Nov 8, 2021
For those of you who have read my book about running around the world, The World at My Feet, you might recall how it starts with a description of my near death experience at the top of a pass in the Andes. Well, that occurred on Nov 7, 2012, just over nine years ago now. The blog posts below detail it as it unfolded at the time. Unfortunately, the video below that Carmel produced doesn’t have footage of the incident at the top of the pass, as she was unable to be there. Read on and you’ll understand why.
Nov 6, 2012
Distance today = 49.86 km; Total distance = 14,130.27 km; Location = Portillo – 32 50.183′ S, 70 07.732′ W; Start time = 0850, Finish time = 1656
Fantastic day. And so far, so good. I’m now at over 2,800 metres in elevation, and feeling fine. I have more than 1,000 metres still to climb, so I shouldn’t speak too soon. Fingers crossed!!!
The day started quite gently, as I made my way up through the valleys that wound between towering mountains. Eventually I reached the hairpins, where the road got much steeper. There is a stretch which snakes its way up through more than twenty switchbacks. Lots of cars, trucks, and buses were honking and waving to me, surprised to see someone running on a road that must have been giving many of them vertigo.
I thought I’d be out of breath, but wasn’t. I thought I’d have to do a lot of walking, but didn’t – at least no more than my usual 2% or so. I ticked off various milestones as I ascended – l’Alpe d’Huez at 1871 metres, Mont Ventoux at 1911 metres, the Col du Lauteret at 2048 metres, the highest point in Australia, Mt Kosziusko, at 2228 metres, the Col du Galibier at 2645 metres, and the Col de la Bonette (the highest pass in Europe) at 2802 metres. It was a day for records. And I still have to go much higher yet.
Make sure you have a look at tonight’s photos. You’ll be amazed at the view. I certainly was amazed at what I saw as I got higher. It’s stunning. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s run, as I head into uncharted territory, where I’ll be higher than I’ve previously been on Earth.
And to top off a great day, we were given a generous discount at the Hotel Portillo, which is Chile’s top ski resort. What great people they are here. We have a huge chalet overlooking a beautiful lake. Way to go!!!!
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.
Nov 8, 2012
Distance today = 46.96 km; Total distance = 14,201.34 km; Location = Uspallata (37 km west of) – 32 47.049′ S, 69 37.441′ W; Start time = 0948, Finish time = 1814
It was a very long day, and I’m very tired, so I’ll keep this report short.
After yesterday’s drama, I had a somewhat disturbed sleep, and awoke feeling decidedly below par. Regardless, I had to get out on the road.
We drove back to where I’d stopped yesterday and I started running. It was all going smoothly, running past great gorges and canyons, lined by massive mountains. As I ran down the valley, I had a fantastic view of Aconcagua, the world’s highest mountain outside of the Himalayas. I was at nearly 3000 metres in altitude, yet it towered nearly another 4000 metres above me. What a mountain!!!
I’d covered about 30 km when we reached a border check point. It turned out that we’d missed the earlier passport control, which was nearly 20 km back. So I had to turn off my Garmin, and we drove back to get all the Argentinean documentation completed. This took about an hour and a half, after an already late start.
I then continued on, meeting a couple of British cyclists who were riding across Argentina and Chile. I let them know about the pass – they will either wheel their bikes on the narrow footpath through the tunnel, or get someone to give them a lift (something I can’t do). I only realised after the fact, though, that I could have run through the tunnel on the footpath. But then I wouldn’t have had such a story to tell!!!