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I met an interesting person in Joshua Tree NP...
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Justin Chaussee
(judach) - F

Locale: Earth
I met an interesting person in Joshua Tree NP... on 02/12/2009 22:44:52 MST Print View

I met an interesting person on my last camping trip. Got me thinking...

I recently took a trip to Joshua Tree NP with my brother in law. On our last day there, we decided to take a hike to a lost oasis. Now, I'm not in the best shape, but I AM young and strong and can push myself pretty far. Needless to say, the hike was pretty challenging for me. The weather wasn't really hot, bout high 70's, but the wind was enough to drive you insane and the terrain was VERY hilly and required some bouldering along the way. Anyway, during the hike we came across an older man (must have been around 60-65ish) wearing black jeans with a large lether belt with belt buckle, a long sleeve button up shirt, and a black leather jacket. He didn't have any kind of backpack or water or anything. We figured he wasn't going that far since we first passed him close to the trailhead and he probably had a car in the parking lot; like he was just out stretching his legs or something. So we didn't think much of it and continued on our way. About 4 looooong miles and 2-3 hours later, up and down hills and through canyons and over boulders, we neared the lost oasis and I noticed the older man was right on our tail. First thing that went through my mind was, "holy crap! This guy kept up with us without any water or anything and in those heavy/restricting clothes! How's he going to get back?"

I offered the man one of my nalgene bottles of water and he politely declined. He said he had water waiting for him when he finished his hike. I insisted he take a bottle of water and he again just politely declined. I was thinking, "this guy is either crazy or just REALLY hardcore". The man looked at the oasis for a moment and headed back towards the trail head. My B.I.L. and I stayed a few minutes longer at the oasis before departing back towards the trailhead. I kept wondering if the older man would make it back ok, half expecting him to be passed out from thirst or something along the way, but to my amazement, we didn't see him the whole way back. We got into the car at the end of the hike and started driving back to our campsite and along the way, about a mile or so from the oasis trailhead, I saw the man still hiking in the direction of the lost oasis campsite. That means he hiked from the campsite about 1-2 miles to the trailhead, 4 miles to the oasis, 4 miles back to the trailhead, and 1-2 miles back to the campsite... without water and in hot, heavy, and restrictive clothing. Needless to say, I couldn't help but be somewhat impressed...

So, my question: Was he crazy? Or was he just uber hardcore and such a veteran outdoorsman a meer 12 miles over rocky/hilly desert terrain didn't warrant any water? How many people here would hike 12 miles in the desert without thinking of bringing any water? I mean, I know I'm not in the best shape... but 12 miles??? That just seems crazy!

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Water on 02/13/2009 02:07:51 MST Print View


Water needs vary by person. I have lived in the lower desert for over 30 years. I live close to JNP, and view it as a higher atitude place to cool off. I can hike in extreme heat. I am rather thin and require a lot less water than most people.

However... lack of water kills. Heat exhaustion can sneak up on you. In the desert, especially in the warmer times of the year, it can be dangerous without enough water. I always carry more water than I need. My wife probably consumes twice as much water as me on a day hike, and she is a lot smaller.

It is best to drink a little water frequently, rather than waiting to tank up. In high heat, lightweight long sleeve shirts and long pants do help reflect heat and reduce evaporation.

I am pushing 60 and could easily hike 5 miles with no pack in 70 degree weather (low humidity) without water. I could probably push it to 10 miles with no ill effects at all. But a twisted ankle, a wrong turn and disaster bekons. During the past 30 years, I have hiked all over JNP doing both day trips and extended ones. I always take water, no matter what the distance is. And on some day hikes I don't drink any water. But it is with me just in case.

In the summer I often walk to the post office (6 miles round trip) in triple digit temperatures (115 F is not uncommon), with no water.

Over the years, I have run into several "old timers" who have been wandering around the deserts for decades. They suck on pebbles to trick their body (mind?) into thinking they are not thirsty... of course this is really just an old wive's tale. They often carry too little or no water. But most of the wanderers I run into carry water and take salt tablets regularly. I still see a lot of old canvas/felt covered canteens slung on their shoulders. Actually these are some really interesting people. Usually they are carrying prospecting gear, and are relics from a era long, long ago. Many of these folks do know where the springs and seeps are located. But these are not always reliable sources of water.

Bottom line: if you hike in the desert you better bring plenty of water unless you are 100% sure there are sources close by.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: I met an interesting person in Joshua Tree NP... on 02/13/2009 02:55:57 MST Print View

> high 70's
That's about 24 C, which is not very hot.

In dry conditions we find temperatures below 90 F to be quite manageable. When it gets over 100 F it is starting to get a bit hot. We have been walking in those temperatures.

I suspect he was just used to those conditions. Maybe he lived somewhere nearby.


Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
People acclimatize on 02/13/2009 09:07:25 MST Print View

People acclimatize.

When I hiked the PCT last year, some hikers in Southern California would drink as many as 8 liters of water a day. They were usually from the Midwest or the east coast. I am from Southern California and I usually drank about 3 liters but carried 4 or 5 sometimes.

I know people who are like that man you met who claim not to need water when they hike. Some of these people are very accomplished hikers. I even met a man on the PCT (Nimblewill Nomad) who claimed to carry no more than 20oz of water at any time, including the true desert. He said that much of our heavy gear represented an insecurity we had. Even our food and water.

Since I carried up to 2 more liters of water than I needed, water is clearly an insecurity I have.

Ali e
(barefootnavigator) - F

Locale: Outside
Water/dehydration on 02/13/2009 10:06:04 MST Print View

Interesting subject. I spent 21 days with no food or water in the jungles of Kauai. While I obviously foraged food and water everyday I could easily go half a day without finding water. Even in the wettest spot on earth it was in issue. While it was quite cool in the high lands in the lower elevations were very hot and humid and the sun was relentless while we were exposed to it. I was almost always in some state of dehydration but it seemed to bother me less as time went on. As for food all we had was fresh fruit. It was some of the hardest hiking I have ever done but a trip of a lifetime. Ali

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Water: tanking vs. sipping on 02/13/2009 10:56:00 MST Print View

I think the Camelback/Sportbottle Generation is a bit over the top. Too many people who are never without water. I sat in a meeting the other day and watched a colleague take a small sip every couple minutes. This was indoors by the way. Many of these folks also claim that consuming caffeinated or alcoholic beverages cause net dehydration.

Dehydration kills, but it isn't instant. Literature on the subject often talks about problems starting after a 5% drop in body mass due to dehydration. For me that would be 4 liters.

I have always used the concept of hyperhydration when water is available combined with moderate drinking in between. Whether it is backpacking or working in the desert, I tank up evening and morning then consume much less during the day.

Backpacking I seldom carry more than a liter of water unless I'm planning to camp dry. I do admit to foolishness one time when I hiked 25 miles from the Sierra crest to the Owens Valley floor with only a liter.

Your body adapts as well. One summer break I went from college on the northern California coast to my summer job near Death Valley. Temps on the coast averaged under 60, while the first week in the desert every day was at least 105 in the shade. I had to take it easy, limiting my exertion, drinking frequently, and taking salt tablets. Three weeks later the temps were up around 115 and I felt great working hard. I only drank morning, lunch, and when returning to the truck at the end of the day. I stopped needing salt tablets and found that my sweat left much less of a crust when it dried.

Ali e
(barefootnavigator) - F

Locale: Outside
"I met an interesting person in Joshua Tree NP..." on 02/13/2009 10:59:15 MST Print View

Great post and I agree tank up and travel lite. I never treat my water so its easy to fill and go. Ali

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Adaptation on 02/13/2009 11:14:16 MST Print View


You are correct. Our bodies do adapt, some better than others.

A couple months ago I did a 4 day trip in the Nevada desert. I carried 3 liters total for the first full three days without any real water sorces (although I knew there would be some water pockets, since it rained a lot for a couple days before I left).

At the end of day 3, I was out of water, but was able to camp on the shore of Lake Mead and replenish. The water I carried was for drinking and a little cooking. Temps were a high of around 60F and lows 20F. I really cut the supply short, but was comfortable that if something happened I could find some water.

However if the highs were in the 80s or above, I would have done this trip a lot differently.

te - wa
(mikeinfhaz) - F

Locale: Phoenix
strange man in leather on 02/13/2009 11:30:28 MST Print View

Justin, I only have one sentence for you my broham...

"the man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed"

sounds like you met Roland Deschain
careful out there, he bleeds for noone and his conscience is a brick wall

Jon Rhoderick
(hotrhoddudeguy) - F - M

Locale: New England
Re: Adaptation on 02/13/2009 14:37:58 MST Print View

SO much of it is mental. I don't drink as much water as I am told to, and I usually find that makes me more uncomfortable to keep up with the amount of water I really should, but I've been on trips where we had to do water hunts with .5 liters of water for a whole morning, which is probably what I would drink, maybe .5 too little, yet I was feeling surprisingly dehydrated. I'd attribute it to the fact that we were searching for water rather than having it readily available.

What we eventually found was opaque at 1.5 inches, and had tiny slimy things swimming in it. I had a sip of that, and I wasn't thirsty at all.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
I met an interesting person in Joshua Tree NP on 02/13/2009 15:02:53 MST Print View

"the man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed"

I loved that series of books!

Would like to see a really good animated series based on them.

Julian Plamann
(julianp) - F

Locale: San Francisco
water on 03/05/2009 11:35:38 MST Print View

I've found that generally if I'm hiking distances of 12 miles or less, carrying nothing but the clothes on my back allows me to easily go without water during that stretch. If I carry a small backpack with two liters of water, I end up sweating and needing to drink that water.

Nearly every weekend I hike the 11 mile round trip to the summit of a local mountain around this area (around 2500 feet elevation gain on the way up) and never carry anything other than trekking poles. If the weather were warmer than 75 degrees, I would bring some water for this distance, though.