The Last Desert (Antarctica) 2016 is underway.
A 78-strong group boarded the MV Plancius Expedition Ship at 4pm (local time in Ushuaia, Argentina / Antarctica) and are currently in the Drake Passage and are due to arrive in Antarctic waters on 20 November in the evening – after two days of travel.
The 61 competitors have travelled from 24 countries as far as a China, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. Perched up on a hill side on the edge of the Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuaia has been welcoming them to its windswept shores over the last week. Everyone had arrived by Thursday and great reunions were taking place in the plentiful cafes, restaurants, gear rental shops and trails that it has to offer.
Official activities started halfway through Friday, 18 November when competitors had a pre-boarding briefing in a hotel in the main street of Ushuaia. Here they signed their paperwork, were given a run down of the IAATO rules that we will always adhere to and given an introduction to plan and processes of the next eleven days. It was also the last chance to check any gear items that they were not sure about – the official gear check takes place in their cabins on board the Plancius after which is there is no chance to source any missing items.
The whole group then walked together down to the Port of Ushuaia to enter the restricted area and board the expedition ship that will be their home and base camp for the next 11 days.
After locating their cabins, the expedition crew, ship staff and Captain gave a warm welcome and serious safety briefing. This included a full lifeboat evacuation drill complete with life jackets and getting inside the lifeboat.
Gear check then took place in their cabins – which everyone passed with relief. The gear requirement for The Last Desert is somewhat different to the other 4 Deserts races in the Sahara Desert, Atacama Desert and Gobi Desert. A toast was had in the main common area followed by dinner and then time to relax, explore the ship and watch the beautiful scenery of the Beagle Channel. Sea-sickness medication and patches were also taken / put on in preparation for two days of rough seas in the Drake Passage.
The Drake Passage is a renowned body of water 600 miles wide between South America's Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica marks the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It is the warm water crashing into the cold water that causes the waves, wind and currents that can make the crossing rather unpleasant.
The plan is to start Stage 1 of The Last Desert (Antarctica) on King George Island on Monday, 21 November for a Long Stage of up to 100kms. However the plans can change in Antarctica very quickly – everything is dependent on the weather.
Stage 1 got underway today, Monday, 21 November at 07:30. There was an 05:30 wake up - breakfast was served early and competitors were on the Zodiac boats for the first time to take to dry(?) land in Antarctica - also for the first time.
Everyone was excited to "touch in Antarctica", to be off the ship and to get started.
The course was a 11.4 km circuit on King George Island. They ran past the China, Chile and Uruaguay bases and then back to the Russian base which was in the centre of a figure of eight. The Russian base is clearly visible by the wooden Catholic Orthodox Church. This Stage of the race is the only one where they will see signs of human habitation.
The weather conditions turned out well - sunshine and no wind with a temperature starting at 1C / 34F and rising slightly during the day before cooling again in the early evening. Underfoot was difficult - it was soft snow for most of the way which started to melt and therefore became wet.
Kyle McCoy from the United States took the lead from the start. He completed the first circuit in 1 hour 10 mins with Jax Mariash, also from the United States, was right behind him in 2nd place overall - and first female.
From there Kyle managed to extend his lead slightly to finish Stage 1 at the top of leaderboard with 91.2km / 56.6 miles. Not far behind him in joint 2nd place are Filippo Rossi from Switzerland and Andrea Girardi from Italy with 87.8km / 55.4 miles and then Tommy Chen from Taiwan just half a kilometer behind them.
Jax Mariash finsihed as the first lady but in 5th place overall with 79.8 km / 49.5 miles. Kathia Rached from Lebanon was the 2nd female and Amanda de Kock from South Africa in 3rd place. There is just 7.5kms between Jax, Kathia and Amanada. Lene Larsen from Denmark is the 4th place female but has 20km to catch up.
Some particularly impressive performances came from Avi Blaiberg from Israel, Steven Garlick who is currently residing in NC in the United States, Kathia Rached from Lebanon, Amanda De Kock and Daniel Almanza who all finsiehd in, or just outside the Top 10 but come from hot countries. For some this was the first time to experience snow!
At the back of the pack, the shortest distance completed was 34.2km - this included Cynthia Fish and Karen Meades from Canada, Wilson Shen-Yu, Lee and Yuli Lin from Taiwan and Allen Fang and Zhang from China.
Ultimately all 61 competitors completed Stage 1 of The Last Desert 2016 and put some serious mileage after a long voyage on board the expedition ship to get to Antarctica.
Thanh Vu was surprised at the difficulty "this is harder than I thought [referring to the soft snow]". Thanh has yet to submit her timing card so her result will be delayed until tomorrow.
Allen Kerton said "this is really tough. I have Goretex shoes and Seal Skinz sock but still somehow my feet are wet". Allen was among a group of 14 people who completed 57kms putting in joint 22nd place.
Jareb Steines "less people have completed The Last Desert in Antarctica than have been to space - I feel truly privileged". Jareb finished in 68.4km putting him in 11th place.
Colina Nanka said he was enjoyed the circuits as "it beats the gym or being inside". Colin completed 64.4km putting him in joint 12th position.
Yan Liu said "This is really beautiful weather. We are so lucky"
David Souza was thrilled by the wildlife saying "those penguins are awesome". Little does he know that he is soon going to see great colonies of penguins - not just a few at the shore and coming to see what are doing running around. David competed 61kms with Funk, Franco Zomer from Italy and Christoph Harreither from Austria. Putting the four of then in joint 18th position.
Stage 2 is planned for Telefon Bay on Deception Island to start by 09:00 on Tuesday, 22 November.
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STAGE 2 RESULTS
1. Kyle McCoy - USA - 57kms
1. Tommy Chen - TWN - 57kms
3. Frode Lein - NOR - 54kms
1. Jax Mariash – USA - 48kms
1. Amanda de Kock – ZAR - 48kms
2. Kathia Rached - LEB - 48kms
OVERALL RESULTS after Stage 2
1. Kyle McCOy - 148.2km
2. Tommy Chen - 144.2kms
3. Filippo Rossi - 135.8kms
1. Jax Mariash - 127.8kms
2. Kathia Rached - 120.8kms
3. Amanada de Kock - 120.4kms
All three women are in the Top 10 overall!!!!
Stage 2 was on Deception Island. This is an active volcano that erupted thousands of years ago leaving a small ring of land with a big body of water in the middle. You enter the centre of the horse shoe shaped island by a narrow passage taking you into the caldera of the ancient volcano. The Stage was at Telefon Bay which was where fishermen had a base from where they hunted Whales and brought then back to be processed - the remains of the huts and tanks for the blubber used by Whalers still remain.
The course was a short 3km circuit (!) which started along the black sand beach (which does not have snow on it due to the thermal activity heating the water and shore). Then up a steep climb in the snow for about a km, along the edge of a crater and then back down on snow and sand / mud.
For Stage 2 Kyle McCoy and Tommy Chen finished equal first with a top distance of 57kms each. For joint 10th place on Stage 2 Kathia Rached, Jareb Steines, Daniel Almanza and Andrew Reynolds finished togeher.
Dong Jun and Liu Hongzhou brought the rear in Stage 2 completing 21kms – they had stronger runs on Stage 1 but were tired today. Cynthia Fish and Karen Meades are the “turtles” close to them completing 24kms on Stage 2 – they are enjoying seeing the leaders go by a few times each Stage. Cynthia commented ““The most surprising part of being able to see the leaders (after 4 races just watching them vanish into the distance after a couple of minutes) throughout the race… and guess what, they actually walk! Just like us! I don’t know why, but I simply presumed that they were super people that never walked, just ran and ran and ran.”
Having had some nice sun out there for the first two Stages there are some red faces already - the sun is so much stronger. In particular it is important that competitors wear their glacier glasses to protect their eyes from the sun which is even stronger when it relfects off the bright white snow.
Lourens Roets "This place is truly out of this world with simply amazing landscapes, cool creatures and sub-zero temperatures not normal for someone who grew up in sunny South Africa. We have seen quite a variety of animals so far - big blue whale, quite a few humpback whales and a minkie; also a number of leopard seals, penguins and weird sea birds - exactly like those in Happy Feet."
Andrea Girardi, along with many other compeitors is tired - it's been two long days with minimal recovery time in between. “However Kyle McCoy and Tommy Chen don't seem to be feeling the strain.” Andrea Girardi, Jax Mariash and Filippo Rossi were running close together for the stage finsihing in joint 5th place – togehter wtih Amanda de Kock and Franco Zomer.
Lene Larsen “running a marathon distance on 3 km loop would normally be boring, but not here, because there where very breath taking views and the penguins where super curious and where standing along the course looking at us. They are so super cute!!!
Edna Vazquez “this incredible amazing and crazy race… !”
David Souza ‘The best part of the course was running by the shore each time. Penguins were standing there watching. So cool!”
Allen Kerton “The two islands that we have run on so far have been spectacular….really icy and rugged. It’s been great to see Whales, Seals, Albatross and of course the stars of the show….. the Penguins…….unbelievably cute and funny!!”
With all competitors and staff on baord, the expedition ship is now sailing overnight for 14 hours to Paradise Bay on Antarctic main land – so far they have been on islands in the Antarctic Peninsular.
Be sure to check out the full details:
RESULTS - http://www.4deserts.com/thelastdesert/results
PHOTOS - more than 100 photos from Stage 1 and some from Stage 2 are on the website:http://www.4deserts.com/thelastdesert/photos
BLOGS - 10 blogs have been uploaded after Stage 1 & 2:http://www.4deserts.com/thelastdesert/blogs Posts included from Andrew Reynolds, Filippo Rossi, Cynthia Fish, Jax Mariash and more.
The plan for Stage 3 is a 09:30 start on Weds, 23 November to have another long day to run until 19:00 – that nine and half hours of running.
The Last Desert (Antarctica) 2016 starts on Fri, 18 November 2016.
The Stage 3 Update will be posted on Wed, 23 November 2016.
The Last Desert (Antarctica) 2016 starts on Fri, 18 November 2016.
The Stage 4 Update will be posted on Thu, 24 November 2016.
Stage 5 is complete. The Top 4 competitors have reached 250km!!!
1st. Kyle McCoy
2nd Tommy Chen
3rd Filippo Rossi
4th Frode Lein
More news to follow ........
Sat, 26 November 2016 at 15:25
Six stages, several polar plunges and a wedding! The final stage of The Last Desert (Antarctica) 2016 has concluded with all 61 competitors successfully finishing the race. Among these competitors, each completed the full 250 kilometers in Antarctica
The final stage of the race took place on Half Moon Island with a 2.4-kilometer loop along both sides of the shore, among the snow, the penguins and the black shore sand. Surrounded by beautiful mountains and glaciers competitors ran for approximately 2 ½ hours as they completed the race.
They then ran through the finish line to receive their medal from The Last Desert. There were tears, smiles, fist pumps and a range of emotions after having completed the challenging race. Many competitors has said this was the most difficult, yet most rewarding of all their race challenges.
Edna Vasquez crossed the finish line carrying the US and Mexican flags, thrilled to have met the challenge head on.
Jareb Steines who finished the full 250 kilometers said : “This has been the most amazing experience and I never expected Antarctica to be this beautiful.”
As Karen Wei crossed the finish line she said: “I expected perfect snow, a straightforward, flat race, where I would have time to make snow angels – this has been nothing but ordinary and I appreciate it.”
The weather conditions for Stage 6 were practically perfect – the sun was shining, the wind was low and the temperature was approximate 2 degrees Celcius. The terrain was challenging for competitors and was described by Jean Francois Begin “This stuff is harder than the crunchy broccoli fields in the Atacama Salt Flats!”. Competitors and staff were fortunate enough to be greeted by countless penguins and even an elephant seal which came by shore to say hello.
To wrap up the final stage, Karen Meades and Nick Hasbani were married on Half-Moon Island in a beautiful ceremony in the snow officiated by the ship captain with all competitors and staff looking on. The bride was beautiful in a stunning black lace dress and the groom was handsome in a black suit and tie – they put aside the Muck Boots for some proper footwear, even in the snow. Their path to true begins on an island in Antarctica.
While the couple chose to pass on the Polar Plunge in the freezing water, about 20 competitors and staff decided to take the polar plunge, among those were Wing-Fu Chan from Hong Kong, Jun Dong from China, Javier the Course Director and Myke one of the photographers.
The sail back through the Drake Passage has started and a group of competitors are being entertained as Brendan Funk, who has not cut his hair for the entire year he has been working towards the Grand Slam, has now arranged a communal hair cut by Filippo Rossi and many other fellow competitors to chop it all off, each shafing off a bit of it!
The passage through the Drake will last for two days and on Monday evening the Awards Banquet will take place with the official winners and 4 Deserts Champions will be announced.
The Last Desert (Antarctica) 2016 starts on Fri, 18 November 2016.
The Post-Race Update will be posted on Sun, 27 November 2016.