Death Valley National Park blocked the famed Badwater 135 Ultramarathon from the park, but that won't stop the event from taking place Monday. Race director Chris Kostman debuts a new and equally punishing course that avoids the park and its namesake low point.
Runners -- 19 women and 79 men from 24 to 69 years old -- will take off on a quest to cover 135 miles in staggering triple-digit heat over the next few days. The race organized by AdventureCORPS starts in Lone Pine, Calif., crosses the Owens Valley and returns to its traditional finish at the base of Mt. Whitney.
It begins with a tough, steep climb to the top of Horseshoe Meadow (about 10,000 feet above sea level) in the Inyo National Forest, returns to Lone Pine and continues on to Keeler along Highway 136. Then it's off on a dirt track to the ghost town Cerro Gordo and loops out to Darwin before returning to Lone Pine and the 13-mile uphill finish to the Whitney Portal.
In all, runners will have covered more than 17,000 vertical feet of gain. The winner is expected to finish in 24 to 26 hours; average time for everyone else is more like 40 hours. And there's no prize money, just a highly coveted belt buckle for those who complete it.
Badwater 135 and other endurance events were booted from Death Valley when the park stopped issuing permits last winter "until a thorough safety evaluation of this type of activity has been completed," Death Valley officials said at the time.
Kostman has fought and continues to fight what he calls a moratorium on permits. "The Badwater 135, and all other AdventureCORPS events, have impeccable safety records, with no fatalities, no serious injuries, no car crashes or collisions, and no citations issued against anyone associated with any of the events in their 25-year-plus history," he wrote in the announcement for the 2014 race.