As the planning phase of the Pub2Pub expedition accelerates, we’re carrying out our research with half an eye on the record books, because the very nature of the trip lends itself to pushing the boundaries of what’s been done in sports car-based travel. And rest assured, we’re not just talking about ticking off ‘the world’s longest pub crawl’ (although predictably, we’ve already made contact with the good folk at Guinness World Records to ratify an attempt on that particular record!)
So what other monumental acts of record breaking daring-do are we looking into? Firstly, there’s the question of elevation.
When you drive across it, the world is anything but flat. During the AfricanPorsche Expedition, we took a sports car along the lowest road on the planet; the smooth tarmac which runs through Jordan next to the Dead Sea, 418m below sea level. V8Nam saw our over-engined steeds reaching heights of 3,767m on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, while on the Rickshaw Run we coaxed our 8HP beastie to over 4,000m on the Rotang La in northern India.
But on Pub2Pub we’re looking to go a stage further, by boldly taking a sports car higher than any sports car has gone before.
So just how high have sports cars reached before? A tough question to answer, but an easy one to guess at. The highest tarmac road on the planet is claimed to be the Ticlio Pass in Peru, which reaches a height of 4,818m – or exactly 11m higher than Mt Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe. It’s reasonable to assume that sports cars have crossed this, but what of the other higher, unsurfaced passes of the world?
The highest mountain pass in the world is the Mana Pass, a graded military road on a sensitive part of the India-China border which was completed in 2010 and reaches a height of 5,610m; however the likelihood of the Chinese military letting anything so frivolous as a sports car along it are pretty much zero. The highest non military passes are Semo La in Tibet at 5.565m and Marsmik La in India at 5.582m. While it’s unlikely that any of these rock-strewn arteries have borne witness to anything so ridiculous as a passing sports car, it’s obviously a possibility, meaning that to be sure of setting the record for the highest altitude ever attained by a sports car, we’re going to have to beat these elevations.
So where on Pub2Pub’s long and meandering route could this be possible?
There’s really only one place – the otherworldly landscape of the Atacama. This, the driest desert on Earth, harbours a brooding landscape of volcanoes which soar to well over 6,000m. Near the summits of a few of these volcanoes, industrious pioneers once established sulphur mines, with service roads leading up to said mines. Other mountains are home to high altitude solar observatories, also with their service roads, while some volcanoes seem to have tracks leading high up their flanks because… well, just because.
After a fairly extensive bout of research, we’ve came up with a list of mountains with tracks on their flanks which, with care, a sports car might be coaxed up. Here’s the list:
Guallatiri, a 6,071m high Stratovolcano in northern Chile.
As the volcano which the Top Gear team attempted to drive up on their ‘Bolivia Special’ episode, this fine protrusion was a logical starting point for the research. In the TV show, Clarkson & Co reached approximately 5,250m before the altitude proved too much for them. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t have got much further if they’d persevered – a mountaineering guide to the volcano states that ‘at approximately 5200m, the track becomes impassable, and you must continue on foot.’ This probably coincides with Top Gear’s highpoint, and means that the chances of getting a sports car any higher on the mountain are slim.
Cerro Sairecabur, 5,971m
This spectacular mountain is located near the town of San Pedro de Atacama, right in the middle of the driest desert on Earth. The region’s clear air makes it one of the best places on the planet for astronomy; the justification behind Sairecabur’s biggest claim to fame – it’s receiver lab telescope, located on the mountain’s flank at an altitude of 5.525m. Predictably, there’s a reasonably passable gravel track leading up to the telescope installation, which morphs into a rougher track that leads to a mountain refuge at 5670m, meaning there’s definitely potential for getting a sports car higher than any of Asia’s high passes. And if it turns out to not be possible? Well, there are worse places to set up camp and spend a night than on the side of a mountain beneath the Atacama’s legendary night skies.
Volcan Aucanquilcha, 6,176m
This mighty stratovolcano was once the setting for the highest road the planet has ever seen – a mining road that used to run to its summit, and was plied by 20 ton trucks bringing down load after load of valuable sulphur.
However, since the mine closed in 1993, the road has fallen into disrepair. The best information we’ve been able to uncover is that several landslides have severed the road above 5,500m; despite this, it seems that several cyclists have succeeded in reaching the summit recently, so it may still be possible to push on above 5,500m. Further research is needed, as the volcano looks to be a fascinating place to visit, having a history of mining dating back to 1913, and still harbouring the world’s highest permanent settlement, a village 5,334m above sea level.
Ojos Del Salado, 6,962m
Considerably further south than the other possibilities, Ojos Del Salado is not only the world’s highest volcano; it’s also the location of the current world altitude record for cars – if you can call the jacked up, over-tyred, supercharged Suzuki that Chileans Gonzalo Bravo G. And Eduardo Canales Moya coaxed up to 6,688m a ‘car’.
While the terrain high on the mountain is almost certainly too tough for a sports car, like all the mountains on this list, there’s a track which runs high on the mountain, servicing the mountain huts which provide shelter for mountaineers. Most climbers are taken to 5,200m on this track, where they start their ‘on foot’ ascent from the Refugio Atacama; however it seems that some of the local 4×4 owners are willing to take climbers further along the track, all the way to the Refugio Tejos at over 5,800m. If further research shows this route to be in reasonable condition, then it may be the best possibility for setting an indisputable altitude record for sports cars.
So there you have it – our research has so far turned up 3 potential venues for an attempt at getting a sports car to over 5,500m altitude. Whether the road conditions will allow success in this rather random goal remains to be seen, but finding out will bring yet another interesting slant to the fascinating mosaic of interests which Pub2Pub is fast becoming.
I mean, who’d have thought 2016 would see us going mountaineering in a sports car?