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What does "backcountry" mean?

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What does "backcountry" mean?

What does “backcountry” mean?

We use the phrase a lot, as if we actually know what it means, but what DOES it mean? People vaguely think of it as being “off the beaten track” or “away from paved roads,” and it can mean those things. In practical use, it can vary from region to region or park to park. Some people in the parks business define it as anywhere beyond a typical day trip. For folks whose world consists of their couch, remote control, and an occasional hike to the kitchen, backcountry is wherever they can’t drive their car or golf cart.

For Death Valley specifically, because of its unique climate, remoteness, and limited services, I think of backcountry as any area where, if your vehicle became inoperable, or you were seriously injured or ill, or for any reason could not move under your own power, and you had no means of communication, you might not be found or be able to find help until it was too late.

As used by Death Valley National Park, “backcountry” generally means 2 miles or more from the nearest paved road or developed (built-up, inhabited, cultivated, etc.) area.

This means you can drive on certain unpaved roads or hike on certain trails and be in the backcountry fairly soon. The Racetrack, Titus Canyon, or the Marble Canyon road from near the Stovepipe Wells airstrip, are examples.

Backcountry camping is allowed in much but not all of Death Valley’s backcountry. It is prohibited within 100 yards of any water source, to safeguard water quality for both potential human use and habitat preservation.

No camping is allowed at Eureka Dunes; or on the Valley floor between Ashford Mill and 2 miles north of Stovepipe Wells, an area that takes in Badwater, Devil’s Golf Course, Salt Creek and surroundings, Devil’s Cornfield, and the Sand Dunes.

Camping is also prohibited at several specific sites and the roads leading to them, including but not limited to Aguereberry Point, Grotto Canyon, Mosaic Canyon, Natural Bridge, Titus Canyon, and West Side Road; also at any historic mine site or structure (e.g. Leadfield, Lost Burro, or Skidoo).

In the frontcountry, camping is allowed only in established campgrounds, not in day-use areas, picnic grounds, parking lots, or along roadsides.

Death Valley has quite a few historic backcountry cabins, and most of them may be used by the public with some restrictions. Maybe the best known is the “Geologist’s Cabin,” a very nice stone building west of Striped Butte at the top of Warm Springs Canyon.

For detailed regulations about backcountry camping and cabin usage, see the park website.

nps.gov/deva/…rules-and-regulations.htm

Tucson, Arizona
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1. Re: What does "backcountry" mean?

Frissy, this is a really good explanation of "Back Country" for Death Valley. I would add that if you go into the back country, then you have the responsibility for yourself there. That means you must be prepared for the conditions you will find there like lack of water, intense heat in summer, cold in winter, possiblity of flash flood or weather change, poor road conditions, flat tires, etc. You need to have a plan should you get into trouble of how you will get yourself out of it. Cell phones will not usually work. What will you do? Will anyone miss you? Do they know where you went?

Are you prepared in the event of an emergency to bandage a wound, stop the bleeding, somehow signal for help, etc?

ZB

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2. Re: What does "backcountry" mean?

And according to the NPS at www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/directions.htm

GPS Navigation to sites to remote locations like Death Valley are notoriously unreliable. Numerous travelers have been directed to the wrong location or even dead-end or closed roads. Travelers should always carry up-to-date road maps to check the accuracy of GPS directions.

DO NOT DEPEND ONLY ON YOUR VEHICLE GPS NAVIGATION SYSTEM.

The Sac Bee has a classic article called: "Death by GPS" after a tragedy where a boy died after his Mom went down the wrong road. sacbee.com/2011/…death-by-gps-in-desert.html

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3. Re: What does "backcountry" mean?

I just popped back in to post this follow-up on a story that has been in the news. A couple left Sacramento for Nevada and vanished in the Sierra. The woman's brother went looking for them in an area he knew they frequented, and found her walking on Hwy 88. They had gotten stuck, and her boyfriend had left to find help a couple days before. She had frostbite and survived on tomatoes and snow, but after a couple days she decided to walk out. Unfortunately the bf was later found dead

This story hada couple of details I had not know from earlier stories.

The bf had just bought an old 4wd vehicle, and wanted to try it out. So he drove around a locked gate onto a Forest Service road, where the car got stuck. The gf tried to convince the bf to stay with the vehicle. but he left. Then a couple days later, she left..

huffingtonpost.com/2012/…

Mistake #1:

If you enter a road that is gated, do so with either 1) confidence that you know what you’re doing and can manage any situation you might encounter; or 2) the expectation that you’ll get in trouble. If a road is gated, there is a reason! There is some condition that the AHJ (gov-speak for “agency having jurisdiction”) knows about and the rest of us may not. The AHJ does not expect folks to be wandering around back there. That means if you go missing, it may not be the first place to be searched. Related mistake: when you first have a vehicle, test it in familiar surroundings, don't go looking for an adventure before you've become acquainted with the car.

Mistake/No Mistake #1:

Walking for help may be right or wrong, varying with the situation. If you are on a well traveled road or you have a means of attracting attention, it’s usually better to stay with the car. It provides shelter. It holds your extra water, clothing, and other supplies that you prudently brought along. It’s bigger and it’s a stationary target, making it easier for searchers to see than a person walking. For these folks, the same as it was for me on the July 4 weekend when I bogged down in a remote spot several miles off Greenwater Valley in DV, the chances are no one would have come by in time. If you’re sure you won’t be found, you'll have to walk. Go before you run out of water.

Mistake #2:

The same one they shared with me, going out to the boonies without telling someone their plans. At least these folks were suspected to be somewhere near Hwy 88. When I got stuck off Greenwater, no one knew I was anywhere near Greenwater. I was staying at Stovepipe Wells, and when I returned the next afternoon, they said they had noticed I hadn’t been around the night before at the store, dinner, etc. and my bed hadn’t been used. When you’re a regular client, a variation from your known habits gets noticed. Eventually they’d probably have reported me missing, but they had no idea where I’d gone.

Mistake/No Mistake #2:

If you decide to seek help, who should go? After the Kim family got lost in Oregon a few winters ago, Dad went to find help. He collapsed on the way and didn’t survive. Mom and kids stayed with the car and were eventually rescued. Each group has to decide this for itself. What shape is everyone in? Is there someone who is more fit and better able to move quickly? Will taking everyone along slow you down and delay rescue? Someone who walks for help will need more food and water, and some dry socks if there are spares; is there enough to sustain the whole group? What is everyone’s mental condition? Will anyone be badly traumatized if left alone, or is someone not willing to leave the others behind? I didn’t have to worry about any of that because I was by myself. If all the water got used up (and it did), I couldn’t accuse anyone else of hogging it all. If someone slowed me down, I couldn’t beat them with a creosote bush and threaten to leave them for the vultures.

That brings us to Mistake/No Mistake #3. Many survival or outdoors experts suggest traveling in pairs or groups, even with two vehicles if possible. For some folks, such trips are great family or friend bonding times. Others do it to commune with nature, enjoy a respite from the daily noise and commotion, get closer to God, and so on. So you have to be the one to decide if you want a family or buddy outing or a solo visit with Mother Nature. Ask yourself, before you go, the all-important question: if you get into a life-threatening situation, would you rather have to depend on yourself to make it out alive or have someone else to blame if you don’t?

Lewiston, California
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4. Re: What does "backcountry" mean?

Such excellent advice. I am not a Desert rat but spend lots of time in My Backcountry in the Trinity Alp plus both mountain & jungle Mexico.

I learned long ago be prepared, advise others of your plans & take lots water plus someemergencyy food supplies.

PS I hiked the Canyon Creek Trail alone spending the night at the Upper Falls returning the next day. Total distance 18 miles * over 3,000' rise in elevation.

Not bad for a 70 year ole fart! Smile

Tucson, Arizona
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5. Re: What does "backcountry" mean?

I always also carry in my daypack something called a Personal Device Locator which is registered with the government under my name, and upon deployment in an actual emergency situation requiring true rescue, can be deployed anywhere in the world. It broadcasts your exact gps location via the USAF emergency satellite system. They in turn notify local authorities who mount the rescue. This device is NOT for everyone, but those that really are out in the outback, and spend a lot of time there or with a friend, often away from easy access to a vehicle, might find the device useful. You can buy it at REI.

ZB

Lewiston, California
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6. Re: What does "backcountry" mean?

It's a great device & advice Zabrisk,

One guy (do not ask me why) decided to test his PDL at the foot of Grizzly Peak The Trinity Alps highest peak. The rescue people were less than pleased when they showed up taking him back with them promising a large fine!

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7. Re: What does "backcountry" mean?

I own a Spot Tracker which allows family or friends to track me on the computer from home and also has a 911 function.

www.findmespot.com

Also a very handy thing to have if you spend lots of time in the middle of nowhere, where there is no cell service, is a sat phone.I bought one a few years ago, but would not do that again. The rental rates are pretty reasonable if you don't talk much.Plus they tend to get smaller and lighter each year.

Common sense is the best tool out there. Lets someone know where you are going and when you are expected back.

Take a basic first aid or CPR class. Your local hospital should have classes like that available for nothing or next to nothing.

Know how to do basic vehicle repair, like changing or plugging a tire,carrying spare parts like belts and hoses.

In the desert, having water can be the difference between life and death. You can go for a while with no food,but you run out of water you are done.

Several years ago I came across an illegal walking across the desert along the RR tracks in the dunes near Glamis in summer.It was unbearably hot. He was stumbling carrying an empty gallon milk jug that at one time was full of water.He was ash grey, and babbling something in Spanish about his friend.I took a look around and saw nobody else and I put him on my bike, gave him some water and headed to the highway where a Border Patrol plane landed and whisked him away. Turns out his buddy was dead not far from where I picked this guy up.

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8. Re: What does "backcountry" mean?

The guy peddler met is one of those for whom the PDL "is not for everyone." You just can't put certain things into the hands of certain people.

Here is something quite relevant, a story from Australia about how Apple Maps has sent people into a remote desert state park that appears to have some climatic similiarities to Death Valley.

sfgate.com/business/technology/article/Polic…

The bottom line: do not trust your life to any electronic device. Learn how to read and follow real maps. I know, it's such a pain; I wonder how many people younger than 25 or 30 know how. How many can read a topo, with its elevation contours, physical feature symbols, meridian, range, township, and UTM designations? Before GPS, all mapping and surveying was done using such information.

Prepare adequately for any trip where you'll be in remote areas.

Before you need to know, learn how to figure approximate walking distances. If you have to walk for rescue purposes, this will help you pace yourself and keep track of your progress. Do this by walking normally for a known distance (e.g. high school track) of ¼ mile or more and counting steps. If you lose count easily, use your fingers. Put up and leave up a finger for every 100 steps. When all fingers are up (if you have 10 fingers), you’ve walked 1000 paces. If you’re walking a long way, pick up a pebble or move a penny from your left pocket to the right for every 1000 paces. When you finish the distance, make a note of the number of steps. If your known distance was half a mile and you took 1500 steps, you can calculate any distance you ever walk with simple arithmetic. (When I was stuck in Gold Valley and walked out, I did that, picking up a pebble for every 1000 steps).

Tucson, Arizona
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9. Re: What does "backcountry" mean?

frissy, i think the key is to make sure the pebbles are not too big and to make sue you put them back where you found them once you are safe. DVNP regualtions you know!

Zb

Tucson, Arizona
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10. Re: What does "backcountry" mean?

oh yes, a compass is a wonderful thing if you know how to use it and especially if you can combine it wit a map. the us government supplies its troops with one you can read at night and they work great.

ZB

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