The Badwater 135, a sweat-lathered endurance race that runs through the hottest place in the world in the middle of the summer, will be taking a detour in 2014 after Death Valley National Park placed a moratorium on cycling and running competitions until it can determine how safe they are.
The study should be done by next spring, and such events could start being scheduled again after Oct. 1, Death Valley spokeswoman Cheryl Chipman said this week.
"We want to make it clear, we're not canceling or banning any events," Chipman told The Associated Press. "At the moment, we're just not taking any more applications for them until we finish our safety evaluation."
Oswaldo Lopez, of Madera, is a seasoned veteran of the annual event held every July when temperatures in Death Valley routinely exceed 120 degrees. The 2011 Badwater champion came in third this year in 25 hours, 27 minutes, 3 seconds — his fifth consecutive top 3 finish — and has finished second three times.
Chris Kostman, whose AdventureCorps sponsors the Badwater 135 and several other endurance competitions in the sprawling desert park each year, said he's had to reschedule and move several of them for 2014. He questioned the need for a safety review, adding that his organization has held 89 events in the park since 1990 without a serious incident.
"There have been no deaths, no car crashes, no citations issued, and only a few evacuations by ambulance after literally millions of miles covered on foot or by bike by event participants," he said in an email to supporters.
Chipman said the study wasn't prompted by any accident but by observations of rangers and visitors that an increasing number of endurance contests were jamming the park's narrow two-lane roads with participants, support crews and spectators. That, in turn, was creating traffic hazards for the competitors and others, she said.
"We don't want to have to wait for an accident to happen to do this safety review," she added. "We want to be proactive and create the conditions that we think are the safest allowable for these kinds of events."
Death Valley, which attracts about a million visitors a year, is located some 200 miles east of Los Angeles in an area that's sometimes been described as desert salt pan surrounded by mountains.
The Badwater 135 Ultramarathon is likely its best known endurance event. The 135-mile run begins in July in the park's Badwater Basin, which at 282 feet below sea level is the lowest point in North America.
It continues across a barren, unforgiving desert where summer temperatures can top 130 degrees before it takes runners across three mountain ranges. It ends near the 8,300-foot level of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the Lower 48 states.
Runners take part by invitation only, and to be considered for admission, one must have completed three or more 100-mile races.
"Although it is considered the world's toughest foot race, we have an 89% finishing rate," Kostman told the AP. He said no participant has ever been seriously hurt.
With no Badwater 135 next year, AdventureCorps has scheduled two similar but slightly shorter races through less grueling environments in California and North Carolina.
"But nothing beats running the original route from the bottom of Death Valley to the end of the road on Mount Whitney," Kostman said.