Adventure Project Files: Josh Grant - Badwater to Telescope to Badwater

Adventure Project: Badwater to Telescope to Badwater

Adventurer: Josh Grant

Location: Death Valley, CA

Project Scope: My idea is to complete what is considered to be one of the most difficult single day endeavors possible within the continental United States, and add a dozen extra scenic miles, because why not. The plan is to go from Badwater Basin (the sign at the boardwalk on the East side of the basin specifically) which is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level to the top of Telescope Peak at 11,049 feet, which is the highest point in Death Valley and then back down to Badwater again. This is envisioned as a run, the route should be about 70% runnable with some sections just way too steep for running, so I'll be hiking. The crux will be the five-ish miles of off trail scrambling up some ridiculously steep stuff (over 6k feet of gain in less than 5 miles). The degree of difficulty is primarily based on elevation gain, but is also influenced by the terrain, elevation loss, total distance and harshness of the overall environment. The end of day stats are looking to be around 42 miles with an estimated 24k feet of elevation change.

Why am I doing this?: 

I like big goals and I cannot lie.  Getting down to the nitty gritty, I need big goals because they keep me going.  I grind out a lunch run at work almost every day to help clear my head, but if I don’t have a goal to get after they feel like meaningless miles.  Having specific targets to train towards gives me that why for those daily runs when it’s cold, raining, too hot, when I’m tired or just plain don’t feel like it.  These big goals can’t be easy; otherwise I could get away with half assing the training and training required to achieve them. 

Last year I spent six months walking with pain in every step (Morton’s Neuroma + some nerve crushing damage).  I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to walk without pain again, let alone run. I love to backpack, I love to hike and running helps keeps me in shape (especially as I age up) to keep on backpacking and getting out deeper into the wilderness.  That injury scared the shit out of me, I couldn’t to do any of these things that I loved without intense pain.

Potentially life-altering situations like that tend to draw everything into focus, and this focused me.  I have lists in piles and notes in margins of books and marks on maps of places I want to see, things to find, canyons to explore, mountains to climb and suddenly every one of those items was in danger of never being done.  The focus came after months of worry and depression eating, along with the subsequent 20 lbs I’m trying to lose now.  The focus is where I am now.  I had a surgery that seems to have solved the issue and I’m readjusting to the new normal, I don’t have striking pain with every step (YAY!) and I can focus on having big goals again. 

I also was firmly reminded of the beauty and temporal nature of being healthy.  I’m not going to be able to do these big things forever, none of us are.  I need to use the time I have, the health I have and the focus I have while I have it.  

Along the same lines, I had a friend who died a few years ago.  She was an amazing mom, friend and person who was way too young to pass on.  I can still look at her Runkeeper and see her last hikes, swims and runs. I can see what she was doing this day or that day, where she was hiking and when she swam, just a handful of years ago.  More importantly though, is that little digital bread crumb trail she was leaving behind might eventually give her kids a little insight into what their mom did when she was healthy, how she spent her time, where she went and what she enjoyed doing.

I lost my mom when I was young as well; I wish I had any connection to her life like that.  I keep that in the back of my mind with my Strava (as well as other social media venues) and how it might someday be a link for my kids to remember me.  

Timeline: November 10th, 2018, which is the Marine Corps birthday, so that has a special place in my heart. This will be a somewhat flexible date though, with the weather being the big determinant; if it's storming, snowing or screaming wind I'll shuffle that date around as needed. I can't go too early in the year due to potential for the high temperatures that Death Valley is so well known for, but the later in the year it is I lose hours of daylight, and I'll need as many of those as I can get. I'll be Goldilocking it with the specific date once we are closer to look for one that's just right, but right now I'm planning for a nice Marine Corps birthday run.

Speaking of hours of daylight, I'm hoping I can wrap this baby up in 15 hours or less, which exceeds the available daylight for early November.  I'll be running in the dark for a few hours on each side of the day, which also means I'll hopefully get to witness a beautiful sunrise and sunset on the Badwater Basin. I can't wait to see how far I miss this mark by!

Gear Requirements:

  • Running beanie – I’ll be starting this project before dawn, so the temps will probably be in the 40’s.  I’ll be gaining 11k feet of elevation during the day (remembering the formula of 3.6 degree drop for every 1k feet of gain) so I will probably be dealing with low-ish temperatures all day.  I will have a boonie cover to swap out to during the day just to keep the sun off exposed skin around midday.
  • Long Sleeve running performance shirt ¼ zip, I’ll also be carrying a short sleeve shirt and arm coolers to mix and match depending on conditions.  Generally I try to default to covering as much skin as reasonable, I’ve had a couple spots of skin cancer surgically removed and I’m trying to mitigate that going forward.

  • Adventure Jacket – definitely going to be wearing this from the start and probably keep it on for a couple solid hours to stay warm.

  • Gloves

  • In direct contradiction to what I just said, I love me some short running shorts.  Less wind resistance FTW.

  • I’m pretty agnostic regarding socks.  During the workweek I run during my lunch break, and in the interest of keeping it simple I just wear my thick wool work boot style socks on the run.  But on weekends I’ll wear my fancy thin running socks.  In my experience as long as my feet are dry, they'll do ok with blistering.

  • Running shoes – Altra (model to be determined), I had a neurectomy surgery in November of 2017.  Since then, I’ve found that Altra has been the most comfortable shoe for me.

  • GoPro (with extra batteries) and gimbal

  • Adventure Pack 12L, I’ll pack the following in here –
    • SPOT Device.  This thing is my safety blanket.
    • Water filter (TBD) – I’ll be refilling my water at a spring on the way up around mile 15 and downhill around mile 27, filtering from this spring is necessary due to the wildlife in the canyon.
    • Calories – I’ll be handling this with a combination of Tailwind, almonds, a banana and  some honey stingers (or equivalent).  My super snacks, to be used when the suckage level starts getting real high are peanut butter filled pretzels and a nice chocolate bar or two. 
    • Navigation items – I’ll have four major waypoints to navigate to on the uphill and then I will basically reverse the course on the return.  So those four waypoints will be plugged into my Garmin Fenix 3 as well as marked on a physical topo map.  With a predawn start, I won’t be able to see the physical landmarks to navigate across the basin so I’ll primarily be relying on a compass heading for a couple early miles (maybe the last miles as well, depending on how long the day goes).
    • Speaking of the dark, I’ll have a headlamp with a fresh set of batteries.
    • First aid is going to be limited to a roll of coban, medical tape, some 3x5 pads and a gauze roll, sunscreen, chapstick, body glide or Squirrel’s Nut Butter, and an emergency blanket.  I think one of my more valuable assets is the years of experience I gained working as an EMT in a high trauma environment.

Most importantly I’m going to bring my sense of humor, because that’s been the best protection against suffering that I’ve found so far.