your stomach if you drink too much of it over a 24 hour period.
Avoid fizzy drinks too – the gas is likely to leave you feeling bloated and nauseous.
Your kitchen area needs to have:
- cups * bowls * plates * sharp knife * spoons * kitchen roll * hand gel * wet wipes
Have a think about hot drinks too. Can anyone bring coffee/tea out to you? If not, can you take a flask?
Step 8: Tech, Cycle Computers, Lighting and the Recharging Challenge
Recharging: this is very important. One of the biggest challenges of Everesting is recharging things – your Garmin and your lights in particular. You need a strategy and you need to work this out well in advance and then practice it.
Personally, I do the following:
I have a large static recharging block which will do my front and rear lights after the initial early morning session (see below, in Timing), meaning I have fully recharged lights heading into the second night (if necessary)
I have a small battery ‘card’ for recharging my phone on the go in my pocket
And I have a Gomadic charger for my Garmins. These are cheap and work brilliantly, using AA batteries (meaning you always have power, so long as you have a supply of new batteries), plus they’re the perfect shape to tape to your top tube, so you can charge on the go. You need to pad the frame with something and then use electrical tape to secure it. You’ll also need to tape the cables into a safe position. Practice this BEFORE the day of your attempt i.e. know how to do it when your brain is fried, 12 hours in and your cycling computer batteries start to run low! Here’s a link to the Gomadic charger: http://www.gomadic.com/battery-backup-cat.html
Garmin now does a brilliant integral mount and batter pack that charges the 1030 computer on the go.
I read a hilarious Everesting blog recently. The rider had chosen a local hill and I sent him various bits of advice. However, he started later than I suggested and didn’t pay enough attention to his recharging strategy and his lights ran out, half way through the night, in the last quarter of the ride. His parents, who were looking after him at base camp, 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. He succeeded, but it was a close run thing.
So, get your recharging plans really sorted!
Lights: it should be obvious that you need really good lights to ride by. I use an Exposure Strada Mk6, which lights up the entire road and comes complete with a remote dimmer switch. As a result, my darkness descent times are almost as fast as my daylight ones and everything just feels safer. I can also see animals in the road before I hit them!
Make sure your lights are up to the job – it’s important for your safety. Do you have a spare in case of a really ill-timed failure? If not, could you borrow one?
Cycle Computers: you really need to record your ride on a cycle computer e.g. a Garmin, rather than your phone. Phone data is not acceptable in my view and HELLS 500 prefer you don’t submit phone data (we all know why…)
To be safe, you really need to ride with two computers, or the equivalent. Computers fail – you categorically do not want to get 7,000m up your hill and then have your device freeze. I ride with two and photograph them every 1,000m or so (if you have a disaster, HELLS 500 might take a view, if you have really good evidence and/or witnesses). Perhaps borrow the second and ideally, make sure it uses the same type of recharging port, for simplicity.
While we’re on that point, they may also check your HR data to make sure you didn’t sneak off for a sleep. Wear a HR monitor – it’s important. Personally, I think all Everesters should have to wear a HR monitor for this reason i.e. it should be obligatory.
Practice using your lap counter: 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).
Be warned: some Garmins start a power-off sequence when you disconnect a power source. 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…
DO NOT go by the ascent data showing on your computer. It will never be 100% accurate. At one point on my second attempt, my Garmins were 200m out of sync (more than two laps difference on that particular climb) and then drew back level again! 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 screens. Just roll with it – you CAN do an extra few hundred meters, no matter how tough it might feel.
I simplify my data screens, turn the backlight down to minimum and do everything I can to prolong battery life and cut down on the need for recharging (recharging on the go works, but it’s all weight added to your bike, or more time needed for stops if you wait for your computers to recharge at Base Camp).
Step 9: Timing
There are three key pieces of advice on timing:
What time do you start?
I’ve Everested six different types of climb, varying from short and steep, to long and easy. But my elapsed times have always been in the 20 – 24 hour bracket. Granted, I’m not the fastest climber, but I’m pretty good at keeping my stoppage time down, so I think this is a fair guide to what most people should expect. So, unless your chosen climb is in the Arctic Circle, around the time of the Summer Solstice, you’re going to have to ride in darkness at some stage!
Obviously an Everesting gets both physically and mentally harder as the ride progresses, so I try to avoid having to do too much riding at the end, in darkness. Mentally, heading into the night is really hard and many failures occur at that point.
My solution is normally to start really, really early. My successful start times have been 2.10am, 2.45am (twice), 3.00am, 5.30am and 7.30am. The early starts mean riding the first hour or two in the dark, but then dawn arrives and you have the entire day ahead of you and the hope (at least), of avoiding the coming night. Mentally, this is a great place to be. Notably, the riders I’ve advised on this have tended to start later and have then really wobbled when they’ve had to ride most of the following night. HELLS 500 recommends a midnight start, with the prospect of avoiding the following night’s darkness, altogether.
How long might the entire ride take?
I was once told to take my single lap 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 laps. 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”. My other rides 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.
There is no time limit, so if you get behind, it actually doesn’t matter and it DOES NOT mean you are going to fail. Relax and just keeping turning the pedals.
The other key piece of advice is to try to keep your stops reasonably short. Stoppage time really adds up when Everesting and the more stops you take, the longer you’re likely to spend in darkness at the end!
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, but it would help relieve a degree of stress if I could: time is irrelevant on an Everesting, particularly if you have a good recharging strategy for your lights and cycle computers.
- The mental bit: advanced chimp management
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”.
Personally, 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 attempt their Everesting solo and hence quitting feels even easier.
Steve Peters has written a whole book on managing your chimp – the part of your brain that tells you to quit. We all have a chimp. The more big rides you attempt, the better you get to know yours. Mine even has a name – Pete! A significant part of Everesting concerns chimp management.
Previous comparable rides and milestones really help. In 2013, I rode 350km for the first time. It took me 13 hours. Everesting would only be another six hours or so – it was a useful reference point. George Mallory II’s example was even better – he simply rode more laps on each attempt, so he ‘acclimatised’ to how it felt.
You are really going to have to want to Everest. I mean really, really WANT it. Completing the ride, earning your grey stripe, 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.
You also need to come up with a detailed strategy to fool your chimp. My personal tactic is to simply break an Everesting down into smaller pieces: 8,848m sounds ridiculous, but 8 x 1,000m sounds more workable. 100 laps sounds awful, but 10 x 10 laps might be OK. Reward yourself between sets with particular food and drink. Arrange to have people around you. Listen to an audio book.
My best example of mind over matter was on my fourth Everesting attempt – a 10.3km gravel climb in the Cambrian Mountains of west Wales, UK. I needed to do exactly 15 laps and I expected the tough bit to start around 10 reps. So when, after just six laps, I felt really wasted, I knew I was in for a major struggle. I was less than half way and 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 really rubbish by that point. This approach worked and my gravel Everesting was the first in Wales and only the third in the UK.
I break each climb I attempt into two ‘chimp fooling’ strategies. The first is to compare my chosen climb to real waypoints on Everest. I print this out, laminate it and stick it to the top tube of my bike, just behind my Garmin charging block. I know that if I can reach Everest Base Camp at 5,535m, I can probably reach the summit.
The second strategy is simply to divide your total number of laps into blocks, after which, I take a short stop to eat and drink. For example, on my third attempt, a steep climb called Whiteleaf in the UK, I needed to ride 70 laps to Everest and 80 laps to HRS (10,000m). I would stop after every five laps to refill my bidon and eat something. Riding another five laps never seemed too onerous.
There’s one more thing – when Everesting solo, I’ve always used a single ear piece and listened to audio books, or music. I never ever do this when riding normally – I think it’s dangerous to remove hearing – one of your key safety senses – from any bike ride, but when Everesting, I make an exception – but just one ear piece. On my first successful ride, I listened to the entire Cormac McCarthy trilogy, narrated by Brad Pitt. Now, whenever I ride that hill, his voice comes to mind!
Maybe the best book I listened to was on my second successful ride: Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into Thin Air’, an account of his 1996 ascent of Everest, during which, a storm engulfed multiple climbers, high on the mountain. It’s a brilliant read, but even better, Jon and I happened to arrive at the South Col at almost exactly the same time. Besides taking my mind off the repetitive monotony of riding laps, it was also a brilliant link to the real mountain. I’d pause the audio for every descent – the wind noise makes it impossible to hear anyway.
George Mallory II sums things up brilliantly, in a quote I spotted recently on the HELLS 500 website:
“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. 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!”
Success: nice job. You deserve a bucket load of kudos!
8,848m!!! What do you do next?
Did you accurately measure, EXACTLY, the number of laps you needed to ride to climb at least 8,848m? Have you ridden that many laps? If yes, I would first, take photos of your computers. It gives you extreme bragging rights and it’s a ‘magic number’.
However, if 8,848m is showing on your computers sooner than your calculations predicted, I would categorically keep riding to the number of laps your previously worked out. My Garmin’s have never yet been over (always under in fact), but it might happen and I would complete the number of laps, regardless of the number.
Then you’re done. Shout, scream, hug someone, or if alone, just smile, return safely to your base camp and take a few moments.
Save your rides on both computers. Pack them away very carefully – they’re very precious until you’ve uploaded the ride!
This is what to do next:
- The first thing you do is load your ride to Strava, just like normal. DO NOT CORRECT THE ELEVATION DATA – HELLS 500 won’t like you doing that. They want to see unadulterated data.
- Then open Veloviewer and ‘Get Everything’ to bring the ride across.
- Then go to the top menu and under ‘Other’, you’ll see a tab to submit an Everesting ride.
- If you rode onto 10,000m, you can then also submit an HRS ride.
- Then sit back and wait. Andy van Bergen, who runs HELLS 500 out of his home in Melbourne, will pick up the submissions within a day or two. He’ll check things out and then comment on your ride in Strava and then add you to the Everesting Hall of Fame.
- You are now Crew. You can wear the Grey Stripe. You are a Keeper of the Cloud. You are officially gnarly. Kudos.
Other Stuff that’s worth mentioning at this stage:
HRS: The High Rouleur’s Society
I’ve mentioned this a few times, above. Like an Everesting, an HRS ride is administered and verified by HELLS 500. HRS successes are quite rare. There are two types of HRS ride:
- The Limit: this is the easier of the two in my view: 10,000m in a single ride. 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!
- The Journey: 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.
Just like an Everesting, you submit an HRS ride via Veloviewer – there’s a tab for it, just below the Everesting submission one.
For full details, see http://highrouleur.cc/
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
- Soil: off-road. This is a tough one, evidenced by the fact that at the time of writing, the UK has seen just three 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 😉
One of the rides must be to 10,000m, thereby qualifying for HRS The Limit at the same time.
There’s even the option to Everest within Zwift. The Rules are complex: https://everesting.cc/virtual-everesting-rules/
My ‘Seven Summits’
I’ve qualified for three of the SSSS’s, but I’m hesitant about the suburban one. I have to admit to keeping my eye on hills though, whenever I pass through a town!
However, I have a different challenge in mind. Before I was a cyclist, I was a climber and in climbing circles, there’s a challenge known as the Seven Summits: climbing the highest mountain on each of the world’s seven continents – Everest being one of these.
My nod towards this will be to (attempt to), complete (at least), seven Everestings. Six down, one to go. The final one will be Mont Ventoux from Bedoin: arguably the best climb in the world. It’s already been Everested, but it’s so beautiful, I don’t care. I also have to admit to having a suburban target in mind (in Belgium!) and I’m also in the ongoing process of attempting a Double Everesting on a magical hill on Exmoor (although this may prove to be my nemesis)!
Training for an Everesting
People often ask me how I train for rides like this. I’m not a coach and won’t even attempt to offer a detailed training plan, but my personal plan and milestones go something like this:
Winter: base miles outside and lots of turbo sessions inside. Some of these sessions will be specifically geared towards whatever my next Everesting target is. For example, the Cime de la Bonette was a 24km climb and I knew it would take me just under two hours to climb it once, at around 225 watts. So I replicated that on my trainer: two hours at 225 watts, then repeat.
In March and April, I complete three increasingly bigger rides: 165km/3,000m, then 200km/4,000m and finally 300km/5,000m. I might throw in a 12 – 15hr ride too, maybe something long – 350km or so. If these all go OK, I consider myself ‘Everest-ready’.
I practice riding reps on a hill – ideally your chosen hill, but any hill will do. Get used to how it feels, how to pace yourself, lap after lap, when to eat and drink, how to use the lap counter on your cycle computer, etc.
I start some of my rides early in the morning, or do some night rides: take yourself out of your comfort zone – you’ll be a long way out of it during an Everesting attempt!
I sense check my kit: do I have everything I need and have I tested it on long rides? You wouldn’t run a marathon in brand new shoes and an Everesting should be no different.
Remember, your training rides only need to get you so far: if you can ride a 250km, 5,000m day, then your head can do the rest i.e. for a rider with the right level of physical conditioning, Everesting primarily becomes a mental challenge.
The crew over at HELLS 500 have teamed up with Crank Punk and they can guide you through a specific Everesting training plan, if you need some help. See http://www.crankpunk.com/blogs/everesting/item/882-crankpunk-coaching-systems-4-8-and-12-week-everesting-coaching-plans-available-now.html
Need more advice?
I’ll happily help if I can. Just email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
I have various people to thank, in particular:
- 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.
- Kev Mellalieu, who played a legendary supporting role supporting 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.
- Simon Winfield and his team at Cycle Care, who prepared my bikes for various Everestings.
- Jonny Bell at Noble Wheels, who built bespoke hoops for all of these rides and also built my Open U.P. for Mynydd Graean (Welsh for Gravel Mountain).