Friday, March 28, 2014

Lost hiking in a desert? Here’s how to find water to stay alive

El Mirage Recreation Area, Mojave Desert, Calif.
If lost when hiking in a desert, your most valuable asset – water – likely will soon be in short supply. Your priority then becomes finding a safe supply until you can be rescued. Other than air, water is the most important element you need to survive, and without it in a desert, you will dehydrate and potentially die within a day or two.

While an arid environment, water does exist in the desert. If not, none of the plants or animals around you could survive. The trick them is to find it in the same way that animals or plant roots do.

Here’s a few ways where you can find drinking water in a desert:
g Follow livestock – If you see cattle or sheep grazing on desert grass, follow them when they move. They need even more water than you do and likely will head to a pond or a trough provided by a rancher.
g Locate water pockets – Depressions atop boulders and beneath ledges all can hold water. Before drinking it, however, soak it up with a cloth and purify if possible. If you can’t reach the water, use a hollow reed or other straw to suck in the water and place it in your canteen.
g Dig a seep hole – If there’s no water in a depression but you notice that the ground is damp, dig a hole there. Gradually water will drain and collect in the hole. Patches of green are neon arrows pointing to where such depressions likely exist.
g Find a spring – The lowest levels of a canyon mark the best places to locate a spring. This will be at the mouth of a canyon. From there, work your way upstream, looking for water pockets and damp ground to dig seep holes.

You stand a good chance of becoming sick from drinking any unpurified water in a desert. That can prove even deadlier as any such illness will quickly dehydrate you. Still, sometimes you must gamble that you’ll be rescued before the illness sets in and can suffer through it in the safety of a hospital room.

One last note: Never drink water from a pool in which a dead animal is nearby. The water may have poisoned the animal or the animal before dying may have infected the water puddle.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.