Circumnavigation Death Vally – Marshall Ulrich, Dave Heckman
When 38-year old firefighter Dave Heckman came up with the idea to circumnavigate the US Death Valley National Park during the hottest part of the Summer, completely unaided and unassisted, even the 61-year old accomplished adventurer Marshall Ulrich thought it was crazy and impossible.
Nevertheless the two men began their journey of 425 miles on 22 July 2012.
No one has attempted to circumnavigate the park, and certainly not during the heat of Summer when the threats of dehydration and heat stroke are dire, with temperatures exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Imagine remote areas, immense sand dunes, rock formations, salt flats, steep mountains, canyons, oases, old mining sites and ghost towns, pinyon pine and juniper forests, and Joshua trees.
To be able to cross and survive six mountain ranges with a total of about 40,000 feet of elevation gain, the two men had buried water, food, and supplies along their route two months earlier.
Most, though not all, of the 37 caches were intact when they dug them up. One had leaked and was completely dry. A few had been invaded by insects, which were desiccated by the cayenne pepper the guys had included to deter pests. Nevertheless they had enough water and food to sustain them throughout the journey.
But the exertion required to complete 20 to 34 miles a day in an extreme environment took its toll and they lost weight rapidly; Dave even lost 25 pounds.
Gradually their bodies adapted, becoming more efficient at moving and cooling themselves.
They shared highs and lows, including a period when they questioned whether they would survive.
More than anything else, they encountered solitude. No other hikers, just one park ranger, some bighorn sheep, lizards, bats, squirrels, burros, jackrabbits and a dead snake.
Ulrich remarked, “It’s amazing how self-sufficient you can become. When you strip away all the luxuries we’re accustomed to in day-to-day living, you realize how little you really need, how distracting a lot of that stuff is, and how it gets in the way of a certain peacefulness you can find within yourself without it.
“Probably the most beautiful thing we experienced was waking up at night and realizing that our only ceiling was the stars.”
Marshal and Dave completed their trek just over 16 days later, on 7 August 2012.
On the same day Ulrich and Heckman finished, another accomplished ultrarunner died in Death Valley after just a few hours under the blazing sun.