Of all the 4 Deserts races that Ashkan Mokhtari (Ash) has run in (and at 25 races in total, there are quite a lot of them), the Atacama Crossing is the one that has pulled him back the most. He’s racing in it for his eleventh time this year, so what is it about this race in particular?
"I fell in love with the Atacama on my first trip to San Pedro," explains the Iranian-born Canadian. "The desert greatly resembles my home country of Iran with high mountains, volcano and salt flats. They even share the flamingos that are so iconic to the Atacama Desert. San Pedro is a small touristy village and I love the Chilean people and the town itself with all its attractions… It feels like home and I think everybody understands that feeling."
When we ask what keeps luring him back for more, he points to the sheer magnificence of the place. "I love the beauty of the Atacama Desert, especially at sunset. I can't describe it… you have to come here and camp out and see it for yourself," he says.
"San Pedro is a wonderful little town that is surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Andes on one side and the lowlands of the Atacama Desert with its salt flats and salt lake on the other," he continues. "The shades of the desert and its mountains are constantly changing from the white of the salt flats to the deep purple of the distant peaks. The desert itself is a mix of sand dunes, white salt flats that go on forever and rocky outcrops that have been sculpted."
"But if I was to summarize it in one word, I'd say, "It is hot."
Even after all the kilometers across the desert, it hasn't made the experience any easier. "I've done several 4 Deserts runs in Egypt, Chile, Namibia, Jordan, Iceland, Australia, Nepal, Madagascar and Antarctica," he says. "The Atacama is the hardest race out of all of them mostly because of running on technical surfaces. Each day is a new combination of terrains and you can't rely on your previous days experience to predict or organize your day."
"It is still a difficult race and the fact that I have experienced it previously does not help much. Over the years though the race has grown and the caliber of runner that are attracted to it have grown."
In 2018, the day before the race, we had the “Ask Ash” session at San Pedro de Atacama. All the runners gathered at a bar where he talked about his experiences, the race, tips, funny stories and scenarios and responded questions. This year, once in San Pedro, stay tuned for the Ask Ash Session v.2.
You can also briefly meet him here