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Buck30 - Other Trail Journal - 2021

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Brian (Buck-30)
Begins: Jun 12, 2021
Direction: Northbound

Daily Summary
Date: Fri, Aug 20th, 2021
Start: Denver
End: Denver
Daily Distance: 0
Trip Distance: 1,079.0

Journal Stats
Entry Visits: 563
Journal Visits: 5,421
Guestbook Views: 30
Guestbook Entrys: 1

DHR summary and thoughts

At the end of an obscure thru hike I usually like to provide as much planning / notes as I can for future hikers. I was the first hiker to finish the DHR other than its creator Larryboy (LB). I've got plenty of thoughts, but keep in mind these are just my OPINIONS. You may not agree with me, you may not like what I like or hate what I hate. Also keep in mind that I hiked in a record drought year, had very little water info and didn't have anything else to go on like say my daily detailed journal which I hope will help future hikers. The point of all that is that my hike will probably sound harder in my journal than your hike will be (but not as hard as Larryboy's scouting hike!)

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OVERALL: The DHR is an amazing route. I would tell any of my very experienced hikers friends to go hike this trail. There really wasn't a single day that wasn't incredibly scenic. I think once you get past all the hardships in my daily journal this should be the one thing to remember. It was always super scenic.

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DIFFICULTY: I feel like this was a very difficult route. I think if you read the "Should I Hike The DHR" section of the planning guide, this explains exceptionally well the skills you need. And I mean REALLY read it. In my opinion this planning guide is one of the best written and most realistic I've seen for a trail. Anytime I would complain about something I would think back or check back and be like, well LB did say that in the planning guide! If you are a triple crown hiker don't just assume you can hike the DHR, read the guide and truly assess if you have the skillset.

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It's a bit hard for me to truly assess how difficult a trail is. I basically have no concept about what might be hard for others or how others will be on a trail. A good example is I totally don't understand the "hiking is 90% mental" bullshit mantra. I truly love long distance hiking and being out there all year so I just don't understand how hiking can be 90% mental. I basically never ever want to quit. On the flip side, I've never been one of the truly physically gifted high mileage hikers so on the DHR I felt like the constant steep climbing was killing me. Another hiker might barely even notice that.

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I'll mention a few things about why I think the DHR is difficult but this is just a small sampling. First off, you basically have a mapset and what LB calls "Route Notes and Occasional Data Bits with a Skeletal Water Chart Thrown In”. Basically a very, very bare bones data book. The data points LB has are very good and critically help avoid private property or decide on an alternate and things like that. But it's very, very skimpy. And that mapset, it's only kinda mostly accurate. It's not a groundtruthed GPS mapset like you are probably used to. You better know how to navigate, pay attention and know your shit. Or you are definitely gonna be lost. Second, it was surprisingly a lot of steep climbing. Especially the Wasatch and Bear River ranges. Like 4 or 5k climbs that were pretty damn steep, this ain't your PCT grade switchbacks. And a lot of them you just climbed up and bombed right back down. Lastly, it's fucking hot in Utah. While the guide focuses on the potential for heat in the beginning a bit and the Snake River plain a lot, it doesn't talk much about that Utah is just a hot state in the summer. Granted, I had a very, very hot year. Probably unusually hot. But the trail drops down to 5k a lot through the Wasatch for weeks and the Wastach Front range in July at 5k is like 90-100 degrees. Like I said, I think I had a rough summer, but I also think you should expect to be super hot at low elevations on the DHR all summer. And while the trail initially spends a lot of time above 10k, by the time you've reached the Wasatch and it's hot as shit you are between 5-9k mostly.

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So who do I think can actually hike the DHR? Honestly I don't know. Read that planning guide closely I guess, there's way more to it than my few thoughts above. I don't think you need to have done what I've done before or anything like that but I'm not sure you would drop too many levels below my experience and enjoy/survive.

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TERRAIN: I'd say the planning guide is pretty spot on, 50% trail, 40% dirt road, 5% XC and 5% paved. There's very little true XC although there is the occasional mile or so that can be pretty tedious. I didn't even really notice the pavement there is so little. It's mostly across the Snake River plain and I was just enjoying that it was flat so I didn't really care. The majority of dirt roads are pretty minor and remote and pleasant. There are definitely some roads though that are busy in the Wasatch and depending on your timing the OHVs can be pretty annoying. As for trails, I'd say the quality overall was pretty good. I was pretty surprised how much trail seemed to have recent blowdowns cut. Not much else in the way of maintenance but the topography of the DHR doesn't overgrow trails too fast so just a good logging out can go a long way. The trails are still steep but were generally in pretty good shape all things considered. Don't expect PCT quality trail obviously.

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SECTIONS: I think the trail can be broken up into 4 main sections like in the planning guide. For me the first 400 miles were my favorite. This includes the start in Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world. Then following the Paria river upstream for days through that classic Utah redrock. And then climbing up to the Aquarius and then Wasatch plateaus which were amazing hiking above 10k. I just absolutely loved this entire section.

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The next section would be just about a full traverse of the Wasatch range and then Bear River range into southern Idaho. Surprisingly I wasn't a big fan at all. It was crazy hot, tons of steep climbs where you just bomb back down or alternatively lots of ridge walking where you go up and down little peaks over and over and over, all your views are of major cities lining the western Wasatch front and there were tons of people. Like crazy post pandemic insanity. Weekends were the worst. I'd end up in a parking lot with 100 cars. And pretty much all the trails are open to motorbikes and there were a fair number daily. LB says this hasn't been his experience living here so it might be the post pandemic thing but for me I just wasn't that into it. I did like the shorter Bear River range a lot more. Much quieter. And the Wasatch really is a beautiful range, it just was a rough summer for me on it maybe.

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The next section is about 150 miles across the Snake river plain. The planning guide puts a poor spin on this, but I really enjoyed it. Most people probably won't love this but I'm more of a desert person and I enjoyed the flat terrain and occasional gas station.

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Lastly you have some solid mountain ranges in southern Idaho which overall I really enjoyed. Much quieter than the Wasatch. Finishing through the Sawtooths is a premier finish too.

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WATER: Oh the water. This was my arch nemesis. LB hiked in basically the wettest winter/spring on record (2019) and practically carried an ice ax to the end. He provides water information for the first 140 miles or so and then again for about 150 miles across the Snake river plain. In my opinion the water hardships are underestimated on the rest of the trail. LB had so much water it probably seemed like it could never be an issue. Unfortunately I had a record drought summer which caused a lot of problems. In hindsight there actually is a lot of water, the problem is I never had any idea where it would be and it was quite hot most of the summer. The water was just completely erratic, you couldn't possibly just look at a map and make an experienced educated guess as to where there would be water. Major creeks were dry and totally unmapped things would have water. LB throws in some random water waypoints in the databook, half of these were dry or abandoned cow troughs so not super helpful for me this year. I hiked more miles thirsty on this trail than any other due to sources being dry. I also carried more water on this trail that I didn't end up needing than on any other trail due to having no idea where the next water was, it being 95 degrees out and having a 5k climb or something.

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All of that being said, I took water waypoints for every single source on the trail. Given this was a record drought this should be a really good baseline for what will always be available in the summer. I've provided this to LB and I hope he will incorporate it into his information. I know he wants to keep the information fairly minimal, but I just think making people go thirsty or struggle is probably unnecessary at this point. I feel like if I could have made educated guesses off of the map then that's fair. But that just wasn't really possible/true. I think you'll find that overall I had plenty of water, it's just knowing where it is and when to carry it and when not to carry it. I also think in a non drought year would have significantly more water too.

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Lastly, I had crazy amounts of water from about a day out of Arco all the way to the end so that was cool! Like everything changed, I followed water all day, climbed a pass dry for an hour and dropped back down into water. Over and over. I was fording creeks and my feet were wet for the first time in 2 months.

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RESUPPLY: Towns on the DHR are a pretty standard mix. Starts off with a few small ones, passes through a few large ones along the Wasatch and finishes with a couple very expensive ones. The DHR resources for resupply are very bare bones. Basically this is your town, this is the type of grocery, enjoy. I have a sperate entry before this one that has a small paragraph on each town that I think will help future hikers. A couple towns I did my own alternates to walk in and out rather than bothering to hitch. As a result I only had to hitch into 1 town on the entire route (Arco, 5 miles).

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WEATHER: I'm not much of an expert on this. Other than Utah in the summer is fucking hot. Not a lot of rain at least. Although you do a lot of exposed ridge walking miles so if you do have thunderstorms you better watch out. And I had a crazy scary storm on the Snake river plain where I ended up sleeping in a 100 year old cellar on someone's farm. The planning guide has a good couple pages on when to hike the DHR. I started at the AZ/UT border June 12 which I knew was probably a week or so late and I got unlucky when the high temps popped up from 90 to 106. But also keep in mind that in a higher snow year this actually might be a good time to start. LB had an epic high snow year which I would not have wanted to hike through. I was dying of thirst in places he was using his ice ax.

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NAVIGATION and RESOURCES: I kinda covered this a bit in the Difficulty section but you better know what the hell you are doing. Although the DHR isn't the hardest trail I've ever hiked, it's probably the hardest trail I've ever hiked with so little information. You are basically following a semi-accurate mapset and a skimpy databook. Remember, the mapset is not ground-truthed GPS so it's generally only as accurate as the trails that were drawn on it 70 years ago. Sometimes LB had improved the mapping by making known corrections or tracing in satellite view but that is fairly inconsistent so at times you don't know what you are working with.

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I've given LB my thoughts and hope to see in the future a bit of improved mapping and more robust databook. My primary issue was I kinda just felt "lost" out there. Not "lost" in the navigation sense but "lost" in the sense I was blindly following a mapset with no real idea what was coming up next. Like maybe I was on a trail but it can be hard to tell what comes next. Is that a jeep road next? Maybe a little XC connector? A gnarly bushwhack? And easy road? 70 year old topo maps don't always tell a lot and a lot of times don't even have trails/roads traced underlying the DHR red route tracing. LB researched the route so extensively that when he hiked it he actually knew a lot more than I did even though he was scouting it for the first time.

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Basically other than knowing that LB went this way and got through, I felt like I didn't know a lot more. The Section summaries are nice but brief and not for day to day use. I think LB has some ideas about this. I know he doesn't want a turn by turn waypoint system, I agree that is overkill and takes away from the adventure but something in between might be nice. I can't count how many times I was on perfectly good trail or jeep road and before I knew it I had missed a turn onto something super vague or a short XC climb to a ridge or something. And I feel like I was really paying attention. Something like labeling the type of tread on the map would be nice, like this section is trail, this section is jeep road and that little piece over there, that's XC. There are also a fair number of very obscure turnoffs, some are waypointed, some are not. So that could be improved but then also becomes a bit of a turn right, turn left kinda thing I know he's trying to avoid. I'd also like to see some improved mapping when possible. Sometimes there's a waypoint that says, mapping in this area is terrible, follow trail, good luck! Personally this seems funny to me for sure at home but not so much on the trail! It would be cool to try and make some of that a bit more accurate, especially in areas not waypointed with a warning.

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I totally get the overall concept of wanting to keep the route an adventure and not take away the fun of future hikers wanting to create something. But I've hiked trails that are harder and crazier (Hot Springs Trail, Desert Trail) and these have very robust guidebooks and I didn't feel like the sense of adventure was taken away. So while I totally agree with LB's adventurous premise it just didn't really jive with how I felt while hiking. I can't really properly explain why.

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Lastly, just to be clear there is no GPS track. LB makes this pretty clear in the planning guide. So if you've only hiked a trail with an accurate GPS track then you have a big surprise coming for you on trail! What I did was take the mapset and trace it exactly on Caltopo to make my own GPS track. Of course this is just taking a semi-accurate mapset and making a semi-accurate GPS track. But it still makes life easier on trail while navigating. It's not necessary but it's helpful.

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CELL PHONES: I had an incredible amount of reception almost the entire DHR. I had none for a couple days early on along the Paria river and then I had none for about 3 days between Arco and Ketchum and then none about a day out of Ketchum till Stanley. Otherwise I had a ton of reception, especially along the Wasatch range as the entire western side is blanketed in major cities. I have AT&T.

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TIME: I hiked the about 1050 miles in 67 days. I think this is probably on the slower than average side. Especially compared to those that are probably qualified to hike the DHT are probably a bit or a lot faster than me.

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WILDLIFE: I saw a fair bit. Probably the most unique is that I saw moose on 5 different occasions. That's fairly unusual in the lower 48. I also saw mountain goats a few times, the ones around Timp are amazing. I saw elk a few times as well including a few very large herds. Lots of deer of course and lots of hawks. Only 1 rattlesnake and no bears.

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ALTERNATES: LB has mapped a fair number of alternates although I think over time this will decrease. After his insanely snowy hike he had a number of routes he either wasn't able to do or afterwords attempted mapping a better route. Within reason I tried to hike as many of these as possible. I think I did at least a half dozen. There were a few still left to do, ones that seemed unclear if it would go through (like maybe getting cliffed out or something). I know LB wants to get out himself and hike these and seems to have a real passion for exploring/mapping so I could see him adding even more alternates. But over time he'll just nail the route down and there probably won't be that many "better" alternates to do. I'd highly encourage you to do whatever you can. I really enjoyed all the unvetted alternates I did. LB has a great knack for mapping and what "probably" works.

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OTHER HIKERS: Other than on the 22 mile Under the Rim Trail in Bryce in the first week and the famous Sawtooths my last 3 days I saw zero backpackers on the DHR. I did see plenty of OHVs, motorcycles, day hikers in the Wasatch and ultrarunners. So expect to be alone if you start alone.

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ROUTE IN BETWEEN: One of the main purposes of the DHR is to connect the Arizona Trail to the Idaho Centennial Trail for a Mexico to Canada route. I did the AZT in 2009 and the ICT in 2017 so I just did the DHR. If you have the time and interest I would definitely recommend going the entire way Mexico to Canada. The AZT is one of the best trails in the country. The DHR is awesome. The ICT sucks! Well that's not exactly true but I think Idaho is overrated. I'd say the DHR to Stanley is mostly the best of Idaho. Everything north is heavily forested, super remote, trails in terrible shape and has probably burned over every year for a decade. This is a bit of an exaggeration but also not completely an exaggeration. I'd still recommend doing it but be ready for some shitty parts. There's still plenty about it that's nice too.

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Journal Photo

Deseret Hiking Route

The Deseret Hiking Route (DHR) is a roughly 1,000 mile route through the heart of the American West. It begins on the Utah/Arizona border and runs north through Utah and southern Idaho before terminating in the Sawtooth Mountains of central Idaho. The route was created by Kevin "Larryboy" DeVries. For more information: https://www.lbhikes.com/2019/12/dhr.html?m=1

 

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