• A record 19 teams – 76 adventurers – to take on an extreme wilderness course
  • Race to raise awareness of the endangered wilderness in Chilean Patagonia
  • UK team returns to defend their title in 10th anniversary race ARENAS, CHILE: Two teams of British eco-adventurers will head into the Patagonian wilderness on Tuesday (Feb 14th) in an extreme endurance environmental multisport race designed to protect one of the most remote parts of the planet.

Competitors in the Patagonian Expedition Race will compete non-stop over 360 miles through a region highlighted by Frozen Planet’s Sir David Attenborough as ‘one of the world’s great wildernesses’ – but the kayak, bike and foot race is so challenging fewer than half the teams are likely to make the finish.

The 10th anniversary race – which will involve competitors from 19 different countries – begins on Valentine’s Day but Londoner Nick Gracie is more than happy to trade a romantic meal for two for a backpack full of energy bars as he heads off into the Chilean wilderness.

Gracie, whose AdidasTERREX-Prunesco team of four won last year, said: “I am going back to try to retain the title, because if I win a race I want to go back and win it again. We’re going to a different part of Patagonia this year and it’s going to be tough.

“We’re going further south, so it will probably be colder and it can snow down there quite a lot, so that can be quite challenging – but the weather in the UK in last two weeks has been pretty cold and snowy so that’s been perfect for me. That’s ideal training!”

The race will begin in Punta Arenas and travel through the flat wind-swept plains of Tierra del Fuego before rising into the awesome unnamed mountains of the Cordillera Darwin – with a finish in front of a 200m-high glacier.

Race founder and director Stjepan Pavicic said: “This year we are celebrating the 10th edition of this fantastic event and we have created a spectacular course that will certainly test the competitors to their limits.

“The route will lead teams through many natural marvels that have remained pristine and untouched by mankind – but it is also important to understand, as we enjoy its beauty, that we must conserve it and protect it so we don’t lose it.”

This year’s race will inaugurate a trail built by organisers NIGSA as part of a drive to generate eco-tourism in the region.

The event showcases the importance of protecting this stunning wilderness – but it also highlights the changeable conditions of such extreme environments. In 2009, an American team got lost for three days and had survive on wild berries. This year’s route is set to be the most remote ever.

British teams have won the three most recent editions of the competition, which runs for a maximum of eight days but is usually completed by the top teams in five or six. This year Gracie will contest the race with two New Zealanders and a Spaniard.

British cavers Chris Jones and Dave Powlesland - who have explored some of the world’s longest caves together – will join London-based New Zealander Richard Bramley and Auckland-based Irish woman Clare Dallimore to make their race debut as the only other British team.


Nick Gracie: Based in London, Nick worked in the West End in advertising for ten years and now runs his own company. He won last year’s Patagonia race with his four-person AdidasTERREX-Prunesco team and also won the World Championships of Adventure Racing in 2009.

Richard Bramley: A London-based New Zealander, Richard, 27, was in air-sea rescue before moving to the UK. He is now an economic consultant and his work takes him to some wild countries – which has seen him training for this race in Kosovo, Ghana and Kenya.

Chris Jones: Born in Cumbria and now based in Cardiff, Chris, 23, is an optician and a keen caver. With his team-mates, he recently explored a complex vertical 800m cave system in Europe – but he has never competed in an adventure race before.

Stuart Lynch: A Bristol-based New Zealander, Stuart has been in the UK for two years and works in computing. He is an experienced adventurer and won the World Championships of Adventure Racing in 2008.

Dave Powlesland: Based in Cardiff, Dave, 24, is an outdoor instructor and energy consultant. He is a keen caver and has explored some of the world’s toughest routes. He has never competed in an adventure race.


Q: Why are you going back?

NICK GRACIE: “The main reason to go back is to try to retain the title, because if I win a race I want to go back and win it again! But we’re also going to a different part of Patagonia this year and it’s an amazing place, so I want to see more of it. We went north of Punta Arenas last year and that was really pretty. This year we’re going south, and it will be nice to go to the Chilean part of Tierra del Fuego.

Q: So what was your best memory from last year’s race?

NG: “There was a place during a trek where we stopped briefly beside a massive waterfall with a big lake, a big glacier and a big snowy mountain behind. That’s probably the most beautiful place I’ve been in my life. I’ve no idea what it’s called – in fact, it was so remote it probably hasn’t got a name!”

Q: And what was the bit you’d like to forget?

NG: “We did a lot of river crossings and when it starts to rain the rivers get quite big so that can be pretty scary. Also, in this race you can’t just stop and escape to one of the nice hotel’s around there – we’ve got to keep going. So when you get wet, you stay wet, and you get quite cold.”

Q: What are you expecting this year?

NG: “We’re going far south so I think this year it will probably be colder and it can snow down there quite a lot too, so that can be quite challenging. It adds another dimension when you’ve got snow because it’s harder to see where you’re putting your foot down.”

Q: So the UK’s cold snap’s been good preparation for you then…

NG: “Ha, yep the weather in the UK in last two weeks has been pretty cold and snowy so that’s been perfect for me because I’ve been able to get out there in really quite cold and tough conditions. That’s ideal training!”

Q: So how do you think you’ll do?

NG: “Well, there are usually a lot of long foot sections, and that actually suits us because we’re really strong on foot, it plays to our strengths. I think there are other teams who are stronger at biking than us, but this year we’ve also got a really strong paddling team. We’ve probably got the strongest team that’s been to Patagonia, so I think we’ll take a lot of beating.

We don’t know who the competition will be, though, so it depends what other teams turn up.”

Q: The race is all about conserving Patagonia…

NG: “Yeah, and it’s a great event to do that because those who race in it and those who watch the TV show, see the photos and read the stories really get to understand what a majorly pristine place Chilean Patagonia is – and places like that should stay unspoiled.”

Q: So how special is it – how does it rate amongst your top places to race?

NG: “People always ask me where’s the best place to go, and I would say without a shadow of a doubt Chilean Patagonia is the most beautiful place I’ve raced. In fact, it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been on the planet. It’s pretty special. It’s just so, so big, so epic, it’s awesome. And there aren’t many people there, so that makes it a very special experience. You can go to some beautiful parts of Scotland, but there’s always going to be quite a few people around. Down there, you go to some places where you think, my God, I might actually be the first person to ever put my foot down in this valley. It’s a real feeling of exploration.”

The Patagonian Expedition Race is an annual eco-endurance adventure race that takes place in the southernmost region of the world. It aims to raise awareness of the environmental issues facing Chilean Patagonia and wilderness regions around the world as well as raising money for the ‘Save the Huemul’ project. It sees up to 20 international teams competing on bike, kayak and foot in spectacularly rugged and climatically diverse terrain in the Chilean Patagonia region located between southern latitudes 49º and 56º. The terrain includes plains, mountains, glaciers, native forests, swampland, rivers, lakes and channels. Past routes have incorporated the Southern Continental Ice Field, the Torres del Paine National Park, the Strait of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego, the Darwin Range, and the Beagle Channel.

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