Is There Water in The Owyhee Desert?
The first 927 miles of Wild West Trail (WWT) follows the route of the Idaho Centennial Trail (ICT), which begins in the Owyhee Desert on the border of Idaho and Nevada.
We decided to begin the hike in Nevada in order to enjoy the Jarbidge Wilderness. The WWT actually begins about 30 miles south of the Idaho border, in the Nevada mountain town of Jarbidge (no, not bridge, BIDGE), anyone who is seriously considering completing either of the trails will find it necessary to cache water for the roughly 100 mile stretch through the Owyhee.
This first YouTube episode documenting this hike is really a preparational one, which is why the series “begins” in the next video installment. However, as anyone who has gone on a long distance hike knows, preparation is key. This trail is not possible to complete unless there are water caches placed along the Owyhee Desert section.
Harder Than Hiking The PCT
The ICT is not the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT); is not the Appalachian Trail (AT); is not the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). It’s much less popular, and as such, there is much less community support.
“Trail Angels” are almost non-existent, so you will have to rely on yourself (or your own team) to make it through.
And so begins our episode.
Through online research and outreach, Joel met Dan Noakes, a 33 yr old animator from McCall, ID who was planning on hiking the ICT around the same time as us. They decided to team up to cache water in the desert for ourselves and a few others who were planning on making the trek as well.
It’s worth noting that Dan has created an excellent YouTube series about his ICT trek, which can be found here.
You’ll Need an All-Terrain Vehicle or a Friend Who Has One
You’ll notice that both hikers have all-terrain vehicles (Joel was riding his Kawasaki KLR650), which is highly recommended as the jeep trails are not paved or well maintained.
They decided upon the 2.5-gallon water jugs because having more water in the desert is never a bad thing. Each group of 2 was allotted 5 gallons of water (2 water jugs), buried every 15 miles.
Thru-Hiking – Walking Long Distances
An earlier start on the ICT means more water, for better or worse.
Most of the people who hike the ICT start in July but we started on May 15th. ICT hikers start in mid-summer because the snow has melted enough allowing the rivers and waterways to calm down (as the snow melts in the mountains, it finds its way down because GRAVITY) and are much easier to traverse.
This wasn’t an option for those of us on the WWT. The reason for this is because the WWT adds another 1000+ miles onto the ICT, ending in Jackson, WY in the midst of The Grand Tetons. If we started in July, there would be no way to complete it before the threat of snow in September.
Create a Trail Map – Then Hike Your Own Hike
We chose to start early, to have a chance to do something that no one’s ever done before.
It was a trade-off; starting earlier meant a much milder desert trek, but we had to contend with river crossings that would be classified as ‘extremely gnarly’ for even the most experienced hiker. A July start would likely mean dry conditions and extreme heat – which we were able to avoid due to our earlier start. However, the earlier start meant dealing with conditions that we hadn’t quite anticipated (more on this in the next episode).
Around the 9:15-minute mark, you can see the Bruneau Canyon. This natural wonder is 1,000 feet deep and nearly 60 miles long. It’s even more spectacular in person, and there is an overlook that is accessible by road.
In 2018 we filmed our time on The Wild West Trail | This article is based on Episode 0: Water Cache in The Owyhee Desert | You can watch the full video HERE