The plan was a lofty one: a world first Ultra Triathlon through the rugged terrain of Patagonia.
The route was broken into three sections. A 1,600km cycle, a 65km speed record attempt on foot and a world first paddle boarding attempt.
We arrived into El Calafate on the last day of September following 12 weeks of training in the UK. After some mishaps with our luggage, we headed north to the historic (Welsh) town of Esquel. As there is very little information available about the Carretera Austral area, we'd used Google Maps to plan the majority of the route, which showed the region to be flat and smooth.
How wrong it was.
We expected long days in the saddle, but also epic views and favourable winds. But the first shock came when we loaded the bikes up with all our kit: a tent, camera equipment, minimal clothing, dried food, fresh coffee and brewing equipment (we opted for a hand grinder and a V60 for ease of brewing two cups). It turns out that ten days worth made for a very heavy load.
No more than 10km outside of Esquel, we hit a sandy gravel surface that remained for the next 145km. This set the tone for the next five days. After about three hours, we stopped roadside and brewed our first coffee. With one of us catching water from a roadside waterfall and the other grinding the Beyene, it made for a unique brewing experience. We couldn't sit for long as the cold was beginning to sink in, and after another 10 hours we made it to our first stop: a campsite, which was sat somewhere underneath a foot of water. Thankfully, a B&B was open nearby and, after discussing how brutal the day had been, we were eager to head south.
Through the next couple of days of consistent rain, cold weather and ever-changing winds, we finally reached the Chilean city of Coyhaique. We didn't stay for long (14 hours), before heading further south. We cycled upwards, with the longest climb stretching 20km and holding unexpected snowfall, but the bikes ate up all conditions and we finally descended towards Villa Cerro Castillo.
On approach to the tiny village, we were met with a huge road block. The path was rendered impassable on our bikes and so we retraced our descent and found a road heading towards the small town of Puerto Ibanez, where there was an extremely irregular ferry. Luckily, the next departure was only an hour wait which would take us to Chile Chico.
Two tickets please.
This meant that we were on the National Route 40 - the desert road that links north and south Patagonia - earlier than we'd have liked and we quickly hit a total dead zone for GPS and signal. Camping was a nightmare as we slept roadside in the tent and it was at this point that brewing a coffee became the highlight of the morning. After a few days of what felt like endless horizon, we were eventually greeted with the incredible 'Line across the sky' - The Fitz Roy Massif mountain range - and we could taste the finish line for leg one of our ultra.
We weren't quite done though. We still had two brutal days of cycling, headwinds and a couple of punctures to navigate before reaching the mountain town of El Chalten where we hoped to properly recover and fully scope out the second leg of our challenge (the 65km ultra-run).
Despite out best intentions, we found ourselves taking on the 65km Huemul mountain circuit just ten hours after arriving.
We started on the trail at 3.15 a.m. There was a light drizzle and we had nothing but head torches for light. The trail was submerged under water for much of the first 10-12km and, as we tried our best to differentiate between streams and the trail, we often found ourselves off-course. At 4.30 a.m., the snow began to fall, but two hours later our luck changed and the sun began to rise and so did our spirits.
We reached the first traverse at around 8am - a 12m high steel cable between two rocks, hovering above a narrow bottle neck of a glacial river. We had been warned by the rangers to ensure a double or even triple clip point to the wire and its pulley. The traverse caused no issues and we finally reached the summit of the first mountain pass: Paso delViento (“The Windy Pass”).
After another mountain pass and a horrendous descent, we were 15km from the finish line just as the sun was dropping. It was tough - our feet were severely blistered - but we eventually reached the finish line of the Huemul circuit in a record time of 17 hours 22 minutes. It was an incredible achievement that brought some much deserved but very short lived elation...we soon realised we didn’t have any means of transport to travel the 17km back to El Chalten. There was no choice - we had to hike it. Arriving at 4am, we reached the doorstep of our hostel only to find it locked! With no energy left, we slept on the porch until the owner re-opened at 6.30am.
The next two days were spent recovering. We savoured properly brewed coffee, food eaten off a plate and, of course, a couple of beers.
Two days later we got stuck into the third and final leg of our challenge, a world first SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) from Lake Viedma to Lake Argentino via the "La Leona” river. We spent the first day paddling furiously into a headwind, getting spun around as our bodies worked overtime. That night in the tent was the coldest we had experienced all trip, rendering sleep virtually impossible. However, as the final day of our trip came round, it turned out that the weather was favourable. A tail wind meant the paddling was a relative breeze in comparison to the day before, and 45km later we arrived at the “finish line”.
Waves of achievement, elation and relief washed over us as we sat there on the shore of the La Leona river, contemplating the last three weeks. We were ecstatic to have completed this ultra triathlon in one of the rawest environments on the planet.
We have never been to anywhere remotely similar to the completely unique terrain of Patagonia. It deserves all the respect and notoriety it has gained over the years, and we feel proud to have accomplished something never completed in the region before.