Everesting is the challenge of riding the elevation gain of Mount Everest (8848 Meters) in one effort. It is to be completed on the same climb, ascending and descending the same route, with no sleep. It was first done by George Mallory in 1994, in Australia, as he prepared for an expedition to Everest itself. Since then the format and rules have been established by Andy van Bergen, from the Hells group in Australia. It has been around for a while and has recently taken off in 2020, as the lockdowns around the World shut down bike racing and riders have been looking for new solo challenges.
Stuck here in the Solukhumbu region of Nepal, with Everest looming just 50 km away, I had been watching countless Everesting’s around the World. Most of these on e-trainers and road bikes, but none that I really thought gave credit to the world’s highest peak.
Being in lockdown for 80+ days, my hands and legs were tied, but I had been working on a plan to attempt an Everesting if the opportunity arose. Living in a Monastery hanging off a cliff at 2950 Meters, that opportunity came up when the Head of Police in the Solukhumbu came to visit one day. He was interested in what I was doing up in the mountains with my bike, and gave no objections when I asked if it would be ok to repeatedly ride the rough Monastery access road, a 2.8 km, 366 vertical meter climb. Thus I put the pieces of the puzzle together and 2 days later was commencing on what would turn out to be one of the toughest bike rides in recent memory!
Waking up to high clouds at 4 am on June 10th I was keen to get the ride rolling, figuring there was a 13-15 hour day ahead of me. I’m not overly excited on early starts but the goal was to get the ride done before nightfall at 7:30 pm. Rolling 5 minutes down from the Monastery, I set up basecamp at the nearby Stupa, which conveniently had a fountain with fresh Himalayan mountain water beside it. Stupas are Buddhist monuments found throughout the Himalayas to commemorate Buddha, often containing sacred relics inside. They are used as places of meditation and I figured having one at my turnaround point would help keep the mind focused and would be a great symbol of the amazing part of the World I was currently riding in. There was also an epic view of the Solukhumbu valley, a half kilometre vertical drop below. At 4:59 am the challenge began with a 7-minute descent down the rough monastery road to the start point below.
Needing to do 25 laps to hit the height of Everest, I split the ride into pieces. The first goal was to bag 12 laps, then 18, then the end would be in sight! With the start of the climb at 2546 meters and the top at 2912 M, there was some altitude to deal with but having spent the past 3.5 months in the Everest region the body was well adapted to the lack of oxygen. The first 16 laps went smoothly, averaging between 22-24 minutes on the climb, 7 minutes on the descent, and a few minutes in between at the water fountain, filling bottles, eating food, talking to Monks and documenting the day.
Throughout the ride, there were 4 Nepalis working on rebuilding the nearby Stupa. They had some amazing confused looks on there faces as they saw the foreigner guy repeatedly coming back up there every 30 minutes. The Monks came out in mass as well to try to figure out what was going on. Being the compassionate human beings that they are, they could see some suffering was going on and brought down a hot lunch at noon. It was the highlight of the day as I tried to get in as many laps as possible before any meltdowns set in.
From lap 17 onwards things started to meltdown. Having been in lockdown for 2.5 months, there had been an absence of any real endurance rides. The body had been kept primed with cross-training and some shorter rides but there were question marks in my head on how the body would respond to a big effort like this one. What I realized is that those 4-6 hour endurance rides I generally do in training, really pay off on these big missions on the bike. Not only do they condition the body, but they also help adapt the mitochondria to burn more fats as fuel. Without the mitochondria steadily supplying these fatty fuels, it means more food must be consumed to keep the diesel engine going. Having run out of my normal Clif bar nutrition a long time ago on this prolonged 8 month trip to Nepal, I was left to ride on the local Sherpa fuel. The challenge was to do it on three local staples, buckwheat pancakes, potatoes and organic honey. These were great carbs, but the quantity over 12 hours upset the system and for the last 5-6 hours my stomach denied the intake of any more fuels. This combined with the onset of fatigue from the relentless 13% climb, meant the lap times increased to 27-30 minutes for laps 17 through 21.
From here things compounded against the effort as a rainstorm moved in, drenching the already rough road, turning it into a muddy mess between the bumpy cobblestone sections. Riding in the rain for 3 hours, another challenge emerged as I was now drenched, which left the body freezing on the descents, but overheating on the climbs, which meant a few changes of wardrobe. The ride was now stretching over 14 hours long, and nightfall was looming. Luckily I had prepared for the worst and had a small headlamp packed just in case things went sideways.
The locals had warned me about the aggressive local Himalayan black bears, and Leopards, but I figured they were both more of a myth. Over the course of 3 months in the Solukhumbu, I had yet to see sign of either. Having lived with Bears my whole life in the Canadian Rockies I figured the risk was very low. As night fell, it was still in the back of my head, the other problem was my body was really starting to backfire. I thought, dang, I can’t really risk pushing myself too far right now as I’m alone in the biggest mountains in the World, 10 500 km from home. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic it wasn’t an option to end up in the hospital for any reason. I know my body pretty good though and have pushed it through some tough situations, so put my head down for what turned into a rather rough final 4 laps through the darkness. Lap times increased to 37-42 minutes, which included a few stops to rest my head on the handlebars, and even one lie down in the ditch for 5-10 minutes during a particularly bad moment. After each lap I would have extended breaks at the water fountain, enjoying the fact I wasn’t in a real race. The only goal was to knock the final few laps off one by one and to soak in the ambience of the stormy Himalayan evening.
Completing 24 laps at 10:30 pm, I was pretty sure I had reached the cumulative elevation gain of Everest but opted for one more lap to put the nail in the coffin. Rolling back up to the Monastery at 11:30 pm, after lap # 25, put an end to a rather unexpected 18.5 hour day on the bike with a total elevation gain of over 9150 meters! I wasn’t quite prepared for such an epic ride but sometimes you just gotta cowboy up and get it done. I have a lot of respect for anyone that does an Everesting as they are legit. I’ve done longer rides and rides with more elevation gain, but to go up and down the same rough Himalayan road 25 times, takes its mental and physical toll. There was nowhere to really rest as you’re either pushing hard on the climb or bombing down the descent to get back to climbing. I had one nice technical single track section in there to help keep the mind engaged throughout the laps. Having ridden my Kona Hei Hei into the ground over the past 8 months of this trip, with zero maintenance in the last 3 months, I was rather shocked how bomb-proof the bike was, running smoothly the whole challenge with its Shimano XTR 1-12 drivetrain.
With my first official Everesting in the bank, I’m keen to get back out there to try a few more. It’s a great challenge and certainly worthy of the big effort they require. For now, the focus will turn to riding a hilly 290 km route back to Kathmandu, and then hopefully finding an onwards flight to Canada once the lockdown eases a bit more in Nepal.
Over and out from the Himalayas.