Monday 25 August 2014

Everesting the UK's Highest Road - Great Dun Fell,

By Laurie Lambeth,

I first heard about “Everesting” on an internet forum around the beginning of June 2014. The idea instantly caught my imagination, 29,029ft of ascent in one single ride! Was this madness or genius? I decided either way I had to find out.
 I live up in the North Pennines in a small village called Nenthead. Nenthead is an old mining village sitting at around 1,400ft, it is surrounded by hills, lots and lots of hills! It can be a cyclist’s heaven or maybe even hell depending on what you like? Luckily for me it’s the former.
I set about picking my Everesting hill. It didn’t take me long to decide I wanted to try and be the first to “Everest” Great Dun Fell and claim the highest road in England at 2,785ft. I’d ridden the fell once before, a tough experience in howling wind and so much fog I couldn’t even see the huge golf ball looking radar station that sits on the very top!

The hill climbs up 4.6 miles, it has an average gradient of 8% and in places kicks up to over 20%, by the time you reach the top you will have climbed around 2,070ft. For a successful Everest the hill would need to be climbed 15 times, this would total 140 miles and pass the 29,029ft target. This challenge would mean riding further, higher and for longer than anything I’d done before.

Whilst out on a Sunday training ride a few weeks after hearing about the challenge, I heard a rumour that I wasn’t the only one eyeing up Great Dun Fell for an Everest attempt. In fact I was told two people were attempting it that very same day! Thinking I might have missed my chance, I kept I close eye on the Everesting website for any new entries… 2 days passed but nothing appeared. The hill was still up for grabs, although with the extra interest, claiming it had now become a race against time.

Tuesday 24th June, Forecast looks ok for Thursday, not perfect but hopefully good enough to have a go. Thursday 26th I’m up at 5am and on my way to Knock at the bottom of Great Dun Fell. I park up at the bottom of the hill and waste no time getting kitted up. 6.30am I start the Garmin and it’s time to go… 

If I can average 1 hour per rep including breaks I’ll be all done by 9.30pm. I set off on my first accent, the wind feels stronger than forecast and it’s a headwind. I honestly think to myself at this point “this is not the day to be doing this, I’ll do a few reps as training and head home”. The first accent takes 37 minutes and the decent 10 minutes. The next 4 reps are just a few minutes slower. By 11.07am I’ve been riding for 4 hours 37 minutes, I’ve ridden 5 reps and climbed over 10,000ft.

The evening before I’d text messaged various local riders in the hope that some might join me for a few reps at different points throughout the day. They didn’t disappoint and I started my 6th assent with my first support rider, Beacon Wheelers team mate Craig. By this point I was feeling pretty good, the extra company had given me a boost and the weather had picked up too. Just as Craig was about to head home half way up rep 7, I heard a voice from behind “Is that Laurie?” “I thought it looked like you” the voice said. Wearhead couple Steve and Sue were out on a “3 highest Peaks” mission. Steve asked me where I was heading, I explained what I was up too and they had a similar reaction to many other people. They loved the concept of the challenge although they also seemed to think I’d gone completely mad! Maybe they were right but I could see a twinkle in Steve’s eye, I could see that he wanted to have a go too.

The time now was 1pm and I’d ridden 64 miles out of the 140. I was keeping a steady pace, not so quick so to burn myself out but no messing around either. I was eating little and often, usually after each rep. Bananas, Sandwiches, Rice Pudding and a mixture of plain water or energy drink depending on how I felt. I also had tea, coffee and energy gels in the car, but wanted to save these for when things got really hard.

I rode rep 8 with Matt, a young rider whose talent lies in climbing. On the way back down we bumped into another cyclist, “are you Laurie” he said “yes” I replied, “My names Phil, Nigel told me what you were up too and that I should come and give you some company” “Great” I replied “We’ve just finished number 8”.

Matt, Phil and I set off for number 9 of 15, this was a good one as it got me passed the 17,000ft mark. 17.000ft was the most ascent I’d ever ridden in any previous ride and that meant from this point forward it was unexplored territory. Another descent dodging sheep, they’re not the brightest of animals and wandering out in front of a cyclist doing 50mph didn’t seem to bother them one little bit (they were probably also getting a little bit of Déjà vu by this point).

Back at the car and I started to have my first real problem, my knees. I’d been getting some tendonitis on the insides of my knees recently and I could feel them starting to give me some trouble. I said bye to Matt, then Phil and I set off for number 10. My knees weren’t getting any better but as it turned out, luck was on my side. It just so happened that Phil was something of an endurance expert who had just recently competed in a 24 hour event, as well as various other things. Not only this but Phil was also a sports masseuse and he was sure he could fix the problem with my knees.

4pm, 92 miles and just over 20,000ft. We’re back down at the car and Phil takes a look at my knees, he tells me it’s an over tight Gracillis muscle that’s causing the problem. He says if I’ve time to lie down for 5 minutes he can loosen it off and hopefully fix the pain. With not far off 10 hours riding in me, I lay down in the gravely layby almost before the words had left his mouth! As he loosened off the tight areas I remember thinking “lying down is nice” but just as I was realising this, it was time to get up and back on the bike. Phil wished me good luck and I set off alone up the hill for my 11th assent.

I was starting the final third, 20,000ft down and 10,000ft to go. If the first two thirds were a mental challenge, the final third was certainly going to be a physical one. The good news was that the massage had worked, my knees were feeling better. As I finished rep 11 I passed the 100 mile mark, another target ticked off the day’s list. Setting off for number 12 and I was joined by Jamie, a local riding buddy from back in Nenthead. Beacon wheelers team mate Nigel joined soon after and the 3 of us rode number 12 and 13 together. By this point my ever supporting partner Mairi had also arrived with backup supplies, this put a smile on my face and spurred me on even more. Work mate and fell runner Rob had also come over to offer his support, as well as my younger brother John.

At the end of rep 13 it was 7.30pm, I’d been riding for 13 hours and covered 120 miles, my ascent was up to 26,950ft. Jamie and Nigel had to leave now and Mairi was parked at the top of the climb, I was back on my own but I didn’t mind too much. Mentally I felt I’d cracked it and physically I was coping ok, so after a small coffee I began my penultimate climb. It’d been a long day but I was buzzing to be near the end. I reached the top where Mairi was waiting with a camera; she snapped a couple of shots before it was back down to the bottom.

On arriving back down I met Nigel, he’d returned to come and ride the final rep with me. Another small coffee then “come on, let’s do it” I said to Nigel. The wind had picked up again and the temperature dropped, it was 8.45pm and the light was beginning to fade. We didn’t speak much on that last rep, instead we just enjoyed every peddle stroke. When the wind got strong, Nigel would pull in front to offer me some protection. With around 2 miles left to climb, Rob was waiting to run the last section with us. Then at about 1.5 miles to go I decided I was going to “empty the tank”, I got up out the saddle and gave it everything I had right to the top!

At 39 minutes, the last assent was only 2 minutes slower than the first. After a few more photos we made it back to the car for 9.47pm. 15 hours 17 minutes, 140 miles and 31,234ft of climbing, I was empty but I’d climbed Everest. A day I will never forget, and a challenge I would recommend to anyone.
View this ride on Strava:

Cumberland And Westmorland Herald Feature.

Read about my next Everest, Hardknott Pass.

(Photo's by Mairi Kerr)


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