Beginning Feb. 8 in southern Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, 15 teams from around the world will begin one of the world’s most extreme challenges: the Ninth Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race. Over eight days and more than 380 miles (617 km), competitors will endure the ice, snow, rain, wind and intense sun of Patagonia’s virgin terrain, some of the wildest terrain that remains on the face of the earth.
Teams hailing from the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, France, Denmark, Croatia, Italy, the Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Brasil and the three entries from Chile will follow a course along the edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the largest body of ice in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica, touching on the mountains, glaciers, forests, swamps and fjords characteristic of the region. The course, which was only officially announced 24 hours before the beginning of the race, will require competitors to traverse this expansive region’s diverse terrain by bike, kayak and, of course, on foot.
The race began under surprisingly bright skies as the teams set off on bikes for the first leg of the race, a 37 mile (60 km) bike ride through Torres del Paine to Lake Gray, abutting one of the Park’s major glaciers. Here, team members will switch to kayaks for the next section of the race.
The course will finish on February 16 in the volcanic landscape of Pali Aike National Park, near the mouth of the Straight of Magellan. Routes change each year so that returning teams—like the twice-consecutive champion team from the UK—are faced with an entirely new host of challenges each year. Past races have included sections of the Ice Field, the Straight of Magellan, and the Darwin Range along the Beagle Channel.
In an official press release, race organizer Stjepan Pavicic described this year’s event as “a real classic,” covering the most remote and untouched land yet covered in the Patagonian Expedition Race—so remote, in fact, that Pavicic and other race organizers had to assign names to valleys, glaciers and regions previously unmarked on the map.
Among the group of professional and semi-professional racers participating in this year’s event is Croatian competitor Darija Bostjancic who summited Mt. Everest in 2009, and returning member from the British team Mark Humphrey. “There is no other that’s so challenging for an unsupported team in such extreme and diverse terrain and weather,” Humphrey says, describing the challenge as “the wildest race in the world.”
This year, team members are running to raise money for the conservation of the rare endemic species, the Patagonian Huemul, an elusive type of deer that lives in the mountains and forests that straddle the border with Argentina. Donations from the general public will be collected throughout the race on the official race website and will go directly to a population survey, the results from which will serve as an essential stepping stone to developing a long term preservation goal.
The Patagonian Expedition Race not only brings the world to Chile and Chile to the world, it also helps to ensure that this most wild and pristine region can be preserved for generations of adventurers to come.