We chat with Faisal Qadir, who successfully did an Everesting in Ladakh this year. Climbing 8800+ metres at a whopping altitude of 3600m AMSL! Surely the highest Everesting ever done in India…
Since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, Everesting for cyclists became big. In India and abroad you could see cyclists of all hues going for an Everesting record. One of the main reasons was the extreme challenge which you could ‘enjoy’ all alone. And being alone, was quite the requisite of the pandemic!
From professional racers to hardcore amateurs and everybody in between was having a go at this Everesting business. Even in India, we saw a bunch of interesting attempts in different locations. From small climbs to big monsters. But one thing remained common, it was all ‘down’ there. Not scraping the rooftop of the world.
Till the time Faisal Qadir decided to go a little dotty in his head and climb 8848 metres at an altitude where most people struggle to breathe, even while standing still.
But what is Everesting you ask?
The concept of Everesting is fiendishly simple: Pick any hill, anywhere in the world and complete repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848m – the equivalent height of Mt Everest. Complete the challenge on a bike, on foot, or online, and you’ll find your name in the Hall of Fame, alongside the best climbers in the world.The above text is from the Everesting Website, which should clear up the muddied waters!
This is a story of a lunatic who went from Rock Climber to Everester…
Faisal means “decision-maker” in Arabic, yet he tell us ironically, he is one of the most indecisive folks he knows. He couldn’t decide whether this was actually true or not!
His indecisiveness has seen him dabbling in a variety of sports since childhood. Football, basketball, running (not just away from important decisions!), and rock climbing have been some of the ingredients of his athletic menu. Finally, the pandemic got him back onto the saddle of a bicycle and he started enjoying longer distances. Gravitating to endurance cycling came naturally, after his endurance running stints. Living in a joint family meant that cycling was also the escape route to be by himself.
Everesting in Ladakh: The Bug Bites Hard
The pandemic got him pedalling longer distances, and amidst the cycling craze sweeping through YouTube channels, he stumbled upon the pinnacle of cycling challenges – Everesting. The original plan? Everest Khardung La, the highest motorable pass.
But as fate would have it, a new gravel bike and a ride on a hill called Nirvana changed everything.
Nirvana: A Hill Chosen by Ego (and a Pinch of Madness)
Why Nirvana, you ask? Ego, pure ego.
After getting a new lighter, faster and modern gravel bike on the 1st of January this year, Faisal felt he could improve drastically when compared to his 23 year old bike. He went about finding the iconic climbs around Leh and going for the KOM. Nirvana was the second hill he attempted.
Rather than blitzing the KOM of Nirvana on his new bike. He ended up stalling, running out of breath and stopping before that 900 metre section of road finished. The mountain defeated the man… It was a bitter pill to swallow, but an important one, the rider was lacking in competency, not the bike.
Immediately Faisal decided to go Everesting on the hill which he died on. The man wanted his bit of revenge on the mountain. Confronting past failure, so that not even a morsel of fear remained.
Which leaves us wondering… did Faisal choose Nirvana or was it the other way around?
Preparing for Everest: Naivety Confronting Reality
Faisal wasn’t diving into Everesting unprepared. The guy had a plan – a meticulous one.
Hill reps, strength training, and mental conditioning were all part of the regime. All the while ably guided by veteran endurance cyclist Sumit Patil. The first rider to do an Everesting in India.
Faisal even roped in fellow cyclist Sonam Tsan for Base Camp attempts. Sonam is a national level mountain biker and an incredible climber. And there’s no better training than riding with somebody who is better than you.
But what’s Everest without unexpected twists? They attempted Base Camp, failed, and decided to return the next week. In his words, it was “naivety confronting reality“.
The greatest learning for Faisal in his training was embracing elevation. He started focussing on climbing in every ride and this focus held him in good stead.
Solo Endeavours: Everesting’s Unconventional Twist
Everesting solo? Not for the faint-hearted.
Faisal, usually a lone rider due to his aversion to organization, found himself orchestrating every aspect. None of his family or friends understood the enormity of his attempt and were not willing to stand by the roadside to assist him for an entire day. Understandably, we might add!
He landed up at the start point with a backpack loaded with supplies for the entirety of the ride. It felt like the job half done already, since he now had to do nothing else. Except of course the small matter of actually riding the bike!
A few cameos from family and friends did help him top up on depleting supplies every once in a while.
Clock’s Ticking: Breaking Down the Everesting Hours
Faisal’s estimate of 20 hours for Everesting quickly morphed into a time-bending saga. This estimate was based on a calculator which erred on the side of optimism in terms of off-saddle time.
Breaks, unexpected challenges, and just life turned this into a time-juggling act. But, our man didn’t quit – not even when faced with exhaustion, sleep deprivation, loneliness or time extensions.
At midnight, when Faisal had been riding for 20 hours, he had completed 6000 metres. He wanted to quit. But the thought of carrying all his supplies on his back and riding home in the dead of night, was the stick he needed. Climbing the hill was a carrot in comparison.
By 3 AM, he was desperate to sleep. Riding downhill he felt light-headed and realised a mistake would be catastrophic. He took a 20 minute break, though he didn’t get any sleep, the time-out did help.
Munchies and Sips: The Secret Sauce of Everesting Fuelling
Guided by Sumit‘s wisdom, Faisal’s nutrition plan was like a cyclist’s gourmet – Enerzal, bananas, sandwiches, and caffeine timed with Swiss precision.
Since he was riding alone, Faisal didn’t have anybody to look after his nutrition or hydration. He had to keep track of it himself. After many hours of riding without sleep, you never make smart decisions. As such, the thinking was outsourced to a pre-Everesting Faisal!
To complicate matters further, Faisal had to attend his cousin’s engagement in the morning. He was far away from the finish line, when his cousin called and treated him to some ‘choice words’. That was motivation for Faisal, who upped his pace in the last 10 laps. From averaging 9-12 minutes per lap, he dropped his timings to 6-8 minutes in the last 10. The added speed was presumably brought on by sea buckthorn juice, coffee from Metta Café and fear of family!
Even though Faisal ends up riding solo a lot. He had experienced endurance cycling and fatigue before. He knew that as the day wore on, he would get sadder riding alone.
Faisal, asked some of his friends to join him during the ride. The first person to join him at the start of the ride, assumed that he had to ride a total of 8 km, not 8 vertical kilometres! His enthusiasm fizzled out when he learned of the real game, but he did ride 10 laps along with Faisal.
Later in the day Faisal was joined by another local cyclist, who rode 30 laps and completed a Quarter Everesting of his own.
Having other people around was nice. It took away some of the pain and drudgery.
By 8 PM, all the support vanished, and he was left to his own devices. The darkness of the night enveloped him and his thoughts. It was just man and mountain… and fortunately no dogs, wolves or snow leopards for company!
Altitude Game: A Ladakhi’s Playground
As a Ladakhi lad, Faisal felt that the altitude was not a challenge for him. Ladakh was his playground, and cycling at 3400 meters was his baseline.
No altitude drama for him – just the usual uphill battle. For anybody attempting something similar from lower down, they would need to take a lot more time to acclimatise.
Gear Geekery: Tinkering for Efficiency
Gear talk, because every cyclist loves it.
Faisal’s only tweak was on Sumit’s advice – switching his bike’s cassette to handle Nirvana’s steep segments. He went from a 11-34 to a 11-36 cassette. It helped him on the steeper sections, even then he had to get out of the saddle to climb.
Lightweight was the name of the game. No bottles on the bike – hydration and nutrition were waiting at the top of the climb.
Leh being Leh, there’s almost nothing available for road or gravel bikes. As such, Faisal didn’t have much scope to change anything on his bike, even if he wanted to.
Lessons Learned and Future Everesting Adventures
Reflecting on this rollercoaster, Faisal contemplates better hill choices for the next attempt. Gradual climbs over the rollercoaster Nirvana, for sure. He already has his sights on some climbs in the vicinity which should serve him well for his second attempt.
The mental resilience gained from this attempt, isn’t just restricted to cycling – it’s a life tool. He keeps reminding himself, that if he could dig deep enough to finish 8800 metres, then he can face other big life challenges as well. Sadly, this new found confidence was nowhere to be found, when he had to ask a girl for her phone number!
But it did help when he attacked Umling La on his bicycle. He went all guns blazing while climbing the World’s Highest Motorable Pass, taking the KOM (King of the Mountain) for the segment.
The Unanswered Question: Why Everesting?
“Why Everesting?” Faisal shrugs. No one has a solid answer. Cycling up and down 8000 meters might defy logic, but it’s a challenge worth pursuing.
For Faisal, it’s about being the first in Ladakh, inspiring others, and having a damn good story to tell. Everesting – where reasons blur, but the triumph is crystal clear.
The Summit and Beyond Everesting in Ladakh
Faisal Qadir, the Everester from Ladakh, emerged victorious.
Nirvana conquered, lessons learned, and plans brewing for the next adventure.
As Faisal rides into the Ladakhi sunset, he leaves us with a nugget of wisdom for undertaking crazy cycle rides: “One reason for me is that… yeah… I don’t really have a reason!”
Everest on, Faisal…