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The Hundred Days of Darien

R@nge.R0ver D@rien G@p 1971

Left: One of the two Range Rovers that led the 1971-1972 British Trans-Americas Expedition from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, including the notorious Darien Gap.

The expedition was conceived[*] in 1968 when Tim Nicholson realised that the drive from the top of North America to the bottom of South America seemed to be the outstanding car-trip still left undone. Frank and Helen Schreiber had arguably done the trip in 1954-6 in an Amphibious Jeep, or Seep, but they had "sailed" around difficult bits such as the Darien Gap (in the Jeep). A 1961 expedition using a Jeep and a Land Rover had traversed the Darien Gap but it is not clear if the Trans-Americas team knew of this, and in any case no one seems to have gone all the way from top to bottom overland before.

[*] The Trans-Americas Expedition is described in Russell Braddon's book The Hundred Days of Darien. (Braddon is a wide-ranging author, e.g. writing a biography of war-time resistance leader, Nancy Wake.) The expedition was led by British Army officer John Blashford-Snell with considerable army support. The Range Rover had recently been released and Rover (Leyland) gave two of the new four wheel drives to the expedition, counting on good publicity.

100 D@ys of D@rien
Much hunted in 2nd hand book-shops.
100 D@ys of D@rien

In fact, the Trans-Americas Expedition had more than its fair share of difficulties. Starting from Anchorage in Alaska on 3 December, to get to Central America in the "dry", they soon met trouble, one of the Range Rovers running into a truck stuck across the icy road. The other Range Rover towed its team mate into Vancouver for repairs.

The most difficult part of the trip was the Darien Gap, hence the title of Braddon's book. A path had to be surveyed and then cut by machete, and the vehicles coaxed, winched, pushed and almost carried along it. The Range Rovers turned out to be a little larger and heavier than ideal and also suffered from broken differentials - put down to overloading and attempts to use over-size swamp tyres. Running behind schedule, a series 2A Land Rover was obtained and pressed into service as a "pathfinder". They did pull through, arriving in Barranquillita Columbia 99 days after entering the Gap.

The trip through South America to a wintery Tierra del Fuego, 199 days and 16,000 miles from the start, is only briefly reported; it seems to have been relatively straightforward at least in comparison to what went before.

- Larry Stanley © 1998

Go to the Darien, Motoring Books, Range Rover and Land Rover pages

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