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Buck30 - Desert Trail Journal - 2019

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Brian (Buck-30)
Begins: Apr 3, 2019
Direction: Northbound

Daily Summary
Date: Sun, Mar 17th, 2019
Start: San Diego
End: San Diego
Daily Distance: 0

Journal Stats
Entry Visits: 871
Journal Visits: 16,254
Guestbook Views: 384
Guestbook Entrys: 18

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Epic water spreadsheet!

The Desert Trail Trip Planning: Water and Resupply


I wrote about water in entry #2. I’ll be placing around 14 caches I believe between the start and the CA/NV border. I’ve never cached food or water on a trail before (well I did a small bit for the Lowest to Highest Route but that’s it). I have a couple issues. Because I’m leaving from San Diego and need to drop a car off in LA I will miss my first 2 caches close to the border. So there are 2 spots I kinda need to cache water but it’s way out of the way. I might take a trip out there before I leave to do a weekend training hike and then drop the 2 caches.

So from LA I’ll then drop 12 other caches. I’ll just have a rental pickup I think so my cache spots are almost all near paved roads. I just don’t want to drive all the crazy dirt roads to cache water. It will make my hike more difficult but that’s what I’ve decided. There is a long dirt road I have to drive through Death Valley that makes me nervous. It’s a graded road but I still don’t love the idea. Plus with the recent massive storms most of the roads in Death Valley including the one I need are currently closed. There’s a small chance a lot of damage was done and I wouldn’t be able to get in there to cache water which means I’d have to skip that section and come back in the Fall which would be a huge pain. There’s no way to walk the Desert Trail route through Death Valley without caching. It would be a 105 mile carry!

I don’t plan to cache water after my flip and through Nevada. Technically I probably should but I think I can get away without it. But I’ll see how the first 700 miles go and then make that decision. The reason I think I can get away with it is that I have more water info than Colter and Dirtmonger had when they hiked. Colter had very little info and only what various people associated with the trail would know from the random places they hiked. Dirtmonger had Colter’s info but it was 6 years old at that point. But since I have Dirmonger’s info I have an only 1 year old water report and it’s been a very wet spring. So it would seem that any water Dirtmonger had I should at least have and hopefully should be able to rely on those sources. Given how wet it’s been I wouldn’t be surprised if I had more sources but that remains to be seen. I’ll be passing through a bit later than Dirtmonger so I do have to be careful. It’s not like the AT/PCT/CDT where you have practically daily updated water reports or if a source is dry another one might be just around a corner. If I have a dry source on the Desert Trail I could be in a bit of trouble. The next source could be a long ways away.

I made this crazy giant water spreadsheet that is amazing! I like spreadsheets. I’m an accountant. It has the trail by section, type of terrain (trail, road, XC), elevation gain/loss and then water info. It lists out every source mentioned in the guidebook and then I tried to assign a rating of 1-4 on how dependable the source is. This was drawn from the guidebooks and Steve’s observations over the years, from the notes I found on the internet for the Desert Trail Relay from 2001-2005 and then Colter and Dirtmonger’s blogs.

One thing I found on the Hot Springs Trail was that I wasn’t as good at managing water over long distances as I thought I was. Prior to the HST I always boasted how little water I carried compared to other people. This was true. I generally only carried a few ounces when others would carry a liter or I’d carry a liter when others would carry 2 or 3 or more. But this was always between sources that weren’t that far apart and usually I knew that I could depend on them. I just felt like I was being smart. Drink a lot of water at a source, hike a few hours with not much water, drink at the next source. But on the HST no matter how much water I packed across Nevada or Idaho on a long water carry it never quite seemed to be enough . Sure, I was going to make it but I always seemed thirsty. Heather on the other hand usually carried 2/3 or less of what I carried and would have extra by the time we got close to the source which I then inevitably would drink! So I think I’m going to be carrying a lot of water on the Desert Trail. Water is heavy. Water is life but water is also evil.


Well, if everything else is hard about the Desert Trail then why would resupply be any different. It’s not great. It’s doable but not amazing. I of course have a resupply spreadsheet too! This was cobbled together from the guidebook, Colter and Dirtmonger’s info. Dirtmonger has a resupply sheet on his blog but I had done mine before his hike so I ended up just kinda checking mine against his info. I just counted up around 24 resupply spots for an about 2,200 mile or so trail. So about 100 miles per resupply which pretty average for a challenging trail. 100 miles doesn’t seem that long but for an entire trail that’s pretty solid. I counted up my resupply spots for the PCT (32) and for the CDT (27), (both trails are 500 miles longer than the DT). The AT would be almost impossible count up, probably twice as many as the PCT. I guess the DT just has a few longer carries but otherwise the average carry is generally the same at the CDT. Maybe one other difference is there are other resupply spots on the PCT and CDT that many people go to that I didn’t so my resupply count is probably on the low side compared to others. But on the DT, my 24 resupply spots are pretty much all there is. I’m not skipping a resupply like on the PCT or CDT where I don’t really need it, there’s just really no other towns on/near the DT.

Some of the longer carries on the DT are a 138 mile, 168 mile and a 144 mile carry. Pretty solid when you are also carrying water. The one thing I dislike is that I’m going to need a lot of packages sent for resupply. I generally hate doing packages. At least half of my 24 resupply places need a package. Ugh. 3 of them I can drop off as I’m doing caches so that’s nice although a bit awkward. Unless they met Dirtmonger last year or Colter 7 years ago they might be a bit confused why I want to drop off a box of food and then pick it up on foot in a few weeks. 3 of the places I actually need to call and ask if I can mail a box since there is no PO which is even more confusing for people. Why do you want to mail a box to my motel/café? People are usually super helpful but I find it awkward. I’ll just end up mailing packages as I go though. I’ll drop off the first 3 while caching, then the next batch can go when I get back to San Diego and relax/shop and then the last batch can go when I hit a bigger town along the way. I have no interest in trying to do all my boxes now. A lot can change on a long trail and buying all your food way in advance, at least for me is a sure fire way to be unhappy later.

As far as quality towns it’s hard to say. Kinda depends on what you are looking for. Sometimes a big town is really nice if it’s walkable. Sometimes a tiny place that has a motel, gas station and café is perfect. Nothing to do but eat and relax. Some of the places I’ll go through really are small. Like there might only be a post office and nothing else. Or maybe just a café. I guess I’ll see as I go.

Entry 6 of 104
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Journal Photo

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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