Trip Report: Havasupai

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First, a heartfelt thank you to the peoples of the Havasupai Tribe and village of Supai: they were gracious and friendly and provide way too much trash services (visitors do not pack out what they bring, sometimes just leaving trash at the stunning campsite – people can be the worst).

Pack weight start (had to carry water): ~32 lbs including camera, felt like 28. Pack weight end: ~25.2 lbs, felt like 35. lol! Food was only down about 1 lb, water down 5.5 lbs. So my base weight was a tad heavy: extra shoes, extra bottles, a day pack, 3x change of clothes, and too much tech will do that.

The bad stuff:

I certainly ignored advice to bring medical tape and use it preemptively and now have 6 toes that seem to be nearly all blister (it’s impressive, and scary – and two pops within my shoes on the way out).

On the way down, my right hip started to hurt. Standing up straight certainly helped, but walking on flat trails was rather painful, especially with weight. This really came to a head on the way out since I needed frequent breaks to calm down the pain and wasn’t moving very fast (still, with breaks was just less than 2mi/hour, which isn’t terrible). This lead to being passed by 6 people who left 2 – 2.5 hours after me – sure, they are super fast, but it still felt demoralizing.

Finding a camping spot was very difficult – the mile long area was full to bursting. The full moon often shined right into my hammock (love my Hennessy hyperlite zip!) – which I found odd because the bright, hot sun didn’t seem to make it through the trees often.

I wasn’t thinking well and packed only a Rumple down blanket, expecting overnight temps of 60F… which it was, just not by the water, which I was 1 foot from. The nights were a bit chilly for me, especially when a breeze kicked up.

The funny stuff:

I really chewed up my hands, especially fingertips, gripping onto rocks and chains and general roughness with handling gear (typical small scratches), but my index finger no longer unlocks my phone – I have worn too much of it off. Does… does it come back?

The great stuff:

Man, that canyon is stunning. Red, sheer walls towering overhead; teal waters cascading over rounded terraces for miles and miles; giant waterfalls; lush, green hills and forests all along the Havasu “creek.”

My trip:

I snag a cancellation date that fits my schedule with plans (that I never did) to have time to train since I’d been pretty immobile after 3 months of back issues. Screw lottos or mad rushes to buy permits on the first day released: when I am a single I just pick up cancels, it usually works out.

It’s over 7 hours to drive from the OC to “hilltop” – a trip I did Thursday, late morning. Very little stopping, other than gas for Cutie (who drives so fun! Hurray, Hyundai Kona!) and bathroom visits. I manage a spot right up front and, after a sandwich dinner and next-day planning and sunset admiring, I break out the mattress and sleeping bag and squeeze into the back (okay, Cutie does NOT have rear room: maybe 4.5 feet long, and I am 6’1″+). I… didn’t sleep great. There is a light in the parking lot, it was a full moon, and most others who were also sleeping at the trail head were NOT quiet.

Day 1: Anyhow, I arise with the noise and hit the trail at 5am. There are switchback carved along the sheer canyon walls for less than a mile, then some traveling out to a plateau – eventually turning at the two mile marker and descending into basically a slot canyon for the next 5 miles or so – it’s all basically downhill. For the last mile you make it to the creek – a stunner of white and teal rushing by under a green canopy – and the village of Supai. On the way, I decided these people hiking out when the sun was now roasting the canyon were nuts.

Trains of horses and mules went by, the leaders wishing me welcome and telling me “you’re almost there!” I get to the tourist stop for my wristband and tag before 8:30: ~8 miles, less than 3.5 hours. It was great until then… 2 miles down to the start of the campground and I was limping – my right hip is a mess, probably posture related + the weight. I had to add another mile + some meandering to find a campsite that was both available and had trees appropriate for a hammock, and it was WAY at the end right near Mooney Falls. In theory, this is only 10.5 miles, but based on my time + GPS, it’s closer to 12 (verified on the way out – actually said 12.5 but some of the canyon slots were narrow so there is bouncing / inaccuracies). I was settling in by 10:30, 5.5 hours from the start.

It’s quite warm now. After some snacks, I walk back up a mile to visit Havasu Falls – quite the stunner. Then generally muck about – taking photos and filling water bottles at Fern Spring. I force a good amount of food down – made all the easier by the fantastic tasting Mary Jane’s Farm dehydrated meals: this time, Eat Your Veggies pasta. I had some bull crap Mountain House meal the next night which reminded me of why people hate dehydrated backpacking meals. Never again. What I have left of other brands will remain in my emergency pack, until 6mos to expiration – then I’ll donate, I guess.

I end the day by reading (via Kindle) in my beloved Hennessy hammock and, though I didn’t sleep well and had to do the small hike to the composting toilets twice, managed some rest…

Day 2: I am up and moving, heading to the (to me) petrifyingly scary decent to the base of Mooney Falls at 6am. This consists of steeeeeeep steps in tunnels and right out on the cliff face, assisted by metal chains and a couple worn, wooden ladders: all of it slick use and spray from the waterfall. yikes. My man said to use common sense before I left. I have to admit I put that aside on this hike. The goal is the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon proper where the muddy waters mix with the blue of Havasu creek: the confluence. This is a 16 mile round trip hike according to online sources: my GPS wouldn’t know as the canyon walls are too tall and close together so the map looked like Spider-man tracks.

It’s slow going – I mean, I’m not terribly fast anyhow, but there are water crossings (stunning! but I was often taking off shoes/socks in exchange for water sandals) and class II scrambles straight up (and down) to get around Beaver Falls and none of these had chains, though some sketchy-ass ladders were involved. The canyon is shaded most of way and then there is happily cloud cover, and all 8 miles are bright teal pools and the sound of rushing water – I mean, it just kept getting more amazing. I am at the confluence by 11:30, so that’s 5.5 hours. I hang out, jump round the natural steps, wave “hello” at the Colorado and the extra tall canyon walls (I haven’t been in years), admire the mix of brown/green with the clear teal, and stare at a bunch of fish in the area. Some rafters were around, and I got a ‘you made it’ from other hikers who passed me earlier. Some hikers climbed down to the river and waded into Havasu Creek in what has got to be it’s thinnest point, many getting their Instagram moment.

The hike out was terrible and amazing in reverse: the sun was out for less than half the hike back, so I was hissing at it and cowering under my hat, but this made the blue waters every more vibrant – and everything I climbed up or down had to be done again in reverse which I hated and just glad I could lift myself up where my feet could find no hold. Pictures, smiles, effort… eventually I notice I am really developing some interesting toe blisters and my pinky toes are missing the pink polish entirely. I feel like other than some core trail areas, there is a maze along the banks of the water and often I find I took a different way back than in. One of these led to just downstream of tall Mooney Falls, where water was coming off a cliff, the deposits forming a cave of rocky growth and ferns, and I climb up some small terraces – making my way pool to pool until I am once again at Mooney Falls. The climb up was terrifying – worse than down for me… but I live and I’m back in camp about 5pm for a giant 11 hour hiking day. I felt pretty good (disclaimer: I was taking prescription strength pain medication that I have for my back but in this case helped my hips and knees) and though my toes look a blistered mess I don’t really feel it. I have enough time to clean up and organize before eating a shitty meal in the dark (woe is me who didn’t bring something from Mary Jane’s Farm both nights!).

Day 3: I wake up in the middle of the night. I never find sleep again. I decide to leave. It’s 2:30am when I start. I always wanted to leave early – after the hike out (and uphill this time) I was going to immediately to the 7.5 hour drive home and going to work the day after sounded terrible… I didn’t want to take more than 3 days off. My hip really hates me, and I basically sometimes limp and keep adjusting my stance (plus resting) to be able to push through. It’s dark, and fairly scary, until well past the halfway mark. I stopped for some night photos of Havasu Falls and Lower Navajo Falls (I admit not having time to visit fifty-foot falls or spend time at stunning Navajo – I needed to spend my other full day). You cannot take night photos when there is a full moon: my 6 second exposures looked hilariously like bright daylight. I used my headlamp in red, except when the moon was on the trail and lit it just fine. Anyhow, by the time I was making in through the slot canyon, the sun was lighting the sky (thankfully not the rock walls yet) and it was getting downright chilly.

People started coming down – I assume these people left closer to 4am. There was a steady stream of incoming: all in warm gear and me in my clothes made for the warm weather of the lower canyon. I catch the 4 mile marker, than the 2. I’m going very slow, my hip very painful, but pushing through. At the mile 1 marker, with mostly just switchbacks to go, I sit, rest, stretch, eat, and drink the last of my water (I only brought 2/3 liter, having drank only 1/4 coming in despite carrying 2.75) – I knew the sun wasn’t going to be on me and I had a small ton of water in my car by way of a giant 1 gallon Hydro Flask. You know, I originally was going to take the helicopter because I thought that seemed exciting… then I thought it would save my hip… and I have nothing to prove by hiking out… and my toes are blisters. But since I left so early, this would be a pointless wait. Instead, I suffered and got to the top 5.6 hours after starting. I was passed by people, right at the end, who started way later than I, but they are fast and I had a limp and I’m actually very okay with my time in the end. A couple of these passers offered encouragement: despite some idiots, most people I actually spoke to were over friendly, which I appreciate. I returned the favor by quickly moving my car so a man, who was dropping off packs, could actually just park and get on with it.

I was going to make tea and have a poptart as my victory, but it was seriously chilly and windy at Hilltop (much colder than when I was up there just 3 nights earlier) so I drove to Peach Springs and had my feast there before the long drive home.

Havasupai is amazing. Every picture you see is accurate, but does the place no justice because how do you explain by picture than there is a dozen miles of blue pools below red walls? Europe: how many castles and churches can you really remember after a while? Oregon: it’s not long after the 20th waterfall that you start to complain when you can’t walk behind one. Canada: is it possible to fall in love with 50 different mountains at once? Same here: if I shared, or even took, that many photos would you get tired of seeing the paradise?

I am glad the tribe instituted the online system and raised the rates: sure, 300 people even in a campsite this large was a stretch, but there are bathrooms and trashcans and staff making their rounds and recording where people hike and stay the night. Better than to be overrun by any more idiots than that a night (well, there are a few more at the lodge).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a shower followed by a salt bath in hopes that I can loosen my leg muscles and walk like a normal person by tomorrow (I have hurts).

EDIT: scratch the bath. I did a great job keeping sun off my face (large brim on new Sunday Afternoons Latitude Hat), an okay job covering my arms and hands (they do look a tad darker, and maybe some new wrinkles/freckles), but a terrible job with my lower legs which were exposed mostly on day 2 as I rolled up my beloved Deluth pants (Flex Dry On The Fly Convertible Boot Cut Pants) for water crossings which often came up to my knees (and I am tall). The shower heat hurt, so… I am pretty thrilled to have tomorrow off work because I don’t want to wear pants due to the burn… or shoes due to the blisters… or a bra due to some sort of heat rash on my chest. I got pretty worked: my knees are bruised, my lower legs are sunburned and scratched, my toes are blisters, I have rub rash from backpack straps plus sports bra straps (had this before, but this time they look dark/blood blister-like), I have rub rash on either side of my hip (usually maybe a scratch or bruise, but not like my shoulders), my fingerprint cannot unlock my phone anymore, and now my chest is red – forget the sore muscles. Wow. I am a mess and not entirely sure why as I have hiked longer with same gear and much less damage – something to work on! I wonder if all those pretty 20-somethings hiking in bikinis had any damage – they were exposed to the sun all day plus did all the climbing I did only without protection… ??

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