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An 'Everest' Challenge


In the early evening of 5th August, I arrived at Dufton Youth Hostel (Cumbria) where I had arranged to meet Alex Staniforth and Ste Rumbelow. The following day Alex was planning to ride up and down Great Dun Fell 14 times – which would mean he would have completed an ‘Everest’ – each climb would be 632 m and 632 x 14 = 8848 m, which is the height of Mount Everest.

In fact, Alex is a remarkable young man, who has already achieved a great deal at the age of 20. For some time, we have followed each other on Twitter and been Friends on Facebook – as a result of which I have been aware of his ‘EPIC7’ challenges and I have closely followed his activities, leading up to his Everest attempt in May of this year. Tragically, he was on the mountain when the earthquake struck Nepal – he was at Camp 1 at the time and was OK. Not all of his party were so fortunate and some perished in the avalanche which hit Base Camp.

You can find out more about Alex by visiting his website : www.alexstaniforth.com

Ste was there to assist Alex and his intention was to ride some of the ascents – but not all of them! He is another impressive young man – his website is www.opinionatedworld.co.uk

On his return from Everest, Alex decided to set about raising £30,000 for The Himalayan Trust UK, providing funding to help the Sherpa community rebuild their lives in Nepal.

He told me that, when trying to decide how to raise this money, he came across the ‘Everesting’ challenge. This is explained in detail on the website www.everesting.cc – in essence it involves finding a suitable hill and cycling up it a sufficient number of times until 8848 m of climbing has been achieved. There are rules, which include the need to complete the challenge in one go (not necessarily within 24 hours - though that was what Alex hoped to do), it should be done on a single hill, cycling up and down the requisite number of times, and it should be recorded electronically.

I was aware that Alex was going to attempt this challenge and contacted him to find out where and when. Originally, he was going to do it in July, when I wouldn’t have been free. However, he postponed that attempt and went for Thursday, 6th August – I was free on that day and asked if it would be OK for me to accompany him. He seemed grateful that I had offered and I soon realised that he was expecting to do most of the ride by himself so would appreciate someone to ride with. He told me it would be helpful if I could just ride some of the climbs with him and seemed somewhat surprised (impressed I hope!) when I rather rashly offered to try and ride it all with him!

At this point, I would have to say that I did not really have any real idea as to the difficulty of the challenge. I had watched a video of the climb on YouTube and discovered that the record for the climb is 26 minutes (approx 4.5 miles). I suppose I figured that, if it can be climbed in 26 minutes, we ought to be able to do it 14 times in 24 hours. In fact, Alex had reckoned it would take 17 hours.

So that’s how I ended up at Dufton Youth Hostel – the plan being to get up at 4am on the following day and try to start riding at around 5 am. We had something to eat and were in bed by 9 pm. I’m not sure that I slept very well and I was up just before 4 am and able to switch off the alarm that Alex had set before it woke the other occupants of the dormitory!

The first thing I did was to venture outside, where it was very still and felt quite warm even at 4 am (the forecast had been good) – little did I realise that conditions were very different towards the top of Great Dun Fell!

After large bowls of porridge I drove to the village of Knock (where the climb starts by the Knock Christian Centre) while Alex and Ste warmed up their legs by cycling the 2 miles from the hostel. It had now turned 5 am and as it was getting light we could see that the upper parts of Great Dun Fell were shrouded in mist.

All three of us set off for the first ascent at 5.20 am. Alex and I had bottom gears of 34 x 32, whereas Ste’s lowest was 34 x 25 – he was well aware that parts of the climb might be something of a struggle! One big advantage of this climb is that the road is only used to access the radar station (used by air traffic control) on the summit. Although cycles are allowed, the bulk of it is traffic free. There are also three cattle grids and 2 gates – you would probably think that stopping to open gates would be something of an irritation – in fact, they were quite useful in providing an enforced breather!

So now I was finding out just how tough a climb it is and better able to assess whether I thought I could manage 14 ascents. The average gradient is 9%, with the steepest section reaching 20% - which, on the whole, doesn’t sound too bad. After about half a mile, there was a fairly steep section, then just gradual climbing to the first gate. The road again rose quite steeply just after the first gate then gradual climbing before a section of downhill and flat - much needed by then! There then followed the steepest part of the climb – 2 quite long sections where the gradient reached 20% - it was clear that this was the part which would begin to tell after a number of repetitions! The second gate was more like a low barrier and it was easy to lift the bikes over, rather than needing to open it. From there to the station on the summit was constant climbing. The second half of the climb was in very damp, misty conditions and it was extremely cold up by the station!

How did I feel after the first ascent? Put it this way – I had serious doubts whether I could manage it 14 times! Because Ste had a higher bottom gear than either Alex or myself, it was inevitable that he would be climbing faster than us. Instinct was then to try and keep up with him – which was a mistake! Alex and I should have been trying to pace ourselves from the very start. The climb had taken around 50 minutes – with the descent taking 10 – 15 minutes, this meant that each repeat would be taking just over an hour + a short rest. If we were going to be successful, Alex’s estimate of 17 hours was looking to be about right.

Ste remained behind as Alex and I set off on the second ascent. This time, we DID pace ourselves and managed to chat most of the way up! We both commented that it seemed to be easier than the first ascent and that maybe 14 would be possible after all!

The weather continued to be damp and cold towards the top and at one stage it was raining quite hard.

By the time I had completed 5 ascents, I was beginning to find the 20% sections quite hard. Also, given that we were not even half way, I began to doubt whether I would be able to manage another 9! After the 7th climb, I decided that I would sit the next one out. I had also walked up part of the steepest section – so my attempt would not count anyway! By this time, the weather had finally improved and Great Dun Fell was no longer shrouded in mist.

My 8th ascent was Alex’s 9th and I felt quite good after my rest. However, as I was getting to the top on my 9th climb, I felt very cold and tired and decided that I had probably done enough.

At this point, it was well into the evening and Alex still had 4 more ascents if he was to achieve his ‘Everest’. It was also starting to go dark! The determination which Alex showed was remarkable! I felt quite bad that he was now having to do the last few climbs on his own and I was also somewhat concerned about him doing it in the dark.

However, my concern was unnecessary and he eventually completed his challenge at around 2 am!

I was also immensely impressed when Ste accompanied Alex on his 8th ascent (I think) wearing ordinary clothes and without proper cycling shoes (his shoes had been earlier taken back to the hostel drying room). I couldn’t believe that he had actually managed it!

I cannot emphasise enough my admiration for Alex – and I began to understand how he has managed to achieve all that he has at the age of 20.

Anyone wishing to help Alex raise the £30,000 can donate at :

www.justgiving.com/EPIC7

It was an absolute pleasure to spend the day with him and Ste and I look forward to cycling with them again in the future.

Alex has written a very comprehensive and excellent blog about his successful 'Everest', which can be read at :

www.alexstaniforth.com/blog.html

In this blog, he has documented exactly what he ate and drank during this ride, together with records of how many calories he used up and his average heart rate throughout. I have to say that I don't generally analyse my rides quite as precisely as this (maybe I should?) but living on a 100% plant based diet, I can tell you what I ate and drank :

I mostly drank coconut water and plain water

I consumed a 'gel' of coconut water with chia seeds and maple syrup

About 6 bananas

Quite a lot of oat based bar, the recipe for which can be found at

www.onegreenplanet.org/plant-based-recipes/raw-hemp-chia-seed-bars/

Some adjuki bean brownies from a Scott Jurek recipe in his book 'Eat and Run'

Was I disappointed that I didn't manage the full 14 ascents? Not really - I now know that it's a very tough challenge - especially at my age! I would like to try and achieve it - but need to find a suitable climb that doesn't reach 20%!

Watch this space!


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