Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Getting Ready for the California Desert

I now have an organizing system for my longer-length backpacking trips. It's called "The Empty File Drawer." Over the last few weeks I have been throwing in random items I plan to take on my PCT section hike in about five weeks. So far I have my water filter, maps, a few Larabars, blister treatment, Shower-in-A Bag (liberated from fire camp this summer--big wet wipes!), and BodyGlide. You know, the desert essentials.

Backpacking in Southern California requires some thought. For example, there's not a lot of water. Some trail angels provide water caches, but it's bad form to rely on these. So I am taking food that does not require a lot of water to prepare (wraps, tuna, peanut butter, hummus.) Instead of doing a resupply, which takes time, I am going to power through with seven days of food for the 110 miles. And though I say desert, there is a section that goes to 10,000 feet. Already this winter a couple of hikers have fallen to their deaths from nearby locations due to ice. (By the time I get there, it should have melted, but if not, there's a road walk. Thus, the importance of maps.)

I'm less prepared than I have ever been for a section hike, due to lack of time. I haven't looked hard at the maps. I don't know where I'll camp. I don't have a plan for Idyllwild, a cute town on the way where I might decide to stay for the night. But I'm going with it because lately I've been really frustrated with the need for connection I see among the thru-hiking bunch. People are asking all sorts of questions, like what tent should they get, what shoes they should wear, how many days off during their trek they should take. Some have said they wished there was cell service everywhere. What? You take a day off when you need one. You can ask a few people about gear, but strangers on the internet? You need to check Facebook in the wilderness?

I guess I'm old school. I first learned to navigate in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park backcountry as a volunteer, when I was handed a map and told to write a guidebook for the trails. I made a lot of mistakes. I ran out of water once and couldn't find the seeps on the map. I got turned around, because the "trails" were marked by insufficient cairns. I once mistook cow tracks for elk (and got mercilessly teased). I also tried out a lot of gear. Some worked, some didn't. I learned not from asking other people, but from trying it myself. But I also gained a lot of confidence and skill. I think once we take discovery away, we are losing something important.

Anyway, back to section hiking. My last one, in July, was really difficult. It wasn't just the terrain. The mental desire wasn't there; both Flash and I felt it. I'm not sure why, except that it's good to reexamine your goals once in a while and see if they are still what you want to do. Maybe I don't need to hike all the PCT. Maybe half is enough? We'll see what this hike brings in terms of discovery.


  1. I think the things you're noticing are a symptom of our "busy" culture. And our weird self-promotional culture. People don't want to just hike; they want an epic, transformational, movie-worthy experience. They don't have time (or patience) to gain the experience to do it without just relying on other people to tell them what to do. They don't want to do a basic shakedown trip (or five) in their backyard (literal or figurative) for a night or two before heading out for 2 weeks, so they don't really know their gear or how they cope. For some, I bet they'd love to have the time to do that, but they've set up a life that makes that hard (too busy, too many other priorities); some just want the epic-ness of it, they want to make a movie of their experience and have it be awesome and then move on to the next movie/photo opp.

    I fall into that trap sometimes; except that heading out into the mountains is one time I don't feel like pushing boundaries with unknowns (like gear) that I have the ability to control. I'd rather say no to something epic at this point, than wing it. Sadly, I don't have the time to always test my systems enough to feel comfortable pushing super hard in the wild, but I figure that's okay at this point in my life. Hopefully I can get back to it later on, and now I can just enjoy the non-epic trips I get to take! (Which of course being here, are probably epic to some people, ha! Bonus!)

  2. That's probably true about time and also that it's easier just to ask than do your own research. Instant gratification. I think the trips you speak of though are beyond my example. Anytime you go out in Southeast you'd better have the right gear. Whereas the examples I mention are of people backpacking a well trodden trail.

  3. Yes, I agree there's no substitute for experience. I'd sure try my gear out before embarking on a long thru hike.

    1. Even so I have had some equipment failures. But at least I have the experience to fix in the field. You all have to start somewhere but I'm glad I had to rely on myself at first, because it taught me a lot.


Hello out there. If you liked this post, please leave a comment so I keep writing!