Going Green in the Desert

Going Green in the Desert

As you become a more experienced adventurer you’ll want to try more challenging trips and expeditions. At first, a couple of days without satellite TV can seem like pushing the limits of outdoor adventuring but if you’re anything like me you’ll soon want to try some ice wall climbing and mountain hikes. One of the most challenging environments for hiking and camping adventures is a desert.

If you are considering camping or hiking in a desert there’s a much different approach required. You’ll need the right equipment of course but more than that you need specialist knowledge and a far more serious approach than packing your tent and backpack for a weekend in Kosciuszko National Park.

My experience of desert camping is so far limited to a few days in The Tanami. It’s often called "one of the most isolated and arid places on earth” and really is for experienced adventurers only. I don’t say that to put you off – I had an awesome time and want to experience more desert camping but it’s a different ball game. Soaring daytime temperatures can drop way below freezing at night, water supplies are constantly on your mind and you’ll come across animals and critters you won’t have seen before.

I like to think of myself as a green camper and take responsibility for the environment around you and I think that’s even more important when hiking or camping in the desert. It’s hard to believe endless miles of sand, dirt and rock need our protection, but these seemingly barren wastelands are teeming with thousands of species of flowers, reptiles, insects and mammals. The extremes that make deserts so unwelcoming and alien to humans also make them fragile.

Temperature swings, limited rainfall and unpredictable winds create a sensitive ecosystem that can quickly be thrown out of balance by humans. In this delicate environment a moment of carelessness can cause long lasting damage. Whether you’re exploring the desert in a national park or in the unprotected wilderness delicate desert environments deserve a special approach. Yes it’s hard to believe but the desert is more at risk than you are out there!

A common sense approach can help your visit to have as little impact as possible. If travelling on a large group break up into smaller groups and walk single file so you disturb less of the natural habitat. Don’t be the first to camp in an area but look to set up camp on previously disturbed areas. As with any outdoor adventure try to leave everything as you found it. Don’t move rocks or fallen vegetation to make the site more convenient for you – they may have been there for hundreds of years!

Going Green in the Desert

For your own safety you’ll need a good supply of maps but try to plan your trek so you stay on established trails, again to reduce your impact on the environment. When wilderness trekking, avoid areas that are environmentally sensitive and if any doubt ask the local park services before heading out.

When temperatures fall at night your obvious response may be to light a fire. When I was in Respect fire restrictions. Many desert regions prohibit campfires. Pack a portable stove for The Tanami I was lucky that I was with a mate who’d been several times before and we’d packed warm sleeping bags, good insulation and extra underwear! If campfires are permitted, keep them small and far from any vegetation. The dryness of the desert dramatically increases the dangers of starting a wildfire and this is a serious threat.

Never gather wood. Not only is wood in the desert a rarity, but it provides habitats for the range of insects, spiders, and reptiles, which in turn serve as food for larger desert animals. If fires are permitted, bring your own wood.

As with any camping or adventures aim to take all trash away with you and yes that includes human waste! You’ll need storage bags along for the job so make sure these are on your list of desert camping gear.

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