FKT: Jason Hardrath, Steven "Aria Zoner" Thompson, Christopher C Gorney - Death Valley Rim-to-Rim (CA) - 2021-01-09

Route variation
Rim-to-Rim (either direction)
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
17h 50m 7s

Death Valley Rim-to-Rim (hard variation): this "hard variation" is not an official variation, so someone can take the normal rim-to-rim or single crossing start at the Charcoal Kilns/Telescope Peak 2wd trailhead and best our one-way crossing time.

Team Time = 17hr 50min 7sec

Write ups as follows:


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This was the Death Valley - Badwater Basin rim2rim. We climbed Telescope Peak and Dante’s Peak and connected them using the Badwater Basin crossing. Epic adventure! Shout out to Jason for piecing this one together. Full trip report coming soon and adventure video on YouTube, stay tuned, this was a big one!

We started at Shorty’s Well -262’ below sea level, and climbed Telescope Peak 11,043’. Maybe the largest continuous climb in North America?

After our descent down the same route through Hanaupah Canyon we stopped out our aid station back at Shorty’s Well. Then we headed across Badwater Basin (salt hexagons pictured). A 6 mile journey to the moon and back. It looked like we were within a mile of Badwater the whole time but it took us 2 hours (6 miles) to get there.

We had another aid station (staged car) at Badwater and topped off our food and water. Next up was Dante’s Peak and Viewpoint. After a long heinous climb up the worst rock and scree I’ve ever been on, we eventually made the summit.

We had intended to descend Dante’s back to Badwater and finish back where we started, but I had to pull the plug after the climb up Dante’s. Too many loose chutes with big loose rocks and a few too many 3rd/4th class sections with holds breaking off. Did not want to downclimb that in the dark after 41 miles and 19k of climbing. My legs were done, not the time to downclimb at your limit. So as it turned out the rest of the team also called it there at Dante’s. Even tho we didn’t get the full double crossing, we touch every section of the route, Telescope, Badwater, and Dante’s. A fair day in its own rite.

My second Telescope summit, first time from Badwater, and first time in the dark.

Biggest vert day ever. 19.4k’

Team: Chris Gorney
Jason Hardrath
Aria Zoner



I will come right out and say it, we set out to do Death Valley R2R2R... so let me tell a story

Aria Zoner saw my route publication on and called me on the first of the year, "hey, I want to do this"

So I was like, "rad, let's do it together and I know a guy to join us"

And I called Chris, "Yo, wanna join a wicked, brutal adventure?"

He was all, "I'm in, but we gotta go this weekend cause of my kid"

I was all, "shoot my body is still tired but let's do it"

Aria Zoner was like, "heck yeah, lets go!"


So we meet up in Death Valley Friday evening and stage our three vehicles out, quick like, as aid stations.
At Dante’s View
At Badwater Basin
A quick 4x4 water drop 6 miles up Hanaupah Road

We sleep shortly above Shorty's Well, get this, ‘til 10pm
1 hour to wake, feed, prep
Then bang...
well, in this case, beep!

We start at 11:03pm.

Chris sets a great pace up Hanaupah Road to start. With no weight on our backs, the team moves up the first 6mi and 2200' gain quickly. 

I take a fast moving transition through the drop on Hanaupah, taking the lead saying, "I will walk to keep the pace going (we had agreed on this style ahead of time)" Chris rabbited the first 6, now it was my turn. With weight for the rest of the day on our backs now, and an insane 17,000ft of climbing to go, I clipped into my Leki  shifted to a power-hike and after a couple miles the other two's lamps were right behind me. 

Around mile 8 or 9 the road turned to a rough wash, and shortly after that we were charging steeply up towards our first ridge, the real climbing had begun!
The team stayed mostly quiet in those dark hours, each finding our own quiet, energy saving zen state. As we charged the off-trail ascent I loved the Kogalla light! The extra lumens from this waist light were...well...illuminating. This light is seriously a game changer for off-trail efforts.

I did most of the team route finding off my GPS watch with the GPX file I had modeled after my 2018 Shorty's Well to Telescope Peak FKT attempt, with Zoner occasionally double checking on his phone with a gpx he concocted by loading others strava files. Route finding went smoothly.

About at 9000' the team started showing signs of altitude taking its effects. Slowed cadence of speech, lowered mood, much silence, slower moving. I picked up on this quickly due to my own time playing at elevation and my time as a professional mountain guide. I knew it was unlikely to become acute in the short amount of time we would be up there and the team was still moving really well. We made summit in the blasting cold winds of first light, 7 hours and 3 minutes after we started. We immediately started back down. We were packed and dressed light.

On the way down we enjoyed an amazing sunrise. Finding energy in the morning light and the thickening air due our quickly dropping elevation. We were quickly back down to 8000' and the team was chipper and jubilant, laughing and teasing one another. 

Chris set us off down Hanaupah Road in the low 9 minute mile range, little did we know this would be the fastest running of the day. We charged through our aid station again refueling. Then, Zoner snagged the bear box and emptied gallon jug we had staged there with our packs. We left no trace.

The Team rattled in a neat row back down, I was finding a rhythm in the 9s, and then the 10s, on the rest of the way back down to Chris' truck at Shorty's Well. ...a little longer break. Then started charging across Badwater Basin.

We charged and charged, without any seeming progress.

It was sand,
Then, sharp plants
Then, salt covered mud

I struggled to keep pace. Especially, with Zoner's long strides in this terrain (he's a taller dude than he looks in pictures)

Then, hardened, dried mud-bubbles
Then, salt boulders with sharp edges 
Then, salt-wall-sided salt hexagons

I caught up

Then, flats 
the team surged. 

Then the Badwater Sign.

We thought it would go an hour, at fastest, it took two.

The team refueled and mentally reloaded at Badwater, and started up what would be the most treacherous climb of the day. We had come into the Badwater aid a little mentally beat down, the basin had been much more difficult than expected and used up more daylight too. But, we came out of aid a little more cheery.

We chose the full ridge to the south of Badwater to try for our ascent. None of us had climbed all of it. But looking at it, we thought it would go. We knew the first bit would be on incredibly loose scree and on much steeper terrain that one would usually be comfortable on. Another way to say it, it was steep enough to have consequences if you slip or a hold gives way.

It was steep
It was loose. 

And not just deep scree, sometimes like marbles on hard pack. To the degree that most every step was strained, mentally and physically. Not what most would call fun, or safe.

We had one boulder break loose
We called, "Rock!"
Zoner narrowly lept to the left and avoided being struck.

Ok, it didn't just seem like dangerous was.
The south ridge was looking like it was not a good choice. Perhaps the first ridge to the north of Badwater was better?” ...we each took turns wondering...Chris and I pulled away off and on, we were more the scramblers than Zoner, in our background. We frequently stopped to regroup. We made clear our dislike of these loose obstacles. At one point, I verbalized, "man, I don't know if I want to try to encourage people onto this kind of terrain. It seems dangerous and, well, not fun." 

As we hit the final long steep section, Chris pulled away, Zoner and I moved slowly. He charted a great course through many 4th class loose rock obstacles.  Towards the top of the climb, I noticed the setting sun...I wondered is this what motivated Chris to crank it up? And then I found a surge of energy, I gave chase, I caught him before the top out.

As I approached he said, "I want to communicate this early, I may call it at the car at Dante’s. I wanted you to know now so you have time to think about it."

"That is reasonable. We can decide after a rest at the car."

Charging again, Chris and I topped out, looking down and seeing Zoner down below out of the high-consequence terrain, we walked the trail quickly to the topographical relief sculpture that depicted the terrain we had just experienced first hand. We celebrated, snapped a photo.We split our watches. We walked back to the car. 

And Chris said, "yeah man, I am going to call it. I don't want to downclimb that in the dark, even on a fresh body in light that would be a difficult downclimb."

"And you have a kid," I chimed in, "you need say no more, man. I understand your decision making has to be different. That is fine. No worries."

We were chatting through how he would drive down and swap my car and his truck so he could home. And how Zoner and I could continue, if he wanted to.

Then Zoner came jogging down, clear signs of discomfort across his face. He indicated to his lower legs, "I hate to say it. I think I need to call it. My legs are killing and I don't want to go back down that.”


It was just me.

I debated in my mind.
I debated with Chris and Zoner. 
I debated with my girlfriend on the phone.

Should I continue on alone? 

Then Chris voiced wanting to get back home and Zoner voiced not wanting to feel responsible for me out there alone. I questioned wanting to encourage people to downclimb that loose, steep terrain at night.

With that input, I conceded. We would all call it at the single Rim-to-Rim. So we didn't go R2R2R but we were amazed at what we did.

- We had done Telescope Peak from Shorty's Well a rad 31 miles and 11k' gain on its own.
- We had crossed the entirety of Badwater Basin, a buck-list item of any running human who has seen it...even if only for a moment.
- And we had climbed to Dantes View out of Badwater. A physical answer to an actual question a teenager was gawking as we passed him on the tourist trail into the basin,

"Do you think someone can climb that all the way up?"


Guess we know now, so in case he is reading this,


"Yeah kid, someone can. In fact, I know a few guys who have"


That is our adventure.

So again, I will be honest, we set out to do Death Valley R2R2R... we failed. But we failed our way into the first known Death Valley crossing to include Telescope Peak, a crossing of Badwater Basin, and an ascent of Dantes View Peak out of Badwater all in one day, human-powered, on foot. So props to Chris and Zoner for making the call to listen to their bodies (and hearts) and not charging back down Dantes crumbly rock and loose scree. 

These guys were awesome out there. Everyone communicated well. Everyone worked well as a team. Everyone stayed positive, even through the moment we called it. 

To the next contestant on this route, it is probably worth it to scout that northern ridge of where we climbed and please do that part in the light as Telescope Peak can be round tripped in darkness. (see GPX file added to this trip report titled "North Ridge We Reference")

Instagram post about this effort

Notable Gear:
Leki Carbon Poles (the lock in system for the hands is insanely efficient for steep terrain like this)

Dynafit Ultra 100 Shoes (These shoes receive my “out of the box ultra” award because I ran a 50 mile ultra in them right out of the box, great shoe, good durability, great rubber, You do need to go one size up)

The Kogalla Waist Light System (this flood light is such a game changer for seeing depth, ie not tripping, on rough terrain and route finding in the dark) 

by Jason Hardrath (Follow on IG or FB)



I arrived at this effort expecting the worst. Thanks to a solid game plan however, all of my fears passed unseen. After a warm 11pm start, we climbed steady and continuously from Shorty’s Well to the summit of Telescope Peak. On the summit ridge, the wind was brutal and made up for the freezing temps I was expecting upon awakening. Warmed up from the climb now, the cold was but a minor convenience, and with little daylight at our 7am arrival, there was no need to dilly on top either. Navigation was critical on the ascent, but especially on the descent. Jason led our lines with no wasted efforts. Back at our bonus cache in Hanaupah Canyon, I retrieved a bear can we had placed with bags of food and bottles of water. This double cache went smoothly and was our only real stop both ways. Back at Shorty’s, we threw practically everything into Chris’s truck then at 11am on the dot, left with snacks in hand and water bottles refilled with spring water I had gathered on the approach. Crossing Badwater at peak sun was wild and a highlight of the run. Hitting the promenade at its head was a cinch thanks to the many tourists that were seen from a mile away, walking it. Here, we made a quick pit stop at my vehicle then committed to ascending an unknown South Ridge with virtually no supplies to save weight and energy. Although passable, it was extremely inefficient traveling due to heavy sloughing and crumbling rocks. At one point, I narrowly avoided being struck by a falling boulder. At another, I strained my knee as a rock gave out. The evidence of erosion was everywhere. I saw little signs of life though, other than our team. After many subtle decisions surpassing the final headwall, we hit the cross trail that leads to Dante’s View. As I ran down it, I stumbled for the first time while taking in the sunset and almost went down. At the bronze monument, darkness was setting in. The decision to call it a day, rather than risking injury, accidents, or separating while descending the South Ridge at night without moonlight drove us into Jason’s car, and within the hour, each of our own. In retrospect, the goal was certainly to complete an R2R2R in sub 24, but also to attempt an unknown route from Badwater to Dante’s. With a second potential option to descend a northern ridge still out there, a more favorable nighttime descent may be possible. Otherwise, this was a hardcore route with temps, elevations, and conditions that are so drastic, practically everything under the sun was experienced and should be prepared for.


Individual Elapsed times at finish:
Gorney = 17hr 44min 22sec
Hardrath = 17hr 44min 20sec
Zoner = 17hr 50min 7sec

Team Time = 17hr 50min 7sec