On March 6, 117 competitors from 30 countries around the world will arrive in Chile’s Atacama Desert to compete in the Atacama Crossing, one of four foot races (walking, running, or a combination of the two) that comprise RacingThePlanet’s 4Deserts race.
The four races—the Atacama Crossing in Chile, the Gobi March in China, the Sahara Race in Egypt and the Last Desert in Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands—are together considered one of the world’s most challenging endurance tests, and cover the driest, windiest, hottest and coldest terrain on earth.
In six distinct stages, covering 161 miles (259 km) over seven days, the Atacama Crossing takes competitors through some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes of the Andean Altiplano around San Pedro de Atacama. For this year’s edition of the Crossing, Japan’s top news network, NHK, will film a 90-minute special to air in April.
Athletes will cross the stark, white Atacama Salt Flat and pass active volcanoes, high altitude lakes, rocky canyons and riverbeds that have not seen water in millennia. These are the same lands that nurtured some of the world’s most ancient lost cultures, which left 1,500 year old geoglyphs on desert hillsides and the ruins of forts and settlements, also visible along the route.
Competitors are responsible for carrying their own food and equipment excepting only water and tents, which are provided for them at bases at the end of each stage.
Helicopters and ambulances provided by the Chilean National Tourism Service (Sernatur) will offer emergency medical services for the competitors, and volunteers behind the final competitor will gather course markers to ensure that no mark is left on the landscape. Otherwise, the athletes rely only on their endurance and the support of other athletes to meet the grueling challenge.
More than simply an endurance test, the Atacama Crossing and other RacingThePlanet events also bring competitors from around the globe into contact with local communities, who host them at the campsites and provide meals and often entertainment.
Many competitors raise money for charitable organizations in addition to contributing their US$3,300 entry fee. In the past, competitors in the Atacama Crossing have raised money for cleft palate, multiple sclerosis, wounded veterans from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, cancer research and rape counseling, amongst other worthy causes. In 2010, the Atacama Crossing race provided a US$15,000 donation to Habitat for Humanity for victims of the earthquake in South Chile.