The Steep Road – Everesting on a High Gradient

Hill choice is usually analysed in infinite detail when it comes to planning an Everesting. What is the perfect gradient? What about those of us that choose a really steep hill to roll on? Today James is exploring this option…

Everesting is a great equaliser of climbs. Pick a hill with a low gradient, and you’re in for a long day. Pick a steep hill, and your day will be shorter. It will also be substantially more painful. I’ve Everested a high gradient hill and been a sherpa for multiple others. If you’re thinking of tackling the madness of a high-gradient Everesting, you need to be prepared for the challenges.

Words and images by James Raison.

I consider an average of 10% or greater to be high gradient. That’s where things start to get uncomfortable for your body, mind, and gear. It guarantees stretches high in the double-digits. It’s where you will start modifying your bike setup. Every tooth on your gears, every gram of your bike, and every part of your body gets more important.

So, here we go.

When the rear is a bigger gear than the front...
When the rear is a bigger gear than the front…

1. Technical challenge

If you want to Everest a high gradient climb, you need the right gears.

My 2 guiding principles on gear choice for Everesting:

1: Gear choice shouldn’t be the difference between success and failure, unless you choose something well outside of usable range.

2: The higher the gradient, the greater chance that gear choice will determine success or failure.

The bulk of high gradient Everesters I know have used a 34×32, the greatest ratio allowed without weird hacks or bodges.

Some brave souls have taken a punt with 34×27, 34×28, and even a 39×30 from one crazy cat.

The chap who Everested Adelaide’s hardest road climb, Coach-house Drive/Woodland Way used a 34×36 setup allowed by SRAM’s 10 speed Force Rear derailleur. That hill features a long section over 20% and all those teeth weren’t enough for a cadence over 50.

So what gear ratio should you use? Whatever you want. What would I use? As teeth many as I can get. Be warned though, gear choice may not determine the outcome but it will have a big effect on your level of misery.

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2. Physical challenge

The stress of low cadence, high-torque climbing on your body is substantial.

Let’s start with knees. You’ll be grinding away with a whole lot of torque going through your knees. Climbing in the saddle will cause particular stress as your knees churn out the revolutions. Getting out of the saddle will give some relief, but that brings its own pains.

Which brings me to shoulders. You won’t be dancing out of the saddle like Alberto Contador 10 hours into your Everesting. You’ll look like your trying to wrestle a park bench to the ground while standing on it. Inevitably your shoulders and upper arms will be taking the force of climbing slowly while standing. You’ll drag the bars up into your chest one-handed, before slackening and doing it on the other side. Over and over. And over… and over.

Your lower back will suffer as your torso muscles fatigue during the ride. You’ll slouch and slump your way up each rep, gradually getting more ragged. Seated climbing is particularly painful on your lumbar muscles. Again, that killer torque will get through all of your possible weak spots.

For me the most surpising pain was the hands. Steep climb usually means high speed, hard braking descents. Pulling hard for sudden stops repeatedly, on top of your other pains is just cruel. It won’t just be your hands, your triceps are what give you that power. Have you worked out your triceps recently? I sure haven’t. I’m a cyclist.

I hope you have good shoes buddy, because your feet will cop some punishment. Climbing tends to put a lot of load through your feet. Guess how much of your Everesting is climbing? 50% of a very long ride. Enjoy.

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3. Mental challenge

Everesting a climb over 10% means all reps are tough. Dragging yourself back onto the bike can be very hard when you know how hard each climb will be.

Inevitably there will be some part of the climb that you come to hate the most.

I loathed the 18% maximum gradient section of the steep hill that I Everested. Everyone comes to dread their max gradient section. You know it’s coming. You’re sore. You’re exhausted. You’ve still got so many reps to go. That steep section is there waiting for you. Every damn time.

The most unpleasant sherparing I’ve done was an MTB Everesting. It featured a 20% wall with one, 3-inch wide, smooth line up. The rest was loose rocks and a world of hurt. The hardy hipster riding that day nicknamed that section “Kenny Loggins Bend” because it took him into the DANGER ZONE! He knew it was there every time. He’s a hard man, but I could see the change in his demeanour as Kenny Loggins Bend approached. He hated it, and rightly so.

The brave chap on Coach-house/Woodlands faced a similar challenge on his ride. A relentless 20% wall that faces you every lap. He’d go silent, stand up, slump forwards and grind his climbing gear with everything he had. We’re talking 6-7kph. That speed is demoralising. I hated that section too, and I didn’t have to do it nearly as many times as he did.

So now you know what to expect from your high gradient Everesting. Scared? Don’t be. All keepers of the cloud held reservations about their first Everesting. They did it. So can you. Good luck!

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Author: Dave Edwards

Exploring the mental side of endurance cycling challenges.

11 thoughts on “The Steep Road – Everesting on a High Gradient”

    1. I often wonder if you need to choose the perfect day for Everesting. Daytime temperature, wind direction and wind strength must also play a part in being able to Everest. Being over 55 I think I would be happy to a Half Everest.

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      1. I’d consider weather somewhat like gear choice in that it shouldn’t be a determining factor, but the nature of Everesting means that more extreme weather increases the chances of it being a determining factor. I had great weather on my first Everesting and atrocious weather on the second. It was cold a wet but I got through. Waiting for perfect conditions could mean putting it off, which I recommend against.
        As for your age, don’t sell yourself short mate! There are a few in the Hall of Fame who are older than you. With enough gears, time, and grit there’s no stopping you!

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  1. I had vague aspirations of one day attempting an Everesting, but reading this post has helped to quell that urge. Thanks 🙂

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    1. Don’t let it put you off, mate! Go for something a little shallower in the 7-8% range. I reckon that’s about the ideal gradient. As long as it doesn’t have a ridiculous max grade it’s very manageable.

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