Patagonian Expedition Race 2009: Adventure in Chile

Adventure racing athletes from all over the world experienced life changing situations whilst crossing hundreds of kilometres of wilderness. The Patagonian Expedition Race tested wills, expanded horizons and broke down barriers.

Patagonian Expedition Race 2009 patagonianexpeditionrace.comThe Patagonian Expedition Race is a true expedition, taking teams of four through lands previously unknown to the human eye. Racers receive minimal assistance as they traverse through the pristine southern Patagonia by means of trekking, climbing and related rope work, kayaking, mountain biking, and backcountry navigation. They often cover hundreds of kilometres without seeing a soul.

Imitating the journey's of the Indian forefathers, competitors advance over plains, mountains, glaciers, native forests, swampland, rivers, lakes and channels; guided only by mind and spirit but driven on by physical stamina and experience.

Every edition features a unique route. Past racers have found themselves in the Southern Continental Ice Field, the Straight of Magellan, Torres del Paine, Tierra del Fuego, the Beagle Channel and Cape Horn. The land is diverse, the challenge real, the adventure untamed.

Athletes from Australia, Canada, USA, México, New Zealand, South Africa, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Spain, France, Germany, Turkey, Great Britain, Czech Republic, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile have already taken part in this experience. In seven races we have covered over 4500 kilometres.

More important than distance however, has been the adventure and exploration of one of the most untouched and isolated places in the world. We have been inspired by the magical landscapes and fauna, while being pushed to new heights by nature's obstacles and unpredictable weather. The Patagonian Expedition Race changes lives.

Section 1 – 90 km kayak
 
Patagonian Expedition Race 2009 kajak patagonianexpeditionrace.comThe start of the 2009 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race blew away all expectations with wind gusts up to 90 kilometers an hour, bringing meter high waves crashing against competitors kayaks as they embarked on the great journey at glacier-lined Lago Grey in majestic Torres Del Paine.
 
Race organizers closed the section before the swift current of the bulging Rio Serrano dumped racers into the Seno Ultima Esperanza, which churned with nearly two meter white caps and up to 120 knot winds. Staying tight throughout the section, no clear leaders emerged.
 
Section 2 – 100 km mountain bike
 
Patagonian Expedition Race 2009 mountainbike patagonianexpeditionrace.comHaving wolfed down some calories and quickly assembled bikes with prunes for fingers, teams set out in a tight pack onto a small dirt road flanked by quintessentially Andean snow-capped, jagged peaks in the day’s first drizzles of rain.
 
The first 46 kilometers are pure ascent and descent, racers struggling to gain every meter before cresting, then reaching dangerous speeds in the pothole riddled gravel road. 

Surprising everyone, first time participant English Team Helly Hansen-Prunesco gained a 39 minute lead over last year’s winners, French team Easy Implant on the section. “We’re very tired and cold, but the news that we’re in the lead is a huge mental and physical boost,” said a beaming Bruce Duncan of Helly Hansen-Prunesco. They also put over 11 hours of distance between themselves and Chilean Almas Patagonicas, the last to arrive at checkpoint 2.
 
Section 3 – 55 km trek
 
Patagonian Expedition Race 2009 walking patagonianexpeditionrace.comNow with over 12 hours of continuous racing covering nearly 200 km, teams began arriving at Lago Anibal Pinto in the early hours of the morning. Most didn’t stop after disassembling their bikes, but continued on following the glow of their headlamps winding to a 100 meter vertical wall and ascending upwards into the moonlight.

Heavy rain persisted during days 2 and 3, making travel and navigation ever more complicated. Patagonia grit its teeth claiming the race’s first two victims. After struggling to reach mandatory checkpoint cutoffs, both Almas Patagonicas of Chile and QuassarLontra Master of Brazil withdrew from the race.
 
Section 4 – 137 km mountain bike
 
The worsening conditions had made roads to the checkpoint impassable to all but beefy 4X4s. Meter deep ruts filled with slippery goop caused more than a few falls that weren’t without consequence, once sunny racing jersey’s transformed.

Leading teams raced on with even more urgency, compelled to reach the day’s final ferry at 19:00 departing for Isla Riesco, where they would find their kayaks. Only the English and the French made it, arriving late in the evening of the 12th of February at Rancho Sutivan where they were able to have their first real rest since embarking over 245 km ago.
 
Section 5 – 88 km kayak
 
There would be little reprieve following the challenging crossing. After paddling through the fairy tale landscape of Wickhand Fjord, racers commenced hauling their 45 kg Necky Amaruk kayaks and gear across the ‘Indian Passage’. The route, once made famous by stalwart natives who used the shortcut to their advantage in battle with invaders, is a brutal 20 km slog through bogs which quickly envelope racers up to their wastes. Bruce Duncan and Helly Hansen-Prunesco will forever remember the black-hole Patagonian bog lands called turba as “PESM, the pink energy sucking monster.”
 
Shortly after starting the passage, local team Almas Patagonicas became the race’s fifth victim. Team Buff of Spain completed the portage but could go no further leaving only four teams left in the struggle for the finish line.
 
Section 6 – 120 km trek

Patagonian Expedition Race 2009 walking2 patagonianexpeditionrace.comThe quest for the title was still up for grabs going into the last section, a trek with drastic alpine ascents containing unforgiving routes, turba that even Moses would sink into, and sinister forest; far longer and more demanding than the first trek.

The English were on their way to completing what those of us who witnessed it are calling the perfect race. From there the team, “made great distance, crossed huge rivers swelled with heavy rain, gazed at waterfalls being blown back up the mountain and marveled at the mountains,” as they marched on to the 25 meter tall Cross of the Seas –a symbol of spirituality, a marker of both an end and a beginning – lying atop Cape Froward. Here at the very end of the Continental Americas, they were humbly overcome by emotion as they were crowned champions of the 2009 Patagonian Expedition Race.
 
Next would be the French who had battled past injury and illness in an inspired performance. “I want to give my sincere thanks to the English team who gave us a great challenge,” said a gracious team captain Bruno Rey after the race.
 

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