Today, the history of Everesting changes. No, another pro racer hasn’t set a new record for the fastest Everesting. And no, we haven’t reached a new milestone for the number of Everestings completed (although 8,000 is just around the corner!) No, today we update the history books and acknowledge that the first known Everesting likely occurred 10 years earlier than we first thought.
If you’re reading this you’re almost certainly familiar with the exploits of George Mallory, the Australian man who, in 1994, rode the equivalent height of Mt. Everest on Mt. Donna Buang near Melbourne while training for an expedition to Everest itself. For as long as Everesting has been around, we’ve recognised Mallory’s ride on Mt. Donna Buang as the first-known Everesting. Today that changes.
We recently received an email from a Frenchman by the name of Francois Siohan. He told us of a ride he did on the Col de la Faucille in the Jura mountains of France back in 1984; a ride that, today, we’d refer to as an Everesting.
First, some background on Monsieur Siohan.
Born in Brittany in 1941, he started cycling seriously while studying physics at Rennes University. He took up racing and won a few local races for his troubles. After studying, Siohan headed off to Bolivia to teach physics as what he describes as his “alternate civilian French military service”. He cycled while in Bolivia too, and ended up winning a race called La Paz-Copacabana, reportedly one of the highest in the world which went as high as 4,200 m.
It was at this time that Siohan “became interested in mountains”. He climbed Mt. Condoriri (5,648 m) “with a friend and colleague who didn’t want to go alone” but mountaineering itself didn’t hold the same appeal as cycling. Riding up hills would become his passion.
After leaving Bolivia, Siohan spent 10 years in the US, one year in Great Britain, and eventually landed near the French-Swiss border where he still lives today. In 1981 he started working as a scientific translator at CERN — the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Living as he did “with fantastic mountains all around” Siohan’s interest in cycling uphill only grew.
“It’s around those years that I started thinking of ‘Everesting’ as you call it, and doing it by daylight only, i.e. between sunrise and sunset,” he told us via email. “I didn’t find anywhere (cycling magazines, etc.) anything on the subject, [and] had no idea if it was feasible at all.”
In 1983, he entered the second ever Marmotte — a legendary French sportif with 5,000 metres of climbing. Despite being “insufficiently trained” for the effort, he got through the event just fine.
A short time later he took a big step closer to his Everesting. He went and tried eight repeats of the Col de la Faucille, an 11.3 km-long climb that rises 710 m over its length (average 6%, but with a sustained section of 3 km approaching 8% and even touching 9% at one point). It all went as planned and gave Siohan confidence that climbing the height of Everest — a total of 13 laps — was doable. “According to my rule of thumb … if 60% is no problem, then you can go for 100%,” he said.
And if he was going to go for 100%, he wanted people to notice.
“So I started to try and make the buzz,” he said, “calling the local press, talking to my local Peugeot bike shop owner to let me borrow his lighter [8.2kg] Peugeot carbon fibre bicycle (just my size), arranging with two of his (cycling) employees to follow me in turns on a scooter with spare wheels …”
When the big day rolled around, on July 1, 1984, everything seemed to fall into place. What started out as a cool morning warmed to a toasty day of around 32ºC, necessitating two jersey changes throughout his effort. In Siohan’s words, the wool jerseys of the time “got sticky”.
By today’s standards, Siohan was riding massive gears. His 52/42-tooth chainset was paired with a six-speed, 13-23T cassette out back. Siohan tells us that in training he always used the 42/20 on the steepest part of the climb (about 7%). Using the 42/23 during the actual ride was a new experience.
Over the course of the day, with his wife and daughter cheering him on from the roadside, the then-42-year-old completed his goal of 13 laps, racking up more than 9,200 metres of climbing in the process.
“Overall I really didn’t have to push myself,” he told us. “It felt a bit harder at the 11th climb but I had an ally on the 12th and 13th: a welcomed updraft or wind that probably saved me 1 to 1 and 1/2 minutes on those climbs.”
All told, the ride took him 13 and a half hours — a respectable time indeed — ensuring he finished the ride before sundown, as planned. He told the Dauphine Libere newspaper at the time: “I could have finished a 14th ascent. But I think it would have been difficult to recover.” He was scheduled to ride his second La Marmotte just six days later.
After a long delay, Siohan’s ride was acknowledged by the French Guinness Book of Records.
“It was a very long and tedious process, but since I had a large number of witnesses as I had tried my best to publicise the ‘event’, they finally included my ride,” he said. “I joined the two minuscule notes from the 1985 (included last minute, with a misspelling in spite of the delay of over 1 year) and 1986 editions.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Siohan wasn’t done. In 1991, “disappointed that nobody took up the Everest idea”, he set out to amass 10,000 metres of elevation gain in one ride. The 14 and a bit laps of the Faucille he achieved wasn’t an Everesting in the strictest sense — he took a slight deviation on the way down and after reaching the bottom each time — but it was a hell of a ride nonetheless, and an impressive way to celebrate his 50th birthday.
And that ride wasn’t just to see if he could reach 10,000 metres — it was part of a personal experiment to see whether it was quicker to gain elevation by foot or on the bike. His 10,000 m climb on foot — 100 ascents of a 100-metre-deep stairwell at CERN’s Large Electron-Positron Collider over the course of 11 hours — proved to be quicker and easier.
And then, in 1996 — by that point in his mid-50s — Siohan returned to the Col de la Faucille to up the ante once again. Over the course of 24 hours he rode up the Faucille a staggering 21 times, clocking up 15,000 metres of elevation. Even though he jumped in the car to descend “when it was too dark or too cold”, we can all surely agree that 15,000m of climbing in 24 hours is a ridiculously impressive effort.
So, a big chapeau to Francois Siohan for his incredible and inspirational efforts on the Col de la Faucille. We’re thrilled to have learned about Siohan’s exploits and heard his stories, and today we officially recognise his ride on July 1, 1984 as the first-known Everesting.