A few weeks back I posted a story about an adventurous hiker by the name of Roland Banas who was preparing to attempt a solo, unsupported crossing of Death Valley. At the time, the plan was for Banas to set out on December 14 with the hopes of completing the entire trek in just 8 days, starting at the southernmost point of the national park and ending at its northernmost terminus. All told, the journey would cover approximately 145 miles (232 km). Unfortunately, four days into the expedition Roland decided to pull the plug, issuing a cryptic statement from his satellite messenger that simply said “time to quit.” Those following along with his progress were surprised to see the message, although after receiving an email from him yesterday, we now have a bit more insight into what happened.
In a note that I received from Roland he indicated that the southernmost region of Death Valley was actually saturated with water, which made for extremely tough going. He was expecting to find a dry river bed that would make progress fairly easy considering the terrain, but instead he was greeted with overflowing marshes, bogs, and thick mud. When he did pull himself out of those conditions, he encountered Death Valley’s notoriously tough terrain, with plenty of rocks and other obstacles to negotiate.
Despite the unexpected mud and water, Banas was hitting his daily mileage goals in terms of distance, but not direction. He wasn’t traveling north as much as he needed, but was instead wandering through the landscape in a circuitous fashion, which meant that while he was tiring himself out covering all of those miles, he wasn’t making the meaningful progress he needed towards his goal.
In the email update that he sent me Roland said, “Even though I still covered enough miles to cover my daily targets, the constant detours swallowed many of them and I was not moving toward the North fast enough. I was hurting and getting tired, frustrated and demotivated. I had only covered a little under 50 miles so far and simple maths showed that I was likely to run out of food and water at least a day before finishing. Combined with the prospect of struggling on the same terrain for another 50 miles at least, I lost my drive and gave up.”
Not unlike the Antarctic skiers we’ve been following, conditions always play a major role in how we progress. Death Valley is a challenging place, as others have discovered in the past. To date, only Belgian adventurer Louis-Philipe Loncke has managed to cross the park solo and unsupported. All other attempts have failed for similar reasons to what Roland encountered.
This was Banas’ fourth attempt at a Death Valley crossing. At this point, we’ll have to see if he gives it another try in the future.