Atacama Desert Run update: Landmines, gorges, boiling hot running shoes and painful blisters

Posted: Feb 01, 2011 05:18 pm EST

(By Correne Coetzer) Avoiding landmines marked the start of Ray Zahabs 1000+ km Atacama Desert run. The first few days were difficult, especially from a mental perspective, he reported.

Some glitches in the beginning and unbelievable difficult and sometimes dangerous terrain, challenged Ray who is running alone most of the time.

A few changes in the expedition plan had to be made in the first week, in particular to care for Rays safety. Temperatures around 40°C caused boiling hot running shoes and a big blister.

Rain and gorges

When Ray started off from the Peruvian border, he said in his video update for the first 3 to 5 km he had to stay on the road because there were landmines on the sides of the road. Thereafter he went off-road into the desert.

He ran through several gorges the first day. The one was so deep he called it an insane gorge and added the gorges were unbelievably difficult. The only way to get out of some of them was to go on the Pan-Pacific highway.

On Day 2 Ray felt a little bit beaten up as he hadnt slept much. It rained during the night, which is unusual for the area, he noted. Ray isnt carrying much camping gear as he has decided to carry a bivvy sack instead of a tent.

Again he encountered some gorges on his way and had no choice as to get on the highway again. It was treacherous, he said. The reflecting sun from the road burned his legs. The road had no shoulder which made it dangerous with all the trucks and other vehicles speeding past him.

During the morning Ray ran 50 km and i2P member Bob Cox joined him during the second part of the day.

Mentally difficult

Day 3 and day 4 have been very difficult, reads his report, especially from a mental perspective, but very rewarding in so many other ways. The desert gives us plenty to see and learn especially when contrasting with what we experienced in our last expedition in the Amazon. And, he added, very different from where he and Kevin Vallely was last year on Lake Baikal in Siberia.

Ray said he had to cope with some glitches at the beginning of the run. Most of the time he is running alone and that is also a mental challenge.

He ran past a dry river bed which was very much in contrast with the water of the Amazon he experienced last year. Ray stopped at the 54 km mark as the Chilean military had operations on route where he wanted to run. He and his support team therefore had to alter the route.

Surprise forest

During Day 5 Ray had an awesome day for several reasons. The terrain was totally his style, he said, which was extremely motivating. The scenery and the terrain had changed a lot that day and reminded him of the Sahara. The new route took them in a protected area and, to his surprise, a forest in the desert. He said it was amazing how quick the terrain changed.

Ray explained that originally he and Kevin planned to sleep on their own at night but as he is running alone, he and his support team decided, for safety reasons that he should camp with them at night.

It was a boiling hot day again and he had to wear long sleeves. Although Ray was putting on a lot of sunscreen his hands were already full of sun burnt blisters.

Waiting for water and blister care

Day 6: Ray made his way through an active salt lake, which looked like popcorn and he could hear it cracking. The terrain was unstable with quite deep holes, he reported.

In this area where he was running his support team needed to get a permit and security escort to get to him for a water supply. The support team was held up by the security people and in the mean time Ray had arrived at the water check point with no water. He made shelter and waited for his team rather moving on and using energy.

According to the latest video diary from Ray on Day 7, January 30, it was a difficult day. He suffered from a very bad blister and was forced to call his support team in to look at it. After some aggressive treatment the team decided that it was best for him to sit for a day to avoid severe infection.

Today though, Ray was running again.

Distances: 78.5 km, 61.5 km, 54 km, 70.1 km, 69 km, 70 km, 7.8 km

Latest Progress

Jan 23 2:54 pm to Jan 31 10:09 pm:

Date (local): Jan 31 03:04 pm
Distance: 483.03 km (300.14 mi)
Trip duration: 8 days, 7 hr, 10 min
Position: 21.941596S, 069.571716W

Taking inspiration from the legendary ultra-running athletes called Chasquis, modern-day adventurer Ray Zahab will test himself on the trails of these highly trained athletes as he traverses the length of Chiles Atacama Desert. He will be carrying a 12kg (25lb) backpack with all his gear/clothing/stove/tent to survive, and food and water (8-10 liters) for one day. Water/food drops will be available when a community or water source is not in the route. He will have a GPS, topo map and compass and hopefully find the water.

The plan is to run between 80-90 km per day for as many days as it takes to cover the approx.1,250 km (1,000 km as the crow flies). His start point at the Northern tip of the Atacama Desert is at Lago Chungara.

Following the recently completed impossible2Possible Youth Expedition to the Amazon in October 2010, Ray Zahab will be visiting a contrasting area of the Earth. The Atacama Desert will provide a great point of contrast on the topic of biodiversity which he will share with thousands of school children. Ray will carry a Solara tracking device from start to finish, and will be updating a live website www.atacamaextreme.com and communicating with classrooms via video conferencing software, a Macbook and BGAN.

Ray Zahab was born in Ottawa, Canada on February 11, 1969. He grew up on a hobbyhorse farm in Carp, Ontario with his brother John, and his parents. Fast forward 39 years to today, and I now live with my incredible wife and soul mate Kathy and our daughter Mia Sahara in Chelsea, Quebec, says Ray. He is very passionate about the organizations he work with, and when not running he divides his time sitting on the board of directors.

Rays ultra-marathons:
- 2004 Yukon Arctic Ultra, 160 km
- 2004 Jungle Marathon, Amazon, 250 km
- 2004 Trans 333, Niger, 333 km
- 2004 & 2005, Marathon des Sables, Morocco, 250 km
- 2005 Sahara Race, Egypt, 250 km
- 2006 Gobi March, China, 250 km
- 2006 Libyan Challenge, 190 km
- 2007 Running the Sahara, 7500 km, 111 days, with Charlie Engle (USA) and Kevin Lin (Taiwan)
- 2007 three extreme coastal trails of Canada, back to back, 100, 210, 75 km
- 2008 Canada, in each province and territory, 80 km per day x 13 days
In the 2008-09 Antarctic season Canadians Richard Weber, Kevin Vallely and Ray Zahab set the fastest time for a team from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole (1130 km) in 33 days, 23 hours and 55 minutes.

March 14, 2010 Kevin Vallely and Ray Zahab completed their speed record expedition across Lake Baikal in a time of 13 days and 16 hours; running/walking the 640 km (as the crow flies) in an average distance of 50 km a day with special screw in spikes shoes. They started from the small village of Kultuk on the southern side of the lake and finished at northern tip at a community called Nizhneangarsk


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The salt flat, Salar de Uyuni, is a lake which is covered with a crust of salt up to 10 meters thick. Below the crust lies a lake composed of water, salt, magnesium and over half the world's lithium reserves. In the image, Ray during his Atacama Desert Run.
courtesy Atacama Extreme i2P 2011, SOURCE
Ray Zahab: "Death Valley will be incredibly difficult - but well give it the best effort possible! Of course its going to be hot. In the image, Ray running the Atacama.
courtesy Atacama Extreme i2P 2011, SOURCE
An insane gorge.
courtesy Atacama Extreme i2P 2011, SOURCE
The Pan-Pacific highway made for vehicles, not for runners.
courtesy Atacama Extreme i2P 2011, SOURCE
Age old geoglyphs.
courtesy Atacama Extreme i2P 2011, SOURCE
A dried lake.
courtesy Atacama Extreme i2P 2011, SOURCE
On Day 7 Ray suffered from a very bad blister and was forced to call his support team in to look at it.
courtesy Atacama Extreme i2P 2011, SOURCE
Atacama Desert sunset with the Andes Mountains on the background.
courtesy Atacama Extreme i2P 2011, SOURCE