Nov 7, 2012
Distance today = 24.11 km; Total distance = 14,154.38 km; Location = Argentinian Border (5 km east of) – 32 48.841′ S, 70 03.043′ W; Start time = 0921, Finish time = 1430
Today was the most eventful of the whole world run so far. There was so much drama and danger. And I was lucky to survive. I’m not joking.
The day dawned without a cloud in the sky (again), and I headed off, up past the Chilean border control checkpoint. I eventually reached the turn I had to make. These days there is a modern tunnel linking Chile and Argentina, which runs right through the mountain at about 3150 metres in altitude. However, there is also an old dirt road that winds its way to the top of the pass, at 3832 metres in altitude. Since the tunnel does not allow pedestrians and cyclists, this was the road I had to take.
Carmel was following me in the car, but after about ten hairpin bends, we started to strike problems. I was constantly clearing the road of small boulders so that the car could get through. And then the road deteriorated to the point that the car got bogged. We decided the prudent option was for Carmel to take the car back down the mountain and drive through the tunnel, meeting me on the other side where the two roads joined up again.
So I waved goodbye as I watched her descend. The issue was complicated by the fact that we had no mobile reception up there. I knew that things could wrong, but I had no choice. If I didn’t go over the mountain, the world run would come to a premature end.
It very soon became evident that we’d made the right decision. The road became a bog, with melting snow forming a river along the dirt surface. This resulted in a mix of ankle deep mud and ice and snow. I was slipping and sliding, and often was reduced to plodding along at a slow pace. I passed two bulldozers on the way. They were the only types of vehicles that could traverse such a road.
I finally made it to the top, and felt it was worth the trouble. The view from this altitude, the highest point I’ve ever been at, was truly spectacular, with the road like a crooked ribbon below. But then the real trouble started.
The military post at the top was unmanned, and the reason was that the road did not continue into Argentina. While there is officially a road there, the snow had completely obliterated it. In its place was a extremely steep “cliff” of snow and ice. I could see the road continuing about 100 metres further on, so I had to somehow make my way to it.
I crawled out along the near precipice, with a drop of 1000 feet below. I soon realised this was suicidal. I started slipping and, for a moment, I was stuck in no-man’s-land. One false move and I realised I would begin a slide that would only end with me far, far below. It was easily the most dangerous position I’ve ever found myself in my life.
I turned around, and only managed to get back to firm ground by digging my hands into the snow every time I felt myself starting to slip down the snowy cliff.
I eventually got there, and had to survey my options. I decided the only thing to do was to go over the top. I crawled up even higher and, while constantly falling and sliding, made it to a point directly above where the road continued on. I now had to get down to the road.
I gingerly began my descent, at least knowing that the furthest I could now slide was down to the road. And that’s what happened. I slipped and went into an uncontrolled slide, partly on my hands, and partly on my backside. Don’t let anyone tell you that old snow is soft. It’s very hard and sharp.
I reached the dirt roadway, bruised and bleeding, but at least I hadn’t fallen all the way down the mountain. I then had to run down the very badly maintained road. I could see the main highway far below, as I again slipped through mud and snow along the dirt track.
Carmel had been waiting for me for three hours by the time I reached the main road. She had been extremely worried, and was very relieved to see me. By this stage, I’d had enough for the day, and was mentally and emotionally exhausted. We decided that, instead of me running on to wherever the next hotel was, it made more sense to go back the ten or so kilometres, through the tunnel, to the Hotel Portillo.
Then another, more minor, problem occurred. We hadn’t actually reached the Argentinian border check, which is some distance inside the border. But the Chilean officials didn’t know this. Luckily, I was able to explain this in very broken Spanish, and we were allowed through in about ten minutes.
We’re now back in the same room we had last night, at this great hotel. As I said yesterday, it’s Chile’s top ski resort. We have really been looked after by Elena and Juan, and this afternoon we met the General Manager, Michael. He has generously made a donation to Oxfam as well. Their hospitality has made for a very nice finish to a very eventful day.
So, to summarise, I’m still here, and the world run continues. The day took my breath away, and it wasn’t just the altitude. Unfortunately, Carmel couldn’t get any photos near the top of the pass, but there are a few that I took on my phone camera. I’m looking forward to a more standard day tomorrow.
PS Today’s run involved 66 hairpin turns. Have a look at the Garmin track.