We just wrapped up the Climbing Challenge, which was to climb the cumulative elevation of Mt. Everest. To be clear, that is 8,848 meters (29,029ft) — no small feat to do in 20 days or less. But there are a number of outliers who attempted to climb that elevation all in one day. It’s called “Everesting” and it all started with a bunch of cyclists who liked riding in the hills and kept pushing it higher into the mountains.
Of the 47,658 athletes that participated in the Climbing Challenge, 8,008 completed it. 43 athletes did it in one activity. And one athlete, Scott Cole, actually completed three separate Everesting attempts. Checkout the Climbing Challenge heatmap of where the Strava community logged a cumulative 210,775657 meters of climbing.
Australian cyclist Andy van Bergen completed a 10K Everesting of The Panorama (average 9%) on November 22nd. We caught up with him to get the history and background on Everesting and learn more about the Hells 500.
Who was the first known person to come up with this idea of Everesting?
In 1994 George Mallory was building up his endurance levels prior to retracing his famous grandfather’s footsteps on the slopes of Mount Everest. He found cycling to be a great low-impact form of cross training, and a particular mountain on the outskirts of Melbourne (Mount Donna Buang) seemed to be the ideal length and gradient for sustained repeat efforts.
I wondered how many times I could cycle up in a day. Was it five, or six? Or, maybe I should aim for eight! By doing eight laps of the hill my vertical gain would be 8,800 metres, approximately the altitude of Mt Everest. Would this be possible?
During his training he slowly built up the reps of the mountain — first four, then five, then six. In March 1994 he decided to increase on the six laps he had previously repeated in his best effort and do another two, to notch up to the height of Everest.
He went on to complete the equivalent height of Everest, as well as climbing the actual mountain. “Everesting is not really like the real thing. Having climbed Everest’s north ridge in 1995, I can confidently say that an everest ride is physically harder than any one day on Everest. But on Everest, a mountaineer needs to do several hard days in succession with limited food and recovery.”
The cycling version does not involve taking three months off work and burning a bunch of fossil fuels. All you need is a bike, a hill and a lot of determination.
20 years on from that original idea, Hells 500 took on the concept for their annual ‘epic’. With more than 120 riders sworn to secrecy, and after a few months of training, more than 65 riders simultaneously took off on their own personal Everesting. 45 would succeed, and the challenge was born.
How has Everesting evolved and what is Hells 500 doing to support it?
Originally the focus was very much on one rider being the first to Everest a hill, and claim it as their own — a throwback to the romance of mountaineering and the race to be first. The focus has shifted now. Firsts are important, but equally important are permutations of the concept. The longest (501km), the shortest (95km), the most reps (850) and a dozen other categories.
After kick starting this madness, Hells 500 acts as the custodians of the concept. A hall of fame lists the details of each and every attempt in data-rich detail. One of the benefits of using Strava is that riders can dissect every element of their ride — from the infographic which creates a 3-D image of the Strava segment they rode through to the nitty-gritty detail of power, heart rates, a breakdown of the climb, and even the amount of KOM’s each rider currently holds.
Through the @hells500 Instagram and Twitter feed and #everesting hashtag we are all able to watch these attempts play out in real time.
What type of recognition do you give to an athlete who has completed this Challenge?
Athletes who complete the challenge enter what has been touted as one of the “world’s most exclusive clubs”. In addition to having their name etched against their own personal ‘Everest’, they also receive an infographic containing the key ride information which can be shared with their friends. Members of the ‘club’ also receive access to exclusive gear commemorating their effort. In addition to this, any athlete that completed the Strava Climbing Challenge in one ride as an Everesting attempt will be sent a beautiful collector’s edition etched titanium medallion featuring the illustration of master-scribbler Ron Nott.
How many athletes are currently in the Hall of Fame?
The hall of fame currently houses more than 280 efforts from more than 200 Strava athletes. 45 of those were completed in November 2014 during the Climbing Challenge. Check them out and give them each some much deserved kudos.
What are some of the success stories you’ve heard?
One of the unique things about the Everesting Challenge is that it can be undertaken anywhere in the world, on any mountain, hill, or lump. Each ride is different since participants select their preferred distance, gradient, and setting. As a result each attempt has it’s own personality and story, but the one common thread is that there is no such thing as an easy Everesting!
That said, the stories of triumph over adversity always tend to win through. Stories of riders sitting in the rain for 24 hours, of being defeated by a hill only to return another time and claim it, and of attempts in the blazing heat, or with snow on the ground.
There have also been a large number of attempts for charity — from lost dog shelters to medical research, down syndrome charities and all manner in between. The idea that this concept can be leveraged for a bigger and more important message is an amazing thing.
All efforts should be recognized, even the failed attempts. Who deserves some kudos?
In the first month or two of the concept launch, we had a pretty good idea of each upcoming attempt and where they were riding. It meant that we also had a good feel for the attrition rate (it’s high). As the challenge has grown the situation is reversed. We know anecdotally of the failed attempts, but really we are only seeing a small fraction of these.
We have heard of riders having more than four attempts at the same hill, of near misses (there are many victims of the 7,000m+ ‘death zone’), and of unexpected encounters in the night with local wildlife.
They say it takes a village to move a mountain, would you say the same about climbing one? What ways have you seen communities support these efforts.
The untold story around Everesting is the behind the scenes work that goes into each ride. The family, friends, and partners that sit by the road, roll laps in the darkness of the night, and often climb up to half the elevation alongside their mates is impressive. There is a definite feeling that if you have completed an Everesting there is an unspoken duty to go out and meet new attempts. When you have been through hell yourself you have a pretty good idea about the importance of support.
This support can be remote (especially via social media), but quite often it results in big crowds coming and riding Rich Kemp’s recent 18-hour Everesting of Mps, during which he did not ride a single lap by himself. More than 100 people visited throughout the day — captured beautifully in this Flyby: http://labs.strava.com/flyby/viewer/#200960130.
Anything else we should know?
A word of warning with Everesting. Because it will take you to the edge of your own capabilities, the post-ride high (mixed nicely with DOMS) is curiously addictive. The number of repeat offenders is growing rapidly.
With that in mind, we recently launched the cruel and slightly sadistic SSSS. Each ‘S’ represents a style of Everesting that needs to be knocked off to qualify. The ‘Significant’ ride needs to be an iconic climb. ‘Soil’ is to be completed 100% off paved roads. ‘Suburban’ has riders heading through residential areas in search of up, and ‘Short’ needs to be a ride of less than 200km (including the descents. It’s steep!). Each ‘S’ needs to be it’s own ride, and at least one of them needs to be more than 10,000 vertical metres.
Please share any background info on Everesting.cc and Hells 500 that might be nice to include.
We liked the fact that as hill riders we were on the fringe, so rather than race we would set ourselves goals that no-one else was attempting. The pre-requisite for any challenge that we set was that it had to be tough. To qualify, it needed to be too difficult to just go out and ride it. We would spend months training up for each new epic, usually timed with the onset of spring. This meant that the crux of our training every year was undertaken in the cold, dark, and wet winters when everyone else would stay under the doona.
It was this approach that would eventually lead to the mark of the cloud emblazoned on every Hells 500 rider’s arm. It is a symbol that reminds others that while they are taking it easy over winter, that’s when we ride the most. Each challenge completed led to another more difficult, as these things tend to do. Soon we were clipping in on a hellish two-day 500km epic through the High Country, including 10,000m of climbing. It was all kinds of tough, and word travelled. We started to get introduced as “those Hells 500 guys”. It stuck. Hells 500 riders are not afraid of the odd epic. In fact, the odder they are, the greater the appeal.
Have you completed an Everesting? Do you have plans to? Share your story or questions in the comments below.
Photos from Kirsten Simpson.