Photo Story: Ben Hildred Climbs & Descends 21,635 Meters in 3 Days

Dec 11, 2020
by Ben Hildred  

Type two fun, it seems like a miserable pursuit, although moderation just seems so half arsed. Rides that result in involuntary wheezing, trying to dull violent cold shakes and keeping food down you don’t want to eat, but calorie excursion demands it. Once you’ve experienced type two fun you’ll want more. It’s a slippery slope, both metaphorically and literally in this sense. Type two fun, too fun.

In late May, the boss man at Vertigo Bikes, Paul 'Pang' Angus, forwarded a magazine article about Olympus Mons - a volcano on the planet Mars that stands 21,287.4m (69,841ft) above datum, said to be the tallest planetary mountain in the solar system, roughly two and a half times the height of Mt. Everest. Partial to a good climbing challenge this got my type two fun senses tingling, since my Stratosphere challenge last year I’d often get asked ‘what’s next,’ this was for sure the next ascent to conquer.

It’s been amazing to see so many climbing efforts and stories arise from people's altered realities this year, many Everests, personal goals and targets, the lure of a mammoth effort strung together with one simple end result, usually following straight forward guidelines. Whilst recovering from a dislocated elbow over the southern hemisphere winter, too many hours on a turbo trainer and a reluctance to join Zwift got me thinking, could Olympus Mons be the next ultra climb? With a few simple guidelines, what epic stories could evolve from a simple mission statement?

After toying with a few ideas, I decided to cement a few guidelines for a challenge, purchased a domain name and committed to giving it a nudge. It was important that Olympus Mons be inclusive and straight forward, you have 72hrs and three bike rides to complete the elevation, that each ride needed to be a loop and the days, obviously consecutive.

After nearly six months of preparation it was time to summit the highest mountain in the solar system. If spread evenly, it’d require three 7100m/vertical days of elevation in a row. If ridden conservatively and mindful of time, it’d mean little sleep and every minute would be crucial. If this was my masochist gift to the perverted type two glutens of cycling, I’d need to try it first.

Living in Queenstown, New Zealand, it’d be sacrilege not to ride on a mountain bike. I’d composed three days, all having an off-road element. Day one would be up Queenstown Mountain Bike park, an access road climb and a descent using existing trails. Day two would be the Coronet mountain road climb to the ski field base building, then descending down the infamous Rude Rock before a road blast to the bottom. Day three would be the Remarkables mountain road climb including the unsealed gravel section to reach the base building.

An XL Santa Cruz Tallboy was the bike of choice.

AXS makes for a clean cockpit with a Quarq power meter to keep an eye on things.
Flat pedals, 34-tooth chainring, and no chamois was a winning combo.

Day 1: Queenstown Bike Park

I’d determined 18 laps would get me to my 7100m target, I’d previously Everested this road so it wasn’t an unknown beast to tame, rather one revisited, only I’d forgotten about the pain and gruel.

My descent on the first day was mostly down ‘Hammys’ with a few more difficult direct lines to get down faster. The plan was to use smoother trails to avoid arm pump and fatigue. This didn't go quite to plan, as with most well-used bike park trails, Hammys embedded more than its fair share of braking bumps. After half a dozen laps trying to be efficient with time, my knuckles felt like they were being pulled apart from my hands, turning climbs into periods of recovery.

The nature of doing this and the off-road elements meant it could all be for nothing if I put a foot wrong or miss judge one of the bike parks powder ruts. A section of trail I rode on Saturday was a new line I'd only heard about, a steep rutted chute, ridden under a head torch at 12.30 am for the first time, but it perfectly connected two smoother trails making my passage down the hill more efficient. It was sketchy!

Weather-wise, Saturday was the perfect day other than an ugly shower that lasted an hour as the sun was rising. It was still early though, full of beans, knowing it'd pass and seeing daylight made the cold rain almost enjoyable. It also cemented the commitment to keep pushing through.

The only injury picked up all weekend was a rock strike that flew up and connected with my outside ankle bone, that rang through me like a tuning fork. I probably made a similar noise to a tuning fork too. I added a small section of climbing to each lap which meant I’d only need 17 loops instead of the projected 18 to reach my daily target.

After the first day I felt good, finishing on time and affording decent rest. A huge, notable effort. Pang, who planted the red planet seed in the first place, joined me on completing all 17 laps. It was great to share in the first tide, what a champ!

Final ride elevation - 7140m

Day 2: Coronet

Bleak, bare, brutal. Coronet. The weather had forecast a cloudy day with occasional sunshine up until the day before, a high of 16 degrees celsius. Perfect. First lap, snow and hail, freezing temperatures at the top of the trail. I had to look where my feet were as I couldn't feel my pedals, my fingers, long gone. At least I didn't need to descend for 30mins with this windchill…

Lap two of the second day was the hardest, most gruelling, even the ascent in the dark and rain didn't warm me up. It’s the closest I'd ever came to falling asleep at the bars too, steering in a straight line and keeping my head up was a difficult task. My 'blinks' were questionable and as long as the task in hand. I found some yellow foam matting used for the ski fields under cover and had a quick nap at the top. It was the comfiest I think I'd ever been, rolling into the snow to start the descent, that was next level will power.

Lap three I was welcomed midway up the climb by friends, Steve and Gnomes baring hot water bottles, warm drinks and warm smiles. They possessed the enthusiasm I'd forgotten about that morning. I felt alive again, fuelled by their encouragement and fancy English breakfast tea. The sun eventually did come out on day two, it got warm, the trails were busy and the morning, only a few hours before, seemed like a distant memory, not so bad after all. Once again, I was joined by good sorts for laps up and down, listening to their conversation passed the climbs and the growing monotony.

The descent mainly down ‘Rude Rock’ a Queenstown classic. I rode it in snow, slop, hero dirt, and dust powder all within a few hours. A hill bomb down the road to finish aided recovery from a well-trodden tourist trail. Luckily the day before made the knuckle tearing more tolerable, deep heat between the fingers, jobs a good’n.

A big thanks to Jamie MacKay, absolute trooper, not only decided to come for laps, he smashed out his own 10,000m/vertical that day! I was humbled to hear my effort had inspired him to set his own goals and we worked together through the thick of that morning. It’d have been a lot harder without his strong-willed mindset, Scottish grit and talent. Cheers 'Balls.'

Elapsed ride elevation after day two - 14,114m

Day 3

I'd afforded a proper night's sleep after the second day, seven whole hours with painful interludes of jolting leg cramp. I had one day and 7200m to go. It didn't matter if I finished at midnight, it was there and mine to earn. We started later, not on the road until 4 am. Remarks road, sealed and unsealed, until the base building, it felt like the home stretch when I started, this was it, only 7200m to go. Only.

The temperature change from bottom to the base building of the ski fields was a real wake up call, flashbacks of the day before were filling my head and clouding my tall defensive wall of positive, determined thoughts. Descending was cold, very cold, the wind chill had me adopting a crab fist grip over the bars, thumbs cuffed into my palm.

I strategically placed a jumper towards the bottom of the lap, a pick me up and something to look forward to. Apart from ski lift technicians, the only other vehicle that passed me that morning was a shaggy looking overflowing camper, I gave them a friendly nod that I wish I could retract as my favourite, warm ‘Misspent summers’ (very apt) jumper, the light at the end of the Remarkables road had been taken. That frustration got me up lap 3 alone, devising an action plan to ply it back through clever questioning and demands. I didn't see them again that day.

I motored on throughout the final day, able to count down the meters until it was done, knowing that was the end of it. I descended into the last lap. I was surprised at the bottom to see the whole Vertigo Bikes crew and friends waiting for me, the shop had been closed early so everyone could come and show support, it was really, truly awesome.

The last lap started great, warm weather and stories of how the weekend had progressed, everyone had boundless enthusiasm for me. It was amazing. The weather, however, took an abysmal turn for the worst halfway up. In true New Zealand fashion, seasons changed in a flash, we were riding in hale and headwinds. I would say the end was in sight, but we couldn't see anything with the low lying cloud at 1500m.

We made it though, the only comfort physically was my sunburn attained only hours previous, my lobster red neck was keeping my otherwise freezing, numb body occupied.

I finished with a bit of a sprint, thankful everyone had soldiered through for me, it was incredible, after a few soggy hugs and wet high five slaps it soon dawned we had a 30min descent in snow and hale. Possibly the hardest descent I'd ever done, crab grip enabled, a quick swap out of soggy gloves for fresh socks for my hands and I pootled down to the bottom. Too fast made for more windchill, too slow meant more time out in the elements, a difficult balancing act.

Never have I felt so relieved to get in the Vertigo Bikes van, where the heaters were pumping on full already. Jamie and Pang got down the hill first. Along with everyone that followed, they had a 10-minute session of violent, compulsive shaking, walking the tight rope of hyperthermia.

Final Elevation after three rides - 21635m

My 72 hours went great, my bike faultless and not skipping a beat, my body exhausted, although not devastated. The interesting battle faced with most well-wishers was them trying to fathom the mission and amplifying its enormity, while simultaneously it took all my mental focus to dull it down and create a manageable game plan. It was a balancing act and I would dismiss its obvious obscenity to chug along through, and it worked.

Thank you to everyone who came out for that last lap and for a ride throughout those 72 hours, all the Vertigo crew and co. Also, Jon of NZ Shred, my neighbour with the drive to meet me at 4 am on Monday for the first ascent of Remarks road, Ferris and Matt, setting off with us at 12 am on the first day. It all helped no end.

Lastly, Chur to, Callum spurring me along and being on hand all weekend, vital and so very much appreciated, as well as taking incredible photos and documenting the journey he drove us to the loops, boiled the brews and was always ready to lend a hand.

I can now tick this one off, and more importantly share it with the cycling community. Being the admin of the Olympus Mons site, I’m excited to see other efforts. Links to each days ride are now up in the doers section. I’d hope these daft rides inspire some of you to set your own goals. Mountain biking can be gnarly in so many ways and push you to various, boundless limits for that endorphin or adrenalin buzz, what a sick, sick sport.

So, what’s next?


  • 108 0
 what the fuck.
  • 66 1
 Flat pedals, no chamois. Eek
  • 6 0
 @seraph: why no chamois? I'm curious.
  • 16 0
 @theRandaz: I don't ride with one, some folks don't need it!
  • 38 0
 @theRandaz: That level of taint abuse would surely cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in Vegas.
  • 6 0
 @seraph: Taint of Steel
  • 2 0
 @jasbushey: my taint hurts just thinking about it. Sympathy pain.
  • 17 1
 @jasbushey: You guys need better seats. Sit on your sit bones, not your taints.
  • 6 0
 @Stoaks: It might also save you tens if not hundreds of thousands in child support in the future.
  • 4 0

Chamois make my junk go numb after 2-3 hours in the saddle. Key is finding a good saddle.

Took me a while to figure out a correctly sized unpadded saddle with a recess was my taints soulmate
  • 1 0
 @seraph: @benhildred I would love to see a bike check and see why you chose the components you did and rationale behind each choice.
  • 3 1
 @theRandaz: @seraph I've never worn one, tried it once and it was pretty uncomfortable, I understand their purpose in road cycling when you're in the same seated position for hours at a time, but on an MTB with much more dynamic movement and being out of the saddle, a believe a chamois is a substitute for a bad fitting saddle. But I understand some people just want the extra comfort. I also think the beauty of a bike ride is somewhat down to the simplicity of just hopping on a bike, the less technical wear the better Smile
  • 1 0
 @UtahBikeMike: Totally this!
  • 3 0
 @theRandaz: I'm pretty sure it's because chamois don't work well in extreme situations like these, so it makes sense to maximize breathability and less layers of friction instead of having something that works well only for the first 3-4 hours. I had several 10+ hours rides and even with a good chamois (no cream though) I ended up with bloody sores.
  • 19 1
 Ben you are a true Legend!
  • 15 0
 You are a fuckin mad dog Ben, the official vertical meter eater!
  • 5 0
 Chur bru! Love a good pedal, hope all's well in England town.
  • 10 0
 Absolute mad dog. Think I’ll ride to the chairlift today and leave the car at home....
  • 7 0
 I have a feeling that, for a lack of perspective, few people here will realize what a monumental feat of strengh and titanic willpower this must have been. Well done you absolute madman! Also sorry to hear about your jumper, mate. I feel like, had I been in your situation, the frustration might well have pushed me over the edge.
  • 1 0
 Ah dude, thanks so much, haha, I perhaps blew that bit out of proportion, although it felt disastrous at the time! Happy pedalling Smile
  • 8 1
 How many AXS batteries? Serious question.
  • 39 0
 Around 40% of one battery Smile
  • 1 0
 @benhildred: impressive! Great work dude it's an incredible feat.
  • 1 0
 @benhildred: That's impressive
  • 6 0
 I really dig the climbs but this is bananas. Well done.
  • 5 0
 Well done! That was a good read!
  • 1 0
 Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.
  • 2 0
 Unbelievable effort mate,
I think to do these challenges is a massive mental game and just pure determination.
I know you inspired me on my Everesting feat and now I'm asking myself what's next haha.
Great job @benhildred
  • 1 0
 Cheers dude, ah mate, get it done, you've got the minerals I'm sure Smile
  • 2 0
 Since we are now including outer space distances I want to see somebody race the earth around the sun. 365 consecutive days, 940 million kms and you can't do it on a leap year.
  • 2 0
 Type two fun, f*ck yeah!

But on a mountain bike, ooof, that is very impressive indeed!

Can the descend route be the same as the ascent route?
  • 1 0
 Cheers man! yep, for sure Smile
  • 4 0
 Holy crap. Sure didnt take the easy way out on this one... Good Work!
  • 3 0
 Ben you are an absolute gangster.
Glad the brass ensemble wasn't impacted this time ????
  • 9 0
 Thanks hun, Band practise wasn't effected, but I did have to postpone a date with a girl form the Zoo. She's a keeper.
  • 2 0
 Quite the feat of mental endurance. The physical pain is fairly easy to push aside, but the mental game... Amazing accomplishment!
  • 3 0
 It would be tough but I could totally do this. Just gotta move that decimal one spot to the left.
  • 2 0
 And here's me thinking 1 everst in my life time seems hard! This guy does near enough 3 a day! I cant imagine the night cramp pain, I'd be a howling mess!!
  • 1 1
 @benhildred besides being clinically insane, why did you choose the Tallboy over the Blur?
One would think the Blur’s efficiency would have been the clear choice. But I don’t know how gnarly those trails are that you rode down.
  • 2 0
 Thanks for your comments dude! Smile means a lot. Yeah the bike park is pretty steep, I liked the idea of the longer wheelbase and adjustable chain stays of the Tallboy, I managed to build it up pretty light, after a dozen laps in the bike park any muscle memory and good bike body language goes out the window, so the extra travel helped to save some bad decisions haha.
  • 1 0
 @benhildred: Aha! Insurance!
*Yeah sorry, both are amazing bikes, I joked that YOU were insane for not taking the easy route, and not that one bike is better than the other.
  • 2 0
 Insaaaane props, @benhildred ! Your climbing challenges inspire me a lot, hoping to attempt my first everesting next year. Cheers from Brazil!
  • 1 0
 Damn bro.... that's nuts, well done! And holy seatpost! I have a XL TB4, I think you could've gone XXL. I'll probably sell mine before it sees that much climbing!
  • 1 0
 Cheers man! yeah, I'm 194cm so on paper could have done the XXL but I've ridden bigger bikes before and the XL 490mm reach feels just perfect, big fan Smile
  • 2 0
 If only Ben would do more gym gear Instagram posts for the sponsors, he’d be killing this game.
  • 3 0
 Dude this is absolutely mind blowing, just wow, huge respect!
  • 2 0
 Absolutely bonkers and inspirational. Thanks for that. Still gutted to hear about the theft of your jumper! Cheers.
  • 1 0
 Well done Ben, your turning into some kind of crazy monster! Great to see, keep enjoying life, like only you know how.
  • 1 0
 Yoo, thanks mate! I'm just making up for a life in Lincolnshire with lack of proper hills haha.
  • 1 0
 @benhildred: 940.6 ascents of Hamilton Hill :/



  • 1 0
 Absolutely f*cking savage. This sounds like an absolute nightmare of a ride. You’re a beast, my man!!!!!
  • 1 0
 I just read about a mtn on jupitor has been estimates to be over 75000 ft. Just sayin
  • 1 0
 Very mentally and physically challenging. Thanks for sharing your journey.
  • 2 0
  • 1 0
 Damn son! Well done...respect and props! \m/
  • 1 0
 I could do it with a full powered e-bike.
  • 2 0
 Inter Galactic Beast
  • 1 0
 I love beautiful photo stories like these.
  • 1 0
 I honestly cannot get my head around this achievement.
  • 1 0
 Ben, you're a different breed! So inspiring as always
  • 1 0
 Must have a leather gooch..
  • 1 0
 @benhildred so gnarly. what a legend. Congrats!
  • 1 0
 Nice one Ben. You are Defo a T101 machine. ????
  • 1 0
 Wow. Great job.
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