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Trail’s End: Mud Complicates the 2000 Isuzu Challenge in Patagonia

Posted in Features on May 15, 2016
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Photographers: Michael Rudd

One of the most common natural obstacles to wheeled travel is mud. Mud is funny stuff. Not haha funny, but funny in that even in its simplest form—thin and greasy—it can play havoc with even well-equipped 4x4s.

For example, in 2000 we tagged along on the 17-day, 2,170-mile Isuzu Challenge, which took place in Patagonia. “Considered to be one of the earth’s most magnificent destinations, Patagonia offers incredibly diverse landscapes, from the arid steppe in the east to the high peaks of the Andes to beautiful glaciers and forests that extend to the icy edge of the Pacific Ocean,” we wrote. The collection of 4x4s included 13 Isuzu pickups and 3 Troopers, all powered by turbodiesel engines. The vehicles were modified with skidplates and additional lighting, and a couple of the vehicles were outfitted with winches.

After nearly three days of hard driving, we finally reached Lago Buenos Aires, a large lake at the foot of the Andes. We wrote, “The Isuzus had performed ideally thus far, powering through deep water crossings, muddy tracks, and sandy washes, transporting our group of adventurers to one of the most remote places on earth.”

Later in the trip, the plan was to use an old abandoned trail to replace a 300-mile “bone-rattling gravel road” with an 18-mile shortcut. This would allow the Isuzu Challenge to exit at Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, Chile. Both governments had agreed to let the Isuzu Challenge attempt the treacherous route—or so we thought. The group of Isuzu vehicles made their way across the mountains, fought through muddy bogs, and across deep ravines. Near the Chilean border, at the edge of the park, automatic-weapon–toting policeman appeared out of the forest and prevented us from going any farther. Apparently, a stubborn bureaucrat in Buenos Aires had no intention of letting us cross a 3-mile section at the very end of the trail. Two hours of negotiations via satellite phone were fruitless. During all of the drama, rain began to fall, which led to the trail becoming extremely muddy. This forced us to set up camp and give up hope of retracing our steps. The rain continued to fall through most of the night, making the tracks nearly impassable to the vehicles the next day. Mud had all of a sudden become a major obstacle. What could’ve been a relatively simple U-turn and retracing of the route ended up being a slogfest. Eventually, the event coordinators decided that a number of the participants would abandon the vehicles and hike three hours through the rainy, muddy Patagonia wilderness to the main road where an army transport vehicle had been arranged to take them to the town of El Calafate. Some of the more experienced men stayed with the vehicles and for the next day and a half they battled to get the vehicles out of the “muddy quagmire.”

The Patagonia Isuzu Challenge was an example of the power of mud to complicate even the best-laid plan. Have you had an off-road experience that was affected by mud? Did you win or lose the fight? Drop an email to ken.brubaker@fourwheeler.com and tell us about it.

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