What I need to consider before spending 3-5 days in SoCal mountains/desert/brush
June 5, 2011 1:25 AM   Subscribe

Trying to spend 3-4 days in the woods/hills of Southern California

The area I live in is very rich surrounded by mountains, valleys, woods, etc, and I want to go spend some time there. My plan is basically to just hike in a direction that has large mountains surrounding it so I can keep my bearings and not get lost. Set up a tent, and just spend some time. I'm pretty sure this is illegal, but I'm okay with that.

I've got 2 48oz Nalgene Bottles, a freestanding solo tent, first aid, and a sleeping bag, and I've read up on how to treat Rattlesnake bites (though there seems to be some disagreement on how to do this).

I'm not too worried about food, I'll probably bring some with me, but I've done 10 day water fasts, albeit not in the summer heat and not in the wilderness but I think I'll be fine on whatever limited food I do bring.

I guess what I'm a bit worried about is getting lost, water, rattlesnakes, and anything else that I'm probably definitely forgetting.

As for the rattlesnakes, besides in my encampment area I plan on wearing Timberlands and jeans at all times as there is ALOT of rockface and tallgrass in this area and from what I've heard that's rattlesnake territory.

Anything that can prolong the amount of time I could remain out there is also helpful as that is ultimately the goal to just spend time outside.

I will be bringing my cellphone with the battery removed in case I need to pull it out to make an emergency phone call or look at a GPS map but by the time I can get service, I'll probably just have easily have climbed a mountain/hill and gotten my bearings straight.

any help is appreciated.
posted by sawyerrrr to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you plan to hike on a trail or make your own path? How far do you plan to hike-- is this primarily a hike, or do you just want to hang out? Will you sleep in the same place every night? I think you should bring large jugs with a week's worth of water. You could still camp in a different place every night, as long as you clearly mark the way back to your water cache. Your water cache should be in a place where you have cellphone service.

Do you know how to interact with wild animals? Not just rattlesnakes but also mountain lions, coyotes, and more. How many people are you going to tell about your plan? Do you have maps and do they have maps of your proposed itinerary?

To be perfectly honest you sound a bit too cavalier and it's hard to discern how much wilderness experience you've had. There's a world of difference between camping along an established trail that sees at least one other hiker a day, and wandering around alone and directionless.
posted by acidic at 2:00 AM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

What? Are you about to trespass on private land? What happens if you run into the owner? I know multiple land owners who regularly, sanely, patrol their land with a gun in their car and feel comfortable using it.

ReserveAmerica can help you do this without getting shot.

Also, that's not enough water.
posted by samthemander at 2:05 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree that this isn't nearly enough water, and I think just "not caring" that you may be trespassing is not going to get you very far.

Some preliminary research like - are there any state or national parks in your vicinity with areas that would let you hike / camp out like you want to? They'll definitely have clear rules/regulations about what's permitted, so you can make sure to have your time in the outdoors cut short by something that could have been avoided.

Also, have you seen/read 127 Hours? Please prepare very thoroughly and let someone know where you are going.
posted by polexa at 2:37 AM on June 5, 2011

I understand that it's super-frustrating and stupid that man is a natural beast and all that great outdoors is right there and you can't just... go exist in it, but please be aware that unless you have kids already, you are significantly increasing your chances of removing yourself from the gene pool with this notion.

You need a map and a plan and you must let people know where you are going and when you will be back so that when you fail to return, search and rescue knows where to look for your dehydrated, hemorrhaging body on the mountain.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:29 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to agree that your expectations suggest you are not wise to do this in the way you're envisioning. You will be amazed at how quickly landmarks vanish once you get into trees or on uneven terrain. If you lack essential orienteering skills, walking off into the wilderness in NOT how to learn them. I've been lost, and few experiences in my life have been that unpleasant.

My advice, which you may not want to hear, is to find a hike that is well-mapped, on a known public trail, offers water sources (your water supply is not sufficient for a multi-day hike), and will give you the chance to spend the time you're craving outside and away from humanity without endangering your life. Tell other people where you're going and for how long. Use some of the excellent advice in other AskMeFis to equip yourself.

If you get lost, a lot of people are going to spend time looking for you, at no small risk to themselves. That should factor heavily into your decision.
posted by itstheclamsname at 4:06 AM on June 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you don't bring enough water, and don't know how to un-lose yourself if you get lost, rattlesnakes should be the least of your worries - although going off-trail, especially in high grass, will increase the likelihood of encounters.

Do some research on where you might like to go (state park, national park, BLM land) and pick one with a water source, like a faucet. Failing that, a stream, and bring a purification system. Be sure it's effective against giardia. I agree with others here two 48 oz bottles of water are insufficient for five days in Southern California in the summer.

Anything that can prolong the amount of time I could remain out there is also helpful as that is ultimately the goal to just spend time outside.

Knowledge will give you the most bang for your buck. Not that ignorant people don't end up in the wilderness and come out of it okay, but why spend the time you're out there stressing about water/food/weather/animals/getting lost when you could get some good knowledge beforehand and spend your energy enjoying the experience instead?

One more thing: If you're planning on doing this this summer, will you be building a fire, or using a camp stove? Because, you know, fire season. Don't be that guy.
posted by rtha at 7:32 AM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sounds like a great idea. Have fun!

For a complete answer to your question, check out Colin Fletcher's The Complete Walker. It's available at most public libraries; the 2002 4th edition is the latest and most complete, but earlier editions are still useful. The book is useful to anyone preparing to walk anywhere, but Fletcher was a Californian most of his life and the book frequently applies general advice to California conditions, including dealing with rattlesnakes and making sure you have enough water. I admire his approach because he's willing to consider every dimension of equipment and planning for two-footed travel, but in the end he packs very little and lets surprises happen -- sort of the way it sounds like you want your trip to go.
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 7:56 AM on June 5, 2011

I want to apologize for being a little snarky above. However, please do consider that there is no un-owned land in so cal.
posted by samthemander at 9:23 AM on June 5, 2011

Omigod. Fire season. I totally forgot about that when reading this question....

Please please go to proper park or national forest and follow a trail with designated fire rings etc.

As a wilderness backpacker, I way admire your chutzpah! As a resident of SoCal for the last 8 years, I cringe at the unintentional damage you could do.
posted by jbenben at 9:37 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Apparently, there are some good, legal places for a nice hike around my neck of the woods. I'm about 90 minutes from LA. Memail me if you'd like more info.
posted by luckynerd at 9:51 AM on June 5, 2011

Southern CA has huge amounts of publicly owned land filled with a whole lot of nothing. Public park land of one kind or another is very easy to find. Frankly, I'd probably not be terribly concerned about land as long as it isn't posted. I've done this exact thing before and simply kept a low profile. Vagrants do this very thing undetected in undeveloped areas very near civilization for long stretches of time around here. A solo camper in a more remote area could do it as long as you're not doing stupid things like playing with fireworks.

In your place, I'd do an overnight first, at least a few times. Don't even think about campfires and such, unless you're in a place that specifically allows campfires. Easing into this gives you a better idea about what you will need, and what you won't. Also gets you familiar with the area. Let a trusted friend/relative know exactly what you are doing and how long you expect to be out.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:49 AM on June 5, 2011

...I've done 10 day water fasts, albeit not in the summer heat and not in the wilderness but I think I'll be fine on whatever limited food I do bring...

You were likely getting H20 through your food during that time period...and yes...not in the heat and not in the wilderness. If you haven't done any extended hiking with a 20-40 pound pack on your back in the middle of the summer then you might be extremely suprised at how much water you will drink.

On a recent 10 mile hike with 6 thousand feet vertical elevation here in SoCal, I drank about 5 liters of water. I wanted more.

A rule of thumb states that you will need at least 2 liters per person per day...I find that on moderate day hikes / backpacking trips its more like double that. Do yourself a favor and spend 100 bucks on a pump or gravity filter. Also do yourself a favor and do some research on the area you will be hiking in.

I know its tempting to be all Chris Mccandless and just walk out into nature without all the red tape...but we all know how he turned out. An extreme example simply to make the point that you should at least have some basic orienteering skills (map / compass / gps knowledge) or be familiar with the area you are hiking in. For godssake at least know where there are water sources...and if there aren't any...pack at least 4 liters of water. This will be heavy.

Nthing the suggestion of doing an overnight first. Bring a notebook and jot down what you would have liked to have / didn't need for next time. Always let someone know where you're going - when you are leaving, what direction you are heading and on what trails (or what bearing) and most importantly, when you expect to be back. I know this takes the Thoreau-esque spontaneity out of the romantic idea of wandering into the wilderness and letting the day take you where it will...but if you do twist an ankle or something you will want someone to know where you are.

Also...rattlesnakes and wildlife are the very last thing you need to be worrying about when hiking / backpacking. You are far more likely to be rendered uncomfortable / immobile by lack of water than by rattlesnake venom coursing through your veins as you die in a ravine.
posted by jnnla at 11:12 AM on June 5, 2011

Oh, also...exposure! Dear god bring a hat / suncreen / lip balm.
posted by jnnla at 11:15 AM on June 5, 2011

Response by poster: i plan on sleeping in the same place everynight, this is more like a go hang out in the woods thing than backpacking type thing, though it might turn into that someday. i’m not really worried about coyotes, mountain lions don’t really scare me either unless they’re known for mauling people in their tents, if i encounter one in the woods and didn’t have time to pull my knife or pick up a large stick and it wont go away no matter how big i try and make myself to scare it i’m not sure what id’ do, probably just start walking the other way. i’m scared of rattlesnakes and bears, but as far as i know bears are extreeeemely rare in southern california.

the first thing i’ll be doing is setting up camp and facing the opening of the tent towards a landmark, when i leave, i’ll be using a knife to mark trees if its a dense area, again it may seem crazy but i think it’ll be more difficult than you think to get lost.

i believe this land is part of a larger national park, if it is private land, might i remind you this is southern california, not montana or texas, i’m not scared of anyone with a gun or otherwise shooting me for squatting on their acreage for a night, if that happens then so be it.

if i slip and my arm ends up in a crevasse and i have to slice it off so be it. these are not things that i lose sleep over

i’d actually say that hiking in a national park as i plan on doing would be less safe in terms of getting lost…theres no landmarks, i don’t know the terrain etc.

i was planning on hiking off malibu canyon road, a 10mile twisting road on a ravine that runs about 100-200 feet down to a small creek and on the otherside huge mountains some steep, others pretty shallow rise up. it’d be pretty hard to get “lost” in this way if i’m careful, which I will be now that I see that that’s my #1 concern. cell service is pretty complete.

i know it may seem crazy, but maybe it’s because i’ve driven the road 200+x, i know all the landmarks, i know where the creek flows to in an emergency, and i know that the hills will on both sides of me will basically either get me back to a road or show me the road.

as for water, i will probably get some water purification for emergencies, i’m not sure how safe the water is in malibu creek, probably not that healthy, so i will be packing bare minimum 1 liter per day i plan to spend

i’m not worried about removing myself from the gene pool, i exist to experience life and the world, not to propagate the species mindlessly with my dna. i want to survive don’t get me wrong, but if i my only concern was survival i could make a good living just sitting on the couch being “safe”.


here’s what i’m talking about, this is probably the most narrow part of this valley, the creek flows alongside the river between the mountains, and narrows out to a dam that flows straight to malibu, i think i’ll be okay as long as i tell someone that im hiking “malibu creek”

as for trespassing, this area isn’t exactly covered very well by trees, in some areas it is and that’s where i hope to end up, but it is very likely a park ranger or land owner confronts me, and i will gladly even at 3am pack up and leave (if they assist me in navigating in the dark to a road or something that is).

as for fires, i have no plans on building fires as i know firsthand the destruction of wildfire, though if i was to build one, i’d dig a pit, surround it with rocks, and make sure there were no trees or bushes overhead, and i’d bury it deep when i was finished, it wouldn’t be a lean-to bonfire or anything either….

i’ve done some outdoors survival stuff, 48 hour wilderness survival a couple times, lots of camping, some climbing, some hiking, some backpacking.

i’m not worried about sunburn.

i will definitely do an overnight first.

maybe you’ll still think i’m crazy but thats okay. thanks for all the great advice.
posted by sawyerrrr at 1:45 PM on June 5, 2011

I'm familiar the area. Barring unforeseen accidents, I don't think you'll have many problems. If anything, you might not be all that alone. Hikers in that area are reasonably common, especially as the weather warms up and water is flowing. I think that area may fall within the boundaries of Malibu Creek State Park. I don't know what the policy is toward non-campsite camping, but I'm pretty sure a stealthy camper could get away with this unmolested. If you were caught, I don't know what's the worst that could happen. But the worst that would probably happen is that you'd be told to move along. If you were on private property, the possibilities might be more severe, especially if the land is posted.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:17 PM on June 5, 2011

when i leave, i’ll be using a knife to mark trees if its a dense area

Please don't do this. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 3:40 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Once again, with the fire. All it takes is one little spark carried by the wind into dry grass to start a wildfire that burns hundred of acres. I don't know how many SoCal fires have been traced back to campfires, and the thing is, when they find you, they bill you for the cost of fighting the fire.
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:03 PM on June 5, 2011

"you’ll still think i’m crazy"

Yeah but in a good way ;-). Overall your plan sounds fine to me. It's a beautiful area esp. right now and I'm headed to another portion of Malibu Creek right now for some climbing.

Not sure if you've had your trip yet but some tips:

No bears in the vicinity, coyotes aren't a concern, and while there are some mountain lions in the santa monicas, you'll have the envy of every hiker if you actually spot one. Rattlesnakes are unlikely to bite you if you leave them alone and don't accidentally step on one.

"i’ll be using a knife to mark trees"

Definitely a bad idea. It might seem virgin territory, but there are lots of others looking to get away and you don't want to spoil it for them. LEAVE NO TRACE. It looks like you'll be mostly so close to the road that it's not a concern, but if you must mark a trail you can use fluorescent tape and collect it on the way back.

A fire will be unnecessary and likely get you cited. Again, leave no trace and that includes fire rings.

Bring a small pack shovel and do your business well away from the stream. Bury it as deep as you can and packing out your toilet paper in multiple ziplocks is the most conscientious way of disposing of it.

i think i’ll be okay as long as i tell someone that im hiking “malibu creek”

Be more specific. Print out a map to give to someone and indicate where you plan to start and what direction at least. Malibu Creek extends quite a ways and both you and searchers will appreciate narrowing the search area if you take a fall and break your ankle (and this kind of accident is quite common in this loose terrain). Decide the latest you could possibly return (when you would want people to start searching) and indicate that as well.

You will probably want more water, I'm thinking minimum two liters per day, and don't drink from the creek.
posted by Manjusri at 9:40 AM on June 20, 2011

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