Having done three Everestings, Velo Vietnam’s David Lloyd relates some of his experience and sets out some tips for taking on one of cycling’s more perverse challenges
The Everesting concept is simple: pick a hill and repeat it until your head unit reads 8,848m of gain. Straight up, straight back down. And herein lies one of the challenges – not just the amount of up, but the relentless repetition of the same slice of it. Here are the three Everestings to date in order of hardness:
Hardest: Wrynose Pass, England
Average 10.8% || Sections at 20%++
First rep: 13:56 || Last rep: 21:38
Moving: 13:00:34 || Elapsed: 15:03:04
Photograph: Wrynose Pass
Second hardest: Giong, Vietnam
Image: Velo Viewer file – plenty of red.
Photograph: A friend, Nick, descending Giong on a cooler day
Solo, unsupported, good conditions
Moving: 11:46:52 || Elapsed: 14:04:38
First rep: 14:06 || Last rep: 18:32
This climb has personal significance as this is one of the hills used for the Isla Climbing Challenge for Newborns Vietnam which I founded in 2017.
‘Easiest’: Ba Vi, Vietnam
Image: Velo Viewer file – less red, but plenty of 10%
Supported, good conditions
Moving time: 12:23:06
To prepare for an Everesting, plenty of climbing Ks is obviously the sensible way to go.
Alongside this, some ultra endurance rides, ideally beyond the projected duration of the Everesting attempt, are excellent prep.
This meant some very big rides in Vietnam. For example, pre-Wrynose I rode 330km from Sapa to the outskirts of Hanoi via Mu Cang Chai. This was around 16 hours on the bike – more than required to complete the 8,848.
Photograph by Sam Wilson: Climbing Giong on the Infi seat-less, flat pedal single speed by 2 Cycling for the Isla Climbing Challenge for Newborns Vietnam
For Ba Vi and Giong I had done countless single climbs over the years and also a couple of multi-climbs in the lead up. In contrast, for Wrynose, the first Everesting rep was also the first time I had ever climbed it. This would normally constitute very poor prep, but in this case it was probably a good thing – if I had ever climbed this ridiculous hill before I do not think I would have tried to Everest it.
The strategy at the start is to climb at a pace that feels somewhat sustainable on feel (not watts), then just keep going. Power and heart rate monitors were not used as a guide, although both were connected.
It’s probably easier to stick to the right pace for very steep Everestings when solo and I would recommend doing so if you don’t mind climbing alone for a very, very long time.
On Wrynose Pass the strategy quite quickly became simply to just keep moving… somehow. After around 4000m a brutal headwind kicked in (see pic).
Photograph: Block headwind on the day. Evil.
Wrynose Pass really is an utter bastard of a climb made worse by the fact the descent is rough on the upper body too. In contrast, Giong is very smooth and easy to descend. Picking a climb with a nice downhill makes a lot of sense for a first Everesting attempt.
‘Chunking’. It is definitely a good idea to break the ride down into ‘manageable’ chunks – that was sets of 10 on Wrynose and Giong – approx 2500m each.
The aim is clearly the lightest and most comfortable bike possible. Very good brakes are also a given – so ideally no carbon clinchers on 20% descents.
Wrynose Bike A sub 6kg Scott built up by Hanoi’s 2 Cycling with plenty of special parts including: AX Lightness stem, bar and chain rings, plus EE brakes from Cane Creek. 2 Cycling had set this up with super light Edge Composites (now ENVE) tubular wheels, but I opted not to potentially destroy them and myself on the crazily steep Wrynose gradients and used some Mavic R sys instead.
Gearing: 34×32 but I definitely wished for a 34×34
Giong bike A trusty Cannondale Evo Hi Mod with a mix of Dura Ace and Ultegra.
Gearing: 34×32 – enough for this hill. Total weight was around 6.8kg.
Power meter: Assioma Favero
Always, always have two GPS units – imagine a GPS fail after 8000m. Last time, alongside my Wahoo Bolt unit was a Suunto Ambit 3 Peak watch. I now have a Garmin 830 which is preferable over the Wahoo for various reasons (tech review of the 830 to follow soon).
Food and drink
The strategy was simply to eat something on every rep, whether it was the 11km rep of Ba Vi or the 2.5k rep of Wrynose.
The food: pasta, sandwiches, banana bread, bananas, crisps/potato chips, Snickers, keo lac (peanut brittle), keo chuoi (banana chews), Mars, Twix, Double Deckers.
The drink: water, coke (full sugar) and peditral (an electrolyte rehydration mix that tastes good and is available in many basic pharmacies in Vietnam). Oh, and I think at least two Red Bulls for good measure.
Selecting a hill
The steeper the hill, the shorter the Everesting. But where does the steepness of a climb tip the balance and it becomes too hard and short? Wrynose is right on the edge of what I would consider personally doable. As ever, the average gradient alone doesn’t tell the tale – it’s the steep sections that bite.
Conversely, pick a hill with too easy a gradient and you are in for a lot of kilometers – something that perhaps appeals to some as you get an ultra long ride as well as the ultra gain. In this case it won’t be the climbing and gradient that potentially breaks a rider, but the sheer mileage.
As noted above, the road quality combined with the gradient is also a factor to consider for descents. If you have a 20% rough section with tight bends thrown in, you do not have pure rest on your way down to the next rep.
The ideal number of reps is a very personal thing – ticking off climbs fast is satisfying, but equally the thought of only being half way through after 20 is not.
In summary then, the ideal Everesting climb would perhaps be something around 7-8% and 8km long with a comfortable descent and not too many very steep pitches within it. Where is that climb?
Why do it?
The first time it was for charity, raising money for Newborns Vietnam. The second and third because I didn’t have any races lined up due to too much work travel not allowing for it.
However, ultimately, in the words of Mallory, the reason is more simply: ‘because it’s there’.
Not the only one
Sometime Velo Vietnam guide Claude Perzo has also since Everested Tam Dao, Giong and Ba Vi, thus completing the Triple Crown of Hanoi peaks. The two other hills Everested in Vietnam are Nui Dinh and the Hai Van Pass.
Vietnam’s Quang Tran is the only person to have completed a run Everesting in Vietnam. What’s more, he did so on trail, including the descents. A 61km Everesting with a 30% gradient… Quang truly knows how to suffer.
Did you know Velo Vietnam also now has a Strava Club? You can read more and join that here.
Ba Vi sometimes features on bespoke Velo Vietnam cycling tours out of Hanoi