I dare women to dream big, put their strengths together, and go out and achieve the impossible. – Katya Crema
On International Women’s Day we shed light on the collective force of a group of female athletes who set out to conquer Everest. These twenty five women barely knew each another three months ago, but on February 7th they came together to climb 202,584 meters in less than twenty hours on Mt. Donna Buang near Melbourne. This is one of the biggest mass Everesting attempts and a true display of athleticism.
Katya Crema is a ski racer by trade and a competitor at heart who shares her experience to give other women the confidence to get on the bike and challenge themselves, whether that be a 30km ride, one ascent of a favourite mountain, or an Everest. While much of her story is positive, she unveils the blood, sweat and tears that went in to the three month journey.
Katya Crema’s Story on Everesting:
8,848 metres. The magical number. The ultimate goal. The height of the world’s largest mountain. Mount Everest.
What does Mount Everest have to do with cycling? Up until a few weeks back, I was asking myself the same thing.
It all started when the founder of Hells 500 and Domestique came to me with a suggestion. He asked if I would be interested in attempting an “Everesting” up Mount Donna Buang. The concept is a reasonably straight forward one. « Climb the equivalent of sea level to the summit of Mt. Everest (8,848m) in one ride, simply by doing repeats of a single hill. » Easy as that.
In reality, not so easy. At this stage I had ridden Mount Donna Buang once. 9 laps up Donna was almost inconceivable. After hearing stories of this outrageous concept buzzing around the Melbourne cycling scene, the idea intrigued me, however I have to admit that there was no huge desire to complete one myself. It was merely a far-fetched craze that seemed only for the foolish. It was then that I found out I would not be alone. The plan was for 25 girls to take on the challenge together. Now this intrigued me! I couldn’t resist the chance of being apart of something so unique, so powerful, something entirely positive for women’s cycling and women’s sport in general. So I accepted the challenge.
I have been a National Ski Team athlete on the Australian Team for 8 years and have competed in two Winter Olympics. This challenge well and truly forced me out of my comfort zone. The plan for this summer (my first summer in Australia in 13 years…) was to be a little more relaxed than previous years. Decrease the training volume and intensity, and do a few more things for fun. Little did I know it would be a summer filled with more blood, sweat and tears than I could have imagined.
November 2014. Three months to go.
A unique group of 25 women from around Australia were selected to take part in the Everesting challenge. A few of the women I knew from around the cycling scene in Melbourne, however the majority I was yet to meet until that day.
A private Facebook page titled “In Search of Up” was initiated by the founder of Hells 5000, Andy Van Bergen, and that’s when the excitement really began. The Facebook page allowed each of us to share ideas, stories, fears, nerves and enthusiasm. Sarah Hammond, one of the more experienced endurance riders, shared stories of her front bike lights conking out descending Mount Buffalo in the middle of the night on her first Everest attempt. I was quick to put “backup lights” on my Everest checklist. Another told a story of a disappointing Garmin malfunction in the rain. Zip lock bags and a spare Garmin were also thrown on the checklist. The banter had begun, and it would not stop until we crossed that elusive finish line. We discussed nutrition, equipment, safety, training plans, descending technique, emergency first aid…. Anything and everything that was relevant to the challenge that lay ahead.
One week to go
One week leading into the event, nerves were on edge. I would lie in bed, reciting a long list of items to prepare before the big day. The longest ride I had done prior to the Everesting was the Audax Alpine Classic in Bright just two weeks prior. 200kms and 4000 vertical metres. It took just under 9 hours to finish and I was utterly exhausted afterwards. Everything hurt. The Everesting would be double this.
To ease the nerves, I began to devise a list titled “In Search of Up: The Ultimate Preparation.” One thing I learnt from my Olympic ski racing career was that preparation is key. The more you prepare, the better chance you give yourself of succeeding. As an athlete, I used to prepare absolutely everything I had control over. I would spend endless hours sharpening my ski edges and waxing my bases prior to a ski race. From the age of 12, I would be in the tuning room until midnight waxing my skis for the third time, making sure that they were in perfect condition. I took this same approach into the Everesting. My preparation list ended up being four pages long…
One day to go
The friendly banter on Facebook continued. I could sense the girls were as nervous as I was, yet excited at the same time. I was ready to jump on my bike and get this thing over and done with!
The type of nerves I felt before the Everesting were similar to those experienced the night before my first Olympic Games event in Vancouver 2010. A strange mixture of adrenaline, excitement and pure fear takes over your thoughts. However this type of nervousness had an additional element… the fear of the unknown. Whilst I didn’t have quite the same amount of pressure on myself to perform, the fear of how my body would respond to 19 hours plus on the bike was intimidating. What if I cramped half way through? What if my lights conked out in the dark? What if I simply could no longer continue?
The start time approaches
Each of the girls attempted to get a few hours of sleep on the Friday afternoon, however as you would expect, nerves, excitement and 35 degree summer heat got the better of us. I ended up plodding around the house, double and triple checking my list, deliberating over which of my favourite Rapha kits to wear, preparing the last of my peanut butter and banana sandwiches, cooling the last batch of stove top coffee to be jarred up for the ride.
By 9:30pm, I couldn’t stand being at home any longer. It was time. Wide awake, I left home in the dark. An incredible full moon, deep yellow in colour, slowly rose above me as I drove into the night towards the dark and ominous Mount Donna Buang.
As I pulled into the meeting spot at the base of the mountain, clearly I was not the only one who had jumped the gun. About 10 of the 20 girls had already arrived, and were preparing their bikes and equipment for a midnight start time.
With helmet lights switched on, Garmin’s mounted and jersey pockets packed with Cliff bars and bananas, under the light of a full moon, 25 brave women lined up for what would be one hell of a memorable experience. It would be the largest-ever mass Everesting attempt since the extreme challenge was launched nearly a year ago. No one could quite predict what was to come in the following 24 hours. Could we finish? Is this achievable? Are we just plain old crazy?
We took off as a group and steadily rolled up Mount Donna Buang for the first time. There was chatter and laughter. Nerves rapidly began to dissipate. No more planning, no more questions, after 3 months of anticipation we were actually doing this! The road to the summit was dark with glimpses of silver light splintering through the tall tree canopies. Having ridden Donna only once before, I was trying to recollect where I was on the mountain. Rolling into Cement Creek, the blissful sound of the flowing water was a reminder that we were at the halfway point. 200m of heavenly flat road followed, as we turned left and up for the second half of the climb. This 30 second section of the road would be the only break our legs and lungs would receive on the entire climb.
As we reached the summit of our first ascent 1 hour and 20 minutes later, I felt a sense of relief. The climb was achievable, conditions were faultless and most importantly we were all in this together. Only 8 more laps to go… I tried to push this thought out of my mind.
As I powered up my helmet light to prepare for the descent, I could finally get a sense of my surrounds. A beautiful meandering road lay ahead, completely empty, still and silent. The fun part had arrived. The first descent in the eerie darkness was a moment I will forever cherish. Adrenaline took over and I was completely alert. I flew down Mount Donna Buang, attempting to take it all in.
The crossover between cycling and ski racing is phenomenal. The skills I have learnt in downhill skiing are completely translatable. Line, speed, aerodynamics, confidence, measured risk, reaction time, managing nerves and adrenaline. If you can conquer these skills in one sport, I believe you can quickly translate them to another. My Garmin would later tell me that I reached a max speed of 86.3km/hour on my descent. I don’t think Mum will be too happy about that one…
Lap 3 was when the hurt began. By this stage we had been riding for just over 4 hours and the adrenaline was starting to wear thin. We would have another full ascent and descent in the dark before the sun would even begin to peek its head above the horizon. By this stage, the women had separated, each riding their own ride. There were moments where I felt like I was the only rider on that mountain. An overwhelming feeling, tapping up an unfamiliar mountain at 4 in the morning with nothing but yourself, your bike, the trees, the moonlight, and a single white light guiding you up.
As the sun began to rise, I convinced myself that it was the start of a new day. Time for a quick breakfast out of the boot of the car. A chilled jar of home brewed stovetop coffee and a cheesymite scroll did the trick. I was good to go again. Three laps down, five to go.
As we approached “sane” riding hours, cyclists began to pop up all over the place on Mount Donna Buang in support of the Everesting.
“How many laps?” I was asked by a cyclist in his late 60s.
“This is lap 4,” I mumbled, trying to inhale the last of my banana cake.
“You’re flying! Keep going!”
And he was off. I was incredibly envious of his fresh legs…
Words of encouragement from supporters of all ages out to roll a lap or two made the world of difference. It didn’t seem to matter what we were talking about. Relaxed conversation seemed to take our minds off the suffering we felt in our bodies.
The final laps
By lap 6 (6,600m vertical), the suffering had really started to kick in. To top it off, Donna delivered what she is renowned for…. bad weather. Rain clouds began to open up on the summit, turning a pleasant summer’s day into a frozen one. By the time I reached the bottom of lap 6, wet through, all I could think about was turning straight back around to warm up again. The rain wasn’t enough to stop us, merely an obstacle on the path to Everesting.
Lap 6 passed. Lap 7 passed. Even after 16 long and arduous hours, there were still smiles from each of the women as we passed each other on the mountain. It was the fist pumps, the head nods, the cheers of encouragement and the “yewwwws” that gave us the kick of energy we needed to get up that next brutal lap, that final kilometer, that last steep 200 metres.
It was the power of being in this together that I believe got each of us through.
18 hours and 45 minutes later, my Garmin ticked over the magical 8,848m in vertical ascent. Just to be sure, I took it up to 8,890m. Could you imagine loading your the ride onto Strava, only to realize you missed out on the Everest by 4 vertical metres? What a tragedy that would be!
The Everesting was truly an unforgettable experience. I feel so incredibly privileged to have been apart of such an inspiring group of women. Although each of us rode our own ride, we shared the same goal, we backed ourselves, we supported each other and we achieved the unthinkable. We Everested.
Whilst a couple didn’t quite get there in the end, every rider out there fought their absolute hardest, and achieved new goals way behind their previous bests.
From this experience, I have learnt that the force behind a collective group of people is so much more powerful than one persons’ individual goal. I hope this experience gives other women the confidence to get on a bike and challenge themselves, whether that be a 30km ride, one ascent of a favourite mountain, or an Everest. I dare women to dream big, put their strengths together, and go out and achieve the impossible.
A huge thanks to:
Andy van Bergen
The Spin Room
Colin Bell – Cornering & Breaking Course.
First aid course
Sarah Hammond – For guiding as through many of our first Everesting’s by being a mentor and a leader. And for answering all of our insane questions!
Thank you to everyone who came out for a lap, two or multiple, and shared their support of an incredible achievement.
These women all deserve some kudos:
Here are the names and activities of woman involved.The 10k refers to the girls that pressed on to complete 10,000m in a single ride.
Katya Crema http://app.strava.com/activities/251844582
Gaye Bourke (10k) http://www.strava.com/activities/251399804
Jennifer Brown http://app.strava.com/activities/251880168
Doris Marr (10k) http://app.strava.com/activities/251421336
Justine Barrow http://app.strava.com/activities/251425063
Bianca Pickett http://app.strava.com/activities/251369536
Verita Stewart http://app.strava.com/activities/251426990
Courtney Henry http://app.strava.com/activities/251441465
Kirsten Horsburgh http://app.strava.com/activities/251730589
Irene Sheppard http://app.strava.com/activities/253666987
Anna Thomson http://app.strava.com/activities/251713652
Ania Ligas http://app.strava.com/activities/251985157
Sarah Hammond (10k) http://www.strava.com/activities/251479026
Purdie Long http://app.strava.com/activities/251716874
Adele Gunston http://app.strava.com/activities/254149573
Kat Carter http://app.strava.com/activities/251453215
Prita Jobling-Baker http://app.strava.com/activities/251354382
Nicole van Bergen http://app.strava.com/activities/251703460
Hazel Porter http://app.strava.com/activities/251858427