"Patagonia Running Adventure" by Ed Demoney.
Adventure Reference: Patagonia Running Adventure
Published in the April 2001 issue of UltraRunning Magazine. (Copyright UltraRunning. Reprinted with the permission of the author.)
For me, running has been the answer to curiosity about our world, a quest for adventure and a test of personal limits in the challenges available in marathons and beyond. Bruce Hoff's account of his Patagonia Adventure Run in the March 2000 issue of UR was intriguing. He convinced me Patagonia was an ideal opportunity to explore the unknown. That running in southern Chile and Argentina was an adventure not to be missed. And there was no doubt in my mind that 140 miles of trail running in less than two weeks would be challenging. Everything about the adventure run lived up to my expectations including the knowledge that weather would be a formidable obstacle.
The Appalachian Trail, Grand Canyon and San Juan Mountains are familiar names and places. But Torres del Paine in Chile, the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina and the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America were nearly impossible to conceptualize.
But a short description in our itinerary certainly turned out to be accurate. "Patagonia is a vast land of spectacular beauty. Southern Chile and Argentina share these endless pampas, dense evergreen southern beech forests, turquoise lakes, abundant wildlife, immense glaciers and the dramatic landscape with its impressive pink, white and red granite towers."
A cynic would say you could see rocks, lakes and trees anywhere. But the Patagonia landscape was different. To some extent it brought back memories of the United States when my family drove to Washington State from Iowa back in 1941. Our country was much more rugged and sparsely settled before WW II. We sometimes crossed rivers on ferries with driving a real adventure. In the forties, we saw abundant wildlife along dirt roads. In Patagonia, we saw vistas seldom viewed, a frontier-like setting. Along unfenced, dirt roads we saw guanacos, rheas, condors and waterbirds unfamiliar to me.
Our adventure began with a side trip to a penguin rookery on Otway Sound out of Punta Arenas, Chile. Later, we saw sea lions on a boat trip in the Beagle Channel out of Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, our last port of call before flying to Buenos Aires.
The flora was as interesting as the fauna with embothrium my personal favorite. This small Chilean tree or shrub has very handsome flowers, nearly 2 inches long and brilliant scarlet. The hills of Chile were alive with their splendor, and there were many of the shrubs in Argentina as well. Although we were normally not much above sea level, there were snow-capped mountains around us throughout our trip, the tree line sometimes ending at less than 2,000 feet. Who says you need to be gasping for breath to experience spectacular mountains!
The highlight of the trip occurred on our very first run. We ran good trails, followed by a long rocky climb to view the "towers" of Paine from a superb vantage point.
The next four days saw our group (16 runners/2guides) complete a circuit of the park around the towers. High winds on the first day were hard to imagine if you were not there. We expected strong winds, but there were times when making forward progress was extremely difficult, the wind so strong that it would blow you backwards or sideways off the trail. One proceeded cautiously into the wind for fear of being blown into ubiquitous beautiful green bushes bordering the trail whose delicate appearance disguised hard sharp points. That afternoon in our refugio we watched one trekker being treated for a badly gashed shin suffered when the wind blew him onto rocks along the trail.
The second day of the circuit was our most challenging. We proceeded over muddy, peat moss type terrain that evolved into moraine and snowfields on our way to rocky Gardner Pass. The descent from Gardner, elevation 3,950 feet, was through more snowfields along Glacier Grey, a 4-mile wide glacier that is part of the Continental Ice Cap. Our refugio that night was at the end of Glacier Grey where there were myriad chunks of ice floating in Lago Grey. We were grateful there were trees to grab during the muddy ascent and likewise at times during the descent on sections that were extremely steep and muddy. Our second day was the longest as we spent more than 9 enjoyable hours on spectacular terrain.
Rain and wind shortened our run on the third day with the "horns" of Paine hidden by whiteout conditions, but the refugio that night was the best in the park. Then the sky cleared on the fourth day as we completed our run. Our bus took us across the lake for a different perspective of our circuit as we headed for Argentina and new trails.
During the second week we again experienced hurricane force winds and a few rainy days. Some of the mountains we hoped to see up close were only experienced from a distance, but we still ran the trails as close as we could because conditions could change from bad to good very quickly.
There was only one night of camping. Other nights we were in hotels or refugios, hospitable hostel type accommodations. We were pleased to have hot showers after our treks, even at our campsite. Meals were excellent and festive as we enjoyed the beer and wines of Chile and Argentina wherever we were. We were fortunate to have a very compatible group of runners up to the rigors of our adventure.
There were some injuries and not everyone ran every trail, every day. The most serious injury was a broken ankle suffered by Dick Opsahl. Dick broke his ankle shortly after cresting Gardner Pass and with valiant efforts made it to the Grey Refugio on his own. The next day he was evacuated by horse and boat but managed to rejoin our group two days later and continue with us for the rest of the trip but obviously not able to enjoy the trail running. It was not until Ushuaia that Dick got an x-ray, diagnosis and cast, all for $4 at the local hospital.
Devy Reinstein, Santa Monica, CA, led our trip assisted by his colleague Abelardo Vignati from Cusco, Peru. Devy is a professional trekking guide specializing in adventure runs in Peru and Patagonia. He is uniquely qualified for these adventure runs, and could not possibly try harder to assure a wonderful adventure run.