Jan 14, 2006 at 5:20 am #1217541
I just returned from a 20 day solo backcountry hike through Death Valley. I spent about a year researching every piece of gear,as well as survival techniques,food,water,environment, – you name it – to prepare for the trip which was not my first there but certainly my longest. I did not see or encounter any other backpackers during the trip. Rather than put a rambling report here I thought I’d offer to answer whatever questions are posed if there is any interest…Jan 14, 2006 at 6:20 am #1348559
I have only been in a desert a few times in my life, and never while hiking or camping. Almost all my walking has been in high alpine regions, some in the rain forests of SE Asia. In the summer (northern hemisphere) of 2004 I looked into walking, for that September, the Larapinta Trail in Australia (one of the most remote long distance trails in Australia, only opened three years ago, and still not finished), but due to finances had to forego the trip. It is still something I very much want to do, but have a lot of questions about.
Could you give us some idea about the equipment you brought and how you delt with water and heat? Did you walk in the mornings and evenings, or at night? Or is Death Valley cold at this time of year? How did you deal with creating shade for yourself during the day? What kind of clothing did you wear? For the Larapinta Trail everything I’ve read recommends that one should wear tough shoes able to deal with very abrasive ground and vagetation. And warm clothing was strongly suggested due to sometimes freezing nights.
I’m also curious what special attractions Death Valley has. I know next to nothing about it and would love to see photos if you have any.Jan 14, 2006 at 6:21 am #1348560
@pjLocale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
20d solo. very nice. congrats.
never been there. so, i have a few questions:
talk about water sources please. was water pre-cached or located during the course of your trek.
also, your beginning and ending pack wts – what were they?
did you carry all of your food with you at the outset, or was any pre-cached?
if you are so inclined, posting a gear list might be nice as well.
what were the three most difficult challenges you encountered in this endeavor and how did you deal with them?
many thanks.Jan 14, 2006 at 6:43 am #1348563
@ryanfLocale: Mid atlantic, No. Cal
I have the same question,
where did you get your water, I have never been to valley, are there water sources?
Mabey you could post your gearlist?Jan 14, 2006 at 9:45 am #1348567
Miguel: With all due respect,judging from your questions, you have not yet scratched the surface in what you need to become knowledgable about to prepare for a desert trip. I would strongly advise you not attempt the Larapinta Trail in Australia as your first outing unless you are planning a suicide which I hope you are not. You describe it yourself as one of the most remote in Austrailia. Please start your research at this website as well as these which are just a few of the ones I found invaluable to me in much of my preperation:
Buy and read this book:
The Complete Walker IV by Colin Fletcher and Chip Rawlins
In answer to your questions:
I will post my gear list as soon as I update it to reflect what I ended up taking to answer your gear questions.
Death Valley is hot,cold,wet,dry at all times of year. The weather is unpredictable and prone to shift quickly. In general the winters are much milder and less dangerous that summers. Most important is that you must get out into the desert on a few 2-3 day hikes first. Everyone has different comfort levels in regards to weather, safety,clothing,gear,etc. You need to find yours. I have been going back to Death Valley for over 20 years since I first stumbled into it while hitchiking crosscountry as a teenager. I consider it a holy place as do the Shoshone tribe who actually own most of it. My awe,love, and fascination for the place never leaves me and the fact that I love the solitude,trail-less backcountry,and physical connection to the environment I feel when I am there helps too.Jan 14, 2006 at 10:35 am #1348575
Paul: Gearlist to follow. I did not cache water or food for several reasons:
1 – I wanted the freedom and flexibility to change routes by desire or necessity and explore as I pleased. Caching would have constrained those freedoms and was never something I considered.
Water: I did considerable research on this as you might imagine. My concept was to hike water source to water source to reduce carry weight of course. As humans are part of the environment I always considered their locations as water sources as well (roads,campsites,etc.). Many springs are not reliable and I never assumed a spring would have water. I always carried enough to get me out if the location was dry (which did happen more than once). I did , though, find spring sources.
Food – I started with approx 25 lbs of food which lasted me through the trip and to the day.
Accurate packweights and gearlist will follow, but roughly 55 at start(incl water), 20 at end.
Three most difficult challenges? That’s a standard job interview question isn’t it? I don’t consider any of these “difficult challenges”, just problems to be solved, but Ok:
1 – It rained all night while I was up in Titanothere Canyon looking for a spring.My tent started to leak at the seams(I neglected to seamseal it before the trip)and my groundcloth reached it’s saturation point bringing water up from below. I had brken my rear tent pole a few days before so my tent was at half tautness which didn’t help. My thoughts were focused on possible temperature drop and the prospect of hypothermia so I threw all my clothing into my sleeping bag to keep them dry and zipped up. The bag , a Mountain Hardware Spectra SL has a water repellent Conduit shell which acted very successfully as my second line of defense from the water.
2 – I ran out of water between water sources. The terrain of the Tucki Mountains was much more unforgiving than I could have imagined and the time I estimated it would take to traverse that rock and scree filled ground was underestimated in the end. I found myself a day and a half from water. I decided to hike through the night to conserve my state of hydration and make ground rather than risk a possible 80 degree sunny day come morning. I also sucked on the dried fruit and seeweed(nori)I had with me.
3 – A windstorm while I was in the middle Basin became progressively more violent as I walked. I decided to sit down, cover my face,eyes,hands and wait it out. That was wise and it passed in an hour.Jan 14, 2006 at 10:37 am #1348576
Ryan – See my responses to Paul and Miguel.Jan 14, 2006 at 10:48 am #1348578
I’d like to hear more about your trip. I’ve been to Death Valley several times but never considered a 20-day trek such as yours. Its truly one of the most inhospitable yet beautiful places to visit.
The desert, a place for prophets and madmen…
Regards,Jan 14, 2006 at 11:15 am #1348579
Wayne, thanks for expressing your concern. Please don’t worry. I’ve had enough experience in wild and remote places to know that I should never take them lightly, even if I know the area well, and most especially in areas I’ve never been to or of which I know very little about how to handle. I’ve spent many years learning about and actually going out and experiencing wild places (over 35 years) so actually I really do know what I am doing. A lot of my questions come out of unfamiliarity with very high temperatures away from water sources. I’ve directly talked to and queried quite of number of experts in Australia (including a short e-mail exchange with Roger Caffin of BPL), most significantly with Charlie Carter of Trek Larapinta, the foremost authority on walking the Larapinta Trail and with whom I may still take an introductory walk just to become familiar with the area.
I’ve read scores of books and hundreds of websites concerning wilderness walking and survival, including four editions of The Complete Walker. And I’ve spent decades climbing 3,000 meter and above mountains, most of them solo. I figure I’ve got to concentrate on learning about desert survival and which equipment is appropriate before I try anything drastic. The entire Larapinta is about 20 days long, but I was thinking of only doing the 7 day portion just out of Alice Springs.
I always do my homework before attempting anything, but most especially when it’s something potentially life-threatening. So I ask schoolboy questions just to make sure I don’t miss anything essential. I then privately evaluate with a much sterner and no-nonsense critical eye what I need to prepare on my own, comparing my bookish knowledge to actual experience. I just want a pleasant interchange here on the discussion board, without coming across as a know-it-all or getting too critical of others here.
Out there, though, I’m pretty hard-headed about safety and learning what I must know.Jan 14, 2006 at 11:23 am #1348580
@pjLocale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
many thanks for the swift reply.
i would 2nd Roger’s request for a detailed trip report. maybe BPL would be amenable to putting such into either their online Mag, or their print Mag (it might make a great print story)?
BTW, how’s the breathability of the Conduit SL fabric/barrier? also, how water resistant? is it like Epic (by Nextec), or more water resistant/proof?
read some time ago about trekking in the Sahara. oasis indicated by maps are occasionally dry. so, enough water is carried to get to the oasis, and if dry, to make it back to the last know good water source. then the route is changed, if possible, to go direct to the next logical oasis, skipping the dry one. that’s a lot of water they (and you) must have been carrying.
what would you say was the min, max, and typical volumes of water you carried?Jan 14, 2006 at 11:41 am #1348583
Miguel-Thanks for the post. I am glad and reassured to hear the full extent of your background in these matters. Excuse me for seeming to jump to conclusions – I was concerned by your first post and was throwing up the “red flag” in response.
I noticed I did not answer your “day shade” question. I always wore a Tilley hat and used the Golite Chrome Dome umbrella to create instant shade from the sun (I velcro strapped it to my left packstrap)while I hiked.
Also, about the weather: it all depends where you are. Death Valley can have at this time of year peaks with snow at over 11,000 feet as well as lakes of salt in 75 degree sun – on the same day. I was planning my hike originally as through canyons at around 5000′ elevations. When I actually arrived and began my trip, the weather turned and dropped 10 degrees average from what was forecast. I was not looking to spend my time in 35 degree nights(or possibly lower) so I went to plan B and hiked from the south to north of the valley keeping at from -0′ to 2000′ elevation most of the way through….ended up hiking 100 miles.Jan 14, 2006 at 4:34 pm #1348606
A detailed trip report may be a task best routed into a more appropriate format as you suggest.
I have no direct experience with Epic but as I recall from my research it’s similar to Epic. I found water droplets beading and rolling off the Conduit during the nightlong rain. I did all I could to protect it though as the bag is down fill. I cannot say how long it may have taken to soak through in a direct downpour. I found the fabric very durable and breathable. It’s performance in July there would be a better test of that property though.
My method was the same as you describe of the Sahara trek regarding water.
My carry range was 1.5 liters per day minimum (when I knew my next stop was a secure water source) and 7.5 liters maximum (during a 1.5 day trek from the valley floor up 5000 feet to a spring in the mountains – the spring was dry). I must remind all that this was in a December with a mild temperature range occurring.
As a norm I typically carried 4.5 liters.Jan 14, 2006 at 5:33 pm #1348610
My wife considers me less the prophet and more the other guy…Apr 28, 2006 at 8:55 am #1355581
just made new research about the larapinta. You might be interested in my project and if I make it, do not hesitate to contact me for info on the trek.
then click on projects, then larapinta.
CheersMay 2, 2006 at 6:59 pm #1355790
louphi – I went to your page and got hold your outback spreadsheet. Your food list is quite unusual. I’d like to know what brought you to those particular decisions.May 8, 2006 at 11:29 pm #1356115
I do not check this website often,I just passed by tday to see if my “post” was posted. Can you please write to my email LONCKELPH **AT** GMAIL **DOT** COM.
Can you be more accurate with your questions?
What’s unusual for you with my food? what I plan to eat ? the quantity ? What do you eat/recommend ?
What about my “decisions”, what do you mean ? my food decisions, or my decision to walk the “full” larapinta ?
PS: I wanted to write directly to your email, but I do not find how I can get your email on this website.
LPLJun 23, 2006 at 6:36 pm #1358479
Mucho intrigued with your 20 day Solo DV trip. I am going to be in that area this coming OCT as the ending of a 2 month hike. I would love to get your imput about your time there, route, etc, etc. Much more to say, but please contact me off list at email@example.com if you find the time. Thanks Wayne.Feb 20, 2007 at 6:58 am #1379296
you can find on my website the full report of my solo walk.
Actually according to the ranger I became the first person to walk solo, also unsupported, across the entire West McDonells national park.
Briefly I started outside the national park, walked to the highest summit of the Red center of Australia…and followed the larapinta to Alice Springs.
On my website see also report of probably first solo unsupported walk across the world's biggest sand island: Fraser Island.
I also walked solo for 47 days unsupported across the entire wilderness of Tasmania. Climbing 19 mountains underway.Lots of Australians asked me for a book about this adventure but actually I'm thinking about a book about my 3 australian adventure projects-walks:
* The Mountains of the Outback, 330km, 12 days
* The Great Sand Island, 250 km, 9 days
* Wild Mountains of Tasmania, +- 500km, 47 days
I'll put a draft content of the book asap on my website, probably in the Media section.
Regards, LPLApr 14, 2007 at 3:23 am #1385942
@oystersLocale: South Australia
Louis, did you climb Mt Zeil? If so, I am very jealous!
I wanted to climb it back in 2004, on a bushwalking trip to central Australia (we did a few 3 day walks). But it was impossible at the time to get access to the pastoral lease just outside the park. We could have walked in from Redbank Gorge and back again, but my walking mates weren't keen on it (wish we did).
One of my aims one day is to do the whole eastern and western MacDonnel ranges, solo, unsupp, starting at the far east end. I dont think anyone has done that solo and unsuppported. I know Sir Warren Bonython, at least, has completed both the legs, although with partners and doubtless with some food drops (such was his style).
The MacDonnel ranges and Central Australia truly is a magnificent place, it is so ancient and timeless, and rugged. I will never forget those walks, especially Mt sonder, and the three day loop we did that included Mt Giles. Wow.
Now I have to organise going back there…
AdamApr 15, 2007 at 1:45 am #1386022
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
I wouldn't call the Larapinta Trail 'remote' by any means. You can get to a tourist road in under half a day from most anywhere. And you will meet quite a few walkers doing shorter sections all the time in the walking season.
It IS harsh country, that's for sure. I ripped some 1000 denire gaiters on razor-sharp rock and barely felt it. The spinafex grass has to be seen to be believed – you walk AROUND it, not over it. And most parts are extremely scenic. Ormiston Pound and Mt Giles are off-trail, but very spectacular.
But there are water points (many are maintained water tanks) at regular intervals these days, and the track is marked. It's a nice walk. We took about 11 days end to end with one food drop. Enjoyed it immensely.Apr 15, 2007 at 4:58 am #1386026
Roger, the Larapinta is a trail I would dearly like to do one day, but I've gotten mixed opinions about doing it (including an email to you about three years ago in which you strongly advised against my going… whereas Charlie Carter of Trek Larapinta told me to take one of his courses, but that it isn't really difficult in terms of physically walking it) and so have nothing to to be sure of. What would you suggest that people do to prepare for the walk? What kinds of equipment do you think are necessary or unnecessary? I'm assuming it basically follows the edicts of high desert walking anywhere. September and October seem to be the best months in terms of avoiding the sandflies and heat. Water, as you said, is maintained at checkpoints (though in some places not reliable). The road south of the trail that the trail runs parallel to is never more than a day's walk away. And the trail is supposed to be well-marked, so it is hard to get lost. I was thinking of going out by the shuttle service from one of the outdoor stores in Alice Springs about seven days west of Alice Springs and walking back into town from there (though I'd like to go even further west, into the more remote section). Am I just being stupid? I've never walked alone, for several days in a desert before, though I've done quite a lot of day hikes in the desert in eastern Oregon in the States and a lot of multiple day hiking here in Japan during 40 degrees, 100% humidity days in the mountains. (where drinking does nothing to cool you down), and some hiking in the unbelievably hot rain forest of the Philippines. So I know heat, but just not the aridity of the desert. Would love some pointes on how to get started. I'm not going to do anything stupid… just looking to start learning from those who know.Apr 15, 2007 at 9:17 pm #1386105
@oystersLocale: South Australia
Miguel, a good place to start on advice for walking in central australia, albiet not from an UL perspective, is to check out the Willi's Walkabouts website. There is some good information on there on what gear you need for those (and other Australian areas). The ideas can be adapted to UL gear.
Generally though, even in Sept/oct temps can be pretty high-can certainly get up to 40Celcius, and normal would be around 30C. In South Australia winter months-say May-August are generally considered the best times for bushwalking.
Chances of rain are very slim. A very minimalist tarp or poncho tarp would be fine. The parts Ive walked of the Larapinta scrub was no issue so a poncho/tarp would be fine. I mean, there are maybe 4 or 5 raindays a year there.
It can get very cold at night. Like -10C in the winter months! And its cold every night-no cloud cover. During the days it is very sunny, and of course can be quite hot, though normally somewhere in the 18-25C range in those winter months.
Fires are usually allowed in the West McDonnel Ranges NP if you ask, but otherwise an esbit or alcohol (methylated spirits in Australia) stoves are fine.
You will need to be prepared to carry plenty of water. I would suggest having capacity for up to 10L, just in case. Asking the rangers about the water situation at the time is a very wise idea (you would be daft not to). You will pretty much only find water in tanks-unless there has been decent, recent rains. If so water is generally pretty good without treatment if you are away from camp grounds and its not going stagnant. They tend to recommend treating any water anywhere even from tanks in Aus these days-I think thats overkill-mainly liability issue. Definitely carry more water than you think you will need. I would budget at least 3L a day whenever you leave a known source, in case it heats up and the next source turns out to be unreliable.
There are strip maps available of the trail-there is a website (or was couple of years ago). Google will find it. If you are reasonably competent with off trail hiking you will never have any probs.
The tracks are definitely hard on footwear-the rocks are more than 2 billion years old in some places-and the trail is practically all rocks-there isnt much soil or veg out there. New runners would be fine but will wear pretty quick. Most Australian walkers wear boots. They'll wear much better there. I mean there is no physiological reason why runners arent that great there-the rubber soles just wont last that long. I certainly noticed significant wear on my Vibram soled boots in two weeks of walking in the region.
Hope this helps
adamApr 16, 2007 at 12:07 am #1386118
Thanks Adam a lot for your suggestions and advice. It's that kind of local knowledge by people who've been somewhere and experienced the quirks of a place that really make a difference. I mean, reading about all of it on the internet is one thing, but it's all just gleaned knowledge. I'll see what more detailed information I can get online and maybe ask more questions as I go along. I already have the selection of maps you mentioned. I think what I'm worried about most is water. (I would be leaving my name with the rangers in Alice Springs and asking about the water situation there) And possibly the selection of proper footwear. What kinds of animals should I be prepared to be careful of? I know about the snakes. Any kinds of spiders or scorpions (does Australia have scorpions?) that I would have to shake my shoes out for? What do Australians bring into the bush for lightweight meals? (Since I'm coming from Japan I'll have to buy such supplies in Alice Springs)
Again, thanks.Apr 16, 2007 at 3:34 am #1386122
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
I am going to stick my neck out a bit and disagree with some of the other comments about the difficulties. I am assuming that you have been walking for many years under a range of conditions – bear that in mind. I am also assuming that you will be doing it sometime in the winter: no-one goes walking there in the summer!
We went from the Redbank gorge at the western end to Alice Springs. Easier transport.
Temperatures: 0 C at night is possible, especially in some places. A sleeping bag good to 0 C plus a bit of warm clothing will be enough. Sue and I used 550 g sleeping bags – that's total weight. 300 g of 800 loft down. We had one rather cool night when we camped at the outlet of a wet canyon and the expansion of the wind cooled it down.
Shelter: tarp is fine, with groundsheet.
Water: we carried five 1.25 L PET water bottles between the two of us. We know we are frugal, but the conditions are not that bad. The Rangers maintain those tanks regularly.
Footwear: I was wearing seriously UL joggers – Dunlop KT-26s. Yes, they wore down a bit, but anything else is much heavier in the sole. Good gaiters desirable imho.
Clothing: snthetic, long trousers, long-sleeved shirt, both suitable for hot weather, and large-brimmed hat. And sunnies.
Animals: nil. Ignore problem. Leave snakes and insects alone, that's all.
Food: local large supermarkets and one good bushwalking shop Lone Dingo. Local transport companies can do a food drop for you.
Cooking: screw-thread canisters available at Lone Dingo. Love my GST100.
Look, the reality is that rank tourists from overseas come out and do sections of the trail with a local 'guide' company. Really rank tourists! Some of the independent walkers we met along the way were really fairly novice. That's why the Rangers look after the water tanks!
If you do want to do it, email me direct.Apr 17, 2007 at 7:57 am #1386267
Thanks very much, Roger, for the info. I'm not sure if I'll make it over to Australia this September or October (will most likely be in Europe and Mexico this year), but there's a good chance I'll be going in 2008. I'll be sure to drop you a line before then.
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