Just one dozen adventurers crossed the finish line in Punta Arenas last month after 44 competitors set out on a 10 day, 435 mile (701 km) race from Puerto Natales, trekking, biking, and kayaking across the wilds of Chilean Patagonia.
Eight of the 11 four-person teams that began this year’s Patagonia Expedition Race, also known as The Last Wild Race and the Race to the End of the World, couldn’t complete the challenge due to failed glacier crossings, extreme weather, and missed deadlines.
“It was a challenging race this year,” Nick Gracie, captain of the winning team, told This is Chile. “The weather was tough with 100 mph winds in some places, and a few teams couldn’t find a way onto the glacier we had to cross for 6 miles (10km) in Torres del Paine.”
Team Adidas Terrex Prunesco, this year made up of Gracie, Mark Humphreys, Sally Ozanne, and Chris Near from the U.K., won for the fifth year running with a time of 9 days 6 hours 55 minutes (more than a day ahead of second placed Eastwind from Japan), solidifying the team’s dominance of the annual competition that was founded in 2004.
“We’ve all come out of an English winter, and have spent a lot of time training in Scotland,” Gracie said. “This helps a lot with the conditions; our morale may not be as affected as others’ when spending long periods in the cold and wet. I also think it simply comes down to the fact that we were a little better at most things – a little better at navigating, a little better at biking and kayaking, a little stronger in trekking. Over a ten day race these small differences add up to a lot.”
Gracie also spoke of the team’s speed at transitions (moving from one racing discipline to another) as key to its success. Teams cover a total of 186 miles (300km) on mountain bikes, 199 miles (320km) on foot, and 50 miles (80km) in kayaks, and transition between the three forms of racing 10 times during the competition.
A mythical landscape
“Five wins in five years – its been a great era for the team and a strong bond has certainly been built between Chilean Patagonia and the British adventure racing community,” Gracie said. “Patagonia is an almost mythical part of the world – remote, mountainous and with a reputation for rapidly changing weather conditions. That together with the reputation that the race already had as being one of the toughest around was reason enough to return.”
Gracie, whose main role as team captain is to motivate and keep morale high, identifies a river crossing on the third day as the most challenging period of the race.
“We’d been walking all day, we were freezing and soaking wet and we’d run out of food. Our transition point (set up by the race organizer and where teams also replenish food supplies) was about ten minutes away, over a river crossing,” Gracie recalled. “When we hit the river we saw that it was in flood and far too dangerous to cross. We could almost smell the food it was so close, yet we had to set up camp, cold wet and hungry, and wait through the night for the river to go down.”
As well as kayaking along the coast, biking across technically demanding terrain, and running and walking across ice, rock, and pampas, the teams must navigate their way across many unpathed miles using nothing but a compass and a map.
“It’s refreshing to have been part of race that can genuinely attach the word ‘adventure’ to it for all the right reasons,” Gracie said. “What better way to experience what the area has to offer than to totally immerse yourself in the landscape? There was nothing contrived, just one amazing journey requiring both physical strength and mental toughness in equal measure.”
Sign up for 2014!
Teams of no less than four, including a minimum of one woman, can participate in the competition that has attracted adventurers from over 20 countries. Entering costs US$ 1,000 (CLP 471,000). There is no prize money, though in the Olympic spirit, winning should be more than enough! For more registration information, visit the race website.