Tierra del Fuego 1998
One year after exploring the steppes of Mongolia, the Camel Trophy returned to where the great adventure started eighteen years before - Latin America, this time Chile and Argentina. The event's evolution was now complete and the teams of athletes would be participating in a range of disciplines, including for the first time in the Camel Trophy's history, winter sports. Camel Trophy is well known for its brutal treks through steaming, malaria-infested jungles and punishing deserts but despite snow in Mongolia, this was the first true first winter event, with temperatures expected to reach minus 30 degrees in Patagonia.
"The weather is going to be the challenge on this event. If you make mistakes, you could lose your toes or fingers, even your life. Other Camel Trophies have sounded miserable, with the mud and the rain and the insects, but they were usually in places that were very friendly for human beings, places where there's water and warmth. Here, if you screw up, you die."
Tom Collins, Team USA 1998 trainer
The capability of the Camel Trophy hopefuls was tested during the International Selections. In preparation for the snowy and icy environment of Chile and Argentina, the cold spring of northern Sweden provided a wintry backdrop for five days of activities. For the first two days, participants rotated through a series of exercises designed to familiarise them with the equipment to be used on the event. Training was also provided in navigation, first aid, communications, winter survival and mechanics. During the final three days, the candidates were evaluated in a number of competitions, including ice driving on the frozen surface of Lake Djupsjon, uphill and downhill treks on the ski slopes of Trillevallen, Grade 3 rapids below the thundering waterfalls of Ristafallet and muddy mountain biking around the wooded acres of Favikens Egendom. The highlight of the week was an unusual night-driving slalom competition on the ice that tested the candidates' accuracy, precision and skill behind the wheel; the courses were marked only by candlelight. But what vehicles were the candidates driving?
For the first time since 1990, a new Land Rover vehicle had its baptism of fire in the Camel Trophy. The Freelander was Land Rover's first SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) and the manufacturers were keen that it should demonstrate its abilities. The Freelander proved popular and capable at the International Selections in Sweden. The driving exercises took place on mixed terrain, everything from mud, snow and gravel to the ice-covered Lake Djupsjon. With ice almost three feet thick, competitors had plenty of opportunity to play.
"I was surprised at how well [the Freelander] handled. You could make really sharp turns and on the ice you would start to spin but as soon as you let off the gas you'd have traction again."
Greg Thomas, Team USA 1998
Nevertheless, the critics were not convinced that an SUV could answer to the challenge. Perhaps the organisers weren't either. Each team also had a Defender 110, loaded with all the adventure equipment including canoes, bikes, snowshoes, skis and snowboards. Would Defender embarrass the younger Land Rover with its capability?
Tierra del Fuego, the Land of the Fire, first appeared on a map in 833AD. It remains a scarcely populated area. Indigenous tribes were all but wiped out by deadly epidemics introduced by conquistadores and later conflict between Argentine and Chilean troops. For much of the event, the competitors encountered only gauchos, cattle-herding descendants of the settlers.
The traditional Camel Trophy, where the convoy progressed through seas of mud and challenging forests was a memory. The teams were to explore independently and freedom to chose their route. Their only obligation was to meet up at four predefined points between Santiago, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina - the southernmost city in the world, more than 3,000 miles south. The event was to cover a greater distance than any other Camel Trophy.
Between these meeting points, each team tried to choose best way between the biggest number of "Discovery" and "Adventure" locations. The 200-plus Discovery locations, selected for cultural or environmental relevance (including natural features and tourist sights such as the house of Butch Cassidy) all had the same value and were reached in the Freelander. From the Discovery location, the teams then used one of the sporting disciplines to reach the Adventure location, with each one promising points corresponding to the difficulty in being reached.
At the end of the first stage, during which the American team were moving ahead in the competition, 140 members of the Camel Trophy entourage climbed to the 2,800-metre summit of nearby Villerica. As one of the region's most active volcanoes, its snow-capped summit glows at night like the butt of a dying cigar. At the top, the climbers were rewarded with a brilliant panorama of the Andes and the boiling cauldron of lava in the volcano crater.
The journey still had the potential to be reminiscent of the traditional Camel Trophy. The day after leaving Futaleufu, one of the greatest white water rivers in the world, the Portuguese team negotiated a mud track but the Defender became stuck. The delays were not over for the team as their day ended with the Freelander being rescued by the support vehicle. The American Team also found that it was the Defenders, surprisingly, that needed assistance most often.
"I was amazed at how the Freelander did. I didn't expect the car to get through all that stuff. I think part of it is the car's unibody construction. It has an extremely smooth undercarriage, and as long as you keep it moving, it runs great."
Dean Vergillo, Team USA 1998
The scenes of Land Rover recovery, just as it happened in Camel Trophy of old, helped rekindle Camel Trophy spirit.
The Freelander vindicated Land Rover's conviction that it was a suitable vehicle for the event. It was fast and agile and sailed along the snow tracks, performing with a spirit that could not be imitated by the support Defender. In the mud the situation was more or less similar. Even so, the "porter" can argue in its defence that it was loaded with tonnes of equipment, that the small-booted Freelander could never have carried. Nevertheless, the American team still lost several bags (containing food, clothing and a large sum of currency) from the roof rack of the support vehicle.
The official ending ceremony took place along the waterfront of Ushuaia to the music of a small band and a small crowd of autograph seekers. The French team of Mark Challamel and William Michel took home the Camel Trophy. South Africa and the United Kingdom followed in second and third place. The Land Rover Award (given to the team that visited the most "Discovery" locations) went to Spain's Emma Roca and Patricia Molina, the first all-female team in Camel Trophy's history. Two brothers from South Africa, John and Mark Collins, won the vote for the highly coveted Team Spirit Award.
- Team Vehicles: Land Rover Freelander XEDi
- Support Vehicles: Land Rover Defender 110 300Tdi
- Distance: Between 5,000 and 8,000 km - no set route
- Number of Teams: 20
- Argentina - Victor Bozic & Nico Bottinelli
- Austria - Kristina Gruss & Rupert Riedl
- Canary Islands - Jose Hernandez & Alvaro de Orleans
- Denmark/Norway - Soren Brahe & Anne Marit Lia
- Finland/Sweden - Fredrik Pettersen & Maarit Jarvilehto
- France - William Michael & Marc Challamel (Camel Trophy)
- Germany - Peter Weiland & Elena Boggemeyer
- Greece - Stefanos Kabarakis & Zois Panos
- Holland - Rob Visser & Joost Standt
- Italy - Fabrizio Pistoni & Michelangelo Oprandi
- Japan - Yoshio Ikemachi & Yoshihito Nakano
- Portugal - Pedro Maia & Goncalo Vidal da Gama
- Romania - Aron Gorog & Zoltan Bartha
- Russia - Konstantin Agevnin & Igor Baronos
- South Africa - Mark Collins & John Collins (Team Spirit award)
- Spain - Patricia Molina & Emma Roca (Land Rover award)
- Switzerland - Hanspeter Rieder & Frederic Kholi
- Turkey - Mehmet Memo Gurs & Kutlu Torunlar
- United Kingdom - Martin Hansford & Andy Watkins
- United States - Dean Vergillo & Greg Thomas