The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 36: Surviving the Desert, part 2

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Desert Survivors take me backpacking in one of their favorite Mojave Desert stomping grounds. This week on The WildeBeat; Surviving the Desert, part two.

[Intro Music & SFX; 0:07.6 and under]

News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number thirty six.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: In part one, I joined a Berkeley, California group, The Desert Survivors on a desert backpacking trip. We were climbing Sheep Hole Mountain, in the Mojave Desert.

STEVE: Since I'm carrying my audio gear, I've chosen to wait at the top of the ridge, rather than do the exposed bouldering on the last three hundred feet to the summit. But from the ridge, I see snow-capped peaks to the west in the San Gabriel mountains, a hundred miles away, and peaks to the north in Death Valley, a hundred and twenty miles away.

Paul is a member of our party, and another Desert Survivors leader.

PAUL: It was just awesome. It was just really, really beautiful. You know, three hundred sixty degree view with at least a hundred miles visibility in any direction. Seeing the incredible expanse of Eastern California. Just simply beautiful. From snow-capped peaks to lowlands near the Colorado River. All the way up to the north, almost to Death Valley, and south -- I don't know -- close to the border. It's amazing, simply amazing.

STEVE: And that's on a five thousand foot peak?

PAUL: On a, yeah, five thousand foot peak. Steep five thousand foot peak.

STEVE: Yeah, how was the -- It wasn't just a walk up there?

PAUL: No, you definitely had to work. It was a lot of big steps, having to use a hand to steady yourself. A lot of people would call that strenuous.

STEVE: About as steep as you'd get and call it non-technical, I suppose?

PAUL: Just about, yeah. You can get a little steeper, but there are no spots where you absolutely need to use both hands and both feet and climb. But -- still, it's rugged.

STEVE: Rugged it was, but we made it back to camp in plenty of time to enjoy another happy hour.

STEVE: So Dave, what makes you want to come out here rather than, you know, sit on a beach by some Sierran lake somewhere?

DAVE: Well this time of year [laughs] Sierran lakes are a little cold and icy. I first started coming out here shortly after I did a week-long trip in the Sierra. And I remember being plagued with mosquitos, and always having to hang food in the trees to keep it away from the bears. And I thought, well out in the desert, not only are there not any bears, there's no trees, no mosquitos, and that's what really started to intrigue me about the desert. And just started coming out here, and it's just wonderful. I love the Sierras too, can't beat the Sierra, but it's all part of getting outside and seeing the world. You can't just focus on one thing; the mountains or the beaches or the deserts.

STEVE: We hike out on a Sunday morning. In spite of the wind, the conversation is more lively than on the hike in.

DAVE: I don't know if I have the phrase right, but the indians when they were -- that lived out here were asked the question, "well, you know, isn't it just a waste land?" They said, "No. There's sources of water surrounded by land in between." What's the big deal? To them is was no issue.

STEVE: When you do encounter natural water out here, is it more likely to be like on a hillside, or in a low spot?

DAVE: Usually, there's not that much -- the water's almost always at the base of a mountain range or the canyon higher up in a mountain range. It's very rare to find it in a valley. The valleys have been filled-in with sediments from the mountains above. So the valleys themselves are typically waterless. So it's going from one mountain range to the other, from one water source ot the next is where you'll find water. You know, when you look at a mountain range, you look at two canyons next to each other, and there's no apparent reason why one canyon would have water and the other doesn't, it's just -- one will and the other one won't.

STEVE: Truck trails criss-cross the valley floor as we get close to the highway. We see several garbage piles. These piles look about the right size to fill a pickup truck. The ground is scattered with spent bullets and shotgun shells.

DAVE: The impetus behind the desert protection act if you follow the thread all the way back, started with a BLM ranger in California. He might have been one of the top officials in the BLM, became concerned about what off-road vehicle use was doing to the desert. This was back in the fifties, after world war two, people had more time, discretionary income, and people were buying jeeps -- a lot of surplus jeeps coming on the market after world war two and the Korean war and people were coming out here. The population of southern California was booming, and he became concerned about what all this activity was doing, particularly to the soil and the plants. They started some studies back in the fifties that ultimately lead to the passage of the California Desert Protection Act in nineteen ninety four. Try to keep areas free from disturbance of motor vehicles. They compact the soil. Displace it. Once the soil gets compacted it no longer holds moisture in the same way. Seeds don't germinate. Erosion becomes a problem.

STEVE: Well. Looks like we found some cars.

DAVE: All three of them. No bullet holes. No missing tires.

STEVE: So, now. How would you rate the trip compared to other moderate trips that the desert survivors do.

DAVE: Well.

STEVE: As far as difficulty?

DAVE: The backpacking was very easy. Normally we'd backpack for at least half a day if not all day the first day. The day hike we did to the peak was more strenuous than typical. More strenuous than I thought it was going to be. Every trip is unique.

STEVE: Do you have another one this year?

DAVE: I have a trip -- I'll probably do something in November. But I don't know where yet. It's time to go back into the Sierra for the summer.

STEVE: Thank you so much, Dave, for taking us out inot the desert.

DAVE: My pleasure. It's a wonderful place.

STEVE: It really is. Thanks again.

STEVE: You'll hear more about the Sheep Hole Valley Wilderness in a future edition. You can find out more about the Desert Survivors, see pictures from the trip, and download a consolidated high fidelity stereo version of both parts of this show, on our web site.

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Next time -- Backcountry Communications.

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please see our website for ways to support future editions of The WildeBeat. Contribute your comments to webmaster at wildebeat dot net, or call our comment line at 866-590-7373.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number thirty six. Thank you for listening.

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