Sunday, November 30, 2014

July Desert Crossings : White Hills to Searchlight

Hiking during excessive heat warning July 2013
Hiking during excessive heat warning July 2013


This is a tale of two stories, hiking in July across the desert from my house in White Hills, Arizona to Searchlight, Nevada. In neither case did I make it to Searchlight.

The first story in 2012 is a good enough story. I started hiking just after midnight on July 3rd, it took me about 36 hours, the distance was about 50 miles, the elevation gain was over 6100 feet, temperatures during the day were over 100 degrees F, the swim across Lake Mohave was about 1 mile, and I made it to within about 3 miles of Searchlight.

The second story in 2013 is a story of survival.


First Story, July 3, 4,  2012: 

Around the Fourth of July each year I like to do a little adventure of one sort or another. I took a look at the map and decided, "Why not hike to Searchlight?".

Overview of the July 3, 4, 2012 Hike
Overview of the July 3, 4, 2012 Hike

Leaving my house in the White Hills just after midnight and descending down into the bottom of Detrital Valley went smooth enough. I took my time hiking through the remains of the night into the morning twilight, had fun detouring twice around rattlesnakes. My lower back still hurt and feet weren't quite right from a 300 mile trek I had just finished a few weeks earlier in Ecuador, a trek from the coast near the Equator at 0 degrees, 6 minutes north latitude to the top of the rain forest outside of Quito. I crossed Hwy 93 around 5:00 AM.

My lower back got slightly tweaked from the Ecuador trek from carrying too large and unnecessary a load (in my opinion) but a mandatory load nonetheless (another story another time). My feet hurt because, during the last 40 miles, one of the porter's (who wasn't portaging any of my stuff) boots did not fit right so I traded boots with him, letting him wear my Five Ten trekking shoes while I wore his leather jungle boots. His boots fit me, sort of, but I just didn't have enough time to condition my feet to the things. The porter's name was Nixon, an Amazonian indigenous native, it seems his village has a tradition of naming boys after US presidents.

The hike to the crest of the Black Mountains went okay too. But, descending down to Lake Mohave, the heat was on. My race was now with the burning orb rising over my right shoulder to the northeast and to get to the water and to the water's life giving respite. It was all downhill, down those highways of desert washes. I got to the lake around 1 PM, ate, and waterproofed my pack for the 1/2 mile swim to Sheep Trail Peninsula.  

Refueled, I started swimming around 2 PM and arrived at the tip of the peninsula a half hour later. But one look at the terrain and I decided to continue swimming straight across the mouth of the bay, which was another 1/2 mile, rather than contour the complex terrain and thick vegetation of the huge Sheep Trail Cove shoreline.

The wind kept blowing me off my course about 100 yards per 1/2 mile, but I arrived on the other  side at Bonnie Brae Cove around 3 PM and - with all my gear soaking wet. Obviously, I would need to work on my waterproof system. I let my stuff dry out while I filtered water, filled bottles, and waited in the shade for the sun's heat to abate. I left Lake Mohave around 6 PM with 7 liters of freshly filtered water.

I walked up Bonnie Brae Wash and around the back side of Opal Mountain and started my ascent of the Eldorado Mountains, up the upper reaches of Opal Cove, when by 10 PM, I had pretty much pooped out! I had left my house 22 hours earlier. 

By 5 AM, feeling somewhat recharged, I was walking again. It was July 4, 2012 and there were clouds in the sky, yeah! By late morning, it would be intermittent overcast, and in the early afternoon, I would even have a little rain.

The scenery, and the feeling of the place was amazing, I was walking in the Ireteba Wilderness of the Eldorado Mountains and no one was around, not for miles. But, the next 8 miles to the crest with 3500 feet of climbing over mixed terrain and sometimes through thick vegetation would be toilsome, beautiful but slow and toilsome. The Ireteba Wilderness and Peaks are named after Irateba, a mid-1800's Mojave Indian Chief; warrior, leader, general, peacemaker, and traveler of eastern cities, quite a guy actually.

From the summit, it would be easy walking to Searchlight especially now that the sun was hidden and I would be walking in a light rain, so I hit the "OK" button of my SpotTracker to signify to Rebecca, "hey, come pick me up" (meaning I'll be in Searchlight in a few hours).

Note on SpotTracker: This is a very useful device. Push "OK" and whoever you've shared this with will receive an email showing your location and you can also have this message posted to Facebook. Press "Help" and whoever you've shared this with will know you could use some help. Press "911" and you will notify the international search and rescue system that you really do need help and help will be on its way. Or you can track your movements, every 10 minutes a signal will be transmitted and your changing location will be updated to a Google Map, and again whoever you've shared this with can see your changing location. SpotTracker is very useful indeed.

So, I hit "OK" and Rebecca was on her way. But about halfway to Searchlight my feet could not take another step. I laid down, by this time I was on a road, and pressed "Help". Sadly though, Rebecca was on her way and had no way of seeing this new message. Sitting in McDonald's, our prearranged meeting place, she began to worry after a few hours. I was now on my way again but she had no way of knowing this. She had no way of seeing the tracking map. She called a dear friend Paula Martel, who checked out my mapped location and gave her directions. But, directions over the phone and the reality of the terrain on the ground are not always easy to correlate. So, time went on, Rebecca was driving in worried circles, I was walking determinedly to Searchlight, yet before you knew it - there was Rebecca.

I had requested, for the end of this adventure, Mojitos. Well, Rebecca's Mojitos at that time, her first time in making them, are not what they are today, on that day they were missing a few ingredients, but a mojito is a mojito regardless, and I was happy no matter what.

Some pics below...


Moonlight in White Hills, AZ - hiking to Searchlight, NV, July 2012
Moonlight in White Hills, AZ - hiking to Searchlight, NV, July 2012

 Detrital Valley, Mt. Wilson in the distance, ascending the Black Mountains
Detrital Valley, Mt. Wilson in the distance, ascending the Black Mountains

 Palo Verde shade, descending the Black Mountains to Lake Mohave
Palo Verde shade, descending the Black Mountains to Lake Mohave

  Big Horn Sheep
Big Horn Sheep

 Swimming Lake Mohave July 2012
Swimming Lake Mohave July 2012

Ascending Bonnie Brae Wash, Lake Mohave below, Black Mountains in the distance
Bonnie Brae Wash, Lake Mohave below, Black Mountains in the distance

Big Horn Sheep remains on the eastern slopes of the Eldorado Mountains
Big Horn Sheep remains, eastern slopes of the Eldorado Mountains

Teddy Bear Cholla on the eastern slopes of the Eldorado Mountains
Teddy Bear Cholla on the eastern slopes of the Eldorado Mountains

Ascending to Ireteba South Peak Saddle
Ascending to Ireteba South Peak Saddle

Ascending to Ireteba South Peak Saddle
Ascending to Ireteba South Peak Saddle

View below of Opal Mountain, Lake Mohave, the Black Mountains, the White Hills, the Cerbat Mountains
Looking east back across Lake Mohave

Rest break with Lake Mohave far below
Rest break with Lake Mohave far below

The saddle below Ireteba South Peak, Eldorado Valley behind me
The saddle below Ireteba South Peak, Eldorado Valley behind me

Road to Searchlight, Eldorado Valley
Road to Searchlight, Eldorado Valley

Hike done on the road to Searchlight, NV
Hike done on the road to Searchlight, NV


Second Story, July 2, 3, 2013:

This is a different story. This time the temperatures were not just 105 or 110 or so, this time they were 125 or so - and believe it or not, there were temperatures much higher than that. This time the story is about finishing this desert crossing alive.

For the past week or so there had been an "Excessive Heat Warning" in effect. In weatherman speak I don't know exactly what that means. But basically it means; it is very hot outside and you can die. Warnings such as "you can die" have never really deterred me from anything, not really. Presented with a challenge, you find a solution.

In planning this little foray, I only had two free days to do this, therefore I would not be able to only travel at night. Additionally, I had to coordinate my second day with a day that Rebecca had off of work so she could pick me up. I conceded, helped with Rebecca's coaxing, that it made sense to start my hike at Hwy 93.

Overview of the July 2, 3, 2013 Hike
Overview of the July 2, 3, 2013 Hike


The weather forecast for July 3rd showed temperatures in Searchlight were expected to be 127 degrees F. Adding 5 degrees to every 1000 feet of elevation drop, would mean I could expect the temperature at the lake to be 142. That didn't even seem real. Knowing that the ground temperature in the rocky Mohave Desert can be 30 to 40 degrees above the air temperature, meant I would be walking on ground as hot as 170 or even 180 degrees. Knowing that black basalt will absorb even more heat, then the crossing of the ridge behind Opal Mountain would mean temperatures in the range of 200 degrees. The rock would be too hot to touch. Jesus, these numbers were not even making sense.

Rebecca drops me off at midnight and I begin walking in the earliest minutes of July 2, 2013. The elevation is 2500 feet and the air temperature is 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

By 3:00 AM, I am on the crest of the Black Mountains, what a gorgeous sight is before me. The night sky was lit up to my left by Laughlin, to my right the sky was illuminated by Las Vegas, and in the middle before me lay the dark depths of Eldorado Canyon housing Lake Mohave. Into that dark void was where I was walking, down in the bottom of that void was the water I would need to survive this thing. I start my descent at 3:30 AM.

As it was last year, it is a race against the fiery orb that will be rising in the northeast. The more miles I can make while it is cool, the better off I'll be.

Just as last year, the wind is up, but this year perhaps a tad more. As I descend the last mile or so of canyon to the lake, the gusts that greet me are a little alarming. I arrive at the water's edge at 9:00 AM. I eat and drink and take stock of the wind. The winds seem to be about 30 to 35 mph with gusts to maybe 45 or so. I've done plenty of open water swims, I've swam in big wind and waves, but I've never pulled a pack in wind like this, plus in those troughs I will be less visible to power boaters. Oh well, by 9:30, I'm swimming.

Taking a look at the swimming conditions...

video



And then the swim...

                                           video


I assume a ferry angle to try and offset the wind, I'm aiming into the wind about 45 degrees to the left of my target, the point of land that is the end of Sheep Trail Peninsula, still I am blown downwind about 200 yards. Now my target is the south headland of Bonnie Brae Cove, and again I assume a 45 degree ferry angle, and again I am blown about 200 yards downwind. Still, 1 hour later I crawl out of the water and though it is very hot I am slightly chilled. This time everything in my pack is dry, yeah!

Now my task is to filter and fill water containers. I have brought bladders for 10 liters of water. That will be 22 lbs of water, that will not be enough.

I resume hiking at 12 noon. Each step away from the lake, seems like a step towards doom. The air temperature is what, maybe 135, I'm guessing. Each step is uphill. As I march up the wash I make fairly good time in the first hour, nor does that first hour seem too debilitating, but I have gone through a liter of water. The second hour I am slower and I am seeking shade more often and I have gone through another liter. The third hour I am slower still and I am now stopping in whatever shade I can find every 10 minutes or so and I have gone through another liter. Shade; actually there is none. The sun is high in the sky and what shade the creosote, rabbit bush, and white burr sage afford me is minimal. The sides of the wash give little either nor even the basalt boulders I find further up the wash. What little shade I find is only large enough to barely sneak my head into.    

It is now 4:00 PM, I have gone through 4 liters of water, and I have only gone 4 miles. I am at the base of the basalt ridge, there is no shade, there is nowhere to hide from the sun. I start climbing up the dark brown boulders. I cannot touch the boulders, they are too hot. The radiated air over the boulders is too hot to breath. I must be climbing on rock that is close to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. I keep climbing higher and higher hoping to find shade. Higher and higher; this ridge is only about 150 feet high, but it seems much, much higher than that. And near the top of the ridge I do find shade. In that shade, on a little perch, I make a rest camp. I cannot walk further until the sun gets lower in the sky. I stay on this perch until 6:00 PM.

Now here's a funny thing, in the next hour and a half, I walk 3.5 miles, must of suddenly felt pretty good, because previously this afternoon I have only averaged one mile an hour. But it is now 7:30 PM and I am completely done. Honestly, I never felt so done. But honestly, I find myself saying that a lot. Lots of hikes I've done have pushed me to my limits.

The sun is cresting behind the Eldorado Mountains and I should be walking into the night, but all I can do is lay down. It is too hot to sleep. It is even too hot to close the netting of my tent. The air is stifling, with the netting closed on my tent, it is suffocating. I can't sleep. All I can do is lay there and feel my legs occasionally spasm.

I need to keep sipping water, I feel horrendously dehydrated. I start to do the math. I have hiked 7 miles from the lake, which took me 7 hours, and I have gone through 7 liters of water. I have 3 liters left. It is still 15 miles to Searchlight and I have yet to climb up the Eldorado Mountains. The math is simple, I am not going to make it. Conclusion: rest and divert to Cottonwood Cove which will be about 13 miles but it is going closer to water and it is not going over a mountain. I'll start this new quest in the morning. I'll eat occasionally through the night, I'll keep sipping water, and I'll try to get some rest.

But rest is hard to come by. I'm taxed and I cannot sleep. I'm thirsty. My legs keep twitching. When I open my eyes to view the night sky, I'm seeing red. I feel like I'm really losing it. I close my eyes, try to sleep, try to relax, open my eyes and I still see the sky pulsating red. I can't believe what I'm seeing. The heat, the pulsating sky, my torn up body; the scene is surreal, like some science fiction movie. Maybe the red pulsating sky is me losing it or maybe there is a red navigation light on the lake far below that is causing this glow. So I get up and walk up onto the little ridge of the wash's bank to investigate. The red pulsating glow is not me losing my mind, nor is it a navigation light. There are two red glows, each slightly pulsating, one to the northwest beyond Vegas and one to the southeast in Arizona. These must be far off fires. That's not good, but I'm happy it's not my brain.

I lay down and continue resting. By 4:00 AM, I realize I need to move. But my movements are slow in the light of my headlamp as I eat, sip more water, and break camp.

As I'm eating, I'm studying the map. In going to Cottonwood, I'll be cross-graining, meaning I won't be walking up or down washes or ridges. which are the highways in the desert. Everything walks the washes; man, mountain lion, bobcat, coyotes, burros, even mice. There are often trails on the ridges, made by big horn sheep, burros, or ancient man. But, I'll be walking cross-grain, I'll be walking transverse to the natural direction of flow. That will be a challenge. The solution to make this as easy as possible is to find a route that minimizes the elevation gains and losses and that avoids as many cliffs as possible.

Close up showing the details of the 'cross grain' portion of the hike, July 2013
Close up showing the details of the 'cross grain' portion of the hike, July 2013


If I try going to the lake's edge, which I kind of want to go there for the water, it will take forever to get to Cottonwood Cove. The terrain along the lake is convoluted, the vegetation is thick, the geology is detrital, i.e. loose rocks, and the lower you get in the drainages, i.e. washes and canyons, the deeper they are, i.e. the bigger the cliffs will be.

If I go to the base of the mountains, this is where the drainages are the most shallow, but I'll be too far away from water.

All the area that lie between the mountains and lake is the flood plain, eroded with drainage after drainage, and as these drainages get closer to the lake, they get deeper and their sides tend to become steeper, in other words, cliffs.          

So, I must plot a route that will get me to Cottonwood Cove, keep me in striking distance of water, avoid cliffs, and keep the cross-graining ups and downs to a minimum.

I'm walking by 4:30 AM. I make sure my SpotTracker is working and that I'm tracking. Knowing that Rebecca will be watching the tracker map, changing the plan to Cottonwood is no problem, she'll see that I've diverted my course.

Hiking along with my headlamp in this early hour, I'm kind of having fun. The sun is not up yet, I'm moving well, and I'm exploring new terrain as I descend the canyon behind Opal Mountain that drains to the southeast. There is a lot of walking on slabs of rock and down climbing; a sort of an easy, yet engaging canyoneering section.

Twilight is giving way to sunlight as I find myself in the huge open wash that drains to Nevada Bay with acres and acres of loose rock to negotiate. I've been moving fast, trying to beat that blazing orb that will soon be rising, and have 6 miles behind me as I climb out of this wash and begin the cross-graining to Cottonwood.

My route is mostly good. The ups and downs aren't too big, mostly. The slopes are not too cliff like, for the most part. A couple of sections though are cliff like and I have to push the climbing envelope a little.

Up and down, up and down, cross-graining and cross-graining, and finally it's getting hot! But, I'm moving well, covering the miles, aiming for Cottonwood and getting there. But inevitably and finally I'm out of water. It's just as well I move to the lake now to get water and swim the rest of the way, because continuing overland looked grim with lots of cliffs in the way.

It's only a mile to the lake, but it seems longer, but I eventually get there, and just sit in the water as I drink directly from my filter and drink, and drink, and drink.

One more swim of about a mile, life seems so easy now. A few hours ago, it was decisions to live or die by. Now, it's just a simple swim. A mile swim will take me about an hour. I start swimming at a little after 10:00 AM and I am turning the final bend into the Cottonwood Cove at 11:11 AM and there's Rebecca waiting for me. Yeah, I didn't make it to Searchlight, but I made it!

Some pics below...

Dead Acacia Tree, Detrital Valley, AZ
Dead Acacia Tree, Detrital Valley, AZ

Mohave Yucca and the Moon, descending to Lake Mohave
Mohave Yucca and the Moon, descending to Lake Mohave

Descending to Lake Mohave
Descending to Lake Mohave

Rest break in the shelter of Palo Verde Trees
Rest break in the shelter of Palo Verde Trees

An old and beautiful Palo Verde Tree
An old and beautiful Palo Verde Tree

Final canyons before the lake
Final canyons before the lake

Swimming across Lake Mohave, July 2013
Swimming across Lake Mohave, July 2013

The hike uphill begins, temperature about 135 degrees F
The hike uphill begins, temperature about 135 degrees F

Looking back at the lake, there is no shade here...
Looking back at the lake, there is no shade here...

Shade on a perch high on a basalt ridge
Shade on a perch high on a basalt ridge

My bivy, Eldorado Mountains in the background
My bivy, Eldorado Mountains in the background





2 comments:

  1. Damn Robert! Another hard core adventure. Looks like you're living in the perfect extreme training ground.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This place, White Hills, is far from perfect, lol, more like being on an outworld planet. But you are where you are.

    ReplyDelete