Jarbidge Mountains – Owyhee Desert
We take the lower elevation alternate route, on a century old pack trail, through the Jarbidge Wilderness into the Owyhee Desert. Notice the spectacular views; relatively few people have ever seen this. Words and videos won’t do this place justice. There’s something deeply spiritual about being out there, even if I was in too much pain to notice at the time.
Spoiler alert: I suffer for the first two months, especially this first one. Enjoy it, but please learn from it. It didn’t have to be this way!
We make it out of the mountains and into the desert. We are greeted with a storm. This will become a common theme for the next month.
Embrace The Suck
As I mentioned in an earlier article, there was a trade-off to starting as early as we did. We were able to avoid the extreme heat commonly associated with desert climates, but instead, we had to deal with spring showers.
It rained (and hailed) for the first month of hiking. Which means we were wet, our gear was wet, and there was almost nothing we could do about it.
This weather, combined with seasonal snowmelt, also meant water crossings were more hazardous than normal – though we wouldn’t have to deal with that until after trekking through the Owyhee, into the Sawtooths.
How Much Does a Gallon of Water Weigh?
As we showed in an earlier episode, Joel went out ahead of time and cached water along our desert route.
Notice the scenes where I’m carrying the jug(s) of water.
After we dug up our first water store, we filled up our personal containers and had over a gallon left. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds. There was an exchange that went something like this:
Me: What should we do with this extra water?
Joel: Dump it.
Me: Dump it?!
Joel: Do you want to carry it?
Me: No, but it’s water. And we’re in the desert.
Joel: Well I’m not carrying it.
And so I carried it (we would eventually share this burden). Which, as it turned out, was a good idea! Because as much as it rained, and as wet as it was, it was still the desert. The “excess” water was necessary. This was one of the rare examples where my stubbornness paid off. Had we not carried the extra water, I’m not sure what would have happened.
(side note: we reached the beginning of the ICT in the Owyhee at the end of a long, hard day, in the midst of a thunderstorm. We set up camp, but didn’t dig up our water cache until the next day. I woke up in the middle of the night so thirsty, that I actually licked and slurped water off of my tent to satiate myself.)
Notice the mud? This wasn’t just any mud. Large portions of this desert section are cattle grazing grounds. Ever heard of a cow pie? It’s cow shit. And when you combine cow shit with water, you get a “mud” that cakes onto your shoes (and whatever else it touches). It adds pounds to each foot, and there’s little use to getting it off since more will just pile on. You have to trudge your way through.
It’s worth noting here that studies have shown that every pound on your foot is equal to roughly 5 pounds on our back. The lighter you keep your feet, the less energy you’ll need to expend to move.
The Owyhee Desert was hard, but it was beautiful too. There’s a bird that lives out there, in the high grass, which sings such a pleasant song. If you listen for it in the video, you may hear it.
(If you know the name of the bird, please leave it in the comments.)
Jurassic Park Scenery
On about the 5th day we got to a place called Winter Camp. It’s in a canyon, and there’s a river that runs through it. Up to this point we hadn’t had any hot food since the spaghetti dinner the night before we started; surviving mostly on dried meat, dried fruit, and trail mix. Joel caught “Chub” (basically Carp) for dinner.
Although it was a very bony fish, after hiking dozens of miles through the desert, it was among the most nourishing meals I’ve ever had. I can still remember the energy that coursed through my body after taking just a few bites. It was visceral, and Joel felt it too.
Towards the end of the desert, we were nearing an Air Force Base. At night we could hear the bombs being dropped for target practice. The colors during sunset made us feel like we were on an alien planet. It felt like something out of Star Wars.
The Bruneau Canyon needs to be seen in person to be believed. It feels like something you’d see in Jurassic Park. It’s not of this world.
Yes, that’s a rattlesnake (at 21:08). Yes, Joel gets very close. No, you shouldn’t do that.
For all its hardships, the Owyhee was at least (mostly) flat. By far the flattest of the hike; I didn’t know how good I had it.
In 2018 we filmed our time on The Wild West Trail | This article is based on Episode 2: Owyhee Desert | You can watch the full video HERE