War veterans battle high Andean desert for Lankan cancer charity: Biting the dust in the Atacama | Sunday Observer

War veterans battle high Andean desert for Lankan cancer charity: Biting the dust in the Atacama

10 October, 2016

Dust, extreme aridity, dehydration, mountains, rocks and desert – 250 kilometres of it; hot in the day and cold at night. For military ex-servicemen, their past professional training and battle experience equip them well for the gruelling 7-day foot race across the world’s driest and highest desert: the Atacama Desert in the high Andean mountain range in Chilé.

Their accumulated training and inspired endeavour to cross the high mountain desert in a far away foreign land is for a good social cause: sponsorship and funds for a new cancer unit in the Karapitiya Hospital, Galle.

Ex-Artillery Regiment Major Ruvan Ranatunga, 44 years, wounded in combat and recovered, has already done ‘challenge’ for charity – in 2013 he walked across country from Point Devundara, the island’s southern tip, to Point Pedro at the northern tip, to fund the Children’s Cancer Hospital, Tellippalai, Jaffna.

Ex-Air Force Pilot Officer Shihan John, 34 yrs, has already participated once before in the world famous ‘4 Deserts Challenge’ global foot race and endurance contest.

The Atacama Crossing (Chile) is part of the 4 Deserts Series, named by TIME magazine as one of the Top 10 Endurance Competitions in the world. The segments of this human endurance contest include treks across desert in Namibia and another across a part of Antarctica. The Atacama Crossing route from the high Andean valley of Arcoiris at over 10,500 feet above sea level to the desert township of San Pedro de Atacama at about 7,600 feet above sea level, is through 250 km of the world’s driest desert with mountains, cliffs, and salt flats. The highest elevation on the course is at Camp 1, which is more than 3,000 meters / 10,000 feet above sea level.

Daytime temperatures in October average 26°C / 79°F, while nighttime temperatures average 11°C / 52°F. Temperatures, however, range widely and the desert climate can be extremely hot during the day and cold at night.

Up to200 competitors representing more than 40 countries competed in this year’s crossing. When they last reported to their support group, the SEALS Adventure Company in Colombo, on Thursday (when this edition went to press), the intrepid Sri Lankan duo were in the 66th position overall. Every night the exhausted trekkers spend the night in tents provided at different staging points by the Race organisers with the main emphasis being topping up on much-needed water to fight the extreme dehydration they experience on the trek.

The race was due to end on Saturday. For Ruvan and Shihan this was not a race to win but a race for a social cause to raise funds for the cancer unit in Galle.

All Sri Lankans will await their return from Chile on the other side of the globe to hear of their adventure first hand.