The guy at REI had told us we’d be looking at a gradual incline. I guess he felt gaining 1,000 feet in a mile and a half was gradual. Before we ever got to that point, our trip to Joshua Tree started as a discussion by the fire. It was the end of 2013, and I was just scratching the surface of camping.
I’d been as a kid, but my new pals Ralph and Alex were like pseudo-extreme survivalists. They wanted to be left out there, to survive. It was a test, we told ourselves. Sure, we’d have to carry some water, and yah, there might be a problem finding a place to camp immediately, but that was back country camping. We told ourselves it would make us manly.
Look at us, so ready to hit the trail. So ready for adventure.
I even left one of my bottles of water (I had bought seven, not including the 3 in my Camelbak) so I was sure I’d be hydrated. I brought a gatorade too. The guys laughed at me, sure, but I was feeling good about my situation.
Now, admittedly we made some mistakes.
I had a tripod that weighed a metric poop-ton. Combined with my camera and all the water weight, I was carrying far more than I should have. Alex, poor Alex, was forced to pack mule for Ralph and I. He carried most of our food, which both Ralph and I way overpacked for.
The thing is, you don’t really know what it’s going to be like until you’re there. That’s probably my biggest take away.
It took us close to seven hours to walk almost 5 miles. If you’re laughing, it’s because you’ve never walked five miles up a gradual incline, with a 1.5 mile path that is the equivalent of 100 flights of stairs up a mountain with forty pounds on your back. Or you just enjoy other people’s misery.
By the end of the hike, it started to feel like every hill we climbed would just be another gorge. A short downhill march to gain momentum for another uphill death march. Some sadistic bastard had even carved thigh-high steps into the mountain, you know… for ease of motion.
You can be angry at the back country, you can be tired of it. You can curse it. You can kick sand on it and tell your friends that it was a stupid idea to begin with.
The back country gives zero fornications.
Instead, if you’re patient and if you have the stamina and mental fortitude, you can find little nooks like this:
We slept. A lot. I passed out almost immediately upon arriving at camp. I woke up at five in the morning to watch the sunrise.
We spent the day recovering and not having a water crisis. I phrase it this way because I had “plenty” of water to make it down the mountain, and we definitely didn’t spend most of the day discussing our water rations anyway.
What we did do was cook some gourmet cuisine. I’m talking Yakisoba and Jambalya. Serious food that would make any backpacker’s mouth water. And we ate it by the bowl full. And for those wondering, the Pocket Rocket performed beautifully. It cooked all of our meals with barely a half a can worth of fuel.
As the night came upon us, we were faced with a choice. The guys wanted soda so desperately that they were willing to risk a night hike. Let me say that again, the guys wanted not water, which they had not been drinking all day to conserve for the hike we were facing in the morning, but soda. So we set out on the trail back down the mountain.
We closed five miles in about two and a half hours. By the end, it felt like my feet would fall off but dammit we’d done it. We’d beaten Joshua Tree, even though we’d taken our licks. The guys each downed about three cans of soda. I reached for my camelbak nozzle, only to find it had run dry.
Here are some of the takeaways I had from this trip:
- You don’t know what it’s like until you’re there (I told you it was my biggest takeaway)
- When you get angry, you don’t sleep well.
- Food is way more important than people think. Yes, you will survive on water for longer than on food. But you will be miserable and weak the entire time.
- The desert is a beautiful and dangerous place. Everything is sharp.
- Birds flying overhead is ominous.
- Things go bump in the night when you’re in back country. Way more so than when you’re camping.
- Carrying water sucks. You need a lot of water (or soda) in the desert.
- Pooping in the wilderness: all I will say is it’s not as bad as you might think.