‘So, what races have you done before?’
This was quite a common conversation for us in the days prior to the race, it usually ended with shocked and concerned looks from the other party.
Everyone we spoke to seemed to have done this race before. In fact, everyone we spoke to seemed to have done a lot of races before. In fact, everyone here was confirming our fears that we’d managed to enter the hardest and most remote race in the world. Everyone was much older than us and very serious. 18 teams from around the world had been racing hard together, most of them for years, in preparation for the 10th Anniversary of the Patagonian Expedition Race. The 19th team, 3 cavers and one rock hard chick, were here to race against them.
2.30am Tuesday morning and gathering together on the starting line, it suddenly felt very real. Who would have thought a nine day race would start off with a bike sprint; 80 competitors tore up the road out of Punta Arenas and the 75km down to the kayak leg were over before daylight. Arriving near the front of the pack we hurried to put our bikes away and get out onto the kayaks – our first transition was slow and a steep learning curve, we watched several teams overtake us and paddle out into the swell before we were even in drysuits. As dawn broke we realised we were paddling across the Straits of Magellen, we were heading into the unknown of mountainous Dawson Island and making ground on the other teams. This was cool.
6 hours later things were not cool. Dragging 2 large double kayaks through the heart of the island, dense with turba and jungle is painful. Thankfully everyone forgets the bad bits, although my arms still remember the next 60km of kayaking.
Now on Teirra Del Fuego we used the Rio Condor as a handline and headed inland, crossing the river countless times and bypassing jungle using guanaco trails. Here we met the beaver. Having made good progress through the quagmire of beaver hell we pottered up to PC7, 36 hours after transition, with tired feet and looking forward to being back on the bikes soon. Of course, we were very pleased to hear about a 20km extension to our trek…
This bad news was followed by the lowest point in our race. Bursitis, a sudden and immobilising pain, it was the angle required of the knee to clamber over logs which was particularly excruciating – luckily we were in a forest - it was a long, delusional night. When we reached the bikes the next morning we were the walking wounded – bursitis, infected toes and dodgy achillies already taking their toll.
A swift 7 hour recovery ride and we were 120km away from the ‘bad forest’. Somehow rested, refreshed and dosed up on painkillers we filled our packs with food, stuffed our faces and prepared for four days alone…
A late night bushwack culminating in a large vertical body of dead jungle gave us an exciting ascent into the mountains, using a cheeky shortcut over a low peak we entered a stunning series of lakes and glaciers heading down to the Valle Profundo, an incredible gorge which drops down to sea level and yet more hateful beaver dams. Crossing another ridge we stumbled down to Rio Azopardo a deep fast flowing river of cold water where we were to cross a Tyrollean.
Reaching the river Rich swam across declaring the water was in fact very cold, wanting to stay dry we began setting up a Tyrollean; in the meantime Jo tried to cross, this did not go well. After a near drowning and a small panic it ended up with Rich, Chris and Jo on the far side with no bags and Dave on the near side with 4 bags. After re-tensioning the tyrolean we sent the bags across, leaving it rigged for following teams. With the tent up we spent the next few hours shivering some warmth back in a hypothermic Jo (who had to do two crossings and is very very small). Recovering from hypothermia takes time meaning we had to spend more time here than we’d planned.
Waking up we knew we would have little time to reach the next PC so took our chances with an unknown high level mountain route, rather than a longer valley bushwack and beaver hell. What followed was an exciting day scrambling over cliffs and glaciers with guanaco and condors for company. Reaching PC13 two hours after cut-off was depressing, our spirits only slightly lifted by the news we had overtaken another team by our route choice, and that we were to be supplied with bacon! After an easy sleep in the mountain pass we woke up covered in snow and began our long descent and return to civilisation.
Although not happy our race was cut short, we are content both with 13th in a race dubbed ‘the toughest race on the planet’ and had the privilege of a very good time in one of the last remaining wilderness’s on earth.
Here is a quote from race organiser Peter Clayden: ‘No report on the teams can be complete without mentioning the quintessentially British team of Pata-Gona-Get-Yah! No team of such young people, with so little background in AR has ever done so well in this event. Out on the course, we’d often draw in our breath at the size of their packs and the sheer volume of food that they seemed to have with them and yet nothing could stop them, or their sheer sense of joy and fun at suddenly being in so much at the deep end. Something tells me they’ll be back.’
Our next adventures are planned in deep dark nasty holes, but I"m sure we’ll be back again for another bite of the beaver.
Check out more pictures on the official Patagonia Expedition Race site.
Team Pata-Gona-Get-Yah! took with them the Zhota mountain tent, Hunka Bivi bag and a selection of Airlok Xtra drybags
Read about their preparations prior to the event.