Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring Time in the Mojave

How lucky I am to be interning in the Mojave this year. Weeks ago I heard that do to the relatively copious amount of rain this winter that the flower bloom should be the greatest in 5 or more years. My crew and I got to experience the bloom for 5 days of hiking last week. I took pictures of many of the 30-40 flower species I saw.

Hairy Sand Verbena

A type of Phacelia

Various flowers including a few types of primrose and Hairy Sand Verbena

Desert Dandelion

Yellow Cups

Purple Mat and Cooper Goldflower

On one of our hikes I came across these awesomely huge yucca plants that I'd never seen before.

Giant Nolina (approximately 12 feet tall)

Giant Nolina

The hibernating creatures have also started to emerge from hiding. I also almost stepped on a snake while hiking. He was out sunning himself and didn't notice me. It wasn't a rattlesnake thankfully. It was just a little guy that I haven't identified. It's definitely an exciting time in the desert!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Hitch #10: Pacific Crest Trail Monitoring

For our 10th hitch my crew was tasked with monitoring/inventorying the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). We split into two teams to cut the amount of trail to monitor into two 47 miles sections. Rosy and I volunteered for the southern section which was supposed to be tougher because of the lack of water sources, the heat and the numerous OHV (off-highway vehicle) intrusions on the trail. That left Miz, Monika and Kevin for the northern section. The plan was to meet at a spring in between the two starting points in 5 days.

A map I made of Rosy's and my trip using the GPS data we collected. I plotted the OHV intrusions (yellow dots) to give you and idea of how bad a problem it is.

Our packs were heavy because we had to carry water for two and a half days for drinking and cooking. Our first guaranteed water was 22 miles from the start. Adding more weight was the extra gear we had to take to perform the monitoring including the GPS device with extra batteries and charging equipment, a heavy two way radio and a thick pack of paper to take notes on. To add even more weight we had to carry a sizable first aid kit and water filter. Our saving grace was that after 32 miles we crossed a major highway where we left our truck with half our water, food and gear. The other crew had to carry everything from the start although they split gear between three people and didn't have to carry as much water since there were more water sources.

The first day we met at the field office and talked with the BLM folk about the mission. After all the discussion, planning and driving we made it to the trailhead at about 2:30pm. We got in about 5 miles that afternoon which was nice because that day didn't count towards our 5 days. We realized that night that neither of us knew how to work our stove very well. Either that or the pump was broken. We never got it to work during the trip. We opted to make a small cooking fire instead which worked well. We also realized that our radio didn't work so we wouldn't be able to communicate for our 6pm check-in with the other team.

The next day we headed from the valley into the hills. It wasn't long before we were stopping every 50-100 meters to collect data on an OHV intrusion. You can see in the map above the mass of yellow dots between the first two camp sites. It was really ridiculous how many there were. If we were really to mark every one we would have stopped even more frequently.

Dirtbikers tearing up a whole new area! They are considered the greatest threat to the Desert if not all wilderness areas in the US.

It was often a challenge to stay on the PCT because OHVers had made it indistinguishable from their trails in many places. We came to a small hill that had a route on either side and one going straight over. Since there was no route marker we choose the right path which ended up being the wrong route. After awhile we discovered this and found our way back to the trail.

Also in this area there were many trail washouts. The trail was completely gone due to erosion. Most washouts occurred in a sandy section where it is nearly impossible to maintain a trail. It was not easy walking through these with heavy packs.

One of the 23 washouts we hiked through and documented. The whole trail is sloped with no horizontal surface to walk on and in the middle you can't even see signs of a trail anymore.

Near the end of the day we approached a higher elevation (>5000 ft) area and came across our first snow. Since we got to it late in the day it was soft and we sunk in most steps we took.

Rosy knee deep

Fortunately, we were able to find a pretty nice clearing to set up camp. As we were running low on water we improvised and melted snow for our cooking water and a little to drink as well.

Night 2 camp site

The following day we started out in the higher elevation pine forest with hopes that we'd seen the last of the OHV intrusions. At this point we had entered the radius of the burn area from the August 07 fire. Unfortunately the OHV intrusions didn't cease. As it turns out OHVers like to destroy forests as well as deserts!

Many OHV intrusions and burned up signs combined for a very hard to find trail. At one point we found ourselves at a dead end looking down a very steep slope and we knew at that point we weren't on the trail anymore. We looked out into the distance and saw that the trail was actually about 300 meters away on the next ridge. We decided to stop taking line data at that point until we were back on the trail. In the map above you can see the break in the red line between night 2 and 3.

In the afternoon we descended out of the mountains and into an extremely windy valley where there were hundreds of wind turbines. Here we arrived at our first water source. Originally we had planned to camp there but we got there early and since it was cold and windy, sitting around camp wouldn't be fun. We hiked on into the wind. It was about 4pm although the cloud cover made it seem like dusk when we found a refuge from the wind. We camped in a perfect ditch/wash with a large thicket for a wind block and firewood.

The morning we had a short 5 mile hike to highway 58 where our vehicle was stashed. Unfortunately our GPS battery died so didn't get data for that stretch. We made it to the truck before 10 AM and gorged ourselves on extra food we had stashed there. Since we only had 16 more miles to the rendezvous point and two days to get there we decided to take the rest of the day off. We spent the night at a county park in the mountains where we had a hell of a time starting a fire. The wood was so damp from the snow melt that it took us three tries to get one going even with the stove gas. Even then we had to constantly fan it to keep it going. Thankfully we only needed to bring water to a boil for the meal we ate.

The next morning we drove back to 58 and started the last leg of our journey. After a 1 mile flat section the next 6 miles were uphill. Eventually the trail leveled off as we hiked along a ridge. At one point on the trail we came across some interesting tracks. They were about 3 inches long and wide. I saw no claw marks present so I determined that they were Mountain Lion tracks. I didn't take the time to take a really good picture, but maybe you can see a track in the picture below.

A Mountain Lion track?

The next day we hiked 5 miles to the rendezvous point arriving early at about 10 AM. The original plan was for us all to hike 16 miles back to our vehicle at 58 the following morning. We arrived early hoping that the other team would be there too so we could knock off some miles making the final day less than 16 miles.

When we got to the meeting point it was a relief to see their camp set up. After all we hadn't communicated with them as planned for 5 days since our radio didn't work. They were however no where to be found. We sat around all day waiting for them. We were a little upset that they blew our chance to cut our 16 mile day down to 10 or 12.

When they finally came back we heard their interesting story. It turns out that 20 miles into their trip they were in such deep snow that they routinely lost the trail and had wet, cold feet all day. The final straw was when they woke up and there boots and socks were frozen stiff. They had to start a fire to thaw them out. They bailed on the assignment and hitchhiked to their truck. The beautiful part was that their truck was parked a quarter mile up the road from the rendezvous point so we didn't have to hike the 16 miles to our truck at all.

We drove out and I ate 4 Arby's roast beef sandwiches.

The End