Everesting, by Andrew Winter

This challenge first caught my attention when Tom Walker completed his first Everest on Jebel Jais in February 2019. I can’t recall if I’d already heard of ‘Everesting’ at the time or what initially caught my attention. I think it was a combination of the time it would take to complete, perhaps the distance, or having the physical ability to climb almost 9000m in one ride, but probably having the mental fortitude to spend that amount of time in the saddle, but whatever it was I was enchanted by the whole idea. Come early 2020 Tom did another day of climbing 8.9 times up Jebel Jais and shortly afterwards I found myself receiving a reply to a message I had sent him stating I wanted in on the same. Tom’s response was “you’re on”. I vividly remember sitting in the car outside Wolfies bike shop and breaking into a cold sweat when I read that reply and I realized what I’d just committed to!!

The date was put in the diary for the 11th December, and clearly there was training to be done. What I love about endurance sports is the process of training and seeing the progression, especially if you are firmly dedicated and trust in the process. The most memorable sessions were two days on Jebel Jais with friends racking up some climbing miles. The first of which was 6 hours and 3000m of climbing and two weeks later 8 hours and 4000m of climbing. After each of these sessions I remember wondering how I would do more…Over the course of the following weeks leading up to the challenge, I grew increasingly nervous with the prospect of what I’d taken on in the knowledge that there really was no backing out. This increasing level of intrepidation served me well, as I needed to start planning kit and nutrition and found myself becoming quite engrossed and detailed in organising what needed to be done ahead of the big day.The plan for the day was a 3am start and to complete the ride within eighteen to nineteen hours. I figured that one round trip of a thousand meters of climbing was going to take me approximately two hours including the pit stop at the car to take in the much needed nutrition. When I spoke to Tom about this the reply came “better plan for twenty hours”, which somehow only served to reinforce the enormity of what I had taken on…”I think when you are taking on this sort of challenge it serves well to be afraid. I told Tom leading up to the day about my fear level and he replied “you should be scared”. I tend to find that when you experience this sort of feeling it forces me to become all the more prepared for what lies ahead…Friday 11th December my alarm went off at 1am…I ‘d already been awake for 10mins. I got dressed feeling relatively relaxed and then started to fill the coffee flask with five shots of coffee. I planned to start riding from the Bear Grylls Adventure Camp at the food of Jebel Jais at 3:00am. I arrived at 2:30am and was amazed by the volume of traffic. Traffic had been one of my biggest concerns as people in this part of the world have a tendency to drive like numpties and I knew It would be tough to get into the mindset required to absorb this additional stress. I started just before 3:00am and spent the first climb trying to sort out my head. The general vibe was “you idiot, what are you doing”. This is where it’s important to remember your “Why’s”. Mine were:“To know I can endure this physically and mentally and know I can manage such extraordinary feats. To raise the bar in terms of what I know I can achieve…”Finally, I managed to settle my mind and spent a while trying to enjoy the night and the stars which were putting on a very fine display. I reached the top of the first ascent at around 4:30am. Enroute I passed the ‘shittiest coffee stop’ and saw the temperature gauge reading 11degs C, which I knew meant a cold first descent…”thank goodness I have my Gilet” I thought…I arrived back at the car at exactly 5:00am absolutely freezing. I quickly donned some extra layers and started to get into some porridge. Miranda had arrived at about the same time I’d finished my first descent. I was so cold and needed to get going again. I apologized for not waiting and quickly went on my way. I’d identified a section of road on the climb where I reckoned the elevation averaged more and thus I could theoretically clock more altitude over less distance and time. I was keen to see if my theory held true. It might have been marginally quicker, but the real benefit was that I could throw this section of road into the day whenever I was needed to mix things up, or I felt like I needed a shorter descent because I was getting too tired or stressed.

Overall despite some difficult points during the day I managed to keep spirits high. The first improvement came just before daybreak, after I’d rendezvoused with Miranda on the second climb and the sun started to illuminate the eastern peaks of the Haja mountains on the Omani border. Other high points during the day included seeing the rest of the IFE bunch start to arrive on the mountain; Foster, Luca, Humber, Ash, Naj, Rags, Entwhistle just to name a few. The company through the day was very well spaced including Walkers Popup Baristerie at hour nine and the Ant Hill Mob at hour twelve who kept Foster and I company on my climb up to 6000m. All of these encounters forced me to straighten my spine, relax and keep smiling. I figured the strategy was that if I could portray to others I felt ok, then by virtue of this I would be ok…mind games!

Bos had earlier driven my car up from the bottom of the mountain to the Shittiest Coffee Stop. The reason for bringing base camp to the top of the mountain was because then I could eat, digest it on the descent and then be fully fueled for the ascent. 

At 7000m there was another stop at the top of JJ, a check-in with Mr Walker, a restock and the final words “See you at 8000m”, and then began the most difficult part of the day. The sun had set, it was cold, I was tired, and other than the buzz of Jebel Jais life around my periphery, was completely alone. I set off and my body immediately started to object. I can only equate the feeling to that of the body shivers one experiences with a high fever. I experienced this for the first half of the descent – it was awful, not to mention a bit scary, but I knew it was all part of the game and I had to simply push through, but decided to descend only to the section of road where my 250 meter 4.5 kilometer ascent started. By the time I reached the point where I’d start to climb again I was bitterly cold and could barely feel the brakes. From here I decided I’d make four ascents which would bring me to 8000m. From 8000m I would do another 250m descent and then make the last push for 8848m. Those four 250m climbs whilst not overly pleasant were not outrageously terrible either. The stars were out in all their glory again and I was at times completely alone in the dark on the side of quite a beautiful mountain and able to reflect on 16 hours of riding which was by far the longest I had ever been in a saddle.At 8000m Tom arrived to check on my progress, just as I’d messaged him to update that all was well and that I was just going to push on through and get it done, so not to worry. We exchanged a short status update on my general well being and I was off again, this time with a two ton 4×4 and full head lights to chaperone me back up the mountain for the last 848m. At 836m we hit the security barriers, so for the the last 50m I was on my ownI can honestly say I remember every single meter of that last fifty meter climb, which was pitch black, cold and absolutely exhausting…but was by far the stand out moment of the day. I rounded the last corner of Jebel Jais at 8845 and watched as the altimeter passed 8846, 8848…8850…When I stopped I was greeted with absolute silence. A black sky pierced with the most amazing stars and a view of Jebel Jais from bottom to top with car lights snaking up and down its entire length – the best finish line I’ve experienced to date! I allowed myself a quiet moment of congratulations before starting the short descent back down to where I knew Tom was waiting for me with the broadest grin and a pat on the back – absolute magic! We headed back to the cars to pack up for the day, before Tom insisted on following me back down the mountain and on to the hotel, which proved to be a very good idea as I don’t think I’ve driven a car so badly since I passed my driving test.

By Andrew Winter, Dubai, Dec 2020. Andrew trains with InnerFight and Tom Walker. Andrew used Secret Training nutrition to fuel this major effort.

Posted on 27th Dec 2020