The southern Patagonian Ice Field is vast. Really vast. It's significantly bigger than say, the Bahamas, or the US state of Connecticut.
It's 350km long and there are 49 different glaciers.
It's an unforgiving environment, with strong winds, rain, snow, and freezing temperatures,
not to mention rutted, crevasse-ridden glacial landscapes.
Add to this, remoteness with little to no opportunity for rescue and you’ve got plenty of reasons not to lace up your shoes and run. But Fernanda Maciel is not your average runner. Together with fellow athlete Kaytlyn Gerbin, Fernanda took on the Circo de los Altares Traverse, a 78km loop ending in El Chaltén that normally takes between six and eight days. These two ladies did it in a staggering 13 hours and 15 minutes, setting a new fastest known time (FKT) for the route.
When she’s not studying stem cells in her bioengineering day job, Kaytlyn breaks records as an ultra-distance runner. She approaches races with a scientific process of trial-and-error testing—evaluating her nutrition, gear and navigation and then applies her findings to future adventures.
Fernanda first met Kaytlyn at the Transgrancanaria ultra race several years ago. At the time, Fernanda was about to head off to the Everest region. Kaytlyn dreamed of such adventures and planted the seed of joining Fernanda on some epic, far-flung trail one day. Fast forward to 2021 and the two ultra-runners started planning how they could achieve a FKT in Patagonia.
“It’s a risky route,” says Fernanda. “You need to be fast and light. To go fast you need to take less equipment, but you can’t be rescued. When I take on high mountains it’s physically more challenging because of the altitude, but you can have helicopters rescuing you and people around you.
Despite tricky terrain plus a whole barrage of complications, from COVID to the loss of a dear friend days before the start – not to mention both athletes coming back after serious injury – Fernanda and Kaytlyn hammered the route.
“There were so many crevasses. Running around them would take so long. So, we just decided to go fast and jump. We jumped like a thousand crevasses. It was like, three steps then jump.”
Crevasses notwithstanding, the route passes truly breathtaking scenery and some of the greatest and most recognisable peaks on the planet, including the Fitzroy, Cerro Torre and Torre Egger.