EVEREST IN A DAY
Features editor al finds out if it's possible to climb (and descend) 8,848m on one mountain in 12 hours
Our Features Ed, Al, finds out if it’s possible to climb (and descend) 8,848m – the equivalent of the world’s highest mountain – in just one day.
Everesting is a pure challenge of skill, stamina and strength. The rules, set out by the Hells 500 club, state that you need to ascend the equivalent of Mount Everest – that’s 8,848m – in one continuous ride, lapping the same route. It’s man versus mountain, stripping everything back to basics. There’s no getting off to walk the steep bits. And doping is a definite no-no. Including, unfortunately for me, mechanical doping.
That’s right, you’ve got me. Guilty as charged. As a professional keyboard basher, not a hardcore endurance racer, I couldn’t attempt a ride of this magnitude without some kind of help. My weapon of choice would be a Cannondale Moterra LT1 with 250w of pedalling assistance. I knew I’d get flack for ‘cheating’, but even with an e-bike it would be no mean feat. Climbing 8,848m is the equivalent of seven ascents of Ben Nevis or nearly 20 of Cwmcarn’s Cafall trail, and I’d still be adding my own pedal power the whole way.
I wouldn’t just be coasting back down either. I’d chosen to attempt the challenge on Le Pleney, in Morzine – a French mountain that’s famous for its black-graded downhill track. During my desk-bound fantasies of completing this mammoth task, I’d calculated that I’d need to do roughly 19 runs of the mountain. That would give me just 45 minutes for each ‘lap’, so I’d have to pedal hard enough to keep the e-bike right at its 15.5mph motor cutout point on the climbs and descend the root and rock-riddled DH run as fast as I dared.
Muddying the waters
Sitting at the top of Le Pleney at 8am in the pouring rain isn’t exactly a dream riding experience, but here I am, in the name of pushing my body, bike and temperament to the limit. I’ve whizzed to the top of the 500m climb in just 17 minutes, when it normally takes 36
As a keyboard basher, not a hardcore endurance racer, I couldn’t attempt a ride of this magnitude without some kind of help
My feet are soaked after the fIrst few turns and the braking bumps are more like doubles. This isn’t going to be a ride in the park!
on my trail bike. But summiting the mountain in double time has taken its toll – there are only three bars out of five remaining on the Cannondale’s battery indicator.
Although it’s cold and I’m already drenched with sweat and soaked by the rain, the corners of my mouth turn up at the prospect of the first descent. As I land from the first fadeaway on the downhill track, the bike’s 30kg weight and my full-to-the-brim backpack don’t go unnoticed. Normally I’d have chosen to ride a downhill bike for the monstrously rough, fast and long run that I’m going to be lapping for the next 12 hours. Adding another complication, the track is wet and sloppy after an overnight storm. Thankfully it’s not too slippery, but I could do without all the splashy puddles, given that I’ve got hours of riding to go. My feet are soaked after the first few turns and the braking bumps are more like doubles in places. This isn’t going to be a ride in the park!
Shake, rattle and roll
After just a couple of runs in the slop and gloop, my Moterra feels like it’s ready to be committed to the mountain bike graveyard. The drivetrain sounds like it’s cannibalising itself – the chain is getting sucked around the chainring and the gears are skipping. My heart starts to sink. I’ve barely started and already things are going wrong. Will I be able to complete the challenge?
I shift into the easiest gear to tension the chain and, pedalling as gently as possible, manage to – slowly – complete the ascent. After an uneventful descent, I coast down to the Torico bike shop in town. Thankfully, Lee, their top mechanic, is on hand to work his magic on my wounded bike. Despite fearing the worst, it’s soon running like new again, so off I go.
By mid-morning the weather has cleared and the descent is drying quicker than superglue stuck to your fingers, making it easier to ride faster. This is great fun to begin with, as I learn the smoothest and fastest lines, and begin to push the limits of the bike. I feel smug as I overtake riders on downhill bikes, imagining their faces as they realise it was an e-bike that just shot up the inside of them. But the extra speed soon becomes my own worst enemy. The vibrations and feedback from the washboard trail surface are shaking my arms, legs and brain to bits, and giving the bike a hard time too.
There are only two options on trails like this – go really slowly and weave round anything that looks remotely scary, or stay off the brakes and go balls to the wall. I decide on the latter. With time not on my side – especially after suffering two punctures – I have to deal with the pain in my arms and the sound of my bike slowly disintegrating, and ride as hard and as fast as I can.
Clocking up four-and-a-half hours of riding time and covering 77km by 2.30pm, I decide to mark the halfway point by stopping for lunch. I head to The Cottage, a biker-friendly bar at the bottom of Le Pleney. The staff here have been helping me since the start of my challenge by recharging the batteries for my e-bike. After wolfing down some food, I grab a fresh power pack and hit the mountain again.
The après-lunch doldrums mean my legs feel like lead and my arms are wobbling like jelly but I have to keep going. I find motivation by watching the metres and kilometres tick
I have to deal with the pain in my arms and the sound of my bike slowly disintegrating, and ride as hard and as fast as I can
over as I get ever closer to my goal. Climbing parallel to the downhill track in places, I pass riders who’ve stopped for a rest on their way down the five-minute descent. Some just stare or look excited, while others tell me: “You’re cheating, mate!” I can understand why e-bikes are contentious, but I can’t help but reflect on the irony of being called a cheater by someone who’s taken a gondola up the mountain.
With time cracking on, I keep my head down and push hard. At 5.30pm the lifts close, the mountain clears of people and I’m left to enjoy the views and trails on my own, with most not willing, able or motivated to pedal to the top even once. I notice that the valley is filling with heavy, dark clouds and the air feels hot and close. A storm is brewing. And I’ve still got three more runs to go if I’m to make my goal of 8,848m of ascent in 12 hours.
As large raindrops start to fall, I ride the descent as fast as I can. Relying on my local knowledge (I lived in Morzine for eight years) and intuition to keep the bike pointing down the hill, I manage to beat the storm to the bottom. But as I turn around to head back up, the heavens open. The rain intensifies as I climb, but not to biblical levels – yet. I reach the turnaround point in record time, just as a flash of lightning illuminates the sky in front of me, followed by the loudest and most intimidating clap of thunder I’ve ever heard, which shakes the ground under my feet. The rain turns to hail and the wind goes from gentle breeze to gale-force in seconds.
My mind is flitting between ‘manning up’ and braving the lightning and golf-ball-sized hailstones, or waiting the storm out for 10 minutes in the gondola station. I opt for the latter, and it’s the right choice – the wind starts to batter the hailstones horizontally through the air and lightning strikes the ground close by. I quickly pull on my waterproofs and huddle in a corner to maintain my body heat and stay safe.
Once it looks safe enough to venture outside, I decide I’ve wasted enough time and throw caution to the (strong) wind. The trail has transformed into a swollen river but there’s still plenty of grip and I can push as hard as I was in the dry. The forest sections are treacherous, with newly-felled trees threatening to garrotte me with
The trail has transformed into a swollen river but there’s still plenty of grip and I can push as hard as I was in the dry
their branches. Dark clouds have blocked out most of the remaining light too, and when I take my goggles off to see better, my eyes quickly fill with mud and water. I struggle on to the bottom.
With nothing left to lose, I change the battery one last time and start the final ascent. The rain is pouring, my legs are tired and my arms are sore, but I don’t care. I feel triumphant – this is a victory lap! I’ve almost made my target of 8,848m of climbing, but I want to exceed it, to be certain of avoiding any disappointment.
I’d set out this morning believing that I’d smash the height challenge, maybe even doing a double Everest. But I’d totally underestimated the epic nature of it – the arm pump, the punishingly steep climbs, the amount of abuse the bike would take and the mental and physical strain of 2 hours of riding. As I embark on the final descent, I decide to take it easy, not wanting to tempt fate in the treacherous conditions.
I’m hoping for a welcoming party at the bottom – I’ve got my speech dialled and every word on the tip of my tongue! But as I roll down the final straight I can only spot three paltry figures – snapper Andy Lloyd, BikeRadar videographer Joe Norledge and my one true, faithful fan, Ben Winder, who’s been roped into cheering for me with the promise of free Haribo. They congratulate me and I head back to the van, away from the underwhelming reception and damp skies.
After taking off my soggy riding kit, I sit contemplating what I’ve just done. I’ve managed 19 full runs of Le Pleney, amassing 9,435m of climbing and the same amount of descending, and riding a total of 162km. Most people wouldn’t manage 19 runs of the downhill track even if they took the lift to the top. My hopes of delivering a world-beating speech may have been shattered, but I still feel like a champion.
Below Al may be smiling but this is a punishing climb and he had to pedal hard to keep his e-bike at its speed limit
Right The Pleney downhill track is a blast – but it’s hard to stay focused when you’ve been riding it for 12 hours straight
Left Al’s challenge would have been hard in any conditions but muddy tracks and torrential rain made it all the tougher, motor or no motor
Right With his e-bike and waterproof trousers, Al got some odd looks on the DH track, but still set some of the fastest times of the day!
Above Most people take the gondola to the top of Le Pleney, and even then, repeated runs take their toll on both bike and body
Below His fastest ascent took just 16mins 34secs and his quickest run back down was in 5mins 39secs. Al’s top speed of 60.1kmh was pretty impressive too!
Left Al had two flats and some early shifting issues, but managed to avoid any major mechanicals
Right The challenge took its toll on Al and he didn’t have much hair left by the end of it