The camaraderie of climbing 8,848 metres together
When I first heard about the extreme vertical challenge of climbing the height of Everest by picking a hill and riding up it over and again until you hit 8,848 metres of ascent I was filled with awe. There was something so clever about bringing that sense of adventure, which often comes with a mammoth journey, right to a hill near you. But it did seem a lonely, monotonous, slightly self-obsessed task that could only be pursued with grave seriousness. How wrong I was. The cause-driven camaraderie of this month’s group Everesting efforts in Canberra, Melbourne and South Africa clearly demonstrate what a vibrant community building event it can be.
In the early hours of Saturday morning in Australia’s capital of Canberra, a group of five were rolling out into sub-zero temperatures to start their day of climbing as part of an Everesting to raise funds for the earthquake devastated region of Nepal. Also rolling out into the mid-winter chill of the notoriously cold city was the first rider in a relay team, which was adding its support as each of the ten riders took turns to accumulate a total ascent of 8,848 metres combined.
An all-female group Everesting in Melbourne set out a few hours later, intentionally on the same day as the Canberra group to provide a bond between the rides for a common cause. As was the case in Canberra, it was dark and bitterly cold in Melbourne. The group had support riders in tow and donned playful costumes that upped the fundraising ante.
And that was just the beginning of the light-heartedness, camaraderie and support as cyclists came together, inspired by the Climb for Nepal, a collaboration between Everesting.cc, Strava and More than Sport. The challenge encourages riders to raise funds for the earthquake devastated region as they log a vertical ascent of 8,848 in the month of June, either in one go or over the 30 days.
Donuts on a stick and a tutu in Bonds Rd, Melbourne
In the dark all you could see were headlights and the flashing red streaks of blinking tail lights as the four women attempting to Everest the up and down climb of Bonds Road in the Melbourne suburb of Lower Plenty charged past. When the sky started to lighten, it became obvious that something wasn’t quite normal about the silhouette of one of the riders. As the sun came up, the protrusion around the waist was revealed as a bright purple tutu.
There were four riders attempting the Bonds Road Everesting; Hazel Porter, who had already successfully Everested at the women’s mass attempt on Mt Donna Buang in February, first timers Bridget Lester and Tracy Walker, and Sarah Hammond, who had already completed three Everestings.
Hammond had decided that climbing the height of Everest wasn’t enough to drive the fundraising effort. After all, the odds were on her getting through given that she pushed through to 10,000 metres of ascent on Mt Donna Buang just a few months earlier. So the skirt-hating hill climber rode with her purple tutu flapping in the breeze. It’s what she had pledged to do if people were prepared to put their hands in their pockets and donate.
“The tutu was not only a priority for securing donations for Nepal but it was to bring a lighter side to a physically demanding challenge,” said Hammond. “And of course for its aerodynamics.”
There were plenty of backward glances as the regular morning bunch riders started rolling past, and scores of riders came out to roll laps in support. The tutu wasn’t the only unusual sight on Saturday. There was also amusement at the much appreciated supporter who decided to play his part in helping get the women over the finish line by providing the perfect Everesting breakfast on the run. He set up donuts on a stick, and as riders flew by, they grabbed the treats.
Then there was the interest generated by hand cyclist Nic Latham, who committed to spending hours cycling to see just how many metres of climbing she could rack up as part of this group challenge. It was tough work laboriously working up the climbs and negotiating the all too frequent bends on the rather reluctant to turn hand cycle. In the end she spent seven hours climbing 1,187 metres.
As the day progressed, the riders had to dodge skaters training on the steepest part of the climb, the nasty initial pinch which touches a gradient of 17 percent. There was also a steady stream of riders who didn’t know the women but had heard of their attempt and wanted to show their support. Even young kids on bikes found a way to take part, determined to crack that first steep pinch, even if it meant collapsing in a puffing heap at the top as the Everesters rode on.
Still by the time night fell, the sense of fun had vanished as thousands of metres of climbing and hours sitting on the bike started to take a toll. Yet, the sense of community was far from gone. There were still support riders out rolling with the Everesters, talking when they thought it would help or pedalling along in companionable silence when it was clear the effort taken to make conversation was just too much. Others came with food and hot drinks and stood by to see if there was anything they could do to help. The riders were never alone nor did they forget about their fellow Everesters.
It was around about 10 p.m., when after 16 hours on the bike, first Porter, and then Hammond and Lester realised they had completed the challenge.
“I knew that it was going to be a hard slog. It’s a long day so knowing that and preparing for it mentally was a big part of it. I don’t think I got down during the ride because I knew every single pedal stroke was getting me a bit closer,” said the 26 year-old Lester, who was looked steady throughout the day and was quick to respond with a smile right to the very end.
But it was still a huge relief when she knew that she had finally finished.
“They called me over and were checking my Garmin. When Sarah said ‘that’s fine’ I thought thank goodness,” said Lester. “I said to her ‘if you told me I had to go and do another lap I couldn’t have followed you on Instagram anymore.’”
The short preparation time made the Everesting a particularly big ask. Often many months of training goes into an attempt, but the Climb for Nepal challenge was only announced near the end of May. Walker knew 8,848 metres of ascent was always going to be difficult given this, but decided that raising money was a good enough reason to try. Walker climbed a mammoth 6,500 metres, battling on valiantly until the others had finished before calling it a day.
The women combined raised more than US$2000. They’re still accepting donations for their fundraising efforts.
Relays and overridden rosters at the Arboretum, Canberra
A stunning sunrise signalled the end of the dark cold night for the five riders climbing the road to the National Arboretum in Canberra as part of their Everesting attempt. It was also the end of the quiet roads. As they tried to work their way through more than 80 ascents, they were joined on the climb by their fellow cyclists who were content with one or two.
“The Arboretum is a beautiful spot with great views, so it’s always popular with local bunches. The lycra party reached a crescendo at about 8 a.m., with all the usual groups rolling through and some hanging out for support laps,” said Gaye Bourke, who was taking on her sixth Everesting.
Katie Taylor, who completed an Everesting on Mt Donna Buang in February, also planned to be a part of this attempt. A back injury ruled her out of the full distance, but she was determined to find a way to contribute, so organised an Everesting relay team.
She did it with the support of ten of her teammates from the women’s Boss Racing Team development squad and the team’s National Road Series squad.
“Everyone wanted to contribute but they couldn’t commit to the whole Everesting,” said Taylor. “It was nice that we could all jump in and do something together.”
There was such enthusiasm that even though having multiple riders out at once didn’t add any extra to the total, given it was a relay format, riders couldn’t resist jumping in to roll some extra laps with their teammates. “We had up to four or five people doing laps together,” said Taylor.
The relay team finished their combined Everesting in thirteen-and-a-half-hours, and four of the five individuals, including Bourke, completed the full Everesting. One had to pull out after suffering a knee problem. The group raised US$2000, and like the Melboure Everesting crew, the Canberra group is still set-up to take donations.
Contributing to a cause on the iconic climb of Sani Pass in South Africa
The last weekend of the June Climb for Nepal challenge will see an Everesting attempt at one the most spectacular locations imaginable. Jeannie Dreyer, a 34 year-old mother of two young children, will be part of a team of three taking on the notoriously tough dirt and gravel climb of Sani Pass.
Dreyer is no stranger to pushing her physical limits as she has an extremely strong record in mountain biking. She secured fourth position, with her teammate Theresa Ralph, in the incredibly difficult and hotly contested Absa Cape Epic this year. She is taking on the Everesting with her husband, champion adventure athlete Martin Dreyer, who runs a development academy for disadvantaged youths, and former professional cyclist Kevin Benkenstein. Benkenstein has already completed one and also provided a training plan for the women taking on the mass Everesting of Mt Donna Buang.
Dreyer was introduced to the extreme vertical challenge devised by Hells 500 when she met Benkenstein last year, and there was no hesitation when invited to join him on this year’s Everesting effort.
“I love the challenge of endurance events as well as the unknown factors that present themselves and need to be dealt with as best as possible. It excites and revs me up, more so when a challenge seems almost impossible,” said Dreyer.
The climb of Sani Pass on the border of South Africa and Lesotho logs up around 900 metres of ascent in eight kilometres and Dreyer said such an iconic climb was the clear choice for the trio, as it presents the ultimate test.
“We will have to pour our heart and soul into this ride,” said Dreyer.
It is such a vastly different type of climb to the short suburban ascents of the Melbourne and Canberra Everestings, which were easily accessible to supporters, but that doesn’t mean the social element is any less important. When asked what she expected to bring her most pleasure she said, the setting, riding with the ultimate goal of Everesting for the people of Everest and the company.
“Riding with Kevin and Mart is going to be bliss as both add wonderfully different experience.”