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Begins: Apr 3, 2019
Date: Tue, Feb 26th, 2019
Start: San Diego
End: San Diego
Daily Distance: 0
Entry Visits: 151
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Guestbook Entrys: 4
The Desert Trail Trip Planning: Weather and Flip Flop
Desert trails are finicky. The desert trails have mountains, can be fairly high in elevation at times and can be very cold and snowy. It just snowed down below 3,000’ here out in Anza Borrego. Joshua Tree at 5,000’ routinely get some snow. Crossing Nevada on the Hot Springs Trail we got a foot of snow dumped on us while going over the Toiyabe range in May and were stuck in our tent for 48 hours. On the Hayduke Trail across Utah it’s frequently either very cold or very hot in the Spring or Fall and the winter is basically a no-go.
Because of my work commitments I can’t start the DT until around April 1. I would really prefer to start about 2 weeks earlier, but I just can’t. Colter started around March 1 and hiked pretty fast. His weather was actually quite cold and never seemed to really get that hot which is funny given the “Desert Trail” name and what I would think that means. He finished on July 11. In Nevada and Oregon, he hit old snow that hadn’t melted, had a couple of fresh snow storms and some surprisingly cold/windy days. Of course, he’s lived in and walked across Alaska so he probably appreciates the cold more than I do. On the flip side, Dirtmonger started in mid-March and I think just had unseasonably hot, hot temperatures. He actually passed out on the trail from the heat! This is from a guy who routinely can walk like 50 miles on a couple liters of water. So it kinda scares me that I’m leaving 2 weeks after Dirmonger, but looking at the average temps I think maybe he just had a bit of bad luck.
In order to hedge against my late start date I’ve decided to do a little flip flop hike. Looking at the temperatures my big issue is Death Valley. Death Valley in early April is warm but doable. A month later when I would arrive, Death Valley in early May has an average temperature of 98 degrees. Hikable but hot and long water carries. And this is just average. It could easily be 10 degrees hotter and like 105+. Even with caches I still have 2, 30 mile water carries through Death Valley and one 61 mile carry! So my plan is to start around the California / Nevada border and hike south 700 miles back to Mexico. That will get me through Death Valley right away in early April. Getting near the Mexican border in early May will be toasty but doable I think. And ironically, starting at the CA/NV in early April promises to be possibly very cold with elevations of over 5,000’. I can’t even start any further north as the elevations are over 9,000’ and too cold for me, at least when I have a choice.
There’s a few good things about this plan and one bad thing. The benefit is I need to drop a car off in LA that I’m short-term leasing and then cache a bunch of water through the first 700 miles. So this is actually quite convenient. Needing to get to the CA/NV border, I’ll just leave San Diego in my car, drop it off in LA, pick up a one way rental car and drop off about 10 caches and 3 resupply boxes along the way. I’ll return the car in Bishop and hitch a bit east to the Desert Trail either at Highway 6 or Highway 266 near the CA/NV border. Then when I get to the Mexican border 5 weeks later I can easily head over to San Diego, take a few days off and then head back up to Bishop by bus/car and head north on the Desert Trail to Canada. If I wasn’t doing this flip then I’d have do a giant caching expedition and return back to San Diego. This way I just cache heading north, return a car and start hiking south.
There is one big downside to this plan that has me worried. I’m going to have to start hiking big miles with a very heavy backpack right away. Basically I’ll hike a ½ day and then start a 30 mile water carry, then a 61 and then another 30. Especially this 61. It means I’m going to have to carry like 2 gallons of water and hike 30 miles per day. That’s going to hurt at the very beginning. I never train for a thru-hike. I used to just always be in good shape but that stopped happening a few years ago. Now I just seem to gain a bunch of weight in the off season and not exercise that much. It’s never been an issue starting a thru-hike. I know my body and I know hiking so I’ve never injured myself. I usually start off hiking decent miles but I always have the option to slow down when I need to or take a day off. I don’t really have that option starting the DT and I’m especially worried what the pack weight will do to me right away. On top of all that, the first 3 “town” stops really aren’t towns at all and none of them have convenient places to take a day off. I’ll make it work but it does concern me. I really don’t want to injure myself right away. I’ve thought about my plan every which way and can’t come up with a better idea.
Once this flip is done my weather is more unknown to me. It seems like I will be fine initially in mid-May at the CA/NV border, not too hot and not too cold. Eventually as I move into June it’s possible to have some decent heat through Nevada. Once past mid-Oregon and into Washington it can surely be hot in the summer, but trees will exist, water will be more plentiful and things just overall more manageable. I guess I will finish sometime in early to mid-August?
The Desert Trail
The Desert Trail is a 2,000+ mile route from Mexico to Canada through the deserts of eastern California, western Nevada and eastern Oregon and Washington. Originally conceptualized in the 1960s this rugged, beautiful and almost forgotten route visits Americas greatest desert landscapes and wilderness areas.
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