Set a fastest known time (FKT) on a seven-day hiking route in the heart of the Patagonian Andes in a single push? The objectives in a new video starring The North Face mountain athletes Fernanda Maciel and Kaytlyn Gerbin had more to do with respect for the terrain and the task at hand — but the outcome was nonetheless superlative.
“Patagonia, for me, means, ‘very wind[y] place,’” she begins. “The wind cannot stop here. It’s always bad weather.”
Revered by adventure athletes around the world, the jagged Fitz Roy massif routinely churns up heavy weather on the plateau above El Chaltén, Patagonia. On any long-distance objective there, speed and safety are kings.
Nobody knows this better than Maciel, who first conceived of running La Vuelta al Hielo — out to, across, and then safely back from one of the world’s biggest ice fields — a decade ago. The region’s famously brutal weather shut her down on her first attempt.
Thus the new video, “Hielo,” opens with Maciel’s quick discussion of ideal conditions and safety margins. A panoply of variables are in play along the route — from the Rio Electrico Bridge to El Chaltén, it covers an exhaustive 8,600 feet of vertical gain and 48 miles.
To do La Vuelta al Hielo in a single push, runners have to find overlapping weather windows in several different climatic zones and be efficient on heavily varying terrain. Trails, technical sections including a Tyrolean river traverse, a deep river crossing, and long ice flats are all on the list.
Of their attempt, Gerbin, an American, said in the film, “There are not many people who make good partners for this type of challenge … so to do it with Fernanda makes the perfect team.”
Gerbin seems right on target — Maciel has her methodology down pat.
“Usually, trying to go fast means to go light,” the Brazilian assesses. “[But] there’s a limit between the security and the performance. So that means a lot of respect to the mountain. This is Patagonia.”
It sure is. Watch the two runners prepare, work together, and push the limits — all the way to FKT status — in “Hielo.”