Your Cart is Empty

Not Quite the Ideal Summer Everest

25 March 2024

Words & Photos: Joe Houghton

Have I pushed the boat out too far this time? The biggest thought on my mind as I entered the 8th lap of my Everest attempt. In the 6 years that I’d been properly mountain biking, I have never thought that before. Sure, I’d bonked, crashed, and crawled my way around racecourses, but I’d always finished. Yet here I was, 1/3 of my way through my first attempt at an Everest, and boy was I hurting.

The idea of an Everest had been on my mind for years, but it had always been an 'I’ll do it one day' type idea. Entering my first winter in a new city (Christchurch, NZ), struggling to find motivation to ride in the wet and cold, I decided this year would be the year. I came to the realization that I may never have as much free time to train again in my life. With no commitments outside of work, realistically I was free to train for all but 40 hours a week. So, if I didn’t do it now, who knows if I ever would? After a winter of consistent 15-20 hour training weeks combining a mix of riding and gym work, grinding through a rather wet winter, daylight savings hit like a train. Suddenly, there was no need for lights. Rides could be done in a t-shirt, and evenings were full of nothing but riding. And before I knew it, the big day was approaching…

The track I’d decided on was Cockayne Alley, one of the highlights of the Craigieburn area. The descent starts in the open with swooping ruts before dropping into fast, open tussock and finally descending through native bush. This track was physical, fast, and fun. The climb is affectionately known as Cheesedick Road and climbs roughly 430 m vert in a little under 4 km, making for a rather direct but efficient climb. The total lap was around 45-55 minutes, covering 5.7 km and 430 m vert, so I was looking at 21 laps to reach the summit of Everest.

Throwing a spanner in the works, my new Zerode Kapito turned up two and half weeks before my Everesting date, and trying to break in the gearbox while also trying to taper made for an interesting experience. So, despite the recommended 500 kms needed to properly break in the Pinion gearbox, I’d be starting my Everest having only done half of that. F*ck it, why not.

Zerode Kapito 475
Fox 38 and DHX2
DT Swiss EX511 Wheels
XTR Brakes
Renthal Alloy bars and stem
Maxxis Assegai and Aggressor (Both pumped to 30psi)
Weight – who cares, I’m the one who's chosen to pedal it.

Driving up on Friday afternoon and arriving to rain, sleet, and brutally cold conditions made for an interesting final build-up. Fortunately, Dad had come up with me to act as a support crew and gave me the reassuring words of "just adds to it", when describing the conditions. After a quick spin-out ride in the rain, double-checking I had everything ready to go and prepping food for the next day, it was time for bed.

Waking at 1:45 am, chowing down some overnight oats and a protein shake, I was feeling good and up for the challenge. However, this all changed, when I looked outside to find it snowing. Putting on so many layers you would’ve thought I was going skiing, 'stoked' wasn’t exactly the word that came to mind, considering we were meant to be a week away from summer. After some reassuring words from Dad, who I knew couldn’t wait to get back into bed, I was off.

The first three laps consisted of freezing conditions, a lot of snow, and the joys of riding with 2 metres of visibility. Near the end of the 3rd lap, a patch of clay caught me out, causing an awkward crash, landing on my knee, and twisting it, which would, in turn, cause pain that would become a reoccurring issue throughout the day. Stopping at the bottom of the 3rd lap, I had a serious 'what am I doing' moment. It was snowing, below freezing, pitch black, and I was a 7th of the way through. Fortunately, my pride said to me, "you can’t quit before the sun comes up," and so back up I went. Climbing up on the 5th lap, the sun started to rise, and suddenly I felt like a million bucks. Being able to see more than 2 metres ahead of me was a game-changer, and suddenly I was loving every minute of the challenge.

One of the quotes that has stuck with me for a long time is Tom Hanks’s "This too shall pass" speech and believe me when I say that the feeling of loving every minute definitely passed. On lap 9, after another small crash, my knee was not in a good place, and my mind wasn’t much better. At this point, 7 hours in, I decided that it was time for my first hit of caffeine for the day, followed by some painkillers. Riding up on lap 10 was the closest I got to quitting. My knee was hurting on every pedal stroke, my mind could only concentrate on how much this sucked. I was still riding in a raincoat and pants, I was soaked, muddy, cold, sore, and my mind was starting to try and negotiate with itself. But much like in the 'Last Airbender' when everything changed when the fire nation attacked, all it took was one text to change everything.

The one and only Robbie Jack had asked how far up the ski road I was, telling him he’d catch me, and if not, I’d wait for him at the top. I had a sinking feeling that he was going to have driven all the way out to Craigieburn only to do 1 lap with me before I pulled the plug. I must have looked like a sad sight at the top when he caught me, and this was probably confirmed a few minutes later when I blew the top of a scree turn and went straight over the bars. Everything was going wrong, but in that moment, suddenly my mindset changed. After riding so carefully to protect my knee, getting up after that crash to find my knee hadn’t got any worse was like a mental reset. The next 7 laps flew by, the sun came out, I had company, and my knee wasn’t getting any worse.

By the time Rob finished his stint on the bike (Clocking up 3000 m vert himself), he had carried me from a state of certainly coming up short to a point where I was only 5 laps away from completion. As time moved into the late evening, I was suddenly aware of the very real possibility of finishing in the dark. Out came the headphones for the first time, knowing that by not allowing myself to listen to music throughout the day, I would, in turn, increase their effectiveness when I really needed it. The next few laps passed relatively quickly as I tried to make the most of the light, counting down each lap in my head, knowing that the finish line was in sight. By this point, my tummy was not in a good place, forcing myself to eat as I climbed (a massive thank you to Mum for the cookies which got me through), and my mind was starting to play tricks on me in the darkness.

The deterioration of my body in those last 3 laps was incredible, particularly on the descents. My ankles, knees, and wrists were in constant pain, and in the darkness, I was braking more, further creating pain in my wrists and forearms. At the start of my last lap, with only 200 m vert to go, I knew I’d done it. Mentally, I felt good, and it wasn’t a question of whether I could do it anymore, but rather a matter of when I would. The final climb was in complete darkness, with only a small circle of light leading the way. But by the time I reached the top, I was sitting at 9033 m vert with nothing but 1 more lap in front of me. At the bottom, Dad was waiting for me with a celebratory beer ready to go, and I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder to deserve one more.

Looking back, a lot of stuff probably wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t ideal to be on a pretty much brand-new unbroken gearbox bike; it wasn’t ideal to be met with snow and below zero conditions, and it certainly wasn’t ideal to crash so early and hurt my knee. But all of those moments made it what it was, and as Dad put it, they "just add to it." I don’t know if anyone’s ever had an Everest where everything went to plan, but maybe that part of it, it’s not only reaching the vert but the process of getting there.

By the numbers:

  • 121.12 km
  • 9033m Vert
  • 20:27:13 Total time
  • 15:19:38 Riding time
  • Average Temp 5 degrees
  • 21x Grade 5 trail laps
  • 3 crashes, who knows how many almosts
Thank you too;
  • Dad, for being there from start to finish, taking photos, bringing me food, and supporting me from the first time I mentioned the idea of an Everest to him.
  • Robbie Jack, for digging me out of a dark place in the middle and bringing me to the final straight.
  • Mum, for making kgs of cookies to fuel me throughout the day.
  • Zerode Bikes, for making a bike that in the mud and snow never missed a beat and only got better the worse the conditions got.
Joe Houghton Bio

Joe Houghton is Ground Effect's newest Revolutionary rider. Joe has some big adventures on the horizon planning to join the gang of riders in Europe who pedal between the UCI Enduro Mtb World Series rounds, plus swing by Mega Avalanche before heading over to North America for more bikepacking and racing. Joe has worked as a bike mechanic so no doubt he’ll be in hot demand amongst the crew. The Ground Effect Blog will be publishing despatches from Joe’s journey so we can live vicariously through his exploits.

Instagram: @joseph.houghton.08
Strava: Joseph Houghton

4 Responses


17 April 2024

Respect 😄


14 April 2024

Staggering tale. The description of conditions before even starting and then to just get out there says it all. This is why you finished:the purity of unwavering untrammelled determination. Something in this saga is epic and excuse me for putting it this way – certainly divine in its inspirational motivation personally.
I bow to your enthusiasm spirit mate.


26 March 2024

Friggin Awesome 🤙🏼


26 March 2024

Great read and well done!! Awesome effort!!

Leave a comment