If you’re considering taking on an everesting challenge, you need to know what you’re letting yourself in for. After all, it’s a pretty extreme challenge.
In 2020, John successfully completed a “real life” Everest attempt on Alpe d’Huez.
In Part 1 of this article he shares the lowdown on everything from what an everesting cycling challenge is, the difference between virtual everestings and “real” everestings, what to expect, how long it will take and how to prepare. In Part 2 you’ll find tons of useful information should you be considering an Everest attempt on Alpe d’Huez.
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Part 1: Everesting (what you need to know)
1. What is Everesting on a bike?
Everesting is a simple challenge. The ultimate goal is to cycle the height of Mount Everest (8,848m of vertical ascent) in one ride, anywhere in the world. There’s no time limit. You can take breaks, but you can’t sleep.
The rules and hall of fame for those who wish to have their ride validated are managed by Hells 500, the creators and custodians of the everesting concept. More on that below.
Everesting has been “a thing” for a few years, but it feels to me that the idea really exploded (both in real life and on everesting on Zwift) with Covid lockdowns starving both amateur and professional athletes of events and travel.
2. How did Everesting start?
It all started In 1994, with George Mallory, grandson of the famous British explorer and mountaineer. He cycled ten times up Mount Donna Buang, in Australia, clocking up 8,848 metres of ascent.
A group of Melbourne-based cyclists, founded by Andy van Bergen and known as the Hells 500 club, started the official challenge in 2014. Andy set up everesting.cc to connect fellow Everesters, regulate each climb, and showcase success in the Everesting Hall of Fame.
At the time of writing, there have been an incredible 20,112 successful everestings, probably many more as you only log in with Hells 500 once you’ve completed it (so there must be tons of people who attempted it but didn’t complete it). People have successfully taken on the challenge to ride Mount Everest in a whopping 109 countries around the world.
3. What prompted you to take on an Everesting challenge?
I had started becoming more aware of Everesting as a result of Covid lockdowns and my Strava feed becoming full of Zwift everesting attempts. There were also pro riders on the hunt for new records – for example with Mark Cavendish and Luke Rowe riding together, virtually, to get their Everests (10 hours, 37 minutes if you were wondering!).
However, I hadn’t been thinking about tackling an Everest ride for very long before the ride.
Many friends and acquaintances from the cycling community (especially the special breed of long-distance time triallists) are masters of this type of gruelling challenge. But to be honest it has never really appealed!
4. How hard is Everesting (by bike) and how fit do you have to be?
The challenges of climbing Mount Everest by bike mean it’s tough and definitely not something for beginner cyclists.
You do need the basic conditioning to see you through the event. But you don’t need elite levels of performance – Everests have been completed by all shapes and ages.
Of course, the less weight to haul up Everest, the better! I don’t consider myself a climber – at 1m80 and 75kg I’m a fairly average size.
For this type of challenge, mental toughness and just keeping going soon becomes the key to completing it. While I had a rough schedule in mind, I paced it very conservatively to avoid the risk of ‘blowing up’. As every cyclist knows, if you go beyond the ‘red line’ for too long, you will struggle to maintain the effort and likely suffer.
5. What sort of planning/logistics are involved?
Pick your segment (and the rules)
You need to plan the segment you want to complete quite carefully. For example, what’s the tarmac like, are there likely to be headwinds, if/when it’s likely to get busy with other traffic, how many times will you need to climb it?
For your first attempt, it might be a good idea to stay local. I’ve ridden Alpe d’Huez a few times over the years, but it would have been easier to plan, practise and sort out logistics if I’d been somewhere closer to home.
Of course, the advantage of Alpe d’Huez was that it’s so iconic and inspiring. Plus for me, the mental advantage of “only” having to ride it eight times is attractive.
Verify the length of your segment
You need to really know and understand the rules before your attempt.
The Hells 500 Everesting Hall of Fame is where official Mount Everest challenge records are found and will show you what others have done and how long their Everesting attempts took; it’s a useful guide.
You can also check the segment you have in mind.
It’s really important to know the number of repeats you’ll do will be enough (for example it doesn’t contain any unintended “free vertical ascent” which might not be included). You don’t want to make all that effort to find afterwards that you were a few metres short of Everest!
I became a bit obsessed with gearing for my Everest bike and cobbled together some easy gears – a 30-tooth gravel chainset instead of my usual 36 tooth semi-compact chainset. My Specialized S-Works already had a 30-tooth cassette, although I thought about going even bigger. I calculated that this combination would allow me to keep my power below 250W and to spin around at least 85 RPM. This would allow me to complete the 14.2km climb (average 8% gradient) in around 75 minutes without unduly stressing my body. From experience I was fairly sure I could maintain this pace for a long hot day.
My bodged mechanics meant I couldn’t get into the big chainring, but this wasn’t really a problem – when you’re descending Alpe d’Huez, gravity is your friend!
Planning food and where/when you want to stop is important. Make sure your body is familiar with the foods you choose and you have a plan for what you’re going to eat when. More on that below.
The ideal is to have a handy car boot and a helper who can encourage and organise what you need. Any stops will add up quickly and make your day longer. I only stopped long enough to refuel and answer nature’s call, once for each of my eight climbs.
Picking a day that is dry (safer descending), not too hot, with fewer vehicles (not a weekend) and with long daylight hours are all good choices.
Even if you pick a day with good weather, bear in mind that you’ll probably be starting early in the morning and riding through quite different temperatures. Plan your clothing accordingly.
Also make sure it’s all clothing and you’ve worn before and gear on your Everesting bike that you’ve used before. You don’t want to be trying out new stuff on an Everest attempt!
Make sure your cycle computer has a long enough battery charge and/or you have a backup computer. Can you imagine what it would be like to do it but then not be able to record an official attempt due to battery life failing you!
Also make sure you’ve got a bright bike light – you’re likely to be riding through the dark at some point. Also make sure the bike light has sufficient batteries. Perhaps consider changing it for the attempt? If you finish in the dark you don’t want it dying on you.
Make sure you let someone know what you’re doing and where and have your emergency contacts obvious on your helmet or phone in case there’s an accident. Also consider whether you’ll have phone reception during the attempt if there’s a problem.
6. What tips would you give to someone wanting to take on an Everest challenge?
My top tips would be
The proper advice would be to make a proper Everest training plan and build up your mileage and elevation gain gradually in the six months before your attempt. (If you’re considering getting a turbo as part of this, read this article).
Definitely a case of “do as I say, not as I do”, since I am mostly confined to less than 6 hours a week on the bike by work/family commitments, other than when on holiday when I might do three times this!
Pacing and gearing
As I outlined above, I think this could be the downfall of many who attempt an Everest, particularly on a steeper climb. You need to be able to spin the pedals at your comfortable cadence without pushing yourself ‘into the red’. Don’t be macho, get the easiest gear you can find and twiddle!
This can also sink your Everest attempt, so think about what you can/want to consume. There is a lot of science and many nutrition products, but in essence you need to be able to consume and process the calories and fluids. This is something to practice during long training rides (again, I didn’t!).
Lack of sleep
Remember your Everest attempt is going you the best part of a day, perhaps quite a lot longer (I’ve seen articles saying most cyclists take 20-24 hours). I started my attempt at around 5:30am. You will probably be up early and/or late. Bear in mind it might affect your decision making; it’s great if you can have someone else around you to help with those things especially later on during the attempt.
Physical and mental limits
This challenge is likely to push you to the absolute limit of your physical and mental strength. Be aware of that and consider how you might react and what mind games you might be able to employ for when it gets tough. For example chunking the attempt into manageable sizes. Some people find riding for charity helps because it gives them an extra layer of purpose to what they’re doing.
You might notice that I’m wearing two different jerseys in the photos. I had a quick change just before half way through – it felt so good to wear a clean jersey! A nice to have, but little things like this can make a big difference to your mental state.
7. How long does an Everest attempt take?
Typically, I’ve read that amateur riders expect to complete an Everest attempt by bike in around 15 to 24 hours.
I completed my attempt on Alpe d’Huez in 13 hours, 26 minutes, which I was pretty happy with (details here).
8. What is the record time for completing an Everest?
The record for the fastest ever Everest was set in March 2021, when Ronan McLaughlin reclaimed the Everesting world record by climbing the 8,848 metres in 6 hours 40 minutes.
The women’s record was set in August 2021, when Illi Gardner took the record from Emma Pooley in a time of 8 hours 33 minutes.
Other Everest records include in March 2022, when Nima Javaheri set a new Everesting world record, with an elevation record: 38,703m on La Croisette in France. This was a quadruple Everest!
9. How much is an Everesting (by bike)?
It’s difficult to answer this as it will depend on how much kit you already have and what you feel you need to buy. It could be as cheap as the nutrition you need to fuel you for the event, or as expensive as you want to go on new bike kit.
It doesn’t cost anything to submit your ride to the Hells 500 hall of fame.
10. What is virtual Everesting?
Virtual Everesting is the same as a physical everesting challenge, but it is completed on Zwift.
The gradient has to be set to 100% replication/max. Your rider profile weight has to be accurate on the day of the challenge.
11. Is the Everesting cycling challenge dangerous?
Of course there are inherent dangers with Everesting. By riding so far and for so long you are of course upping the risk factors. However, train properly, take precautions and follow the safety advice on the Everesting website and you can mitigate these to some extent.
Part 2: Everesting on Alpe d’Huez
12. Why a Mt Everest challenge cycling up Alpe d’Huez?
Once I knew I was spending a week’s family holiday (AKA Epic Road Rides research trip) at the top of Alpe d’Huez I became obsessed with the idea of Everesting on this iconic climb.
Some rough calculations (using an Everesting calculator) showed that eight ascents of this single climb (from bottom to very top – a 14.2km stretch with an average grade around 8%) would reach the target of Mt. Everest’s 8,848m of ascent.
I don’t think I’d climbed more than 3,500m in a day before the Everest attempt, so I was curious about how my body would respond to the length/heat/climbing and whether I would manage it!
Frankly, Alpe d’Huez is probably not the best choice for a rider like me, who’s more diesel engine than featherweight climber. The climb has long sections of greater than 10% gradient and an average of 8%, so that’s quite a challenge for me.
Nonetheless, I hoped that with good planning and sheer bloody-mindedness I would be able to complete it. Of course, the silver lining of doing an Everest attempt on a steep climb is you can complete your Everest for not many miles ridden!
13. Tell us what the climb is like
Alpe d’Huez is perhaps the most famous climb in the history of the Tour de France. You can read the full Epic Road Rides guide to cycling Alpe d’Huez here. The 21 bends are steeped in history, from the first win by Fausto Coppi in 1952, to Lemond and Hinault dualling in 1986. Pantani’s solo victory in 1997 and Geraint Thomas’s first British victory in 2018. Each bend bears the name of one or several stage winners on Alpe d’Huez. It feels like a special mountain to ascend just once, so why not eight times?!
The main feature of Alpe d’Huez is that the climbing is brutally steep right from the bottom. The steepest four kilometres are the first four, all with an average gradient of more than 10%. The climb never really lets up until the very top, with every kilometre steeper than 7%. This brings a risk of going too hard at the bottom and suffering later on, so pacing is important.
There’s enough variety to keep you interested.
14. How did each ascent feel?
From the start I felt comfortable and kept reminding myself to keep it really easy – a marathon not a sprint!
After changing my chainset I didn’t have a power meter reading to help with my pacing, but I kept an eye on my heart rate and tried to keep it under 145 bpm.
I got confidence as I started ticking off the climbs. I managed to keep them fairly metronomically to my target pace. After halfway, I could start to feel the signs of fatigue and let the pace slip a little. As expected, the penultimate climb was the toughest mentally – heavy fatigue and still a few hours to do on my Mount Everest ride – but once the 7th climb was done, I knew I would complete it!
In the second half, the temperature role and fatigue set in. I slowed to 80-85 minutes per climb but with no serious complaints other than the odd complaint from a knee/foot. Overall, the pacing had been spot on.
The best part psychologically was descending in 20 minutes. I had mentally allowed myself 30 minutes for the descent, including any stops, so at this steady rhythm allowed me to make up time against my 13.5 hour schedule.
15. How did you organise drink/nutrition?
I knew I would need a lot of calories to complete my Everesting bike challenge. I also knew that the biggest risk would be the infamous ‘hunger knock’ or ‘bonk’. If this happened, I knew I probably wouldn’t make it.
Forcing yourself to eat and drink is critical, even though you may not feel like it.
My nutrition was a bit experimental given I hadn’t done anything similar before. I aimed for as many calories as possible that can ideally be consumed on the bike. I managed to stick to my eating schedule of jam rolls, mars bars and protein bars until about halfway through when I couldn’t stomach much more and switched to bananas and more liquids.
In terms of liquids, I mixed up sports drinks, water and coca cola for the later laps when I needed a bit of a pick-me-up. I aimed for 1 to 1.5 litres of fluids per climb (around 10 litres for the whole ride).
I also thought about cramping, which is a particular risk given the length of the effort and the hot temperatures. I used SaltStick (a supplement with sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium) and took three capsules after each climb. Many electrolyte tablets don’t have enough salt and in particular sodium chloride if you’re a “salty sweater” like I am. If you find thick salt on your jersey and helmet straps after a long day of cycling in the sun, this might be you too!
The strategy seemed to work well as I felt quite strong throughout, despite the fatigue in the later stages.
16. What were the best and worst things about Everesting on Alpe d’Huez?
The history and majesty of the mountain give it a very special feeling to climb. I liked the mental aspect of having fewer big climbs rather than more little ones! Ticking off each climb gives a tangible milestone. It’s quite a solitary undertaking, so having Clare and my kids there on some of the refuelling stops was great.
Descending Alpe d’Huez, surrounded by incredible mountain panoramas, is a joy if you like riding down mountain hairpins and I would be doing it seven times! Each descent was around 15 minutes of carving through the 21 hairpins.
The beauty of Everesting is that it’s simple and accessible – a real challenge but attainable by anyone who puts their mind to it with determination. For me, it was unlike anything I had tried before and a real unknown in terms of how my body would respond and whether I could complete it. Since completing the Everest I have heard about someone completing a double Everest over 32 hours – so there’s always something even more extreme!
In terms of downsides, Alpe d’Huez can be quite busy with cars, lorries and cyclists. Not a big problem but you need to keep your wits about you, especially on the descents and when you’re tired later on during the ride. I found this less of an issue than I had expected but of course the first rule of any ride is rider safety and making it home safely!
17. How does everesting Alpe du Zwift compare with everesting it in real life?
Virtual everesting would be possible on the virtual equivalent of Alpe d’Huez – Alpe du Zwift. However, to be absolutely honest I can’t say how the two would compare. I really don’t want to attempt an Alpe du Zwift everesting; everesting on a bike is monotonous enough, I couldn’t face being on an indoor trainer for that long!
Have you completed an Everesting challenge?
Tell us about it in the comments below: where did you do it, how did it go, what tips do you have?
Books about Everesting
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