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Shelter choice for SoCal desert in winter?


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  • #3801280
    Chris K
    BPL Member

    @cmkannen-2-2

    I’m heading to Joshua Tree for three nights next month and curious what shelter I should bring. I expect lows around 30F and probably some wind, barring a weather event or precip in the forecast (in which case I’ll just bring the tent). My sleeping bag is comfortable to 20F cowboy camping. Here are my options:

    1. Yama Swiftline ~34 oz (plus stakes) – handles wind, kinda big; the go-to if any real weather is forecast

    2. Slingfin NFT tarp + polycryo ~16 oz (plus stakes) – could be a problem in windy exposed areas

    3. 5 x 9 tarp + polycryo ~12 oz (plus stakes) – easier to wrangle in the wind than the NFT

    4. Event bivy ~12 oz – use as groundsheet unless really windy

    #3801286
    Terran Terran
    BPL Member

    @terran

    The elevation is between just over 500’ up to just under 6,000 at the peaks. It’s possible to have light snow down to 3,000’. You may see a low of just below freezing at the lower elevations, it may be 50*. Possibly below 20* at higher elevations though probably not. Baring a bad weather report, a small tarp to block the wind maybe. #3. It should be pretty nice.

    #3801290
    DWR D
    BPL Member

    @dwr-2

    Really… at 5,000 feet it could be 10 or 15 degrees if a cold front is passing thru… my choice of shelter for that is my camper van with a heater :)))

     

    #3801294
    David Gardner
    BPL Member

    @gearmaker

    Locale: Northern California

    Yama Swiftline + Event bivy, unless you’re trying to set some kind of FKT record.

    #3801300
    Terran Terran
    BPL Member

    @terran

    Odds are he’s camping below 4,000’. His sleep system is good down to 20*. Weather reports are fairly accurate, though often reports calling for rain in the area often ends up being just wind. Good drainage if it does rain. You don’t get the hard freezes or heavy snow. Sand retains heat. The biggest danger may be the wind chill. The wind isn’t usually that strong as in the low desert.

    There is no dispersed vehicle camping with in the park that I know of. There are spots outside the park. Personally I would stay in my truck and make day trips. Even in warm weather. It’s a big park with a lot of territory to cover. Most everything is close to a road. If you haven’t been there , the landscape is so totally different from what most people have seen. A lot of Scandinavian tourists and it’s usually described as mars though there’s actually a lot of life and varying desert landscape. My favorite and the warmest is the I-10 entrance around Chiraco Summit. We just had a pretty good discussion on that area. Red Cloud Road is outside the park to the south and a worthy drive. When I lived in the area, I preferred Mission Creek to the main park along Hwy.62. It goes into the mountains. But if you’ve never seen the main tourist areas, they’re worth it. Long Canyon out of Desert Hot Springs. Most of it flat out desert. An old stone cabin in ruins. . Fourth-nine Palms Oasis, further north  on 62 is also accessible from outside the park. Again outside the park,  Pipes Canyon is worth the drive. The preserve there is very nice. The first preserve started by the Wildlands Conservancy who acquired it in the beginning of the Sand to Snow National Monument. They run Pipes, Mission Creek, and Whitewater in the area. I think they gained the park in Morongo Valley. Morongo valley is basically a sand covered lake. The water is exposed as marshland where the park is and further down at McKenny ranch which is private. It all depends on what you want to see and experience.

    Check out Nicks website as well as the Conservancy’s.

    http://popupbackpacker.com/backpacking/trip-reports/
    https://wildlandsconservancy.org/

    #3801313
    Brad W
    BPL Member

    @rocko99

    Having extensive backpacking experience in Socal deserts, for this time of year, pick a shelter that offers the most coverage and narrowest footprint. Winds can be hellacious and that means you could get sandblasted with an open shelter, unless you are creative and hunker between boulders, natural rock shelters, etc.

    #3801316
    Terran Terran
    BPL Member

    @terran

    #3801317
    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member

    @ngatel

    Locale: Southern California

    February is usually quite nice in the So Cal, AZ and NV deserts. I find the worst winds are in May as the deserts begin to warm up.

    Below is a link to some of my backpacking trips. Anza Borrego and Lake Mead Recreation Area are similar in altitude and weather as to the southern part of Joshua Tree, and really similar to all of Joshua Tree except when it snows. There has been a little bit of snow in the higher elevations of JT recently. Most trips on the list from Nov-Mar are in deserts. Most have pictures and some older ones gear lists. December has usually delivered the worst weather for me, but January can have the most precipitation.

    https://popupbackpacker.com/backpacking/trip-reports/

    And a list of camping trips with our campers below.

    Campsites in Joshua Tree are mostly at Belle or Cottonwood campgrounds.

    Trips at Lake Mead are usually a little colder than the lower deserts in Calif, but warmer than the higher elevations of JT. Some of these might provide information on the weather conditions. Any trips in the Mojave Desert are around 5,000 feet and usually much more windy and colder than Joshua Tree, when there is wind.

    https://popupbackpacker.com/camping/camping-trips/

    Generally I just bring a mid type shelter on these trips and most of the time don’t even set it up. If bad weather is anticipated I bring my TrailStar. IIRC, on one December car camping trip I brought my Scarp 1 as snow was in the forecast and it was brutally cold at the upper elevations of the park. I was glad I brought that shelter.

    Depending upon where you camp, a narrow shelter footprint might be a good idea, especially with a tent. With tarps or shaped tarps I can usually find room. In sandy areas you may be better off with snow stakes, but I can usually find a spot where MSR ground hogs or long Easton stakes work.

     

    #3801318
    Chris K
    BPL Member

    @cmkannen-2-2

    Thanks, all!

    Seems like the Swiftline could be the best choice since it is the most wind-worthy, and can be left in the pack if conditions are pleasant. Narrow it is not, but I’ve pitched it to accommodate awkward terrain without <i>too</i> much issue.

    We most likely won’t be camping above 4K, as far as I can tell.

    Nick, I’ve looked at your blog over the years, so much great info. I’ll no doubt refer to it again in the next few weeks. I’m really looking forward to seeing this part of California on foot. I’ve only driven through and that was many years ago.

    #3801319
    Jeff McWilliams
    BPL Member

    @jjmcwill

    Locale: Midwest

    My wife and I did three nights on a loop in Death Valley NP back at the end of January 2020, right before everything went sideways.  It was the Cottonwood Canyon/Marble Canyon loop.  It was quite windy for us on our 2nd night, and MAN that blowing sand really does a number of small #3 zippers.  We used a TarpTent Stratospire 2 silnylon with the partial solid inner.  I’m glad we had the partial solid one and not the 100% bugnet inner.

    Is Joshua Tree similar?  I have no experience there. Just my $.02 about blowing desert sand and wind.

     

    #3801323
    Terran Terran
    BPL Member

    @terran

    Most of Joshua tree usually isn’t that bad. I grew up 60 miles east of the park and I learned to walk backwards into the wind. It keeps the sand out of your face.

    #3801346
    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member

    @ngatel

    Locale: Southern California

    My wife and I did three nights on a loop in Death Valley NP back at the end of January 2020, right before everything went sideways.  It was the Cottonwood Canyon/Marble Canyon loop.  It was quite windy for us on our 2nd night, and MAN that blowing sand really does a number of small #3 zippers.  We used a TarpTent Stratospire 2 silnylon with the partial solid inner.  I’m glad we had the partial solid one and not the 100% bugnet inner.

    Is Joshua Tree similar?  I have no experience there. Just my $.02 about blowing desert sand and wind.

    Each desert area is different in so many ways, and each desert has its own diverse areas too. Higher deserts tend to have more plant life and less blowing sand — but some high desert areas can be very sand intense in storms.

    Death Valley is obviously at low altitude. Along with sparser plant life, there are huge dry lakes and bajadas (alluvial slopes extending from the base of mountainous areas into a basin formed by individual alluvial fans). So sand will be a problem during windy times.

    There is a small hill (Garnet Hill) less than 5 miles from my house, and blowing sand  can become incredible. I used to go there to test shelters to see if they can handle 70+ mph gusts, which only my TrailStar has been able to do (below is the morning after) . . .

    In this area you can find granite rocks called ventifacts that have large groves in them from the sand cutting into the rocks over the ages . . .

    Between our house and Garnet Hill is the Whitewater River, which most of the time is just a sandy wash. In the spring especially, wind storms can create huge clouds of dust and sand, which doesn’t impact our house much sand-wise, but creates havoc with our patio furniture and palm tree fronds. The picture below was taken about 1 mile north of our house, and the two main roads going north from our house to I-10 were closed due to no visibility (the San Bernardino Mounts, which rise 11K feet above our desert floor, are barely visible in the background) . . .

    There are a lot of windmills in the area, which makes sense, but they don’t work (they have brakes to stop them) if it is too windy . . .

    Last year we were camping for a couple weeks in the Mojave Desert at around 4,400 ft. One night we had a hellacious windstorm. My telescope and mount were outside and all of it weighs right at 100 lb. The tripod was at its lowest setting. During the night the wind knocked it over (fortunately no major damage to any components).  We also had a polyester patio mat in front of the camper (7′ X 16′) that was staked down to the ground. There was almost no sand on it in the morning. But there is a lot of plant life in the area . . .

    In Joshua Tree NP blowing sand has rarely been a problem for me in windstorms, and I have spent well over 1,000 nights camping and backpacking there over the past 47 years. But there are a couple exceptions. One is in the Pinto Basin, which has a really cool sand dune just below Pinto Mountain, so sand does blow there. Also this basin extends all the way to the Coxcomb Mountains, north of the Eagle Mountains, an area that can get really sandy in the wind. Few people ever backpack this second area, which is why I am familiar with it ;-}  so I wouldn’t worry much about sand, but one does need to be prepared if the weather forecast calls for wind alerts.

    #3801347
    Terran Terran
    BPL Member

    @terran

    Tall mountains to the west block a lot of wind. It comes in through the pass along I-10 going west to east and channels through the hills. . If you look at the map, you can see where they put the windmills. You can also see where the sand is. Forecasts are fairly accurate, though sometimes when rain is predicted, you get wind. Sometimes you get Hillary.

    Heres Mission Creek. You get 2 deserts converging into the mountains. Most of the path has water. You can actually make it up to San Gorgonio from there.

    If you go to 3:13 in the video. Where the sign is. Go up that little finger where the hill comes down. Get on top of the hill and it’s a walk in the park. It soon intersects the PCT which you can follow back down to the creek. From there , there’s a a dirt road, that was cut illegally. I think it ends up in Morongo Valley. Or the PCT follows Mission for a ways and heads up to Big Bear. Or don’t take the finger and head over to Whitewater river. Take a right to go past hell-for-sure falls and there’s more falls at north fork. Camp at Middlefork. Stay on the right bank of northfork and you can get to the falls.

    YouTube video

    #3801353
    Terran Terran
    BPL Member

    @terran

    Middlefork

    #3801398
    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member

    @ngatel

    Locale: Southern California

    When I was young I hiked from my house to Mission Creek Canyon up to San Gorgonio Mountain. There is now a preserve at the bottom of the canyon run by the Wildlands Conservancy at the mouth of the canyon. After tropical storm Hilary it was closed for a while due to flash flooding.

    Below is a map of the area. I put a circle in the bottom right to indicate where Mission Creek crosses  Indian Canyon Drive, that was washed out during the storm. The flooding didn’t damage Hwy 62 since there is a bridge over the creek. San Gorgonio Mountain is in the upper left.

    Here’s a short video of the flash flood damage to Indian Canyon Dr and Mission Creek . . .

    YouTube video

     

     

    #3801429
    Terran Terran
    BPL Member

    @terran

    Here’s a recent one from the preserve. At 6:36 in the video, the narrator points at the PCT. Mission creek actually goes to the right, where there was private property. So you cross mission, go down the wash, then you have a nice climb over the hill on the right side of his hand to get back down. It’s better to take the ridge. You get a nice breeze up there.

    That picture of Middlefork, we had came down from Forest Falls into the preserve. Several exploratory trips beforehand. That’s how I spent my 50th birthday. Getting over the hill.
    I’ve seen bear near hell-for-sure canyon. We also found a collared bighorn carcass where a mountain lion had drug it under the brush. Took it down to Institute. Counted about 20 horny toads once. No snakes that I remember.
    I never used to see anybody out there, except when they brought kids out. A not so busy alternative to JT.

     

    https://youtu.be/-0mp5z9rWA8?si=arZsI_Beqm3t8i5v

    #3801453
    Chris K
    BPL Member

    @cmkannen-2-2

    Great suggestions, thank you.

    Terran – I will check out those videos and maps.

    Nick – We saw many huge ventifacts in the Dry Valleys in Antarctica. I’ll try to find some pictures. An incredible feature of that extraordinary landscape.

    Jeff – We hiked the Marble-Cottonwood loop last year! It was great. No wind to speak of :)

    #3801478
    Terran Terran
    BPL Member

    @terran

    If you haven’t been to the main park, I’d go there and do the tourist thing. Do short day hikes. Check out 49 Palms oasis as well as Lost Palms Canyon. Skull rock is nice to walk around. Watch the rock climbers along the way. Busy, but for a reason.

    Mission can be done in a short hike. The first 3 miles is nice and it’s varied. Old claims, painted desert, marshland, hills. Easy path on a fenced dirt road.

    Another plug for the Conservancy. Pipes is another option.

    https://wildlandsconservancy.org/preserves/findapreserve

     

    #3801481
    Terran Terran
    BPL Member

    @terran

    #3801535
    Terran Terran
    BPL Member

    @terran

    #3801546
    Terran Terran
    BPL Member

    @terran

    #3801621
    Bruce Tolley
    BPL Member

    @btolley

    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    I really like how this thread morphed from yet another discussion about which piece of gear do you recommend to the sharing of actual experiences and places in the backcountry, including maps, videos, photos.  Thanks for sharing!

    #3801622
    Terran Terran
    BPL Member

    @terran

    It was a legitimate question going into  unknown territory. I did hijack the thread after the decision was made. Put out some other options while exposing some lesser known areas. Negative 5* Colorado weather and daydreaming of the desert.

    Another video that Pi made. This one shows the route that I took from Mill Creek down into whitewater. Though backwards. I know Pi hiked the same route a few months later.

    https://youtu.be/8EpKd3SP7r8?si=z23ao2WB2GwIEVVJ

    #3801646
    Brad W
    BPL Member

    @rocko99

    Some cool spots shown from that helicopter. Especially 1:08 of this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Cif0gtbjxQ

    #3801659
    Diane “Piper” Soini
    BPL Member

    @sbhikes

    Locale: Santa Barbara

    When I went to Joshua Tree it was really windy and I had trouble keeping my shelter up so a bivy sack made things more tolerable. Zipped up inside, a bivy sack can add a bit of shelter from the wind and maybe a tiny bit of additional warmth and you don’t have to worry it’s going to fall down so you can sleep without worrying. With a bug net window to look out I could enjoy looking at the stars.

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