Ultra Fiord 70 km: Nico’s Race Report

“It was #$%^ed up” was the first words by Riana when she came home. It was around 2 am the morning after she finished second in her age group at the 2018 Ultra Fiord  50 km event. “This is more than just a trail run, its pure survival out there”. We are in Patagonia where the forests are dense, the wind wilder and alpine conditions start at 600 m above sea level.

Patagonia, land of fjords, forests, snow capped mountains and extreme weather.

In her mind she pleaded with me not to do my event two days later, but never voiced it. I went on to do 55 km of the 70 km event and endured extreme physical exhaustion, drugged-like hallucinations of snake-type creatures and lurking Lord of the Ring-type trees and of course extreme cold, lashing wind and blinding snow atop some really hard going mountain passes.

On Chucabuco, the first pass of the 70 km route.

Now, after being home for a couple of weeks, I think the immensity of the race, the welcoming nature of the Chilean people and the enormous task of putting an event like this together is probably sinking in. Although both Riana and I need some time to reflect on Patagonia and Ultra Fiord 2018, I look back at those silver lined mountains, the immense beauty of the thick forests, the continuous slogging through the mud and the eery stillness while enduring the night, with a huge sense of achievement. To be able to be part of a race that captivates the human spirit in its rawest form, is something that is hard to explain. A race that epitomises our very existence on this beautiful planet.

This race is not a trail run, it was never meant to be. Patagonia pleads with you in its forests, on its mountain passes and through its mud that clings to your being. It pleads – “share me”. But that’s hard. Its hard to share the immensity of the place with anyone that’s not been there. Hard to share the wind howling in my ears as the snow drift slams into my face. My wooden hands unsure if they are still grasping my last trekking pole after the first broke some way down – somewhere in the mud. The mud. Hard to share the mud. Sinking in to my waist, wondering if my shoes are still on my feet. What to do if a shoe stays behind?  Mud that filled my shoes, my socks, my existence. Unending, relentless mud.

Figure. Running parts of the forested sections on the 70 km route. Source.

Hard to share the feeling that there is no escape in the race. Once you start, you have to endure to the end. Stay mentally and physically strong. On ascending to El Passo (our highest pass) the wind picked up and with it came the snow. Waves of freezing snow drift that whitened the vertical rock-strewn gully. My headlight pierced the damp dark and I forced my fatigued body up towards the probing, bobbing cocoons of headlights far above. Just get up and get down – up and down – up and down I kept repeating to myself. It was late at night, with a very long way to go still. And on the other side of the mountain pass the snow had turned into ice. My second and last trekking pole snapped and I had to slide much of the way down. Slide walk fall, repeat.

Me descending the first pass on the 70 km route. Source.

At last I reached the snow line and went straight back into the mud. Trees huddled in knee deep mud lined the track. My headlight catches reflections of the route beacons, or is it other runners? Hallucinations set in and I jump when the roots start to move. Sliding from tree to tree without my poles – grasping at branches, at leaves, at anything. How do I share that feeling of being utterly alone, cold and fatigued in some of the remotest parts of the planet. My emotions run wild, I run walk stop sit rest and walk again. Or did I just sleep while sitting? Sharing the moments of this race, the immensity of it all is hard. But needs to be uttered. Patagonia has an inhospitable beauty that needs to be shared.

At last seeing the glowing, floating ball of light on the road. The tent at 55 km. Extreme relief overwhelms me and I know that the only way of sharing this race, the only way of sharing Patagonia is to be grateful for her. Grateful that a place of such beauty and surreal wilderness still exist on our planet. Grateful that I have been able to run, slide and survive Patagonia.

My Love and I in Puerto Natales after our individual races.

The Amazon: On Surviving (Yet Another) Boat Ride

Nico: “The flight date you booked was 14 March 2018, today is 14 April 2018”.

Riana and the boys are standing in the queue with me, they are tired and fed-up from all the rushing and running in-between flights. We are on the Lima airport in Peru, just rushed off a flight out of Patagonia to make the check in for the flight to Iquitos in the heart of the Amazon within northern Peru. We want to reach Iquitos early in the afternoon in order to still make our 3 to 4 hour boat journey on the Amazon River to the Lodge, but now we do not have an airline ticket. It seems I made a mistake on our departure date when buying the tickets online 3 months earlier. Continue reading “The Amazon: On Surviving (Yet Another) Boat Ride”

Second Attempt on the Matterhorn. A Mountaineering Report.

Matterhorn

My middle finger on my right hand is lifeless. The finger inside the glove is more like a piece of wood than part of my body. We are on 4,200 m, just below the shoulder on the 4,478 m high Matterhorn in Switzerland. I can’t hear Thomas over the howling wind and he can’t hear me complain about my finger or how tired I am, or that I am cold. He just pushes on. “Jawohl”. I think of you sitting snug below in the village, maybe looking up through the window towards the pyramid shaped peak towering above the valley. Are you thinking of me like I am of you? Are the boys chasing each other around the flat or are you walking down towards the center of town, over the glacial torrent tearing its way down from the snow capped peaks above. Continue reading “Second Attempt on the Matterhorn. A Mountaineering Report.”

What lies beneath… Explorations of the deep, dark and damp.

The rusty 50 m long ladder sways back and forth under my weight. I gaze back at the cobalt blue water more 100 m below where a beam of sunlight dances across the surface. We are returning from a sneak peak into the bowels of mother earth and it was spectacular. I again strain to get a last glimpse of the water below and feel utterly at peace, suspended in space. Jolted back to reality by the creaks and groans of the ladder, I wonder if this old ramshackle piece of iron will hold my weight all the way to the top. Luckily I am also fastened to a jumar which easily slides up the safety rope, but still I feel uneasy. How many people have come this way to stare down at Harasib Lake, one of numerous underground lakes in northern Namibia? Those daring first explorers, who gazed down into the black depths, silently excited of what lay below. I try to imagine myself in their position, a terrifying but at the same time inspiring thought. I am ripped back to reality once more by water dripping from above. I look up through the darkness wavering under a thin sliver of sunlight from above. Water continues to drip on my hands, and I get frustrated, try to swing to the left and the right, but the dripping continues. I look up and realize that it is my own perspiration dripping down from my forehead. I am drenched in sweat.

Riana exiting Harasib Cave in Namibia.

Continue reading “What lies beneath… Explorations of the deep, dark and damp.”

Devil’s Tooth: Third Time Lucky

Blood streamed down my face, over my neck and turned my shirt red. “What is going on” Deon shouted from above, no idea that a falling thumb size rock slid my middle finger open to the bone.  Moments before, as he shouted “below” I put my hand on my head for cover an instant before the projectile hit me. We were forcing our way up Tooth Gully to the base of one of the most inspiring and difficult peaks to climb in the Drakensberg of South Africa. Devils Tooth. Continue reading “Devil’s Tooth: Third Time Lucky”

A (Few) Trips to the Edge of my Comfort Zone.

West Africa. The dark part of our Home Continent. A visit to Niger was my first job as a geological consultant with our own consulting firm, operating out of Namibia. I left home without any idea what to expect (which was probably the best) as I flew with a stopover in Dakar (Senegal) en route to Niger. I had to apply for my visa in Dakar and actually considered staying on board the plane to continue the journey to Washington D.C., where my fellow passengers were heading – I remember their looks of pity before I disembarked – “you have no idea whats out there – put on your dust mask and hold on for the ride into oblivion” – or at least that’s what the sleepy stares in the dark looked like. I was slightly freaked out stepping out of the plane into the coastal humidity that was Dakar at midnight. Continue reading “A (Few) Trips to the Edge of my Comfort Zone.”

Rwenzori: Mountains of the Moon. A Mountaineering report.

Images of elusive, jagged, snow-capped peaks towering above a thick jungle canopy flashed through my mind when I first read about this mysterious mountain, strutting the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I have always had a strange attraction to such seldom visited, remote and unrelenting places, and the Rwenzori and one of its host countries the DRC, definitely fits that picture. The DRC is one of the largest countries in Africa and endowed in mineral riches, but also hosts some of the longest lasting, most brutal civil wars on the continent fought by rebels whose hideout is and has been this very mountain range. Continue reading “Rwenzori: Mountains of the Moon. A Mountaineering report.”

Asante, Mount Kenya: A Mountaineering Report

I have asked myself too many times, “why would you want to endure subzero temperatures with a pounding headache at more than 5,000 m above sea level, while strapped to a 1 cm thick rope ,dangling above more than a km of air”. “Why would you leave your loving wife and beautiful boys to go and do something that scares the hell out of you every time you do it”. “Why risk your life and that of your climbing partner in an area so remote, ice laden and rock strewn that chances of surviving a fall would soon diminish with the quest to find your way to the nearest shelter”. I actually don’t know why. But I think, if you have the answers to these questions rambling about in your head during a period of utter isolation, you would probably not be in that spot at that time . Why do we endure terrible cold, dizzying heights and utter fear so far away from home. Are we searching for answers, searching for ourselves or just searching for a way to the top of this damn mountain? Continue reading “Asante, Mount Kenya: A Mountaineering Report”