Like a spring in the desert
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Wayne Kraft
(WayneKraft) - F
Like a spring in the desert on 04/07/2007 12:37:38 MDT Print View

The 2007 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiking season is beginning and So Cal is parched. Traditionally reliable springs and creeks are drying up and waterless stretches are expanding to distances that cannot practically be covered in one day. I know little about about desert hiking, but I'm betting there are some experts on this list. If this thread bears fruit, I'll see that it gets transmitted to the PCT crowd.

The general question is how to deal with long waterless stretches. Some specific questions I would have are;

1. Hikers will be confronted with the choice of carrying extra pounds of water or traveling off trail to alternative water sources. Anybody have some formulas or rules of thumb to help hikers decide whether it's better, say, to carry an extra 8 pounds of water or make a four mile round trip off route during a 20 mile hiking day?
2. If you have chosen an ultralight pack with a fairly low max weight limit, would you consider changing packs late in the game in order to comfortably carry more weight?
3. Most lightweight food choices acheive their weight avantage by sqeezing out water. This makes less sense if the you have to carry the rehydrating water on your back all day. Are there alternative foods you would consider in this situation?

Any other advice?

Edited by WayneKraft on 04/07/2007 12:38:22 MDT.

Elliot Lockwood
(elockwood) - F
Re: Like a spring in the desert on 04/07/2007 20:59:07 MDT Print View

Just a quick and incomplete response here, coming from living in southern Utah.

For questions 2, my answer is most definitely yes. Even tho I can fit 8lbs of water in my MLD Prophet 30 pack, it's much more comfortable in my LuxuryLite external frame pack. This makes a large difference.

As for #3, that is one of the little benefits of dry hiking in the desert - you can bring heavy foods that are in most places unacceptable. :)

Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Like a spring in the desert on 04/08/2007 07:08:23 MDT Print View

“1. Hikers will be confronted with the choice of carrying extra pounds of water or traveling off trail to alternative water sources. Anybody have some formulas or rules of thumb to help hikers decide whether it's better, say, to carry an extra 8 pounds of water or make a four mile round trip off route during a 20 mile hiking day?”

I have tried this technique, but it is seldom the best choice. Most trails started as game trails that are the best route between water sources. My experience is based on Grand Canyon hiking and CDT hiking - not the PCT. There may be some reroutes because of limited access where a side hike for water might make sense.

“2. If you have chosen an ultralight pack with a fairly low max weight limit, would you consider changing packs late in the game in order to comfortably carry more weight?”

Yep. Thru hikers are not required to use the same pack for the entire hike. I often have to remind my wife that I have so many packs so that I can match the tool to the job.

“3. Most lightweight food choices acheive their weight avantage by sqeezing out water. This makes less sense if the you have to carry the rehydrating water on your back all day. Are there alternative foods you would consider in this situation?”

Yep, I enjoy canned beans and fruit cocktail. But this only works from resupply to the first water source. In the Grand Canyon I like to remain high and dry for the first 36 to 48 hours. Canned oysters, fried Spam - it is all good.

Colleen Clemens
(tarbubble) - F

Locale: dirtville, CA
Re: Like a spring in the desert on 04/09/2007 17:49:17 MDT Print View

i am no expert, but i do live in soCal and so most of my experience is with areas & routes where water is unreliable.

1. if this is a workable option, i would consider it. HOWEVER, here in the West trespassing can be taken very seriously and the PCT's history is riddled with public/private land conflicts. and i'd have to be extremely sure that the alternate source was reliable. it would be beyond nightmarish to hike 2 miles to an alternate source, only to find that it was dry, too.

2. yes, yes, yes. those of you who can get away with SUL packs must live in places where water is plentiful. there's no way i could do it. i am always carrying AT LEAST 2 liters (usually more) and i routinely go into a hike assuming that several of the water sources should not be relied on.

3. well, i'm one of those decadent folks who carries fresh food for the first day or two anyway. last weekend we had guacamole & chips for dinner on our first night out. it was awesome. but don't carry canned food if possible, because empty can weight adds up and some canned foods float in water that you don't necessarily want to drink/consume.


my advice is to suck it up and accept that in the desert you simply have to carry more water weight. the classic advice about not hiking during the hottest part of the day applies - you lose too much fluid to sweating & because of evaporation it's easy to not notice. if possible, hike during part of the night and sleep in the shade during the hottest part of the day. sun umbrellas can be wondeerful things, as most hats just make me overheat.

John Manning
(pctjohnbadger) - F - M

Locale: Stainforth
I carried... on 04/10/2007 03:38:50 MDT Print View

I thru' hiked the trail in ’04 and hauled a very heavy average 9-litres of water (almost 2.5 of your US gallons) during the driest So-Cal days. It didn't slow me down that much either, though my footwear took some real punishment.

I was using a ULA P2 pack – seriously overloading it, but it stood up to the strain well.

Carrying that amount of water meant I rarely, if ever, ran short and occasionally was able to share some with those who'd underestimated their needs.

It also, more importantly, meant I didn't have to rely on the water caches left by trail angels at various points - there were so many folk on the trail in the early days that these caches occasionally had run dry and it made sense to never rely on any cache, no matter how good its reputation.

And again, if you don't need to use a well-stocked cache because you're carrying enough water, it means it's there for the next guy who might not be.

All that said, there were more sources of water than I would have expected, at least in 2004.