Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race Set for 2010

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The Wegner Patagonia Expedition Race will again put teams through extreme terrain and conditions.

Using only a compass and a map to navigate 10 days of some of the most remote and unyielding terrain on earth, teams from around the world will once again strive to hit their marks in the 2010 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race. Starting February 9th, 2010 teams will survive on minimal sleep and nutrition, yet exert maximum effort to not only complete the race but win it.

Fewer places on this planet are as beautiful and ruthless as the the southern parts of Chile. Patagonia conjures up thoughts of glorious scenery and deep, aquamarine blue fjords. But the teams who will trek, kayak, swim, mountain bike, and practice pure compass orienteering skills don’t entertain a false sense of security. They know it will be harsh. And they’ve seen other teams retire from the race after reaching one of the six checkpoints they must report to in order to arrive at the finish.  The checkpoints are positioned throughout the 375 miles of mystical wonderland that makes up Chile’s Patagonia; a region that race organizers are using to attract world attention to preserve the area’s natural significance. For 2010, the race promises to be no less of a hurdle for the sixty or so athletes that make up approximately 10 teams from around the world.

Druce Finley’s Account Of Last Year’s Race

In early 2009, the race covered the route from Torres Del Paine National Park to Cape Froward on the tip of the South American continent. Druce Finlay, U.S. Team captain gave some  hints in his journal, as to the difficult and extreme challenge that this event puts on a human body.  We’ve compiled several outtakes of his journal that showcases the intense physical torture and gratification of nature that he experienced throughout the journey. He writes, “It seems team Calleva as destined to have a staggering amount of adversity, and through it the adventure of a lifetime. Every time we used our tent we were rained on; and it was very cold, except once when it sleeted on us. It started off with me heading to Patagonia sick as a dog and getting team Captain Mark Lattanzi sick for the first five days of the race.”

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Team Calleva, left to right, Valentin Chapa, Druce Finlay, Mark Lattanzi, and Sara Percy

According to Finlay, the first section of last year’s race began with a paddle in an area known as the Grey River.  The river resides in Torres Del Paines, a world famous rock climbers’ getaway in Chile, where Grey Glacier forms Grey Lake. This is the head waters to the beautiful Grey River where the paddle started. Twenty miles downstream in merges the Rio Serrano (aptly named as it resembles the color of a clear green Serrano chili pepper), the two rivers mix, resulting in a fantastic display of colors.  “Patagonia has met our expectations as one of the most pristine and unimaginably beautiful places on earth” Finlay says in his journal. “Throughout the race I kept calling it the land of the lost. We headed downstream towards a large ocean bay and ended up getting ferried by the race organizers due to 100-140 km winds out on the bay.”

Once at the second stage, Wenger, the maker of the Swiss Army Knife, was a sponsor of the event, and paid the local tavern for a mass buffet so teams could head off with a fresh start for the mountain biking section of the race. “We then mounted our bikes and cranked out an absolutely marvelous 60 miler,” says Finlay. “It was just sweet riding and as the night set in the full moon. It was fun to use it for a while instead of lights.  As navigation became imperative we busted out the lights, Val and I riding with AYUP and in the process lighting up the entire road. We finished strong.”

For the third section of the 2009 race, things started off well for team Calleva. They were only one hour behind the leaders after two sections. “Let me just say that the Patagonian mountains have a very daunting look to them, especially when imminent weather is at hand,” said Finlay. ” Night was approaching and we had been getting rained on for 12 hours as we crossed the bogs/wetlands and headed towards the first mountain crossing. The crest of the mountains was very craggy, limiting where a team could find passage, and we had no visibility due to heavy rain clouds and the rapidly approaching night. Perhaps we would have braved it if our teammate Mark wasn’t sick as a dog. We hunkered down for 10 hours and waited for light, everyone being mildly disappointed knowing that it was lost time. We continued on the next morning, making great time and to our surprise finishing the trek in fifth.”

As team Calleva headed off on bikes at 11:00 pm that evening, the team thought they were in for a horrible rids as four days of rain turned the local roads into nothing but mud. “To our surprise the mud was not thick and as we headed out of the mountains it disappeared altogether, we continued making our way to a ferry crossing and had a two hour nap as we waitted for the ferriers to wake up. Let me just mention now that this race had the best mountain biking and some of the most scenic riding I’ve experienced in an Expedition Race. We pushed hard on the rest of this ride which was battling the roaring 40’s for 30 miles on an ocean road, trying to get to the next TA by 4:00 pm which we thought was a kayak dark zone.” As it turned out, the team was met with yet another challenge, as the Navy would only launch one team per day, starting at 7:00 am. This was a safety precaution so that the Navy could send safety boats along with the paddlers. “We reorganized our gear, ate heartily, and caught up on some rest,” said Finlay.

Team Calleva on bikes to the next stage
Team Calleva on bikes to the next stage

Once in the water, the teams had to cross the Straights of Magellan, then paddle up a very scenic fjord, “The most scenic paddling I have ever seen,” exclaims Findlay, and make their way to a 17 km portage. “This was was really 7 km of portaging, then 10 km of lakes and fast moving rivers in between the lakes,” Findlay says. “Val and I had bad luck first. As we made our way precariously down a fast moving section full of brambles we got dumped and lost two headlamps, half a paddle, a fleece jacket and some food. The situation cost us one hour and we headed out again a little rattled (the conditions were life threatening). After crossing another small lake it was Mark and Sara’s turn for a little adventure and they were put into an even more dangerous position with no possible way of getting the boat pulled out and portaged beyond the danger zone. Val and I lashed our boat to some trees and headed over to aid in the rescue which included using our 50 ft. tow line. With all team members staging along the brambles to ease the Necky Amarukthrough the rapids. It cost us another hour and we reached the final 10 km ocean section just in time for another Dark Zone.  So it was up with the tent and 10 more hours lost. That put us in a position of fighting the clock for the next few days.”

The final section included a trek in which team Calleva had to pick up the pace. “We pulled in early with our boats and had only expectations of a smart, clean TA. We needed a little recovery time to dry our gear, get well fed and planned out the supplies for a 125 km trek through extremely dense forests and wetlands. Since we arrived late with the previous day’s bad luck, we were hours behind where we wanted to be, and heading out on this trek early in the morning would have been extremely beneficial. Yet, we didn’t head out until noon.”

The team pushed hard and within hours they felt they could easily be in third place. “We reached a high saddle where we could see the next mountain crossing and plan our route. We knew it was hours away and didn’t want to sleep again so we agreed to go for it. It was a bad idea. We entered the mountains at night into a full on snow storm with zero visibility and dangerous cliffs everywhere. We had to pitch the tent again and wait for light. It would have made a great film shot for a tent company as we were placed on a little tiny ledge of rock surrounded by steep snowfields and jagged cliff bans. Throughout the night we snuggled and made hot soup to survive the cold. In the morning none of us could believe the position we had unwittingly camped in.”

That night the team veered off course and had to take the long way around to get back on track. “We were 7 km from being back on course. We had to go up a river valley and could see the original canyon where we should have come out. The bush was so thick it took us 12 hours to do the 7 km which was a little aggravating. Let me mention we were going like animals to get through that stuff and get back on course.”

The next two days the team made great time. “Because of adversity on the first portion of this trek we were way behind and ran out of food with 40 km to go. We did a major river crossing and inspected the map. The recommended route was much longer than a mountain option that the team agreed would be a good shortcut due to the absence of food.”

 Their plan was a simple one, get above the bush on the ridges and drop down into the area known as the Cross at the End of the World. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Horrendous weather dropped in on us and we bailed from the mountains at high speed down a canyon that proved to be truly epic. “From here we should have been able to head over to the Cross trailhead.  For two days we tried to coasteer but would become hypothermic almost instantly because of the freezing water and cold conditions upon leaving the water. We tried three times to go back up and over the mountains but would get cliffed out. Let me mention this was a brave team that would not just turn around and we would spend hours trying to contour around the cliffs through the thickest jungle/bush you’ve ever seen. When all seemed lost we finally cracked through to the trail and found some of the remaining personnel who took us by helicopter the hospital and then rushed us to the closing ceremonies for a well earned meal and a bottle of wine.”

The last couple of days were hard for the team. “I’m sure we made a few bad decisions because of a lack of good rest and food,” said Finlay. “I learned that everyone on this team has true strength and internal fortitude and would not quit no matter how hard or how bad the situation had become. Instead of turning on each other we just kept getting stronger as a team and kept going for it, knowing that we had to make it. Team Callevayou are true champions that I’m humbled and honored to have raced with!” Findlay exclaims.  “The Patagonia Expedition was the most adventurous course I have done and I will go back. I highly recommend it for any adventure racer seeking a good race.

For more information on the race, go to www.patagonianexpeditionrace.com

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