Meet Hong Kong’s intrepid, upwardly mobile ‘Everesters’
Climbing the equivalent of Mount Everest’s 8,848 metres on a bike seems an impossible challenge but 1,200 people around the world have succeeded
Thanks to one man’s adventurous imagination and love of cycling, there is now another way to climb Everest: by bike.
“Everesting” is as the title implies: cycling up and down a mountain until you have accumulated 8,848 metres of elevation, the height of the world’s tallest mountain.
The rules are fiendishly simple: one mountain, one ride up and down – fully, no half attempts allowed – on the same patch of road. And the old Confucius saying rings true: “It doesn’t matter how slow you go, so long as you do not stop.”
It is the brainchild of Andy van Bergen, a self-proclaimed “sucker for adventure stories”, who wanted to triumph like the mountaineers of his childhood dreams – and preferably via his favourite mode of transport, cycling. “I loved the idea of a challenge which sounded impossible, something you couldn’t just turn up and do, but you had to work towards,” says the 36-year-old Australian.
Van Bergen was inspired by George Mallory’s pioneering “Everesting” endeavour in 1994 – eight “laps” of a 1,069-metre hill in Victoria in honour of his grandfather, the famous mountaineer of the same name. In early 2014, he set off with a group of diehard mates to replicate the same feat. Out of the 65 who set off, only 40 made it.
The idea has since evolved into a globally recognised symbol of “badassery” among the cycling community. There have been 1,200 successful attempts in 45 countries, with 35 successes in 11 Asian countries.
In June, Hongkongers James King and Paul Redmayne-Mourad became the latest inductees into the “Everesting” hall of fame.
However, they were not the first to conquer the challenge here. That accolade goes to Alexandre Reinart and Rowdie Loughlin who cycled from Repulse Bay to The Peak, 14½ times in 2014.
Last year, five brave souls – triathletes Raynard Picard and Olivier Baillet, Chris Pollard, Glen Pendry and Claudia Soldati (who became the first female in Asia to do so) – cycled the gruelling 10-kilometre stretch up to Tai Mo Shan more than 10 times to enter the exclusive club.
But King and Redmayne-Mourad’s attempt on “The Beast” is arguably one of the most brutal in the region today – in the peak of summer, no less.
The roughly three-kilometre stretch of road from Tung Chung to Pak Kung Au reaches gradients of more than 15 per cent for half the ride, according to website VeloViewer.com.
Imagine cranking a treadmill to its highest setting, then cycling up it for 20 minutes, non-stop. For King and Redmayne-Mourad the reality was even worse: up and down more than 31 times, starting just before 2am, 181 kilometres, for 21½ hours.
“In a word it was brutal. Hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says Redmayne-Mourad, 40, a jewellery salesperson. He raised more than HK$16,000 for Mother’s Choice for his efforts.
King, 43, a cycling mechanic, says he had been contemplating an attempt for years but “kept convincing myself it was a stupid idea,” he says. “Having Redders on my case was the catalyst required.”
Despite being the “hardest ride” he’s ever done, King believes it’s an achievable challenge for most. “It wasn’t as painful as I’d imagined. By riding at such a low intensity you can keep your body under control. It is a mental than physical exercise past a certain point.”
Redmayne-Mourad tried to keep his heart rate below 160 beats per minute. “As long as you never go into the ‘red’, in theory as long as you top up with food and fluids you should be able to go ‘til the cows come home.”
A father of two children under age four who “gets punctuated sleep, is on the school run Monday to Friday and sneaks out maybe twice a week for a ride”, Redmayne-Mourad emphasises that, for the hardy, Everesting is an adventure within reach.
“It is just a question of building up the endurance slowly and then thinking, ‘Right, I’m going to do this’, and then getting out and doing it.”
His longest ride in preparation was only 4½ hours, he says. “It’s not like you’re going to do an 18-hour ride and say ‘I’m ready now’. Past the first lap, it’s all mental; it just depends how stubborn you are, and it’s the stubbornness which carries you through.”
The hardest part was in the final laps, says King. “The Everesting FAQ tells you that when you get to the death zone above 7,000 metres, you really struggle. They were right. It is temporary, however, you just need to keep going and push through that to the end.”
It’s certainly not for everybody. One local cyclist, Rupert Griffiths, supported the inaugural attempt in 2014 but never set out to do his own. “I have toyed with the idea, but I figured I don’t have the necessary desire to do one,” he says. “To me cycling is about exploration – going up and down the same hill is a bonkers mental challenge that would require massive commitment and dedication.”
So what drives individuals to sit in the saddle, on a lone hill, for almost 24 hours for no medals, to receive nothing more than recognition on a website? It’s not just “because it’s there”, explains van Bergen, but because it’s everywhere. “It’s a challenge which can be individualised and performed anywhere in the world. You could choose your own hill, gradient, length, terrain type, and then you just go for it.”
John Davis, a 61-year-old music professor took just over two days and three hours to “Everest” a city-block-long hill in front of his house in Georgia, USA. It took him a staggering 683 repetitions. Scottie Weiss, meanwhile, zipped up and down a hill in Virginia in eight hours 58 minutes, the Everesting record.
And here’s the best bit: you don’t even need an actual hill, a virtual one will do. In 2015 Frank Garcia completed the challenge on the cycling program Zwift by climbing the game’s virtual mountain “Watopia Wall” 314 times.
While Everesting by bike avoids the risk of avalanche or bad weather, cyclists face a different sort of challenge: mechanical meltdown. “By lap 26, the bike starts creaking. Everything is stretched and strained. You start thinking, Oh God if something goes wrong now …” says Redmayne-Mourad.
That, and falling asleep on the bike. “Concentration goes, you’re fighting tiredness. If the mind starts wandering and you release the grip a little bit, and that just happens to coincide with a bump, suddenly you’re shocked back into consciousness.”
However, Redmayne-Mourad can’t wait for his next attempt. He’s dreaming of Fei Ngo Shan, and van Bergen is setting off on his fifth attempt in October.
“They don’t get easier, but you know what to expect,” says van Bergen. “I love the time on the bike, the chance to just ride and not worry about anything else in the world, and to find the limits of my own capabilities.”