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Southwest Winter Backpacking?
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Vincent Lauricella
(1776SM) - F
Southwest Winter Backpacking? on 02/25/2013 09:36:30 MST Print View


Our troop is contemplating doing a winter high adventure trip next December over the school holiday break. One of the options would be to do a backpacking trip in a warmer, desert type environment in the Southwest. We would have 4-5 days plus a day on either end of the trip for travel. Our Scouts are experienced backpackers, but we all have zero experience with desert hiking. Some things we would be looking for are:
1) convenient and lower cost air fare from the east coast.
2) warmer temperatures
3) interesting terrain
4) decent water availability
5) loop trip a big plus

In doing some initial research, Las Vegas seems like it could be a good place to fly into with a ton of flights and low fares. The lower, desert sections of Zion might fit the bill from what I've read so far? Are there any other locations within 3-4 hours from Vegas that might be worth looking at? Are there any other areas that we should think about...Southern California, Arizona? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!


Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
desert hikes in winter on 02/25/2013 15:46:12 MST Print View

We go there at Spring Break, and I don't know the temps in December, but Grand Gulch in S. Utah is a wonderful place.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Southwest Winter Backpacking? on 03/06/2013 17:04:21 MST Print View


Most deserts do not have reliable water supplies unless you happen to be near one of the rare desert rivers.

Most deserts do not have trails. You need to create your own cross country loop. So map and compass expertise is required.

In December most lower deserts are going to see sub freezing temps at night. Temps below 20F are not uncommon in December.

For some thought starters you might want to read the first 8 trip reports Click for trip reports.

Vincent Lauricella
(1776SM) - F
Other Thoughts on 03/07/2013 07:35:31 MST Print View

Bob and Nick,

Thank you for the replies. Your trip reports provided us with a wealth of information.

Where we normally hike, water is available basically "on demand". We rarely need to carry more than a liter at any one time. I understand that things are different in the desert. Still, it seems to me that with good planning and route selection, we can avoid having to carry massive amounts of water?

Trailess travel shouldn't be an issue. We did a lot of that last summer in the Sierras and most of the Scouts thought that getting off-trail was the highlight of the trip.

I understand that it can get cold at night in the dry desert air. We experienced that to some degree in the Sierras. We were amazed at how once the sun set, it seemed like it dropped 20 degrees in about 30 minutes. We do an annual trip on the AT in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic region during the second week of November. Temps often get into the low 20s, so we are used to that and all have the proper gear to handle those conditions.

I'm wondering if you have any experience in 3 other area that were brought to my attention. One area is the "Coalpits Wash/Chinle Trail" section of Zion. From what I've read this lower elevation area is doable in the winter. Another location would be the Superstition Mountains outside Phoenix. There appears to be an extensive trail system in that area and decent water availability. The other area is the Saguaro Park outside Tucson. Seeing cactus would be a neat experience for our Scouts.

Thanks for the help,

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Southwest Winter Backpacking? on 03/07/2013 08:38:07 MST Print View

In Arizona, there are some reliable water sources but they may be further up in altitude. As you go up a desert mountain, you may actually get into forest/alpine biome. Here's Reavis Falls a bit off trail in the Superstitions near Phoenix in January ...Reavis falls

There's water but also notice the ice form. Reavis ranch (long abandoned and donated to the USFS), the upstream source of these falls, we had overnight temps in the low teens, then down stream the temps were upper 20's/lower 30's. Dayhiking from camp, it got colder and that's where we found the semi-icy falls. Neat ecology as the trail goes from desert to chaparral to forested and neat history if you read about Reavis growing apples for Phoenix around the 1900's.

Add: as we were leaving a large Scout troop was just coming off-trail so realize these cities are populated and you will run into other scout troops, college outdoors programs, etc..

There's some water in east Sagauro near Tucson and don't forget the nearby Catalina mountains which is USFS. The latter can be kind of cold and slightly damp near water sources in fact.

Ed: add

Edited by hknewman on 03/07/2013 08:54:01 MST.