The Atacama Crossing is a 250 km (155 miles) running race which takes place in the Atacama desert, around San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. There are 6-stages in 7 days: almost 4 Marathons in 4 days, then 74 km, a rest day and a final stage of 11 km.
The Atacama Crossing race is self-supported, which means that we have to carry all our clothes, sleeping bag, mandatory equipment, medical/safety kit and 7 days of food in our pack. The race organizer only provides us with water (10 to 13 liters per day) and the tents for the nights. So choosing the right kit and food is a real challenge as everything has to fit in a relatively small pack. The goal is also to keep to the weight of the pack below 9 kg, without water.
So overall the concept and difficulty of the race is very similar to the Marathon des Sables and all 4 Deserts races organized by RacingThePlanet: the Sahara Race, the Gobi March, the Atacama Crossing and the Last Desert in Antarctica. Many competitors think the Atacama Crossing is the hardest one.
The temperature is also a difficulty to consider as it reaches as high as 46°C in the day (recorded on my watch during the long stage) and goes down to 6°C during the night. That means the nights are cooler in Atacama than they are in Marathon des Sables and the Sahara Race, so we have to bring more clothes. Also the ground is more rocky at the camps so we have to bring a mattress too. Last but not least, the race takes place between 3,500 m and 2,400 m of elevation but we can’t do much about it…
The course of the Atacama Crossing takes competitors across a wide variety of terrains and includes approximately 3,500 meters of ascents and descents over the 7-day race.
Starting at above 3,000 meters in the Arcoiris Valley, the race gradually descends over the six stages to finish in the pretty town of San Pedro de Atacama at an elevation of 2,400 meters.
Competitors will tackle sand-dunes, river crossings, gravel, loose rocks, hard packed earth and even waist high grass during the event. This is in addition to the infamous salt flats that even the most dexterous of runners find nearly impossible to cross at full-speed.
Stage 1 - 35.2 km / 21.9 miles
Stage 2 - 41.8 km / 26.0 miles
Stage 3 - 40.0 km / 24.9 miles
Stage 4 - 42.8 km / 26.6 miles
Stage 5 - 73.6 km / 45.7 miles
Stage 6 - 16.0 km / 9.9 miles
During each stage checkpoints are located approximately every 10 kilometers (6 miles) along the course.
At each checkpoint competitors must:
- Be logged on arrival by the race staff.
- Take a minimum allocation of drinking water with them for the next leg.
- Abide by any instructions given by the race staff due to sudden adverse conditions (e.g. thunderstorms, sandstorms, fog, etc).
At each checkpoint competitors can:
- Rest for a short time and take advantage of the shade the checkpoint tent affords.
- Seek advice and treatment if appropriate from the medical doctor at the checkpoint.
Please note that adverse weather and other factors can result in changes being made to the course.
- Format: Multi Stage
- Distance: 250km (155 miles)
- Time Limit:Variable each day
- Terrain: sand, rock, rivers, salt flats
- Relief: +/- 500m daily (approx)
- Where: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
- When: March
- Accommodation: Organisation supplied tents
- Support: Self sufficient, water suplied only
- Day Temp: 35C average
- Night Temp: 5-10C average
- Competitors: Limited to 250
- Entry Reqs: Aged between 21 and 70
- Difficulty: 85% complete
- Cost: $3500 USD
- Website: www.4deserts.com
The Long March
The much-anticipated Stage 5 in all of the 4 Deserts events is known as The Long March. Generally, this stage is between 70 and 90 kilometers (43 to 56 miles) long, roughly double the length of the previous four stages.
The stage follows much the same format as the previous ones: checkpoints are located about 10 kilometers (6 miles) apart; however, many competitors will take the opportunity (the only one in the week) to have a few hours sleep at a designated Overnight Checkpoint.
At the Overnight Checkpoint, there will usually be a tent in which competitors can sleep as well as a campfire or stove where hot water is available for drinks and meals.