Badwater Ultra Booted from Death Valley

New NPS restrictions cite safety concerns

The National Park Service said in its report that allowing running events to take place during the hottest months of the summer was sending mixed messages to visitors. (Chris Avedissian/Flickr)
Photo: Chris Avedissian/Flickr

The 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon—a marquee summer endurance event known for its brutal heat, 8,500 feet of elevation gain, and anemic finishing rates—has traditionally followed a course from Badwater Basin, in California's Death Valley, to the portal at Mount Whitney. But a recent decision by Death Valley National Park to restrict special events like organized races is forcing Badwater organizers to permanently alter the route.

The park's decision (read the PDF here), which was made in late August but became public this week, comes after a temporary ban imposed late last fall by the National Park Service. The park cites safety concerns as the primary reason for the new restrictions. Temperatures between June and September can reach as high as 110 degrees, an "extreme weather" classification under which most park visitors are advised not to engage in strenuous physical activities. The Badwater Ultramarathon has typically been run in July.

Other prohibitions in the report refer to events "scheduled at night in low visibility, in areas with limited communication," which appear to refer directly to Badwater. In a report by the Press Enterprise, Death Valley National Park spokesperson Cheryl Chipman noted that the park hosts 10 to 14 sporting events a year.

For the 2014 edition of the Badwater, race director Chris Kostman reacted to the park's temporary ban on special events with some creative routing, threading a new course from Lone Pine, skirting Death Valley, adding a 5,500-foot climb up Cerro Gordo, and finishing at the Whitney Portal. That route will likely become the permanent course going forward.

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