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by Matt de Neef
June 18, 2020
Four days ago US mountain biker Keegan Swenson thought he’d lost the Everesting world record to Aussie road racer Lachlan Morton (EF Pro Cycling). Morton had completed 42 laps of the backside of Colorado’s Rist Canyon in a time of 7 hours, 32 minutes and 54 seconds, seemingly beating Swenson’s record by just over seven minutes.
But as of today, Swenson will return to the top spot on the leaderboard after analysis confirmed that Morton didn’t amass the requisite 8,848 metres of elevation gain for his ride to count as an Everesting.
The Strava segment for the Rist Canyon climb suggests it rises a total of 213 metres over its 1.93 km length. With that elevation gain per lap, Morton’s 42 laps would have given him 8,946 metres of climbing.
The Strava file from Morton’s ride left him with 8,509 metres of climbing which he chalked up to “data lag with the elevation”. As with every ride that reaches the Everesting Hall of Fame, Morton’s was verified by Hells 500 — the organisation behind the phenomenon (run by CyclingTips’ Andy van Bergen).
“We apply the same formula for all of our entries in the hall of fame including both regular riders and records, and have a number of people check off on the important ones like this,” van Bergen told Canadian Cycling Magazine. “At an estimate, we would see under- or over-reporting of data from devices in probably 10% of entries, and this is why we will use a verified Strava segment over what the [rider’s GPS] head unit will show.”
But in the case of Morton’s ride, it appears the Rist Canyon segment was created with erroneous elevation data which was difficult to spot, even through several rounds of analysis.
Hells 500 confirmed on Thursday that, after further verification, Morton’s ride hadn’t reached the threshold to count as an Everesting.
“As painful as it is, we stand by our community’s decision to recategorise this as a (very large) Everesting Basecamp listing [ed. – a half-Everesting, with between 4,424 and 8,847 metres of climbing], which means Keegan Swenson is restored at the top of the Everesting leaderboard,” the organisation wrote on Facebook.
Chris Crosby, co-founder of OpenTopography, a National Science Foundation-supported project that distributes high-resolution topography from lidar (Light Detection and Ranging), confirmed using lidar point cloud data that the actual elevation of Morton’s segment is 200 metres (from 2,238 to 2,438 metres above sea level) rather than the 213 metres Morton had been banking on. His 42 laps would have netted him roughly 8,400 metres — approximately 450 metres short of an Everesting.
Since Morton’s ride, Hells 500 has introduced new measures to independently “pre-qualify” segments that will be used for record attempts.
“Rather than retroactively applying additional rigour to our approval methodology after a new record is claimed, we feel that a fairer method is to pre-approve segments for record attempts,” the organisation explained. “As mapping data varies in accuracy from country to country (and indeed the exact height of Everest itself is still a matter of some debate!) we will – to the best of our ability with the resources to hand – agree on a set elevation gain prior to an attempt.”
The Hells 500 post notes that Everesting was never created with speed records in mind. Indeed, for the vast majority of riders who complete an Everesting, the goal is to simply complete the challenge and such a detailed analysis isn’t necessary or practical.
“One thing we never anticipated when creating this challenge for our crew was that it would one day be raced by riders at the top level of the sport,” Hells 500 wrote. “In fact, ironically, this challenge was set up as the antithesis of racing! That said, we appreciate and respect that whilst completion is the driving factor for the vast majority of participants, the appeal of setting new records for Everesting has clearly taken hold – and so we’ll need to adapt to that.”