The Atacama Crossing (Chile) is a seven-day, six-stage, 250-kilometer / 150-mile footrace across the Atacama Desert of Chile
The Atacama Desert is an area of extraordinary beauty and astounding natural wonders, from the Atacama Salt Flats, which are home to colonies of nesting pink flamingos and the sacred Incan sites, to the many volcanoes, including the Licancabur Volcano which was a ceremonial center during the Incan period.
The Atacama Crossing takes place in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile – the host town is the wonderful oasis of San Pedro de Atacama. Ranging from dry arid desert, magnificent salt flats stretching as far as the eye can see, sand dunes which will literally take your breath away, to the glittering night skies that only a desert can provide. Explore one of the four astounding deserts in the world.
The archeological jewel of Chile’s rainless plateau, the Atacama Desert, spreads through Chile, Bolivia and Peru. The Atacama Crossing takes place in northern Chile - the host town is the laid back pre-Inca town of San Pedro de Atacama.The small oasis is located in the region of Antofagasta and 100 kilometers / 60 miles southeast of Calama and the Chuquicamata copper mine, overlooking the Licancabur Volcano.
At 2,400 meters / 7.875 feet, and with a permanent population of only 5,000 people, the fantastic atmosphere of the town lends itself to amazing food, comfortable hotels, hostels and an all-around great vibe.
The course of the Atacama Crossing itself is surrounded by forty-four snow-capped volcanoes, with the Lincancabur Volcano always in some range of proximity. The amazing course takes competitors through the magnificent Slot Canyons, which have been referred to some as being in a world with Alice In Wonderland, and The Valley of the Moon, with its lunar resemblance feels as though you are traversing an out of this world terrain. Not only will competitors feel as though they have stepped off planet earth, they will have the opportunity to travel across the special ALMA land, which houses one of the largest telescopes in the world – it is a specially protected area for which 4 Deserts has exclusive access once a year for the Atacama Crossing.
The Atacama Desert is the driest non-polar desert in the world. It is also one of the driest places on earth! However, as this is a desert in proximity to the Andes Mountain range, there can be a chance of some extreme weather including strong winds, rain in the mountains and variations in temperature (as low as -1°C / 30°F at night and even higher than 35°C / 95°F during the day).
September and October are considered to be the months which have the best weather in the Atacama Desert area around San Pedro. It is generally warm and mild, with temperatures reaching 25°C / 77°F during the day. At night it reaches close to 0°C / 32°F.
In recent years, NASA has been testing its Mars Rover and other instruments and vehicles for Mars missions in the Atacama's dry and rugged landscapes. The desert has also been used as a location for filming Mars scenes, most notably in the television series Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets. The dry air and low levels of artificial light create perfect conditions for seeing the stars and the area is home to one of the largest telescopes in the world.
This desiccated environment is the perfect preserver of ancient relics, with the world's oldest mummies (of the Paleolithic Chinchorro tribe), having been discovered in the Atacama, thought to date back to 7000BC. Huge geoglyphic paintings adorn hillsides and ruins of Indian fortresses and sacred Inca sites dot the landscape.
The course of the Atacama Crossing takes competitors across a wide variety of terrain and includes approximately 1,683 meters (5,521 feet) of ascents and 2,508 meters (8,228 feet) of descents over the 7-day race. Starting at just below 3,200 meters (10,500 feet) in the Arcoiris Valley, the race gradually descends over the six stages to finish in the quaint town of San Pedro de Atacama at an elevation of 2,400 meters (7,900 feet).
Competitors will go through magnificent salt flats stretching as far as the eye can see, run down huge sand dunes which will literally take your breath away, go through canyons where you can touch the walls on both sides and sleep under glittering night skies in the driest place on earth.
The course is varied. You will tackle sand-dunes, river crossings, gravel, loose rocks, hard packed earth and even waist high grass. This is in addition to the infamous salt flats (described as "frozen brocoli / a ploughed field") that will challenge even the most dexterous of runners to cross at full-speed.
Each Stage of the Atacama Crossing has unique cultural, historical and scenic highlights that will encourage competitors to push themselves along to the next checkpoint. Below are some of the highlights competitors can expect to experience while crossing the Atacama Desert.
The total distance of the Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2016 is 250 kilometers / 155 miles. The format is similar to the prestigious 4 Deserts Race Series. Competitors should prepare for the following distances:
(Meters / Feet)
(Meters / Feet)
|Stage 1||36.5||22.7||245 / 804||973 / 3,192|
|Stage 2||44.5||27.6||243 / 797||535 / 1,755|
|Stage 3||39||24.2||261 / 856||150 / 492|
|Stage 4||44||27.3||155 / 509||294 / 965|
|Stage 5||76.4||47.5||684 / 2244||526 / 1,726|
|Stage 6||9.6||6||95 / 312||30 / 131|
|Total||250||155.3||1,683 / 5,521||2,508 / 8,228|
At each checkpoint competitors must:
At each checkpoint competitors can:
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.
The Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2019 starts on 29 September and is the fifteenth edition of the race.
The Atacama Desert is recognized as the driest place on earth - it is 50 times more arid than California's Death Valley.
The Atacama Desert has the most lunar-like landscape on Earth and is frequently used by NASA to test its planetary rover vehicles.
The Atacama Desert is 15 million years old. Some of the oldest mummies found on earth come from the Atacama Desert, dating as far back as 7000 years.
The entire Atacama Crossing is held at least 2.3 kilometers / 1.4 miles above sea level and covers the distance required to make a horizontal crossing of the country of Chile (250 kilometers / 155 miles).
The highest elevation on the course is at Camp 1, which is more than 3,000 meters / 10,000 feet above sea level.
Daytime temperatures in October average 35°C / 95°F, while nighttime temperatures average 5°C / 41°F. Temperatures, however, range widely and the desert climate can be extremely hot during the day and cold at night.
Up to 200 competitors representing more than 40 countries are expected to compete in the Atacama Crossing 2019.
Approximately 30% of competitors are expected to have completed a previous 4 Deserts Race / RacingThePlanet Ultramarathon.
The fastest finish time on any Atacama Crossing course is held by Vicente Garcia Beneito of Spain with an overall time of 23 hours and 46 minutes in 2012.
The fastest women's finish on any Atacama Crossing course is held by Anne-Marie Flammersfeld of Germany with an overall time of 29 hours and 49 minutes in 2012.
Approximately 20% of competitors run the entire course, 60% combine running with walking, and 20% walk the entire course. The fastest completion time is expected to be around 25 hours and the slowest around 70 hours.
The Atacama Crossing is a self-supported race; competitors must carry everything they need for seven days on their backs. The average backpack weighs 9kg / 20 pounds. The lightest is generally 7kg / 15 pounds and the heaviest 14kg / 30 pounds.
Many competitors raise money and awareness for charities around the globe through their participation in the Atacama Crossing.
Competitors use tablets in a specially designated Cybertent to write blogs and exchange emails during the race so that friends and family at home can receive some updates and send messages of support.
During the Atacama Crossing, competitors, volunteers and staff will consume approximately 15,000 liters / 4,000 gallons of water during the race.
Competitors are required to pass through up to 30 checkpoints throughout the seven-day event before crossing the finish line.
The Atacama Crossing (Chile) is a seven-day, six-stage, 250-kilometer / 150-mile footrace across the Atacama Desert of Chile
The Atacama Crossing is part of the 4 Deserts Race Series. We like to think of the 4 Deserts as its own unique category or genre. The events do not fit into the classic definitions of ultramarathon, adventure race or expedition race. Instead, we call the 4 Deserts self-supported rough country footraces.
During the 250-kilometer / 150-mile event, competitors must carry their own personal gear, food and clothing in a backpack. The only assistance provided to them is water (plenty) for drinking and making food, tents to sleep in at night, and medical and management support.
Deserts are separated into four categories: subtropical, cool coastal, cold winter and polar. The 4 Deserts are located in the largest desert of each category, also representing the driest, hottest, coldest and windiest places on Earth. The Atacama Crossing takes place in the Atacama Desert which is the largest cool coastal desert in the world and represents the driest desert of the 4 Deserts series. The course has been set up to pass through one of the most beautiful, pristine and untouched land on Earth.
You may complete the Atacama Crossing (Chile), Gobi March (China) and Sahara Race (Namibia) at any time. There is no specific order in which you must do the events, and you do not have to complete all three. However, if you are interested in competing in The Last Desert (Antarctica), then you must have successfully completed at least two of the other 4 Deserts in order to qualify.
There is no qualification required to take part in the Atacama Crossing, but competitors must be healthy and maintain a certain level of fitness. All competitors are required to submit a medical form with information on fitness level, a form with emergency contact details and a stamped doctor's certificate two months before the event.
The typical competitor is a high achiever - someone who believes in maximizing every opportunity in life. Our competitors generally work full time, some have families, many perform community service and all lead healthy lifestyles. Our competitors consist of medical doctors, professors, investment bankers, small business owners, actors, entrepreneurs, journalists, top athletes and coaches, military professionals, managers and stay-at-home moms and dads. We have many father/son, father/daughter, mother/son and brother/sister competitors. The events are international with approximately 40 countries represented in each event. At a normal event, 20% of competitors are women and 80% of competitors are men.
The Atacama Crossing consists of six stages that take place over seven days. Competitors typically arrive two days before the start of the event and are free to leave any time after the event concludes. Make sure, though, not to miss the fun part - the Awards Banquet! A full itinerary can be viewed on the Atacama Crossing website.
The event is set up to allow for generous cut-off times. Approximately 20% of competitors will run most of the course, 60% combine running with walking, and 20% will walk the entire course. A competitor that can complete 40 kilometers / 25 miles in 8-10 hours should be able to meet the cut-off times.
Our competitors are busy people - we don't expect them to train all the time, but a minimum amount of training is expected. Some competitors complete the event with minimal training; others want to win and spend many more hours training. Each competitor has his or her own goal. We simply want people to finish.
There are a number of resources available to help people prepare and train for the Atacama Crossing; some of these are listed below:
4 Deserts events are very popular - some events sell out more than one year in advance. We recommend that prospective competitors complete an online registration as early as possible and at least six months before the start of the race. Places are confirmed upon receipt of the deposit payment. Once the event is full, new applications will be added to the waiting list.
The entry fee for the Atacama Crossing includes almost everything from the arrival at the event hotel in San Pedro de Atacama on Friday before the event start until departure on Sunday after the event conclusion. Specifically, this is:
Additional costs to consider are flights / transport to the event hotel and mandatory equipment.
A fully qualified team of medical doctors from United States, many of whom have attended a number of 4 Deserts events over the years, works at each event. Most doctors are emergency physicians with affiliations at Stanford University and other reputable medical schools.
During the race, there is a medical doctor at each checkpoint to offer assistance and care on the course. There is also a medical tent located at every campsite where competitors can seek medical assistance or advice. Note that this is a self-supported race, so each competitor must bring the mandatory medical items listed in the equipment list.
Competitors must carry ALL mandatory equipment items, including food and electrolytes, at all times during the event. An equipment list with mandatory gear requirements can be found on the equipment page of the Atacama Crossing website. The equipment list has also a section of optional and recommended gear items.
When full, most competitor backpacks range in weight from 7-15 kilograms / 15-33 pounds, with the average backpack weighing 9 kilograms / 20 pounds (without water). Note that the backpack weight will decrease each day as food is eaten and items are used along the course.
At the end of each stage, competitors, volunteers and staff gather in incredible campsites managed by a local camp team. The desert campsites are typically located in spectacular places with clear views of the nighttime skies. Competitors sleep in tents of up to ten people. There are also camp fires in the mornings and evenings to boil water and cook food.
We provide information on common flight routes and local contacts to help competitors make arrangements to get to Chile. We also provide information on staying additional nights at the hotel, airport transfers, domestic flights (as required) and other travel arrangements.
The Atacama Crossing website is updated daily during the event with real time breaking news, stage updates, results, competitor blogs, features, and hundreds of photos and videos. Supporters can follow the event by:
The 4 Deserts typically accepts 16-20 volunteers for the Atacama Crossing each year. Those interested in volunteering should complete a volunteer application as early as possible - we accept volunteers on a rolling basis and receive many more applications than we can accept. The volunteer team works hard during the event, but the job is fun and very rewarding - many volunteers return to 4 Deserts events year after year.
Each event highlights an indigenous culture in the region with the hope of preserving the culturefor generations to come. At the Atacama Crossing, competitors experience the friendship and warmth of both the Chileans and the Atacamenos. Both groups have their own unique cultures.
Many say that the best part of the event is meeting other competitors and making new friends from all over the world. Many competitors meet up after the event, stopping to have dinner when passing through another competitor's hometown or getting together regularly for social events. Others choose to register for additional events as teammates. Some competitors have even met their future spouses!
Absolutely - we encourage it. Giving back is one of the primary themes of the 4 Deserts mission. Many of our competitors have raised significant amounts of money for charities all over the world.
Life enhancing for all, life changing for many.
Competitors are required to carry mandatory equipment items during the week of the event. Mandatory equipment will be reviewed at Competitor Check-In at the host hotel and on the course during the week of the event. Failure to have an item will result in a penalty or not being able to start / continue the event.
Download the Equipment List to make sure that you know what is required for each mandatory equipment item. You can also review the photos and descriptions of each item below. All items are available at the RacingThePlanet Store.
Your backpack / rucksack should be capable of carrying all of your mandatory and optional equipment. A 25-30L backpack is optimal. When full, most competitor backpacks range in weight from 7-15kg / 15-33lbs while the average backpack weighs 9kg / 20lbs without water.
Note: There is no one backpack model that works for everyone.
The waterproof bag must be a minimum of 35 liters in size. There is a chance of rain, and it is vital that you keep the contents of your backpack (in particular, your sleeping bag and camp clothes) dry. Using a combination of smaller waterproof bags does not fulfill this requirement.
The minimum requirement combination of sleeping bag plus bag liner is 0°C / 32°F. If you are sensitive to cold temperatures you may want to look at combinations below this temperature.
Competitors are required to carry two light sources during the event one must be a headlamp or handheld torch. Both lights must be strong enough to use when on the course at night on uneven terrain.
The red flashing light is required in in addition to your headlamp and back-up light. This is to be attached to the rear of your backpack and switched on when you are on the course in the dark.
A small knife or multi-tool has multiple uses during the event.
A whistle can be used to attract attention in case of an emergency. Note that many backpacks include a whistle on the buckle - this is not sufficient. You must have an emergency whistle.
A mirror can be used to attract attention in case of an emergency.
The survival bivvy / bag must be a closed bivvy bag (not a blanket) made of reflective material. We recommend a thick bag that you can repack easily as you may want to use it over your sleeping bag in cold or wet weather conditions.
Any model of compass is adequate however, a compass as a part of a watch is not sufficient.
Note: There is no navigation in the event.
Ideally bring more than one eating utensil (e.g. fork or spoon) in case you lose one.
You must have minimum of 60 ml / 2 fl oz of sunscreen. Choose a brand with high SPF that is waterproof, sweat-proof and non-greasy.
Lip sunscreen is necessary to protect lips from the sun.
Bring an adequate 7-day supply (at least 12 mild pain relief pills) so that you are not dependent on medication from the event medical team.
Important Note: You should seek advice from your doctor about any medication that you plan to take during the race, including any form of painkillers. If you take painkillers, Tylenol / Paracetamol / Acetaminophen are preferred over anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen / Neurofen / Advil / Motrin / Naprosyn and others. It is NOT advised to take anti-inflammatory medication on the course. Please read the expert article called Painkillers Used during Ultramarathons for more details.
The following list is a minimum requirement for the blister kit. You may need more supplies based on your experience and prior history of foot blisters:
Note 1: Lubricant such as Bodyglide or Loob is also highly recommended. Foot powder is recommended for feet that sweat a lot.
Note 2: You should try to anticipate the amount of supplies you will need for 7 days. If you do not bring enough supplies, you could be at risk of developing more severe blisters that could jeopardize your ability to finish the race.recommended. Foot powder is recommended for feet that sweat a lot.
The compression bandage must be a minimum size of 7.5 cm/3 in wide x 4.5 m/14 ft long (6 cm/2.4 inches in diameter).
A minimum of 10 safety pins are required for attaching your bib number and event patch and for multiple uses during the event. Heavy duty, large pins work best.
A minimum of 60 ml / 2 fl oz of alcohol gel is required. Alcohol wipes cannot replace alcohol gel, but you may choose to carry both.
A 7-day supply of toilet tissue is mandatory as no tissues / paper will be provided for toilet use. It is recommended to also bring wet wipes.
Competitors should wear trail or running shoes. Consider buying your shoes 1 to 2 sizes larger than you would normally wear to account for swelling and tape for blisters.
Two pairs of socks are required, but 6-7 pairs are recommended to allow for a fresh pair for each day on the course. Many competitors wear two layers of socks at one time.
Two pairs of shorts / tights / pants are required. One pair must cover your full leg.
One shirt is required, but we recommend two shirts, including one that is long-sleeved for sun protection and / or warmth in cold temperatures. Quick dry materials in light colors are recommended.
Temperatures in the desert can get very cold. This must be a warm top (preferably fleece or down jacket). An alternative is a thick, long-sleeve capilene top.
The jacket must be fully waterproof (preferably also windproof) to keep you dry and warm.
A rain poncho is required for additional warmth and wet protection. It is lightweight and easy to put on / take off when the weather changes.
A warm hat is required for cold temperatures. A Buff does not fulfill this requirement.
Full finger gloves are required for warmth in the cold.
Any pair of UV protection sunglasses fulfills this requirement. Only 1 pair is mandatory but it is recommended to take 2 pairs as sunglasses are often lost or broken.
You must provide your own nationality patches to wear on both sleeves of all tops (including jackets) throughout the event. These are in addition to the 4 Deserts patches which are provided by the 4 Deserts.
We will send you a set of eight 4 Deserts patches approximately 6 weeks before the event. You do not need to purchase these patches.
You must be able to carry containers that can hold 2.5 liters of water at all times. We advise having capacity for 1.5 liters in bottles or a bladder that are easy to access and fill up. In addition to this, you must have a separate Platypus SoftBottle for 1.0 liter (or 2 soft bottles for 0.5L), which folds up inside your backpack, when not being used.
You must have a hydration system that is able to hold 2.5 liters of water at all times. The most common choices are:
Hydration bladders: A popular choice, but sometimes difficult to know how much fluid you have drunk; can also be difficult to fill quickly.
Maintaining your body's electrolyte balance is critical for a safe race. It is strongly recommended to bring a mixture of electrolyte tablets and electrolyte drink powders. You must bring a minimum of:
If you expect to spend more than 30 hours on the course then you should increase this accordingly. It is vital that you test your electrolyte plan during your training and follow the amounts recommended on the packets.
You are responsible for your own food for the duration of the event. You need a meal for the night before the race as well as a minimum of 2,000 calories / day during the race (7 days) for a minimum of 14,000 calories in total.
We recommend using freeze dried meals as your main food source. Hot water will be available at all campsites.
The campfire is an integral part of the Atacama Crossing. Nurtured and tended by our local staff, who keep a constant kettle of water boiling, the fire could be counted as the greatest luxury at a 4 Deserts event. After a hard day in the desert, there is nothing quite like the camaraderie and comfort provided by the fire. An opportunity to meet fellow competitors, swap tips, marvel at some of the ingenious meals being prepared and ease sore limbs. Before competitors awake in the morning the fire is rekindled and the kettle boiled for breakfast - a blissful cup of tea or coffee and a bowl of porridge are perennial favourites to savour as the sun rises.
The Atacama Crossing is a truly international event with over 40 nationalities expected to be represented. To welcome each and every competitor, we make sure that we fly the flag of every competitor's nation at the start and finish lines of each stage. Our flags are handmade by a traditional sailmaker, Mr. Poon, who lives and works in Hong Kong. Mr. Poon is a master in his trade, having originally been trained to make sails for junks that used to ply the South China Seas.
The 4 Deserts uses Bedouin style tents specially made in Egypt for the Atacama Crossing. The tradition of tent-making in Egypt is centuries old and the quality of the canvas and design means that the tents are robust in the harshest of conditions and last for years. The tent design includes windows and venting that can capture breezes during the heat of the day but that are also reassuringly draft-proof during cold nights and even sandstorms.
Volunteers are carefully selected from around the world to ensure a variety of nationalities, language abilities, fitness levels and general experiences working in challenging conditions. Approximately four volunteer applications are received for every available position. View our Atacama Crossing volunteer team.
The 4 Deserts employs a team of local Chilean staff on the ground, many of whom we have worked on the Atacama Crossing since its inaugural event in 2004. These Chileans are an integral part of the Atacama Crossing, facilitating our relationships with government agencies and community leaders. They provide invaluable local expertise and the manpower necessary for keeping the event moving each day and the camps working without hitch each evening.
Local Chilean drivers ensure that media, management and volunteer teams are transported safely around the course. Drivers also help media personnel reach the best vantage points on the course to shoot the race.
Checkpoints are spaced at approximately 10 kilometer intervals, with the final checkpoint of the day being the finish line and campsite. At each checkpoint, competitors are supplied with 1.5 liters of water as well as shade and a place to rest. Once all competitors have passed through the checkpoint, it is dismantled. No trace of the checkpoint is left in the desert.
The Cybertent is the competitors' lifeline to the outside world. The tent is a unique concept in multi-day stage races as a place for competitors to read emails and blog comments that have been sent to them over the preceding 24 hours. Competitors have the option to send emails and update blogs from the Cybertent at each campsite at the end of the day's stage. The blogs endure as a permanent archive of their experiences in the desert and are accessible through the race website.
There is a fast growing global community interested in 4 Deserts races - not only friends, family, supporters and former competitors, but also a fanbase of people inspired by the dream of one day competing. To keep up with the demands of this expanding community, we are constantly developing our media capabilities.
The 4 Deserts uses a combination of satellite and mobile communications to distribute content from the races to our website and to broadcasters around the world. During each stage of the race we post hourly updates to the website about race leaders and individual competitors. We also post daily video highlights captured by staff, and volunteers.
At least 150 photographs are uploaded daily from the race capturing the locations, highlights and spirit of the event. We also distribute daily features about competitors and the locations as well as stage updates on the race website. Overall positions and timings are logged on the website as soon as possible after the last competitor crosses the finish line of each stage.
Catering to the needs of 200 people in the Atacama Desert and making sure that we leave no trace of their presence is an important part of putting on the Atacama Crossing. Fortunately, our competitors are overwhelmingly attentive to this matter and make this task as easy for us as possible. We institute a system of time penalties for any competitor seen littering. Sweepers also follow behind the final competitors removing course markers and remaining litter from the ground.
Only those who successfully complete each stage of Atacama Crossing will receive a medal at the finish line in the central square of San Pedro de Atacama. The 4 Deserts specially designs the medals and has them manufactured in Malaysia which is renowned as having the world's best pewter.
Expedition Foods is the official food partner for the Atacama Crossing. Expedition Foods pioneered the concept of expedition foods by providing highly nutritious, flavorsome, easy-to-store and prepared foods and has built a reputation on quality, service and choice, boasting arguably the largest range of meals available in Europe. Expedition Foods' 800 Kcal range is the highest calorie to weight food available on the market. The Expedition Foods objective is to provide a mix of traditional meals with dishes from around the globe. The diverse menu, which appeals to all tastes, is coupled with continual innovation and product development.