How I climbed the height of Everest in a single day

Shaun O’Dwyer climbed up his local hill 146 times. He climbed more than 30,000 feet. In a single day. Here’s a write-up of just how much it hurt.

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Guest blog by Shaun O’Dwyer.
Photos by www.julielomaxphotography.co.uk

The inspiration

I first read about the ‘Everesting’ challenge last year. It sounded fairly straightforward in theory – find a hill to ride up and down until you’ve completed 8,848M (29.035ft) of vertical ascent ie. the same height as Everest.

I wanted to have a go.

The preparation

I then went on to read a few blogs of people that had actually completed it and the challenges that they faced. The thing that carried over from one story to the next was that this was a ‘proper’ challenge. Not something to enter into without some decent preparation.

I started thinking about what I’d need to do.

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Where to ride?

First step was to visit the Everesting calculator. Just add in a Strava hill segment and it gives you how many laps it will take and what the total ride distance will be. I trialled quite a few and got a few surprises with the distance that would have to be covered (it’s easy to forget you have to descend as well but it all adds time to a long day).

The most iconic climb near to me has got to be Sheephouse Lane but a ride length of 200 miles(!) and the amount of traffic visiting on a weekend ruled it out.

So next I had a look at Foxholes/Winter Hill. Doing the full routes both gave big mileages. There was a segment at the bottom of Winter Hill from George’s Lane up to the first cattle grid that was short and steep with no flat bits in. After the cattle grid there’s a sign that says no cycling allowed and I wouldn’t have to go past it (although most do).

The calculator said 123 laps, 106 miles duration. Game on.

Trial and error

A few months before my proper attempt at Everesting I pitched up at Foxholes one Sunday morning. I parked the car at the top of the segment – the experienced say always park at the top, if your car’s at the bottom when it gets tough you’re much more likely to get in it and drive off than do another ascent!

I had brought plenty of food/fluids and some mechanical spares. The intention was to try to get into the zone where it got hard and either push on or realise it was unachievable and come back when better trained.

Pessimistically, I started early. After only a few ascents I realised it wasn’t a good day to be doing it. There was a really strong headwind and the segment height was coming up shorter than advertised on Strava. After about 3 hours I decided to just treat it as a training session and stop at 10,000ft. For the last hour I pushed it a little harder and then called it quits.

Looking at the elevation from that ride, I was going to need to do 141 laps. If a sustainable average was 10 laps an hour that’s a fairly big difference!

I shelved the idea over the winter.

The so-called off-season

I was getting plenty of riding in during the off-season though. For 2016 I booked loads of events really early (mainly triathlon and running). I also tried getting into the Fred Whitton but didn’t make the lottery draw. Everesting actually seemed a natural replacement challenge to the Fred. The great thing now was I could do it when suited me.

In the January I pencilled a date on the calendar for the weekend of February 20/21st.

I mentioned it on Facebook and a few friends said they fancied it. Great! The more the merrier.

10,000ft attempt

Two weeks before I did quite a hard off-road duathlon on the Saturday. Waking up on Sunday with legs that were completely shot I thought I’d try the Everesting hill again – with 10,000ft a target for the day. I felt really bad from the start but managed to get over 8,000ft and knew if I had to I could push for 10,000 but it wouldn’t have done my body many favours so I stopped.

After looking at sunrise/sunset times I decided to start early with the logic that dark laps when fresh would be much better than dark laps when it all gets a bit ugly.

Back to the internet research which suggested 0400hrs start time, with an estimated ride time of about 14/15 hours on top. I put this suggesiton on Facebook and received quite a few responses – mainly to wish me luck or seek psychiatric evaluation rather than anyone inviting themselves along.

Friday February 19th came along and the coach and founder of the Tri Rivington (Ray McGloin) put a status out on Facebook with a reminder of the challenge to members and a bit of a rallying call for support on the day if people could make it.

It must have been a slow news night.  There were loads of people wishing luck, saying that they’d pop over on foot to cheer or to cycle a few laps. No going back now!

There were even two lads who wanted to come out at 0400hrs to help start off the challenge with me.

The night before

Saturday 20th. I gave the bike a good clean, replaced the 53/39 with a compact and put some new bar tape on as well (might as well be comfortable). Then I did some testing with the GPS kit I was going to record the ride on. I’ve got a triathlon GPS watch and a regular GPS computer and intended to use both. They’re both fitted with barometric altimeters but I’ve had problems with the computer’s readings before so wanted the backup of the watch. The computer can auto lap by position so I included a ‘lap’ in the display and then trial charged it while it was recording with no problem. The trial charging on the watch however made it stop recording and would split the ride. Fingers crossed with a full battery it might just last.

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The big day

Sunday 21st 0320hrs – alarm goes off. I get dressed downstairs and get into the pre-loaded car while chewing a bit of malt loaf.

As I got closer, it was not only raining but really foggy as well. It was hard to see where I was going with the car headlights. “This should be interesting on the bike!”

Up to the top of the segment whereupon I unloaded and put the bike together. I left a full water bottle within easily accessible next to the car (I didn’t want to make it any harder).

There was nobody else around (I couldn’t blame them really) so this is it then, show time!

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First descent and I’d be surprised if I went over 15mph. The visibility really was bad. If I lifted my light high to see far down the road it just reflected in the fog and I couldn’t see at all. Lower down the hill I could see a bit better but still not very far. I turned at the bottom, then headed back up. No problems with the lighting on the way up.

First lap done

The computer gave me a ‘Lap 1’ and time of around 5 minutes but there was also a problem. The watch recorded 213ft elevation, the computer only 14ft. I wasn’t worrying about it too much though as I couldn’t do anything about it.

A few more laps and the descents were getting better. I was picking out the various strips of overbanding and using them as braking markers for the tightish left hand bend at the bottom of the segment.

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On the fourth decent and there was a cyclist at the bottom, laughing at the size of the light I had fitted to the front of the bike. It was Andrew from Tri Rivington, all-round top bloke and – it would seem – early riser. We did a few laps together. He said he’d try and stay until around lunch if he could manage it.

A few more laps went by. Both of us chatting on the ascents and concentrating on the descents. It was after about number 10 as I went to U-turn that I heard the shout, “Nnnooo!”

Crawling out of a ditch

I came to a standstill as Andrew flew past not having slowed down sufficiently. His brakes had come back to the bars and – not growing up around BMXs in the eighties as I did – he thought there was no option but to plant himself in the verge at the end of the road. It wasn’t really a crash, just more of a fast slowing down in the grass. We adjusted the barrel adjusters and were good to go again (the extra distance on that lap shows up on the gps trace).

After a few more laps it was getting light enough to see things that were beyond the bike light’s beam. It was around 0700hrs and we stopped for a bit of food. It was only a ten minute break but the difference to the light was a lot.

The descent was now game-on all the way down until the corner at the bottom. The reservoir to the south was in view as well as the Pike to the west. If I was going to be here all day, the view was going to help.

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It occurred to me at this point that as much as I’d had my spirits lifted by the sun getting lighter, the opposite was probably going to happen with it went back down again. Time to crack on!

Another couple of laps and my companion said he might sit one out. After sitting two out he decided that he was done.

Support crew

After about another 45 minutes of solo laps another Tri Rivington member turned up. He couldn’t stop as he was on his way to join the Sunday club run, but said he’d call by later. They leave at 0900hrs and are generally back by 12 ish. I thought to myself at that point just how big a ride this was set to be. I’d done five hours already and once the club run got back I’d maybe be at the halfway point all being well.

The next lap saw my first long stop. My wife Catherine turned up in the car with a large latte, a larger still bowl of granola and our four year old son Aaron. I was over 10,000ft and quite happy to spend a bit of time sat in a warm car.

Behind schedule

I had a quick look at the schedule and realised it was slipping a little. I had only put it together to use as a guide for an estimated finishing time so wasn’t overly worried. It felt more important to take on food and keep the pace sustainable rather than chase a finish time.

As Cath left I got back on my bike and I wasn’t feeling too bad at all. I was tired from lack of sleep rather than riding the bike.

Another two members of the triathlon club turned up within minutes. A couple of pleasantries exchanged and they both told me just to crack on as they got off and walked a bit of the section. I got down to the bottom in time to see two good friends and local runners both full of enthusiasm for just about everything!

I was still having no problem with the cycling but I was being a little torn in that I wanted to chat to people that had made an effort to come and show support. But I also knew that I had to get the laps in or else I’d be well into the dark hours to finish.

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Flying solo

Everyone left. The laps ticked by quite easily. The wind was getting up and giving a bit of a shove up the main straight which was very welcome. My GPS devices continued to be miles apart in their readings, the watch consistently recording 233ft per lap and the computer… all over the place!

I decided if the battery held on the watch I’d stop when it read 29.035ft. The way it was recording, that was going to be about 125 laps. If it didn’t last, I decided that I’d have no choice but to play things safe and allow 200ft per climb from corrected elevation on the computer. This was 146 laps – an extra 21!

Yet more cyclists turned up who had heard of the challenge. There were still people turning up on foot as well to wish good luck from the side of the road. Even the local elite triathlete turned up with a friend on a training ride join for a few reps.

The lap time I was getting at the top told me I wasn’t really slowing down and was still feeling okay. It was around now that I took a picture of the altitude gained on the watch (just over 17,000ft). I’d done the same thing earlier at around 6,000ft and it wasn’t until later that I’d compare the pictures and see how hard the ride was on my bike and kit. There’s a big difference in how clean the forks look.

I stopped for another sit down break and chatted with a few people while tucking into some homemade rice cakes. If they’re good enough for Team Sky…

Back on the bike

Back on the bike and through 20,000ft. I knew that I’d be okay at this point; I felt better than the day after the duathlon a fortnight ago when I’d gone out to start a 10,000ft day.

More people turned up. Lots of encouragement. 22,000ft and a low battery warning on the watch. Oh dear!

It was about 1600hrs and getting colder. The wind had changed to a fairly nasty side-wind that blew in gusts on the descent to make it a bit tricky.

Gimme chips!

Cath turned up again asking if I had any requests for dinner. I’d been riding for about 12 hours now and decided I wanted a bit of warm comfort food. I really fancied a bag of chips! Request relayed and she took off to try and find a shop open, while I tried to get in some more laps.

It turned out there weren’t very many fish and chip shops open. Cath returned at about 1715hrs with two big cups of tea and a bag of chips. Perfect! I was going to eat them sat in the car and have a bit of a break again.

The way things were going I’d be finished for about 1930hrs. As I got off the bike I thought I’d take another picture of the watch but the screen was blank. That was going to mean I’d have to do an extra 21 laps. Another two hours to add on to my estimated finish time.

Anyway, the chips were awesome. Hands down the best food I’ve ever had. I had a bit of a stretch, drank both cups of tea and said that I’d meet Cath at home once it was done.

Here comes the rain

As she left it went dark and I had another visitor pop by with a large coffee just as it started raining as well. A brief chat and a monsoon started. I gratefully drank the coffee and returned to going up and down.

Another few hours in the dark with no problems. A nice bit of solitude before another repeat visitor turned up thinking I’d be nearly finished based on earlier estimates. He’d also brought me a full roast dinner! I didn’t want to stop now as it was getting later all the time (probably about 1930hrs at this point). I thought I’d be finished by around 2115hrs. I didn’t want him to sit at the top of the hill for nearly two hours in pitch black so suggested he return nearer 2100hrs. Grudgingly he agreed.

Only a few more laps passed before another repeat visit from an earlier tri club couple. I used the same speech: it wasn’t worth hanging around as there wasn’t much to see… I was fine… but it would be a few hours yet… best thing to do would be come back later.

I was told in no uncertain terms that they were staying for the duration. As guilty as I felt for taking up their time, it was nice to have the friendly faces on each lap. A few more laps and another couple turned up. Everyone was sat in the same car with windows rolling down to give me a cheer as I appeared, then rolling back up again to escape the weather after I’d passed.

I was going to finish

The earlier supporter turned up around 2030hrs (the maker of the “finest roast dinners in Bolton”) and actually ran up one of the ascents with me. People were taking it in turns to have a walk along the course and give encouragement.

I felt tired but was 100% sure I was going to finish.

The last lap. Everybody got to the top to cheer me across the imaginary finish line.

Job done

On reflection I’m really grateful to everybody that came out but especially those at the end. The finish was a real occasion because they were there. If I’d been on my own I think there’s a real danger it would have felt like a bit of a non-event.

Much to my protesting of being fine, my supporters decided they were going to drive me home in case I suddenly suffered from some deadly cramps. It seemed like fuss at the time but I suppose it’s a fair point and it all added to the occasion!

When I got home, even though it was late, I had to get the ride uploaded and elevation corrected or I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

The few minutes that it took for the correction were a little tense but then it came back with 30,338ft so I was happy.

I wouldn’t be going back out. Job done.

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https://www.strava.com/activities/499254810

Thanks to

I’d really like to thank everybody that came out on the day and Julie Lomax for taking the photographs.

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6 Comments
  1. Already gave kudos Sean when I saw it on Strava – great stuff mate!!
    I’ve done 21,000 twice in training for ours on 3rd / 4th June on Blackstone Edge 🙂 Game on as you said!!

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