Circumnavigating Death Valley On Foot


There is no doubt that Death Valley is a place of extremes. It is the hottest, lowest and driest place in North America and during the months of July and August temperatures often exceed 125ºF/51ºC. It is the kind of place that will test the spirit of those that visit it and any living thing that survives there must be a hardy creature indeed.

If anyone knows the challenges that come along with Death Valley it is ultra-runner Marshall Ulrich. The endurance legend has run the Badwater Ultramarathon 18 times and has crossed DV 24. That’s an awful lot of time spent in such a harsh and unforgiving landscape. Apparently Marshall enjoys being in that environment however as last week he and Dave Heckman set off to become the first people to circumnavigate the entirety of Death Valley on foot and in the month of July.

Marshall and Dave started their trek last Sunday, July 22nd and have made excellent progress ever since. The entire trip will cover approximately 450 miles (724km) and range from the low of the desert floor to the highs of the nearby mountain peaks, extending as much as 5000 feet (1524 meters) in altitude. The two men are traveling completely self supported as strategically placed supply caches are keeping them resupplied with food and water along the way. They’re also carrying 3D video cameras to document their trek as well as capture the beauty of Death Valley National Park.

Updates are coming semi-regularly to Marshall’s website (click here!) and you can follow progress on their SPOT page. Judging from that page it appears that they’ll be finishing up the trek sometime this week.

Seems like a fantastic adventure and I love their approach. Marshall and Dave are essentially going as light as possible and using their supply caches to provided them with food and water at the appropriate times. I also like that they’re doing this expedition to draw attention to a beautiful place that more people should be aware of. I personally can’t wait to see some of the video footage that they are shooting.

Big thanks to Ray for sharing this great adventure with me.

Kraig Becker

8 thoughts on “Circumnavigating Death Valley On Foot”

  1. I happened to be up in Panamint City last September when a guy named Ken camped on his first day of a circumnavigation of Death Valley via the surrounding ranges (Panamint, Cottonwood, Last Chance, Grapevine, Funeral, Owlshead). His first day was a hike up from Ballarat to Panamint, which is a hell of a walk in itself. He said that caching food, water, batteries, etc., took two weeks–and took him to corners of the park I've only dreamed of. I'm not sure if he completed it or not.

    I think Ken circumnavigated the Valley at lower elevations back in 2006. I wasn't sure if you meant only that Marshall and Dave were the first people to go around the Valley, or that they were the first to go around the Valley in July ("first people to circumnavigate the entirety of Death Valley on foot and in the month of July"). Certainly they're the latter, though maybe not the former, and they are totally nuts regardless (my kind of people).

  2. Kirk: Definitely meant in July. Like you, I believe it has been done before, just not in the middle of summer.

    And yes Marshall and Dave are my kind of crazy too.

    Thanks for the info on Ken. Great stuff!

  3. Thanks for the post about Marshall and Dave's amazing circumnavigation around the border of Death Valley National Park. So good of Ray to share the news!

    Thanks also for the information about Ken's incredible adventures. His feats are amazing! But, they are different from what Marsh and Dave are doing. He was within the park (Eureka Dunes; Saline and Panamint Valleys; Goler; Death Valley; then back to the dunes. Then, again, within the park, around the mountain ranges.Incredible stuff, for sure!

    Marsh and Dave are cicumnavigating around the perimeter of the boundary of the entire park. A longer journey. And, as Marshall says, "For anything to really count in Death Valley, it has to be completed in the July/August time frame." These are self-imposed rules dating back to Al Arnolds first 146-miles crossing from Badwater to the summit of Mount Whitney. The "die-hard" Death Valey folks take this July/August timeframe *very* seriously. Why do something in the hottest part of the country *not* in the hotest part of the year? Or…so they think. Call it "crazy," if you will, but….

    Heather Ulrich

  4. Thanks for the insights Heather. They are much appreciated and keep up the great work on the updates on Marshall's site!

  5. Kraig, It seems like Ken and Marshall have some things in common….like a love a Death Valley. Marshall is going to try to connect with him. Thanks again for sharing the information about these other adventures. Heather

  6. My pleasure Heather. And congratulate Marshall personally for me. That was an impressive hike through the desert. 🙂

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