Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Desert Winds and Camping

I love camping and climbing in the desert. There's something beautiful about the desert landscape. I lived in Las Vegas for nearly a decade and guided there.  Now I spend about six weeks a year in the desert, camping, guiding and climbing.  When I'm camping there, I love the beauty at night and I love the beauty in the morning.

What I don't love is the wind.

The desert wind can be incredibly viscous.  Forty, fifty and even sixty mile an hour winds arrive in the desert with an alarming frequency.  If you camp in the desert for more than seven days, you will definitely experience a wind storm.

The wind seldom has an impact on climbing. You can usually find a crag that is sheltered.  Camping, however, is another story.

Tents in a wind storm in Red Rock Canyon 

Our booth in Red Rock Canyon during 
Red Rock Rendezvous after a major wind storm.
Our pop up was attached to our neighbor's, and both were ripped up
by the wind and blown out across the desert.

A tent in the barb wire after a wind storm.

I have climbed and guided all over the place, including on many large mountaineering expeditions. But I have to say that the worst winds that I have encountered are in the desert.  There are a few differences with the desert and a mountaineering trip. First, on a mountaineering trip you can often dig in and build wind breaks. And second, you generally have a mountaineering tent in the mountains, which tend to be tougher.  And third, you don't have to deal with sand.

If you plan to do a desert trip, you should plan to bring a mountaineering tent. These can deal with the wind more adequately and they don't have as many places for sand to get into the tent during a storm.

If you intend to leave your camp for the day during a storm, it's not a bad idea to collapse your tent. Just take the poles out of the base and lay the whole thing down. Put a few rocks on top of it so it doesn't blow away. The last thing you need is to come back to camp to find that you have broken poles, or worse, that your tent is gone.

It's good to tie your tent down to solid items, whether you intend to leave it up or collapse it. Sometimes wind storms arrive unexpectedly.

 A tent with the guy lines tied to large rocks.

 If you use stakes, make sure to get them in all the way...

 ...and then place large rocks over the stakes.

 Every guy line should be attached to rocks. 
Even small rocks will keep your tent from drifting.

I think that the most difficult part of my long desert trips is the wind. When I do a trip with no wind storms or only one or two, I always feel like I got away with something.

You can always go and hope for no wind...but my feeling is that it's always best to be prepared...

--Jason D. Martin

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