‘World’s Toughest Race’ Forced To Move To New Course By Bureaucracy

The Badwater Ultramarathon is among the toughest sporting events on the planet.

But those hoping to race 135 miles across Death Valley National Park face a new obstacle beyond heat, sun and distance — the National Park Service.

The Park Service has issued a moratorium on sporting events held within the Park for a “thorough safety evaluation.”

The statement below is from the Death Valley National Park website:

“Effective immediately Death Valley National Park will temporarily discontinue issuance of running and bicycling event permits. Future event permits will not be considered until a thorough safety evaluation of this type of activity has been completed. Activities that already have a fully-executed permit will go on as planned. Our website will be updated once we have completed this safety evaluation.”

In response, Badwater host AdventureCORPS released a deluge of information supporting the race (and several events they also host in Death Valley) on its website.

“As it stands now, there will be NO sporting events of any kind held within Death Valley National Park in 2014,” reads an official statement from AdventureCORPS. “That includes the five events we host there (CORPScamp Death Valley; Death Valley Century; Ultra Century and Double Century Spring and Fall editions; the Furnace Creek 508; and the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon), as well as other cycling and running events held under “special event permits” within our National Park.”

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class David Goggins crosses Death Valley alongside French competitor Albert Vallee in the Badwater Ultramarathon. Photo by Seaman Michael Lindsey, USN

Badwater will be held in 2014 on a “new and improved” route, according to the AdventureCORPS website. The new 135-Mile course will feature a route based in Lone Pine, Calif.

“Stay tuned for details about this remarkable route which features over 19,000 feet of elevation gain, two dramatic ascents into the Sierra Nevada, and a 15-mile dirt road trek to an authentic ghost town. All who finish the full 135 miles in 2014 will be guaranteed entry in the 2015 edition,” reports the website.

According to the release, the organization has held 89 events in the park since 1990. The 2014 race would be the 37th Badwater.

Covering 135 miles from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, Calif., competitors in the historic Badwater Ultramarathon endure some of the harshest conditions on the planet. The start line is at Badwater, Death Valley, the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere at 280 feet below sea level. It finishes at the Mt. Whitney Portal at nearly 8,300 feet and crosses three mountain ranges for 13,000 feet of climbing.

It was ranked Number 1 by National Geographic Adventure’s world’s toughest races.

While race officials can move the race to other locations, they are concerned about the precedent being set by National Park officials. The website states:

“This ‘safety review’ is not being undertaken as a result of any serious incident or accident within the Park. It is not being undertaken as a result of any significant number of complaints. It is being undertaken purely under the prerogative of a few DVNP employees, most notably the Park Superintendent, Kathleen Billings, who assumed leadership of the Park in March of 2013.”

Organizers say they are concerned about the open-ended nature of the event ban, the national precedent that could be set and arbitrary regulations that may be enacted.

A report published in the Inyo Register newspaper in Bishop, Calif., says that residents “are expressing fear and outrage in the wake of Death Valley National Park’s ‘moratorium’ on permits for sporting events within the park.”

According to the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce, the event brings an estimated $1.2 million to local communities each year, the newspaper reports.

The Chamber started a letter-writing campaign urging the park to allow the events to continue during the safety evaluation. —Sean McCoy

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Managing Editor Sean McCoy is a life-long outdoorsman who grew up hunting and fishing central Wisconsin forests and lakes. He joined GearJunkie after a 10-year stint as a newspaperman in the Caribbean, where he learned sailing and wooden-boat repair. Based in Denver, McCoy is an avid trail runner, camper, hunter, angler, mountain biker, skier, and beer tester.

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