Thursday, June 5, 2014

What the PCT desert section is really like

A few months ago I was sitting on a futon in Beijing, beginning the plans for walking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. The pollution index in the city had been hovering around 500ppm all week. Considered to be, a toxic level of pollutants and is un-heard of in the rest of the world. Anything above 500ppm is technically off the charts because the measurement system was not designed for such an un-thought of and extreme air toxicity level. The air pollution spiked into the 600s atleast twice during my 6-month stay. It is recomonded that you wear a mask and limit your outdoor exposure when the pollution is bad(+200), but there is no escaping the emotional torture; the entire city is cloaked in a gray low light haze of dust that can hide entire buildings and make noon feel like 6pm. I don't know how my brothers have functioned there for so long. I find the city almost un-in habitable during pollution spikes. 

Pollution aside, my time in Beijing was awesome but after a few months I was craving the outdoors like the dickens. So choosing to run off into the hot, dry, waterless dessert was an obvious choice. Any place in nature and away from urbanization would have been paradise. I believe going to the desert straight from Beijing was instrumental in my enjoyment. 

So what is the desert really like? Before the trip I imagined long endless stretches of flat torturing nothing-ness. It turns out the desert section of the PCT is extremly diverse ranging from pine forests, to oak groves, to miles off joshua trees, and never ever flat. Every day brought new scenery and smiles to my face. I think I may have been the most consistently happy I have ever been in my entire life during the desert section. Nearly everyday I became so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude that I could not help but get choked up. Everything just seemed to work out perfectly and the miles glided by.


The three dangers of the desert: Water, Sun, Snakes. 

The water situation in the desert is a big deal and needs to be taken seriously. As long as you follow the PCT water report, sip water, and carry extra you will have no problem. I also got very lucky with finding full caches of water left by trail angels. This is due in part that I got ahead of the big heard of hikers so the water was not depleted. The true longest stretch I went without a water source was only about 15 miles. Without caches this could be more than 35! 

My biggest fear going into the desert was the sun and heat. My skin is very sensitive to the sun and overheats easily which can turn dangerous very quickly. The key to beating the heat is simple: don't walk when it's hot. On hot days I cut myself off and dove for cover under anything I could find, sometimes hunkering under a 3 feet tall chapperall bush for up to 5 hours. This lead to some epic night hiking to catch up on miles. The night hikes are some of my favorite memories of the desert. Walking solo into a dramatic desert sunset is an un-equal experience. It is cliche but the night certainly plays tricks on your senses and the posters about mountain lion atacks didn't help.


The locals seemed to talk up snakes more than anyone. This was concerning but I only saw a rattle snake once and it quickly darted away from me. Aparrently the Mojave Green Rattle Snake will pursue people and it's bite is known to kill. Luckily I never saw one of those. 

The desert was an irreplaceable experience that I would certainly reccomend and do again.  

No comments:

Post a Comment