Endurance Athletes Make West-East Traverse of Death Valley in 35 Hours

This past weekend, two endurance athletes completed a traverse of Death Valley, running the length of the national park from west to east. While we’ve seen such traverses take place in recent years, this one was unusual for a number of reason, not the least of which is that it took place in July. That’s one of the hottest times of year in a place that is known to be one of the hottest locations on the entire planet. That was just the start of their challenges however, as the two men faced a number of unique obstacles on their way.

This past Saturday evening –– July 6 –– Ray Zahab and Will Laughlin wrapped up their attempt to run across Death Valley roughly 35 hours after they started. While the expedition wasn’t a supported one, the team did place several supply caches along their route ahead of time to ensure that they had everything the needed, including food and water, to safely complete the journey. This permitted them to travel as fast and light as safety allowed, leaving their large, heavy backpacks behind in favor of smaller, lighter running packs instead.

Despite the fact that they covered the distance across Death Valley relatively quickly, the duo faced some unique obstacles along the way. For instance, while burying their supply caches prior to the start of the expedition they experienced a significant earthquake, no doubt part of the one that hit Southern California on July 4. Ray says that at first they weren’t sure what was happening, then they saw rocks being shaken from the sides of hills and tumbling down the slopes, which made it clear that they were caught in the seismic activity. It wouldn’t be the only earthquake they would encounter along the way either, as aftershocks and tremors have continued for the past few days.

In a Facebook post announcing their successful traverse, Zahab had this to say:

“WE DID IT!!!! Last night Will and I completed our west to east transect of Death Valley, in roughly 35hrs, passing over two steep mountain ranges, navigating through dense (and at points seemingly impossible!) brush, across salt flats, rocky washes and 4×4 track. Near misses with a second earthquake and rockfall, rattlesnake encounter, and huge nests of bees. More photos and video to come!!! And for those of you following on our tracker, sending us messages- thank you SO much– and apologies, our tracker battery died in the last few hours of the run, around 10km before this photo was taken! I will respond to each and every message. I’m putting my feet up and taking a break. That was hard!”

This isn’t the first time that Zahab and Laughlin have run across Death Valley together. Back in 2011, the two men crossed the park heading north to south instead. Ray seems to have a predisposition towards running across deserts, as previous expeditions have taken him across the Namib, the Gobi, the Atacama, and even the Sahara and Antarctica too. In relations to those ventures, this was a relatively short excursion, although from the sounds of things it was fairly difficult too.

Congrats to Ray and Will on completing this journey. Well done boys!

Kraig Becker