Will Gray reports on a wild race that takes adventurers into the heart of spectacular Chilean Patagonia
Chilean Patagonia is one of the most pristine and scenic regions on the planet, an enigmatic destination of mountains, glaciers, fjords and forests – and for the next ten days it’s home to an event known as The Last Wild Race.
The annual Patagonian Expedition Race began on Tuesday (14 February) and its 76 competitors – in 19 teams – are currently crunching their way through forest on Tierra del Fuego.
You may have to be a super-fit and slightly mad sports nut to enter this eight-day non-stop bike, kayak and trekking competition but a passion for travel and nature is all that’s required to understand the desire to visit this part of the world.
The terrain is varied, from open plains and wide skies to towering mountains and steep sided fjords – but while tourists can take in the sights at leisure, the competitors on this event have to work hard to earn their wilderness experience.
Navigating the traditional way, with just a map and compass, the 19 teams of four have been trying to plot their way through the untracked virgin forests of the Karukinka Natural Reserve since beginning a 55-mile trek at nightfall yesterday.
They are now on the third step of a 375-mile long journey in which they will have little time for sleep as they head deep into some of the best nature Chile – and the world – has to offer.
Once they escape the forest (with 46 miles of mountain biking, 53 miles of kayaking and the long trek already behind them), they will travel down through sheep country in Tierra del Fuego and then into the mighty Darwin Range, the ice-covered southern end of the Andes, where most mountains and glaciers remain un-conquered and un-named.
For those who make it all the way, it will all end next week in front of a 200m-high glacier – but already two teams have found the going too tough and dropped out before even reaching Tierra del Fuego.
The race runs through a different part of the stunning region each time. Last year it started beneath the Torres del Paine; this time, it began in the dead of night under a star-filled Patagonian sky on the shores of the Strait of Magellan.
This year’s course runs through a region that has remained relatively unexplored since its channels and fjords were first discovered and named by legendary adventurers Ferdinand Magellan and Charles Darwin.
Shadowed (in travellers' terms) by the fantastic Torres del Paine National Park, Tierra del Fuego is an area of Chilean Patagonia that is less visited, yet as the racers have already discovered, it offers pristine wilderness and a chance to experience a true exploration spirit.
Back on the track and heading into the forest, British racer Nick Gracie and his team led the field – but with a long night and day of trekking, where the smallest navigation mistake can send a team wildly off course, there are no guarantees they will come out ahead…
Travel writer and adventure seeker Will Gray will report back next week as the teams continue to race through this spectacular Chilean wilderness. For daily updates from the race go to www.patagonianexpeditionrace.com