The Everesting Experience

Gaye on the road
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I’m a sucker for a cycling-related challenge, so when I read about the simple concept of choosing a hill and riding up and down until gaining the height of Mt. Everest (8848m), I was hooked.

I spent a few weeks pondering the pros and cons of possible climbs, worrying that someone else would everest ‘my’ hill before I got around to it, and questioning my ability to actually pull this crazy stunt off. Eventually I got tired of thinking, talking and worrying about it, and decided to just get out there and do it. And it was okay. My legs hurt, my back hurt, my stomach felt like I’d drunk a toddlers paddling pool full of sports drink, and I was so tired that I was almost incoherent, but I did it. And I felt great.

So that was that. Except – it wasn’t.

I’d had no real intention of doing more – the deed was done. But then I heard about the challenge to complete four everesting climbs – one Short, one Significant, one Suburban, and one Soil (an unsealed road, OMG); with one climb of 10,000m. My first climb of Canberra’s Mt. Majura met the Short criteria (ascend 8848m in less than 200km), and my 53 ascents also cracked the 10,000m barrier, so I was well on the way.

Next up was a Significant climb. I chose Tawonga Gap, in the Victorian High Country between Mt Beauty and Bright. Ascending nearly 500m in around 7.5km, it meant fewer laps, but each one took its toll. I started early, just after 1am, mostly because I couldn’t sleep. It’s incredibly beautiful out on a bike at that hour, so quiet and peaceful. Only the hiss of tyres on bitumen and the rustling of wildlife disturb the night. The hours pass and dawn brings the first vehicle and the welcome knowledge that I’ve already climbed over 3,000m. Soon after, three friends from Albury turn up to ride laps with me. This is pure gold; company, distraction, and a chance to focus on something other than the twelve remaining ascents. The hard yards kick in not long after the Albury crew head off. My husband Ed has ducked off for a shower and a snooze, and my phone battery is dead, hence no music to dull the pain, monotony, and the feeling that the metres are not clocking up quite as fast as they were earlier. A few other cyclists are out and about, and one stops to say that he heard about my climb via a tweet from Hells 500, the cycling group responsible for dreaming up this insanity and recording successful ascents.

Fast forward to around 6pm, it’s still daylight and I’m done, an ascent of over 9000m and the second ‘S’ in the bag. Tired and sore the following day, but elated and still keen to continue pursuing the SSSS challenge.

Everesting the Canberra Arboretum

Now I need to find a Suburban climb. Hmm, how hard can this be in our lumpy Capital city? The obvious contender is Red Hill, a short, sharp climb practically in the middle of town. I soon discover that another Vikings Cycling Club member is already planning an everesting assault on the hill, so I ask if he would consider joining forces and ‘sharing’ the climb. Happily, he agrees, and the joint climbing effort raises over $4000 for Make a Wish Foundation. His schedule means that there are only three weeks between attempts, but I’m also getting stronger and more confident from all the climbing. We begin at 2:30am, revelling in the sparkle of city lights revealed each time we crest the highpoint of the climb. We time one ascent perfectly, coming around the final corner just as the moon rises in luminous perfection directly in front of us. This is the shortest of my everesting climbs, which means faster laps, just an awful lot of them. The first support riders begin to arrive at dawn. Soon there are over a dozen cyclists on the hill, up and down, up and down. At first it’s nice to chat, but before long I just let the conversation flow over and around me while I methodically turn the pedals, click the gears, stand up, sit down, drink, drink, drink. In the afternoon sun the on-bike temperature is over 30°C, and it’s a relief as the afternoon shadows get longer and the heat drains away. Buoyed along by the amazing level of support (it’s a full-on lycra party up there by this point), we finish off the climb just as darkness descends.

Now I am really afraid. Dirt is really not my forte. Canberran dirt roads and tracks are renowned for attractive characteristics such as an abundance of rocks and dry, dusty, loose surfaces. Add fatigue, darkness, wildlife, dodgy descending – this could be interesting. Weeks later I am struggling to find a suitable hill. The kind of hard-packed, smooth, shady, peaceful dirt road I hope for apparently only exists in my dreams. Impatient to finish this, I opt for a 4.5km gravel road climb out of Wee Jasper, on the road between Yass and Tumut.

The weather forecast is pretty awful, but I calculate that with an early start (11pm), I should finish before the rain hits. At midnight, two friends pull up to roll laps with me – laughing at the absolute stupidity of driving for 120km in the middle of the night to ride up and down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. The first 3000m tick over steadily, it’s a little surreal and the descent in darkness is nerve wracking, but I’m feeling positive. The hours roll by, I hurt, the road seems to stretch, elongating, never-ending. Then the rain starts, unlike me it’s well ahead of schedule. I think I preferred the dust. Some friends arrive. I can tell by their faces that I’m not looking my best. Ross rides with me for six laps, encouraging, supporting. Only a few laps to go but I am shattered, almost in tears at the thought. Don’t think, just ride. Add caffeine, extra clothes. I’m soaked now and starting to get cold. Focus. Ed is there, as always – reassuring, supporting, reminding me that this is what I expected, it was never going to be easy.

Last ascent. It’s over but I’m well past caring. I can pedal, but once off the bike I can barely stand. The euphoria comes later, right now I just need sleep.

Days later the bruising to my hands is apparent. My arms and shoulders ache and my legs feel like they don’t belong to me. It doesn’t matter. The glow of satisfaction that comes from achieving something that pushes you to the absolute limit is special. Whatever that something is.

Find out more at www.everesting.cc

Everesting lingo

  • Base Camp: the joy of reaching this milestone at around 5,300m is usually quickly tempered by the realisation that you are only just over halfway.
  • The Doldrums: between about 6,000m and 7,500m, where your elevation gain is so painfully slow that you think that your GPS device is faulty. Many attempts end here.
  • The Death Zone: over 8,000m. You will almost certainly reach the summit from here, but you may well be past caring by this point.
  • Sherpas: despite your pathetic bleating, these loyal and generous souls may sacrifice their entire day to ride alongside and urge you onwards and upwards.
  • Spontaneous Everesting: usually occurs when a Sherpa gets over-excited, forgets to go home, and ends up completing an unplanned Everesting.

Ride stats

Everesting Date Distance Laps Total elevation Elapsed time Avg gradient
Mt Majura, Canberra 30/08/14 230.1km 53 10,266m 19h:20m 9%
Tawonga Gap, Mt Beauty side 28/09/14 282km 19 9,208m 16h:41m 7%
Red Hill, Canberra 19/10/14 276.2km 83 9,341m 17h:07m 7%
Wee Jasper Road (dirt) 14/11/14 303.3km 34 9,104m 22h:45m 6%

 

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