Fea­tures edi­tor al finds out if it's pos­si­ble to climb (and de­scend) 8,848m on one moun­tain in 12 hours

Mountain Biking UK - - CONTENTS - Photos Andy Lloyd Words Alex Evans

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.

Fuel stop

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.

Sloppy se­conds

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.

Wel­com­ing party

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

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