Everesting Up The Duffey - words by Kristian Manietta
"On the way down I got a little choked up. Not because I didn’t believe I could do it, but just this amazing feeling of gratitude for being able to do it. As I was riding back down, I just fell in love with cycling even more. You cannot have the joy with out the suffering."
As we make our way through Melbourne CBD heading for the Dandenongs a bunch of cycling media and me, a coach and Specialized ambassador are eagerly waiting to test ride the new Tarmac’s. Sitting next to me was Andy Van Bergen from cyclingtips.com.au and through some small talk we quickly figured we were cut from the same cloth and thus our talks turned to adventures that had been done and those in the works.
It was here I found out about everesting from the source. I had heard whisperings here and there but nothing concrete, to be honest I had dug. In those short moments with Andy giving me the low down and how it all came about, I knew I was hook, line and sinker and at some stage I was going to have to go through both the physical and inner turmoil of joining that exclusive little everesting club.
This meeting was back in May 2014 and I immediately had a climb in mind that I could attempt that October. To this day I don’t believe it has been done and I’ll have to keep a lid on it because it truly would be epic.
And epic is good. Not that any everesting attempt is not epic. No matter how you get to 8848m of vertical gain will have its challenges.
October came and went as I fought hard to recover from some pretty severe adrenal fatigue and then we left Australia headed to Canada in early December… right into winter. It was part of the health/life reset and at this stage doing an everesting was the furthest thing from my mind. Until we got stuck for a few days at a friends condo in Silverstar ski resort just after New Years. Once the weather cleared we opted to go home a different way.
And that is where I found the Duffey!
Driving down it in the snow, I knew I had found the climb and I quietly earmarked it for further investigation.
On my birthday in March we took Mack (my four year old son) out to Pemberton to ride his bike at the skate park and BMX track. We had lost his gloves so we got a new pair at the LBS where I got speaking to the owner about a 200k+ return ride from Pemberton to Lillooet and back which after 15km of flat you hit the Duffey Climb.
Mack got his riding fix, and we got in the truck to check out the Duffey. It was perfect. 13km, steep switchbacks at the start, some long grinders throughout an a few short respite sections before a bit of a kicker at the end.
The next point of call was http://www.everesting.cc/hall-of-fame/ to see if anyone had already done it.
With that checked off, it was now officially on the hit list and I just needed to work out when.
I got to climb it twice before everesting it. Once as a 120k round trip from Whistler and then in a 230km ride where I rode Whistler - Lillooet and only made it back to Pemberton before running out of daylight. I hadn’t picked a date yet, but when I saw the #climbfornepal push on Strava and Hells500, I knew June would be the month. In fact June was originally pegged to do something else entirely crazy and that is race Tour Divide and I have spent a lot of coin to that end. But unfortunately goals have collided and the family goal is more important so TD will have to wait a year.
That opened up June to give everesting the Duffey a crack.
After pulling the pin on TD, I looked at events around Whistler and literally filled up the end of May, June and start of July with events. Trail races, mountain bike races, and an Xterra tri … Only one weekend was spare and that was the first weekend in June.
Lock it in Eddie.
And then as we made our way back to Whistler from Vancouver on Monday before my attempt, we got news that two long term Whistler locals and members of Whistler Cycling Club were tragically killed by a drunk driver while they were descending back down the Duffey climb. I came so close to cancelling, but we must ride on as both Ross and Kelly would have expected us cyclist too.
So on Saturday the 6th of June I had my alarm wake me at 1am and I left home at 2am for the 45 min drive to the base of the climb. Truck loaded with my supplies I found a pullout on the left side of the road about 500 hundred meters before I went in search of up!
A little after 3am I started my everesting adventure. On the everesting.io calculator I had planned 1h20 climbs and ~ 20 min descents. In the darkness I started to spin up as easily as possible. It was fairly warm with a forecast for 30 degrees and I sang out loud as I am in bear country and I have had to stop and have a Mexican stand off with one on this climb previously. No bears but I did spook some deer. I got to the top of lap 1 in 1:14 and change. A bit faster than I wanted but it felt stupid easy.
Thankfully I had a lightweight pair of craft gloves my bro Raoul De Jongh gifted me after Cent Cols Challenge Dolomites in 2013 and my 7mesh Resistance jacket on me because while it was warm riding up it was pretty chilly riding down hill, so much so my social media updates at the bottom were done with shaking hands.
Restock bottles, have some real food, social media updates and back on the bike for lap 2.
It was now perfectly light at 5am and I was thoroughly enjoying myself, engrossed in the moment making circles with circles and steadily getting the vertical gain. About 40 mins up the climb I came upon Ross and Kelly’s memorial. Due to the darkness of lap one, I hadn’t seen it. Passing it was deeply sobering and it gave me goose bumps. On impulse I spoke out loud to them, saying I was sorry and that we would ride on in their memory and that this was for them.
I think that gave me a boost as the next thing I knew I had taken a few minutes off my ascent time.
Jacket and gloves on again and I braced for the chilly descent, which at this time of the day was thankfully quiet on the roads. That would soon change. 19 mins later I was at the bottom with about 2100m climbed.
Somehow lap 3 was quicker again. I was feeling bloody fantastic and it didn’t feel like I was pushing it, but I was keenly aware that this was oh so early days. 3 laps down and around a third of the challenge done. 5 hours since I started and that went in the blink of an eye. On lap 4 I felt tired in the head. Legs and lungs were perfect, but I just felt tired. I knew it would pass and was confident it would, but some par for the course stuff that pops up on epic undertakings. I deliberately slowed for lap 4 because I believe 1:10 ups were a little too ‘hot’ to be doing, especially when I had 5 and a bit to go. The up portion of 4 was done in 1:14 … much better. I still needed to dress up on the way day and was shivering by the time I was at the car. I think that was likely the one section right near the bottom where you pass a river running into the lake and you get this arctic feeling blast of cold air. Something I had to brace for early on and then something I loved when the temps started soaring later in the day.
I was now at 4232m which is about 1000m below base camp and about 6.5 hours in. On lap 5 I definitely felt the previous faster efforts and soft pedalled up. I never had a negative thought, not one but this was one of the tougher laps. 1:21 to the top and this time I didn’t need to put a jacket or gloves on and embraced the cooler air on the descent. Now I was just a 100m below base camp. The reality was the 'real' climbing hadn’t even started.
After feeling it on lap 5, I felt exceptional again on lap 6 and climbed it in 1:17:32, I had the legs to go quicker but I wasn’t in a race for the summit. I was just all about getting it done. On lap 5 I believe I witnessed one of societies biggest self and others harming traits. The lack of patience. I’m all for risk taking, mostly calculated and where I’m the only one that can get hurt. But this lack of patience and unnecessary risk taking putting many lives in danger is ridiculous. No you don’t need to tail gate within a car length, and no you don’t need to overtake on blind corners. And all these idiots rushing to what end… rushing to go for a lovely leisurely hike at Joffre Lakes at the top or rushing to get home! The core problem is the thought … it will never happen to me. Oh but it can!
Lap 6 in the bag. 6400m climbed and basically at camp 2. At the bottom of lap 6, I got my first support for the day. Brian Goldstone from 7mesh turned up with his young son Riley (a 90min drive from home) to follow me up and down the climb and get some wicked shots. Lap 7 underway and feeling the sting in the qaudzillas for the first time. That first section is pretty brutal with switchbacks sitting for the most part around 13% with some juicy 15-18% sections. All well through there and getting excited to see the end product of Brian’s pics took my mind off the hurt.
About 45mins up this lap right near the memorial I felt my adductors start to twinge. I tried adjusting my pedal stroke, alternated between sitting and standing, took on more salt and had words with my legs to let them know a) that my brain is stronger and b) they were not stopping me from my ultimate goal of 8848m. And if I needed a c) it was that this pain of my adductors seizing was nothing compared to the pain Ross and Kelly’s loved ones would be feeling right now for their loss.
This is pain I can deal with.
But decisive damage control needed to be put in place. The decision was to stop for just 2 minutes and let them settle. That worked and got me up the 11% drag towards the 2km to Joffre Lakes car park sign. All good, until the last 500m to the top where the grade goes to 13%+ and I got bitten again. This time stopping for another 2 minutes sitting on the barrier just waiting, trying to put them in a position where they didn’t seize Funny thing was that while this was happening, I didn’t have any negative thoughts. I didn’t even feel like I was in the box. I just kept calm. Let them relax, hopped back on the bike and got the job done.
What’s a big challenge without overcoming a little adversity eh!
I was living by the best words you can ever say to yourself. I CAN.
7 climbs, 7749m, 198k and 12h40 done.
I had forgot to hit the lap at the start of the the climb for 7, but with the two stops I still hit it on 1:21 and I was now just under 'camp IV' … approaching in everest speak the “death zone”.
At the bottom I smashed down a couple of magnesium chloride tablets and was joined by Ken Chaddock, the director of the Whistler Cycling Club and another photographer - Kyle whom I run the Monday night run club with. Ken was going to keep me company on the 8th rep up and Kyle was also going to get some shots. Two photog’s and I felt like a model .. ;) a bloody salt stained one haha. The switchbacks went by quickly as Ken and I talked, and I worked out approximately where I’d hit the magical 8848m. And no adductor issues at all. Poof, gone!
Fat adaptation means both sodium and magnesium are key. I was on point with salt, but not so with magnesium. I just kept forgetting to grab it from the truck. Thankfully I made the wise decision and put the water esky (ice bucket) in Kyles car as I’d gone through nearly 1250ml of fluids by the halfway mark. With bottles refilled lap 8 finished strong and I was elated to get to the top of the Duffy for the last time. It was such a great feeling. 8495m climbed, 226km and 14 and a half hours to this point.
On the way down I got a little choked up. Not because I didn’t believe I could do it, but just this amazing feeling of gratitude for being able to do it. As I was riding back down, I just fell in love with cycling even more. You cannot have the joy with out the suffering. There are no positives without negatives.
Now all that was left was about 25 minutes of effort over the toughest part of the climb. A quick refill of the bottles and I was off to conquer “Hillary’s Step” with a smile for miles, counting down the last 353m to achieve 8848m. All in all I hit the 8848m mark in 15:06 minutes total time and 231km of pure unadulterated epicness. Then I climbed a little more.. just to be certain nothing funny happens uploading from Garmin to Strava (here is my Strava file).
I went to 8878m and by the time I got back down I had covered 236km over 15 hours and 21 minutes.
The burger, wedges and beer at Mile One Eating House in Pemby tasted mighty fine.