Atacama Crossing Blogs 2023
Atacama Crossing (2023) blog posts from Ian Lyster
29 September 2023 05:05 pm (GMT-04:00) Santiago
Well, Stage 5, aka The Long March is behind us! now all that remains is the final 17Km into town tomorrow morning.
So, what was The Long March like?
Camp to CP1
Having negotiated the salt flats in stage 4, we mistakenly thinking that we’d never encounter slat encrusted terrain again. Oh how wrong we were. Immediately after the start we headed out across what remained of the salt plains, bug this time there was an additional treat in store - salt marshes! So not only was the terrain challenging, but now we were passing over stinking salt marsh - for those Lord of the Rings fans out there, think “The Dead Marshes”. That came to an end thankfully, and we arrived at CP2.
A nice reprieve with some hard packed road, giving us the ability to get into a rhythm.
More sand, some soft, and some a bit more firm, although all still energy sapping. We had learned by now that you never assume that a particular terrain type will not reoccur - it does, frequently. Upon arrival at CP3 we were treated to a wonderful surprise, a soft drink. Believe me when I say that a can of Ginger Ale has NEVER tasted so good.
Wow! A very long haul across an open plain, with a mixture of surfaces, but no crusty salt! :)
Feeling quite positive after the first 3/4, I looked up to see an escarpment, and though to myself, that’s impressive because it had a high sand dune at one point that went from the base to the top of the ridge. After wondering where the trail would go next, I squinted and realized that the ting little dots on the sand dune were actually people. That Epiphany was not welcome, but there is no other choice but to get your mind straight and treat it like any other part of the course. Just do it!
It was a challenge, but one foot in front of the other I made it to the top, where I was greeted by the race photographer - these guys have to walk mostly to the places where they can take the most dramatic pictures - Thank for preserving this adventure!
Once over the ridge we had the delight of running down the top of a sand dune ridge to the CP. That was fun. :)
Long hike along dry river bed, and a welcome change as the surface wasn’t too bad.
Shortly after leaving CP 5, that sun started to go down. And how fabulous was that. The changing light as the sun faded, the shadows of the surrounding hills and mountains were dramatic.
Then came the full moon, which created an environment that is difficult to put into words.
On the sunset side, the sky was purple above the ridges, and on the rising moonlight side there was a could between it and the ridges which glowed red. Unfortunately no cell phone camera can capture that incredible scene.
Once the daylight had disappeared completely, the landscape took on an almost eery quality, akin to a lunar one. Spectacular rock outcrops against the backdrop of the moon, casting even more amazing shadows across our path. Unforgettable!
The final leg, which I mistakenly though would a walk along the same vehicle track that I’d been on. Nope, think again. Back into the wilderness for some more ascents and descents across small ridges. Some hard pack and some soft sand again.
The final “sting in the tail” ;) was a sizeable sand dune ascent and descent, followed by so hard irregular crusty surface.
Arrive at camp for some “sleep”. Note, my tent mates seem able to sleep just fine, but that pleasure is unavailable to me it seems! No biggie.
Rest day today, and the final push 17km / 10mi push to the finish line in San Pedro de Atacama tomorrow morning.
I will crawl there if I have to! ;)
Thank you all for following me this week, and especially those who have sent notes and emails. It is this outside connection that keep us going, I promise you.
Have a very happy Friday and a wonderful weekend.
27 September 2023 10:01 pm (GMT-04:00) Santiago
Hello out there!
Stage 4 completed. (27.8mi)
…and what a stage! Unforgiving and almost soul crushing. Oh, and very hot… again. Apparently we are having a heat wave in Atacama this week. Whoop.
Camp-CP1 (Soul destruction part 1)
Immediately out of the gate we hit several significant sand dune ascents, as if we hadn’t had enough of those yesterday. A long trek up and down various sandy inclines to route us around a large escarpment. If no sand, then we tackled soft sand with loose rocks. What a treat. We weren’t even close to CP1 and already our shoes were full of sand… again! Transitioned to larger rock outcrops allowing us to pick up some speed (speed is a relative term). A downhill into CP1 and some much needed water topups.
CP1-CP2 (soul destruction part 2)
Departed CP1 and walked through the periphery of the little town, and took a hard turn left, revealing what was in store for us next. Oh dear… :(
What a surprise, soft sand and rocks s far as the eye could see, and that was basically all we had to enjoy for that leg. :|
CP2-CP3 (the big daddy of soul destruction). The salt flats!!!!!!!!
Nothing could have prepared me for how much of a challenge this was going to be in all respects.
Some describe it as walking on frozen broccoli, which is not inaccurate, however, I would also add coral as a suitable alternative. Salt encrusted ground, some soft enough to sink 8 inches into once the crust had broken, or in many cases, it was just solid rock-like spikes that forced you to tread very carefully for fear of a twisted ankle. If an onlooker from afar had seen me, they could have been forgiven for thinking that I was drunk! Enough said about that leg, and frankly, best forgotten.
CP3-Camp (the end was finally in sight)
A long and arduous walk along road, constantly battling a strong wind and dust thrown up by passing vehicles.
Made it into camp.
Tomorrow is Stage 5 - The Long March. Basically double the normal distance, however, the beauty of that is that once that’s completed, it’s essentially the end, with only the short run into the finish on stage 7.
Thanks for listening, friends.
26 September 2023 09:28 pm (GMT-04:00) Santiago
Stage 2 complete, and what a doosy it was. Longer and harder than stage 1. We went from a gentle downhill from Camp 2 to CP1. Then it all got rather wet and interesting…. CP1-CP2 was the famous journey through the slot canyons. Running river of ice cold snow melt and sheer sided canyon walls. Absolutely amazing. I started counting the number of crossings we had to make, and gave up at 35! The upside was that the cold water felt fabulous on hot feet an sore leg muscles. Deepest crossing had the water up to my crotch, but still so much fun.
CP2-CP3 was an incredible climb up I don’t know how many feet to a high escarpment - it included and traverse through a ~500m tunnel built though the mountain in 1930! After the tunnel a very long trek to the end of the escarpment, where the race marker flags indicated that it was time to go down.
Going down was literally a drop off and a run down a magnificent, huge sand dune to CP3.
CP3-Camp3 was a gruelling slog across open land littered with rocks, soft sand and just about any other undesirable surface type. Very long and very hot, I had to change from my regular England cricket team baseball cap to my Legionnarie hat with flaps to keep the heat off.
Anyway, and long hard day but so rewarding due to the slot canyons and the magnificent sand dune descent.
Time for some food.
Catch you all next time.
26 September 2023 08:01 pm (GMT-04:00) Santiago
Stage 3 complete!
Brutal day, Camp to CP1 was partial road which made easy running possible, but that didn’t last long and we found ourselves in dry fields where the earth was soft with a salt crust, high grasses that whipped your legs, or soft sand.
CP2-CP3. More of the salt crusted offering, but with areas where it wasn’t a soft crust at all, but similar to walking on a ploughed field that has frozen. That meant that extreme caution needed to avoid twisted ankles.
CP3-CP4 was a brutal slog ascending vários surface types, from erratically formed rock outcrops to hundreds of yards of soft sand. Sapped the energy right out of you. Also several large sand dunes that had to be ascended and descended. Some ascensions required hands and knees, they were that steep!
CP4-Camp was a special “gift with purchase”, and was deliberately designed not to give us an easy finish after a very long tough day in the direct sun with zero shade.
Oh well, we made it. Early to bed, so that we are ready for Stage 4 tomorrow, which is expected to be entirely salt flats over soft earth. It will not be an easy day at all!
Thanks for reading.
24 September 2023 11:06 pm (GMT-04:00) Santiago
Stage 1 completed. Incredible scenery, and very diverse for a desert - I did not realise a desert would be so beautiful.
Started Camp 1-CP1 with lots of twists and turns and ups and downs. CP1-CP2 took us through dry slot canyons where you had to wriggle through naturally occurring arches and even a jump across one.
CP2-CP3 was a very long trek over open desert with zero shade and by that point high temperatures. Very hot, but it finally ended 8K later at CP3.
CP3-Camp 2 was only a 5K, however, it was a very long haul in the heat up a gradual incline, that frankly, ate my lunch!
Arrived at Camp 1, very happy to shed my shoes and socks and get air to my feet. The heat and the altitude are a significant factor, by stage 1 did end well.
On to Stage 2 tomorrow, and wading through the ice cold snow melt in the wet slot canyons.
See you later!