CHASING EVEREST IN EUROPE

How does 'Everesting' compare to climbing the real Mount Everest?

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Words: Wade Wallace | Photography: Tim Bardsley-Smith | Videography: Christophe Margot

It all started when my mate Julian who works for Scott Bikes said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do an Everesting with someone who has actually climbed Mount Everest?”

I have the utmost respect for people who have done an ‘Everesting’ or anything in the realm of this type of challenge, but it’s not my cup of tea. I rarely have the attention span to ride over 100km these days.

But Julian’s idea resonated with me. My good friend Paul Adler and his wife Fiona had climbed Everest in 2006 and 2007 and their stories are fascinating.  There are very few people on Earth who have summited Mount Everest and can ride a bike at this level, and one of them just happens to be one of my best mates, Paul.

We wanted to make it so that we didn’t retrace any of our steps, and we wanted to incorporate some lesser-known gravel roads.

When I called Paul up to see if he’d be interested in doing an Everesting, we began taking the idea further and decided on riding a massive loop around Annecy, France where he lives. We wanted to make it so that we didn’t retrace any of our steps, and we wanted to incorporate some lesser-known gravel roads. It would give us a good bonding experience, an excuse for me to visit him after Eurobike, and, most of all, a way for me to be able to tell his fascinating Mount Everest story with the backdrop of doing a massive ride.

VIDEO: Relive the ride

So the planning began. One of the biggest challenges and difficult logistical tasks for this ride was for Paul to find a loop that didn’t retrace any of our steps, and accurately took in more than 8,848m of elevation gain. Mapping the route on Strava was inaccurate up to 20% above the true elevation, and our GPS devices were also mismatched.

We didn’t want to return home at 3am, just a few hundred metres shy, and have to go out again, searching for climbs when we’d done nearly all in the area. Nor did we want to do a single metre more than 8,848m! So Paul had to study multiple maps, summit signs, Strava routes, ride sections himself, and corroborate everything to make sure we were 100% sure of the cumulative elevation gain.

We woke up at 3am on a Tuesday morning to set off by 4am. We wanted to maximise our daylight hours, and make sure that we weren’t too tired when nightfall set in.

This is a similar rationale to that used by mountaineers’ in their final summit bid on Mount Everest. It’s not when you’re going up that it’s dangerous and when mistakes often happen; it’s when you’re fatigued and coming down. Reaching the summit is only half way.  

To be honest, it wasn’t as much of a physical challenge as expected, but I underestimated the mental challenge. I was extremely conservative with my effort from the start, but when we still had 3,000m of climbing when darkness set in (again, we had woken up at 3am to start) I nearly lost the plot.

To imagine doing the equivalent of my ‘long’ Saturday ride twice made the task seem inconceivable, but Paul kept my mind on track while breaking the problem down into smaller, more manageable goals. Getting to the next switchback, to the next summit, to the end of the descent … It was a good analogy for anything difficult in life that you’re about to take on, when you can’t fathom how you’re going to get there.

When we still had 3,000m of climbing when darkness set in, I nearly lost the plot.

“I was super-scared, super-nervous about possible problems [when nearing the summit of Everest]. To be honest, doing the ride we’ve just done, coming to the end of that, and feeling really tired and fatigued and descending in the dark, it was the same feeling. We could screw up one of those descents and miss a corner; we could have had a major accident. I felt the same, especially in all those high points on the death zone on Everest.”

– Paul Adler

SO HOW DOES THE PHYSICAL EXERTION COMPARE TO CLIMBING MT EVEREST?

VIDEO: Paul tells the story of his Mount Everest summit attempts. 

The concept of ‘Everesting’ can be traced back to a gentleman in Melbourne named George Mallory, the grandson of the famous British Mountaineer with the same name. George used a local Australian mountain named Mount Donna Buang as the training ground for his attempt at summiting Mount Everest, doing repeats of the climb until he reached an accumulated elevation gain of 8,848m. George later summited Mount Everest in 1995.

When George Mallory’s story arrived in my inbox I thought it was insane, and so did most of you in the comments. Now it’s commonplace with over 2,200 people having done an ‘Everesting’ ride.

Most of us will never know what it’s like to climb Mount Everest, but I can say from experience now that doing this type of ride is within the capabilities of most competent cyclists, given a sufficient attention span.

Is it as tough as climbing Mount Everest from a physical perspective? It should be obvious that there’s no comparing the two feats; the experience required, the skillset needed, the oxygen deprivation – there are so many more elements and potential complications to climbing Everest than going for a big bike ride.

Interestingly, when I asked George Mallory about the effort required to ride the elevation of Everest, here’s what he said:

On Everest I was very lucky with strong support Sherpas, team mates and especially the weather, so my climb went well and turned out to be easier than my expectations.

“That said, I expected climbing Everest to be desperately hard from a physical perspective. Of course walking up a high mountain is different from riding laps on Donna [Buang], but on the mountain I used my Donna Buang x 10 as a benchmark and assessed each of the three big days against it.

“I thought the day up to 7,800m, load-carrying without bottled oxygen, was equivalent to about five laps of Donna, the next day to 8,300m with limited bottled oxygen and a small load was about six laps equivalent, and summit day also about six laps equivalent.

“I recall that when I made those comparisons I was, in part, thinking ‘Wow, this is not desperately hard!’ But based on who I am now (22 years older) that is actually a large workload over the three days. Before Everest I never rode laps on Donna Buang on consecutive days, and sure hope I never have to!

“Overall I would say that a cyclist who can ride 8,848m in a decent time – say, less than 18 hours – probably has the ‘grunt’ to succeed on Everest, assuming use of bottled oxygen, good acclimatisation and weather.”

 

“There were no books 10 or 11 years ago when we were training for this, and we were just making it up. We thought that it was really important that we got a lot of volume in, and cycling allowed for that. On an expedition, it’s three months in the mountains, most of those days are long, 10-hour-plus days, so our idea was to condition ourselves for that and cycling could do that for us. “

– Paul Adler

During our big lap around Annecy, Paul and I discussed if there were any similarities between summiting Everest and what we were doing on bikes. We both knew that comparing summiting Mount Everest and the ride we were doing were worlds apart. Paul did however point out that there were certain physical exertion parallels, and expanded on the different type of effort required on Everest.

“The memories all suddenly came back to me – the extreme cold when you climb through the night on a summit attempt, the wind, homesickness after being away from friends and family for two months, accumulated physical tiredness, altitude, plus a genuine fear of dying.”

Paul explained:

I find it really difficult to think back and remember how easy or hard something was. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve done big cycling events with not enough training, and sworn that next year I’ll be so much better prepared, only to find myself in exactly the same situation again. I did feel pretty ruined after our Everesting ride, but a few days later I felt good again. A month after coming back home from Everest, I was still flat.

“When I went back to Everest in 2007 after not making it in 2006, I know I had already forgotten what it was like. It wasn’t until I was sitting in my tent again at 8,000m getting organised to go, the memories all suddenly came back to me – the extreme cold when you climb through the night on a summit attempt, the wind, homesickness after being away from friends and family for two months, accumulated physical tiredness, altitude, plus a genuine fear of dying. It all leads to a lot of questioning of ‘Why am I doing this!'”

 

“On our ride, I was truly worried about cramping and physically not being able to turn the pedals over on the steep climbs at the end.”

“I think it all boils down to time. If climbing Everest is a marathon, then Everesting on a bike is like a tough intervals session. Both are hard and intense, but recovery will be really different.

“During a two-month-long climb such as Everest, the big physical challenge is to try to stay healthy and not get sick. The body really doesn’t recover well at these altitudes. For example, I’ve noticed that if I get a small cut, then it will not start to heal up until I get below 5,000m (that’s lower than base camp).

“On our ride, I was truly worried about cramping and physically not being able to turn the pedals over on the steep climbs at the end. Particularly the last climb up to Col des Glières, which is about 6 kilometers with average gradients of between 10%-12.5% for each kilometre. That would be a long walk.

“For me the physical effort on the final day of Everest above 8,000m was much harder than anything else I’ve ever done in my life. But don’t get me wrong, our Everesting ride was up there.”

EVERESTING ANNECY - BY THE NUMBERS

 

Climbs 13
Total elevation gain 8937m
Distance 312km
Time 22 hours total / 18:35 hours ride time
Punctures 4
Gravé secteurs 3
Photos taken 2,344

 

Food (each rider):

6 ham and cheese baguettes
5 honey waffles
3 Snickers bars
6 Clif bars
1/2 bag of lollies
2 bananas
1 can of Pringles (the big ones)
6 cans of Coke
10 bidons of plain water

~10,000 calories burned

 

See the Strava file here.

 

  • Beautiful scenes. Gorgeous ride. Great accomplishment.

  • RayG

    http://www.everesting.cc/the-rules/

    “Rides must only focus on one hill or mountain per ride (e.g. you can’t base yourself in one location and ride multiple hills)”

    Nice ride, though.

    • Indeed. We knew it wasn’t a true Everesting, but it’s the theme we were going after! Happy to be DQ’d from the honour roll. Or I’ll just keep pestering Andy to change the rules ;-)

      • Everesting Mont-Blanc

        Agreed. The “one-hill-repeat” rule probably makes a lot of sense to check the Everesting claims. It also makes sense for cyclists living somewhere flat-ish, or for the ease of logistics (1 car left loaded with food and spares at the bottom of the hill) for those everesting without a support car. But if the goal is to enjoy the ride, I can confirm it makes sense to work out a loop with beautiful and changing views, yet-unknown cols, a bit of gravel (in your case), a few restaurant and coffee places along the road, etc. It only makes the challenge feel a bit more like an adventure.

        In my case, I everested around the Mont-Blanc range, roughly on the route used by the Tour du Mont-Blanc sportive (though clockwise, plus the road back home to make it an “Everest”). I don’t think the ‘rules’ matter much. It’s not about the glory of the ‘Everesting title’, it’s just the fun of cycling and a bit of a personal challenge… https://youtu.be/pwFl5_X0q_Y

        By the way, congrats to you, and congrats to Christophe for the lovely and inspirational video.
        Your route selection looks excellent. I only discovered Col de l’Arpettaz last month (although I live only 30km from the col), and it is indeed one of the most beautiful cols I’ve climbed.

        • redhead322

          Nice ride, Wade. Truly awesome in every sense of the word. But…

          ‘It wasn’t a true Everesting’ … yes, in fact what you guys rode had nothing to do with the term Everesting.

          You rode 8848+ meters in an (epic) ride. Just call it that and be done with it.

          Sorry, ‘Everesting Mont Blanc’, your ride, while also epic, has nothing to do with Everesting either.

          For all of the extensive planning y’all did, you could have gone to Everesting.cc or high rouleurs society and at least read the rules first. I didn’t come up with the term, nor the rules, but they are there for a reason. Misusing the term dilutes it (the Deux North boys did the exact same thing a few months back… falsely claiming an Everesting…).
          If Everesting (must be on the same hill) isn’t your fancy, then at least ride 10,000m in one ride and qualify for ‘The Limit’. With a little more planning you could have completed that.

          • Are we seriously debating this?

            We didn’t do this to be part off any Everesting club, and I don’t believe we ever claimed to be doing anything within any man-made rulebook. I use the word ‘everesting’ loosely as many people know what it means. We intentionally set out to do something different so that I could tell Paul’s remarkable story of ACTUALLY CLIMBING MOUNT EVEREST.

            • Everesting Mont-Blanc

              Indeed, unless you’re competing in Giro d’Italia or Tour de France, cycling is indeed for fun. Everesting around Mont-Blanc turned out to be a great ride. It included 2 passes I had never ridden before (Grand Saint Bernard and Champex), and for that reason alone it was a nice adventure and challenge… It was first ride going beyond 6,000m+; but, more importantly, the views of the Mont-Blanc range were extraordinary. It was also an excellent experience with my friend who followed me in the support car and filmed.

              For you, Wade and Paul, it must have be great to share and complete your Everesting as a team.

              Congrats for your Everesting, for Paul’s Everest, and for your inspiring video !

            • Chester Chihuahua

              I think your ride is much better than riding the same hill 100 times. That just seems so utterly pointless (to me).

            • Eat More Lard

              It appears everyone is taking the term “Everesting” term far to seriously and literally. It’s about getting out there are pushing yourself beyond your limits but having fun on the way. Sure, if you want to crack the hall of fame, go look up the “rules” (even they were designed to be somewhat suggestive). I’ve done 2 Everestings. One by the rules (repeats of Macedon South) and one not by the rules (5 times each of the 4 sealed climbs on Macedon). Do I think one is more valid than the other? Hell no.

              There is a reason that HRS has two versions – the limit for “Everesting” junkies and the journey for the interesting and fun day and a half ramble,

              Ride your bike have fun, do no harm

          • michael waters

            Come on now. Everesting according to ‘the rules’ has become such a hackneyed concept. A novel idea that piqued our collective interest momentarily. I contend that Wade’s ride was perhaps more in keeping with the spirit of adventure and purity of riding than the ‘square bear’ rule book version.

            • Greg Moore

              Hear, Hear. – A fabulous adventure and not an easy one with the addition of European grades and energy-sucking gravel. One can argue that (and so I shall) a single hill simplifies the effort because extensive knowledge of the route allows for more efficient pacing.

              • Chester Chihuahua

                Indeed, if I attempted this (not going to happen), I would avoid gravel like the plague. Energy-sucking is an apt word.

        • Thanks! And I completely agree with your sentiment.

        • winkybiker

          What’s with all the centreline crossing on the descents? It gives me the willies.

          • Everesting Mont-Blanc

            I hadn’t realized how much time I’m spending on the wrong side of the road until you mentioned it.

            • winkybiker

              For me, I fear that centre-line crossing on descents could be habit-forming, so even if I have a perfect view of the road ahead, I make a point of staying on the correct side on a corner. Others have a more relaxed approach, and base their choice on what they can see ahead. If that works for them, I have no real problem, but it still makes me a bit nervous to see it.

        • Wow…fantastic film! The roads look awesome. This route was one we first considered when planning. I’d love to go back and do it one day.

          • Everesting Mont-Blanc

            When I completed the loop last July, first, I slept for 24 hours, and then, when I woke up, I thought I would never do again this kind of cycling ride…
            but after a few days, I was looking for a new challenge to set myself. MTBing the UTMB loop (170km, 10,000m+) around Mont-Blanc? Ski touring the same loop? In a day? in 2 or 3 days? Trail running? Cycling the valleys and ski touring the summits? Cycling the “winter” loop around Mont-Blanc: in the winter, the only cols open around Mont-Blanc are Montgenèvre, Simplonpass, Forclaz/Montets, which leads to a loop of over 800km and well over 10,000m+… quite a challenge

            But after reading your story and watching the film of your ride, I’m thinking of doing again a similar 1-day Everesting loop… just, next time, I need a couple of cycling partners to share the ride with… If you’re interested, you can already pencil in 15 June 2018: Longest hours of daylight, all the passes are usually open by early June, and I’ll keep few celebratory beers in my fridge!

      • Going for a very long ride loop or out-and-back with lots of climbing is definitely easier than repeating the same damn ramp over and over again for an entire day. The monotony of repeats is at another level of psychological challenge.

        I think diluting the term by applying it to less challenging efforts is simply unfair to the people that earned their headset cap the hard way.

        Nice ride though.

        • We didn’t set out to do anything harder or easier or even the same. But don’t be so quick to dismiss it by saying we didn’t do it the ‘hard way’. One gravel section took us 2 hours to get through about 10km. Others were even more excruciating. We rode it on 38mm tyres. Not to mention the inefficiencies of the flat sections to get from one berg to the next. It was anything but easy.

          • thechesh

            Time to take credit for moving past ‘Everesting’ and inventing ‘Himalaying’ Wade – multiple climbs adding up to 8848m!

            Must admit i was really excited about doing the 2018 Etape du Tour on these very same roads but this ride makes that look like a Sunday Beach Rd stroll ;) Incidentally i live an hour north of Annecy and have had the pleasure of riding a couple of these gravel climbs. I can attest that it is a hell of a lot harder than doing repeats of a nice smooth bit of tarmac. What riders do while ‘Everesting’ is impressive for sure (the mental toughness to just repeat the same climb for an entire day is hardcore) but this ride to me just emphasises the true joy of riding, with the vertical gain almost a sideshow.

            Loved the article/video – great work guys.

            • Thanks for the note @thechesh. Enjoy l’etape. I’m guessing it’ll be much more enjoyable than trying to take in all these roads at once! You always have tomorrow ;-)

  • Tan

    Beautiful! and out of curiosity, what kind of tires did you all use? Its size in particular

    • Schwalbe G-ONE Allround Tires (38mm). Awesome for the gravel but could have used something narrower for the road.

      • Eat More Lard

        I guess you weren’t running tubeless? I’ve been using the G-One in 650b 40mm tubeless and they have been flawless but I don’t think they are the most puncture resistant as I know a few others who have used the 38mm with tubes and suffered a number of punctures.

        • Thanks for the tip. They definitely would have helped as all our punctures were snakebites

  • tbonetone

    Just wow.

  • Winky

    I once asked Jon Muir (legendary Aussie adventurer) what mountains in the Himalaya he recommended climbing. He basically said “Anything that has a height starting 79… The 8,000ers are ridiculously overcrowded. You’ll have anything under 8,000 to yourselves”. Actually climbing Mt Everest seems like total gong-show to me. But Everesting by bike on an adventure ride like this? Epic. Great article.

  • dcaspira

    What an epic idea. It was hard enough to do one of those hills, let alone stringing them all together – WOW !

  • NJDr

    Inspirational. Oh, and f@#k the “rules”.

  • Steel

    Next up, cycling tips forum debates what can be included as an ‘epic’ ride on Strava. ????

  • Craigus

    Great story, thanks Wade for sharing the ride

  • Wily_Quixote

    After reading the dispiriting comments section I am forced to conclude that, if I ever wish to complete an epic mountain ride, in no way would I wish to be affiliated with the ‘Everesting’ movement.

    What a bunch of officious, pedantic killjoys they seem to be.

    • Yeah, how terrible that a group of people who accept and accomplish a difficult and very specific challenge, one they were personally very proud to have achieved, should pipe up when their very specific accomplishment is wilfully conflated with something comparable, but decidedly different.

      How dare they. What awful people they must be.

      • Wily_Quixote

        i didn’t say they were terrible. I just stated that they seem to be officious and pedantic killjoys.

  • What a wonderful adventure and a fantastic accomplishment ….. congratulations. As for some the negative comments, get a life – seriously, get a life. If I was inclined too or have the ability to climb over 8500m in elevation on a bike this most definitely is the way I’d do it. I’d much rather have a shared adventure with a like minded soul than have my name on some ‘list’.

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