FKT: Sarah Estrella - Saline Valley Loop (CA) - 2022-02-28

Route variation
Standard loop
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
2d 10h 46m 9s

I started near Death Valley Road and Waucoba Saline Road at 10:17:51 AM Saturday February 26th with 8 liters of water, drink mixes, some solid food, and very little else. It wasn’t too hard to manage the long downhill of Saline Valley Road. I camped along Warm Springs Road at about 11:15, having hiked 33 miles. I purposely didn’t bring a sleeping pad this time, just a bag. On my last FKT on the Mojave Road, my inflatable pad died, and I spent 4 miserable nights trying to sleep on the bare ground. Later, I was sorer from the ground than from the hike. Why didn’t I just get up and hike more? That gave me the idea for this trip. I “slept” about 5 hours and resumed hiking up to Steel Pass.

When off on adventures such as this, I often write the names of loved ones and even pets who are gone in the sand or soil. My mother died 10 days earlier and now I scratched “MOM” in the sand while contemplating life and death in my solitude.

I soon realized I would be cutting it close to reach Dedeckera Canyon (which I expected to be the highlight of the trip) and Eureka Dunes in the daylight. There was no moon. I reached the beautiful canyon in time, but dusk fell as I approached the dunes. The night was so black, I had a hard time making out even the ridge of the dunes that rise 680 feet above the desert. I used the GPS line on GaiaGPS to navigate. I’ve hiked many dunes before, but these are much steeper! In fact, I gave up at one point. But then, how to get out of here in the dark? I rested, with a leg on each slope of the steep ridge. I finally powered up with all my strength 5 steps at a time. With muscles burning and lungs bursting, I was reminded of the final cross-country climb up to the ridge of Telescope Peak from Badwater. That and this were the two hardest things I’ve ever done. It took me 3 hours to go 2 miles.

I collapsed along Eureka Road and “slept” 3 hours after 35 miles. I got going a little after 2 AM since I had a 39-mile, uphill day ahead. The first 20 miles are flat easy road or gradual uphill. I saw a pack of 4 coyotes at dawn, the first time I ever saw more than one in the desert.

There are 3 “side trips” on this route: the dunes, a 10-mile loop off Death Valley Road to Harlis and Broady Mine, and another shorter one to Overholtz Mine.

I knew the loop to Harlis and Broady Mine would involve a lot of vertical gain. What I didn’t realize was there was plenty of descent in between steep rocky climbs. At least I wasn’t carrying much weight.

Based on the difficulty of the 2 previous side trips, I was worried about the third. Again, I arrived after dark. Presumably, the first part of this is an old road. Unfortunately, it is scarcely visible, especially at night and under snow. I bushwhacked up and over steep hills, following the line on my phone, which was getting dangerously low on battery power. I connected with an obvious trail and road, then Waucoba Saline Road again and actually ran part of the final 2 miles down to my car. I arrived at 9:04:00 PM, having gone 107.2 miles in 2 days, 10 hours, 46 minutes, 9 seconds.

I think the creators of this route thought, “Okay we’ve got this nice 100-mile road loop. Now how can we make this A LOT harder?” Bravo on accomplishing that!

Looking back on my 3 FKT attempts, I feel like the Death Valley N-S Crossing was a marathon-effort trip, the Mojave Road was more a 50-miler-effort trip, and this one was a 100-miler-effort trip. When I reached the end, I didn’t care about a hotel (I couldn’t even drive), I didn’t want the beer, and eating didn’t seem worth staying awake for. I just wanted it to be over. That’s really how an FKT should be done!