Some of the most common things I heard about the desert during the planning of my hike were, “you’re going to need to hike at night and sleep during the daytime because it’s so hot,” and “plan on doing thirty-mile days right from the beginning,” and “you’ll need to carry over a gallon of water from each water source because they’re so far apart.”
Myth 1: 25-mile Night Hiking and Gallons of Water (Desert Hiking is MURDER!)
Hiking up until dark was okay, and there were fine views of moonrise. Much later, and it got unpleasant.
I’ll start off by saying that I had wetter and cooler conditions than normal, so the hardest parts of desert hiking were a little milder this year. Regardless, I found that even on the hottest and driest days, none of these pieces of advice were particularly good.
This is not how I imagined the desert.
Take the night-hiking advice, for example. That seems to be one of the most frequently spread bits of wisdom about southern California. But for all the hype, very few people hiked at night for any reason other than the novelty of it. My forays into night hiking were mostly because of poor planning (“oops, it’s four in the evening and I still want to go thirteen more miles today!”), and were not very pleasant. Hiking in the middle of the night is a strain on your body, and offers no views of the scenery around you. The only real benefit to night hiking that I found was the sense of adventure that came from it. That’s hardly a necessity, but if you plan to hike at night just for the heck of it, that’s probably the best reason. Otherwise, the best times to hike if you’re not excited about the desert heat is early in the morning and in the evening, when there’s plenty of light to hike by, and your body isn’t telling you that it’s time to shut down.
Other pieces of advice were well-intentioned, but the obstacles of the desert were easily overcome other ways. Carrying gallons of water, for instance, isn’t entirely necessary if you just drink more at the water source and go a little dry between sources. It’s not an ideal situation, but neither is trying to carry twenty pounds of water (which was recommended to me on more than one occasion). Camping dry isn’t so bad, either, as long as you know to carry a little extra water to cook with (if you plan to cook).
Sunset views from my campsite.
As for the people that told me I’d have to hike twenty-five miles a day right from the beginning, I don’t know what they were thinking. Maybe they just meant it was possible for people who were in shape to do that, since the terrain is relatively flat compared to what I’m used to. Most people didn’t go above twenty miles a day for several weeks, and all I accomplished by starting out fast was getting to the Sierras while there was still snow everywhere.