The world-renowned Gobi March celebrates its 10th anniversary this June with a striking new course through one of China’s most fabled regions. Kicking off on Sunday, 2 June in the northwestern province of Xinjiang, competitors will embark on a 250-kilometer course through lands once ruled by Genghis Khan, an emperor simultaneously revered and feared by populations in Central Asia and China.
With the snow-capped Altai Mountains as their backdrop, 155 competitors will weave through alpine grasslands, dry riverbeds, mountain valleys, high plateaus and local villages in the Bortala Mongol and Yili Kazakh Autonomous Prefectures. They will carry all of their own equipment and sleep in tents along the route. The course, which includes more elevation changes than in years past, starts at an altitude of 500 meters and climbs to 2,800 meters on the fifth day in the seven- day course.
Of the competitors taking part this year, the greatest numbers hail from Hong Kong and China, with both countries sending 23 participants to the 10th anniversary course. This is the highest number of Chinese competitors to ever participate in the history of 4 Deserts events, a revealing insight into the growing popularity of endurance events in mainland China. Among the Chinese competitors is Jin Feibao (49), called “one of modern China’s greatest adventurers,” a mountain climber who has completed the Exporers Grand Slam (summiting the Highest mountain on every continent and reaching both the North and South Poles), and competitor Xing Bo (41) who has competed in three back-to-back 4 Deserts events at the Sahara Race (Egypt) 2012, the Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2013 and the Gobi March (China) 2013 on his way to join the 4 Deserts Club.
Top contenders for this year’s race include Italy’s Stefano Gregoretti (38) who placed second overall at RacingThePlanet: Nepal 2012 and American competitor Joel Meredith (39) who placed seventh overall at the Sahara Race 2012. Also contending for a top spot is 4 Deserts newcomer Davide Ugolini (39) of Italy. In the women’s category, the United Kingdom’s Joanna Eades (44) returns to the field after placing as the fourth female at RacingThePlanet: Australia 2010 and fifth female at RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009.
Competitors will be setting out from a starting line just north of the city of Bole—on a course through the Mysterious Rock Valley and Mongolian settlements, along cable bridges with views of the nearby Tian Shan snow peaks and a memorial to Genghis Khan. The race also provides opportunities to witness the daily lives of the Mongol, Kazakh and Uyghur minorities of the region.
The anniversary race is also the setting for an inspiring, new charitable program. After many years of partnership with the Esquel-Y.L. Yang Education Foundation and its scholarship fund, RacingThePlanet and Esquel are now launching the Esquel-RacingThePlanet Scholarship Program. The 10-year program will provide much-needed educational costs for local children in the Xinjiang province. The scholarship will support and fund ten Uygur students through their schooling—from the first year of high school all the way through university graduation.