re-sized exhaustion

Midway into the Patagonia Expedition Race

This is the 10th Anniversary of the Patagonia Expedition Race – the last wild race in the world. We first wrote about this race in 2009 and again in 2010. 19 team of eco-adventurers from Croatia, New Zealand, Great Britain, United States, Japan, Russia, Brazil, France, Denmark, Czech Republic, South Africa, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Finland, Canada, Spain, Australia, Colombia and Chile set off on Valentine’s Day for the race of a lifetime but also to raise awareness for the endangered wilderness in Chilean Patagonia.

10th Anniversary of the Patagonia Adventure Race

A few of the stipulations for this race are:

  • a minimum age of 18,
  • the teams must be mixed and composed of four members, i.e. at least one male and one female team member,
  • a team may include members of one or more nationalities
  • and third party assistance is forbidden
There are also some strictly forbidden paraphernalia:
  • The use of GPS (Global Positioning System)
  • The use of any maps other than those provided by the organization
  • The possession of any weapon with the exception of the mandatory knife
  • The use of night vision devices
  • Any means of transportation not authorized by the organization for the corresponding section
  • The use of any communication equipment not authorized by the organization
  • The use of sails or any other form of propulsion other than paddles is strictly prohibited

Competitors arrived in Puntas Arenas, Patagonia on the 11th February in time for race registration. Technical skills evaluations, race briefings etc were carried out over the following days before the 14th when the race began. It will finish on the 22nd at Cape Horn.

The course is, in classic Patagonian Expedition Race style, arduous, long, and nothing short of spectacular. “And by “spectacular” we’re talking about landscapes of such overwhelming beauty, they are life-changing,” say event organisers. Nicola Macleod who took part,very successfully, in last years’ race had this to say about it: It was an amazing race. It is an amazing chance to explore Patagonia in depth, on your own, in an adventurous environment. It certainly met my expectations, and the fact we managed to win it blew them away! And I know that I speak for many of the competitors here when I tell you that I can’t wait to come back.” 

The disciplines in this event include navigation, trekking, sea kayaking, mountain biking and fixed rope work whether it be in ascent, rappelling, or Tyrolese rope work.

The race began at 2.30 in the morning with a 75km bike ride down the coast south of Punta Arenas. Remember – this is an adventure race… you are not expected to have much time to sleep!

Mountain Bike start at the Patagonia Expedition Race

The Patagonia Expedition Race

The timing was expected to co-incide with an early morning transition to kayaks for the crossing of the Strait of Magellan via Dawson Island.  This was followed by the portaging of their kayaks for several kilometers before being able to submerge again in the chilly waters of the Whiteside Canal.

This is what exhaustion looks like!

haulage of kayaks during the Patagonia Expedition Race

The next stage of the race was an 87-km trek along the coast into the Tierra del Fuego over wooded, mountainous terrain. Penguins were their only companions. The course led them through parts of the Karukinka National Park and toward the dirt road and trails of the mountain bike section.

An 87-km trek

Trekking, one of the disciplines in the Patagonia Expedition Race

This is generally the make or break stage. The cut-off times on the Patagonia Expedition Race are notoriously tight and teams must move fast and have efficient transitions to reach them. Failing to meet a cut-off disqualifies a team from continuing – an enormous disappointment after so much effort.

Once the teams were back on their bikes, they had a 140 kms section of relatively flat pedaling. That may sound like an easy section, but the winds of the Tierra del Fuego are not only extremely strong, they are also undauntedly persistent. Last year, racers were blown off their bikes on a similar section of the race in a dramatic wind storm that appeared out of nowhere and disappeared suddenly, leaving a field of bikers both confused and exfoliated!

This brought  the teams back into the Karukinka Park where Checkpoint 9 closed at 1:30 a.m. on the 18th of February and after 5 days, 15 teams remained in the event. The competitors were 376 kms into the race and exhaustion, blisters, and hunger would have been a constant misery. Adidas Terrex-Prunesco, a combined team from England, New Zealand and Spain, were firmly in the lead as they headed into the glacier section. They were followed by EastWind of Japan, South Africa of Cyanosis and Gear Junkie Yogaslackers of the United States.

The final trekking section – an astounding 147 kilometer section through the Darwin Range – began with a brief stint on the newly built Karukinka trail. It was the only section of the race, barring biking, with a visible trail and in a unique feature of this year’s race, teams were given trail markers to carry and disperse along the way, effectively making them part of the trail building process.

By the end of 19th February, another team, Four Continents, had to withdraw after one of its members suffered a sprained ankle.

That brings us up to the current status of the race as it enters the Cordillera Darwin mountain range.

The Cordillera Darwin sits at the end of the mighty Andes – and it is here where teams will experience some of Chile’s wildest scenery. The area from here to Cape Horn is designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and some fjords in the region have only been discovered in the past century. The range itself is a collection of 2,000m high peaks entirely within Chilean territory, named after the biologist Charles Darwin. Much of it is covered by a giant icefield the size of Luxembourg.

The teams will be crossing right through the heart of this spectacular mountain range.They will be passing through a ropes section in the Valle Profundo, peat bogs along the Rio Toredo, and mountain passes in the Darwin Range.  All of this will be backdropped by stupendous scenery: glaciers, peaks, and river valleys. There are two key river crossings in this section – both involving a tyrolean (rope-assisted crossing). Over hills and through valleys, teams will make their way to the Beagle Channel for the last kayaking section of 47 kms.

Paddling along the dramatic ice falls of the coast line, tired teams will finally turn into the picturesque Pia Fjord where cameras, crew, and much needed rest await them.

As with many of the events that we like to bring to people’s attention, the Patagonia Expedition Race’s sole purpose is not only to allow a handful of people to indulge their masochistic tendencies (!) and superior fitness to us mere ordinary mortals, but  to raise people’s awareness to the fragility of this region and in particular to the Huemul –  a critically endangered member of the deer species which exists now in only a few small pockets of Chile but which is its national symbol.

The Huemul – a part of Chile’s Coat of Arms

The Huemul in Chile's coat of arms

The Patagonian Expedition Race aims to raise US$20,000 before the end of the next race to enable the initial scientific tracking and monitoring activity to take place.

Little is known about their population status in Peninsula Brunswick and Peninsula Muñoz-Gamero other than the fact that they exist, something that has been proven by competitor sightings in past editions of the Patagonian Expedition Race. The aim of this project is to pioneer the understanding of the Huemul population in the Peninsula Brunswick and Peninsula Muñoz-Gamero, to estimate their conservation status and finally to collaborate with other research studies and provide additional information for a conservation management plan for the species’ protection within the whole of Chile.

The Huemul

However, it is not only the Huemul which is likely to benefit from this event. The Patagonia Expedition Race hopes to draw the world’s attention to the deforestation that is continuing apace in Chile.

In the words of the event organisers: “It is our belief that if the world is exposed to the   unique and inspiring beauty this region holds, they will choose sustainable development over environmental degradation. Public awareness lies at the heart of any conservation movement. Our mission is to awaken the world to the importance and beauty of southern Patagonia, thus ensuring that it will be the treasure it is today for future generations.”

I second that motion…

Thank you to Patagonia Expedition race for all the information and photographs

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