Havasu Canyon

2006 July 3 to 5

Havasu Canyon

July 2nd, Sunday

We leave Berkeley at 7:30 am and arrive in Kingman, Arizona at 4:30 pm after cruising 630 traffic-free miles in the air conditioned black Volkswagen Jetta. After checking into a Quality Inn along route 66 and taking a dip in the super chlorinated pool we dine at a surprisingly good Chinese buffet style restaurant. (Their green beans were exactly like Lau-lau's and the hot and sour soup was just like my dad's!) That night, we watched MTV's "Pimp My Ride" featuring a Volkswagen Safari (most people call it a "Thing").

July 3rd, Monday

At 6:30 am we jarred from deep sleep by a text message from Ma. After a decent breakfast (lots of sausage for Poobie-- not true! I only had three links!) included in the room rate we are on the road by 7:30 am under stormy skies.

We saw lightning and were rained on but by the time we hit the trail at Hualapai Hilltop at 9:30 am the skies were blue and the dreaded monsoons of summer were nowhere to be seen. The 120 mile drive from Kingman to the Hilltop was uneventful except for the small matter of colliding with a vulture. Who knew they were so slow to take off?

The hike down the canyon was spectacular and much easier on the knees than either the Bright Angel or South Kaibab trails (in fact, it seemed downright flat compared to those trails). It wasn't perfect however as the parking lot on the hilltop and the trail suffered from quite a bit of trash. Hiking distances and elevations are as follows:

The first 5 miles of the trail are bone dry, at least until a flash flood comes along. At our leisurely pace we covered the distance in 2.5 hours after which we entered Havasu Canyon and began following the creek toward Supai Village. The juxtaposition between the extreme beauty of the canyon and the defeated village was shocking. Trash was strewn everywhere, not just on the main road through town but in the yards of the houses. It seemed as if the villagers just didn't care.

By 1:30 pm we were swimming in the pools below Havasu Falls. The 100-foot falls are exactly as they seems in the pictures, just amazing. However, my defining moment of Havasu Falls was the image of the Supai man with the walkie-talkie who was monitoring the swimmers in the pools. I suppose he was there to call for or offer help should someone need it. Clad in black demin jeans, he sat on a tree stump in the shade watching the tourists while eating a Ding-Dong. When we left the pool the man was gone but his wrapper remained.

Energized and cooled by the water we sought out the perfect campsite and found it at the very end, literally, of the campground. Our site was at the northern end of the campground, a mere 30 feet from the brink of 196-foot high Mooney Falls. After setting up camp I found myself craving Gatorade although, judging by the color of our urine, neither of us were dehydrated. Poobie had not been hungry all day and I almost had to force her to eat to when I started to prepare our backpacking mainstay, chili-mac, I was surprised when she asked me to add extra bacon.

Tuesday, July 4th

At 7 am we left camp, heading down the canyon, and arriving at the Colorado River at 11:30 am. The plan was for Em to go with me to Beaver Falls and then head back to camp while I continued to the Colorado, however, she stuck with me the entire way and I'm glad she did. Below Mooney Falls the trail crosses back and forth across the creek. In most areas it is pretty easy to pick up the trail on the other side of the water but just upstream of Beaver Falls it got very tricky. First, we didn't know where we were relative to Beaver Falls as we only had a cartoon type map given to us when we paid our camping fees in Supai Village. Then, after two successful river crossings, the trail once again led us to the river at which point we entered then promptly lost the trail. Being in a canyon we were not worried about getting lost, rather our major concern was falling to our deaths while scrambling in some area that we shouldn't have been in in the first place.

After much exploring that led nowhere I began to get cross. At this exact moment, while walking in ankle deep water I slipped and in an instant went from a vertical to horizontal orientation. This did not improve my state of mind. At this point Em looked at the cartoon map and declared that, if we were just above Beaver Falls as we thought we were, then the map said we needed to be way up above the river on a plateau rather than in it. We attacked the cliff on sketchy trails and eventually made it to less sketchy trails and finally to the more or less official trail which was indeed, as the cartoon map indicated, pretty far above Beaver Falls.

Back on the main trail my mood reversed and we began going down switchbacks that took us back to the creek just downstream of Beaver Canyon. These switchbacks that led to the water were really little more than notches cut into an almost vertical face of rock. It wasn't difficult to climb down or up but if you didn't know they where there you would think that the trail dead ended into a cliff.

The trail was now easy to follow, although it did cross the creek a few times, it remained, for the most part on the right side of the creek (assuming you are looking downstream). The reason that the trail was so easy to follow is that it gets a fair amount of traffic from rafters coming upstream to see the falls. We passed many such people and soon began to recognize pools that we had played in when we rafted the Colorado a few years back.

We reached the Colorado a bit before noon and where struck by two things. First the river was green rather than chocolate milk brown and secondly the river stage was a good 10 feet lower than when we rafted the canyon. The lower river elevation meant that we could stand on a sand bar where the creek flowed into the river. Had we tried this a few years back we would have been swept into the rapids of the Colorado.

The junction of the waterways was littered with rafts and Em struck up conversation with a nice woman named Linda who gave us each an ice cold Coors! Thanks Linda! After lounging on the flat rocks and playing in the mouth of the creek we started back up the trail around 1 pm, going slowly and stopping in some of the great pools along the way.

Back on the plateau above Beaver Falls, an hour or so later, we were unsure were to go so sat down to admire the falls from above and eat some snacks. From our vantage point we spied a group of kids and decided to follow them back up the canyon. The kids, about 12 of them, turned out to be teenagers being led on cool adventures around the southwest by two older guides. We fell inline with the teens and soon found ourselves at a cliff 10 feet above the creek. We could climb down a rope or jump into the water, of course we jumped, along with all of the teens. This spot turned out to be the exact place where lost the trail on the way down. Neither of us saw the rope and even if we had I'm not sure we would have believed that climbing it was the way to follow the trail.

Not long after our creek jump we came to a rope swing which most of the teens had to use. I to waited in line to swing but when my turn came the unthinkable happened. My hand slipped and I fell into the water not long after clearing the brink of the cliff. My technique, honed by many swings at Bass Lake in Point Reyes, probably played a large part in my failure. Usually I grab the rope as high as I can with my right hand, then jump forward and simultaneously grab the rope with my left hand. This is required at Bass Lake if you want to take off high above the lake if you want to keep your feet from dragging before you are over the water. I'm not sure why I did it here but at any rate my hand slipped and I fell like a lump into the water in similar to fashion to some of the other girls who couldn't hold on long enough owing to their lack of upper body strength. Climbing out of the water, everyone was staring at me quietly and all swinging had stopped, at least that's how it felt. Another swing, this time with a super high release did little to quell the damage to my ego.

The teens looked to be in no hurry to leave the swing to we headed on without them and were back at our camp by 6 pm. Inspecting the camp I found that a squirrel had chewed through the bottom of my Tarptent and into our food bag. For some reason I left the food in the tent, within the sleeping bag, to keep it cooler rather than hanging it on the pole. That night, during another lovely dinner of chili-mac we decided that we would cut the trip 1 day short and hike out the following morning.

Wednesday, July 5th

At 4 am the alarm on my watch sounded and half an hour later we were hiking up the canyon with a liter of super rich (high fat content) chocolate milk. At the bridge beyond Supai Village, a bit before 6 am and a few minutes before we would leave the creek and our last water source we treated three liters of water, drank one right away then started the hike to the Hilltop with the remaining two. A liter per person is a far cry from the gallon per person recommended by the Havasupai Tribe but were just fine and reached the car at 9 am. Like the trail, the Hilltop is dry so we cleaned ourselves as best we could then zoomed 120 miles back to the motel we stayed at in Kingman.

Our plan was to park in front of the room we stayed at a few days earlier then walk over the pool to rinse off our trail grime before changing into clean clothes. During the drive from the Hilltop the plan seemed perfect since our parking spot and the room was not visible from the front desk. I also recalled that door leading to the pool was broken so we didn't need a card to get in. However, when we pulled up to the room we saw the worst possible sight across the parking lot, the manager who checked us in two days ago conferring with some of the maids. SHIT. We drove to another end of the parking lot and considered our next move. We chose to park at another corner of the lot and take our chances. Things looked good until we reached the gate, which now had a functioning lock. DOUBLE SHIT. Just as we were about to die, a maintenance worker pulled out his key and let us in. Yay! Feeling 1000% better we changed into clean clothes, got some food and a super large drink at Taco Bell, then drove 100 miles to Las Vegas.

Even at 9 am it was really hot at Hualapai Hilltop. Although we didn't plan it, our adventure in Havasu Canyon lasted only 48 hours but covered 36 miles.

Hualapai Hilltop to Supai Village

From the parking lot at the top of Hualapai Hilltop the trail starts to descend the canyon with dreaded switchbacks, however, these were not so bad. The switchbacks were wide, not too steep, relatively smooth, and not very long; we didn't even use our sticks to relieve pressure from our knees on the way down. On the way up a few days later we started early enough so that we where able to climb the switchbacks in complete shade.

Near the bottom of the switchbacks the trail was wide enough to accommodate a car and very flat. It also featured interesting rocks. Note Em's lack of a pack. She chose to have a mule carry her gear. Funny, he's called Poobie.

This is a shot looking at Hualapai Hilltop from the bottom of the switchbacks (which you can't see). The Hilltop is the lower plateau on the right, if you look closely you can see a helicopter about to land.

Emily and I were both surprised at the large number of mule trains that where headed up as we went down. Em estimates that we saw 10 convoys with 6 to 10 mules each, always with a Supai villager on a horse heading up the rear. If the mules were not carrying anything they were often trotting up the canyon. Unlike Phantom Ranch mules, these were never tethered together.

As we were hiking down a helicopter was zipping back and forth with packs, people, supplies, trash, and luggable loos! While checking in down at the village we were told it cost $85 for a one-way ride out of the canyon and $75 for a one-way horse ride out.

Two shots of the trail between the switchbacks and the creek featuring Poobie. Note the small pack for 2 people for 3 days and 3 nights.

This was the first water we encountered, just minutes before the trail joined Havasu Canyon and creek. I splashed some of the tadpole laden water on my face and forced Em to do the same.

Below Mooney Falls to Colorado River

Not too far downstream from Mooney Falls the trail meanders through a wide valley full of chest high wild grape vines. Em, in red at the lower right, is walking down the canyon.

The trail from Hualapai Hilltop to the Colorado River was pretty easy to follow except for this spot, just upstream of Beaver Falls, and illustrated with this photo taken by someone else. Em and I, walking downstream, came to the point where you see the person below and promptly entered the river and looked for the trail on the other side. Our alternative, as we would find on the way back, was to climb 15 feet up a vertical rock face with the rope that this woman is currently climbing down. Because we missed the rope (literally, neither of us saw it) we had to do some pretty sketchy scrambling to get around Beaver Falls. On the way back, instead of climbing down the rope we just jumped into the water.

Below Beaver Falls we leave the land of the Havasupai People and enter the Grand Canyon National Park. This is the first photo I have ever seen that makes my head look small. That's really weird! His head really does look disproportionately small! I swear I didn't do it!

When we rafted the grand canyon this rock was the furthest point up Havasu Canyon that we reached. Em and I both have fond memories of playing in the water here with Kaylin, Spencer, Taylor, Stacy, and Pablo.

18 miles after leaving Hualapai Hilltop we make it to the Colorado River and all of the rafters who are taking day trips up Havasu Canyon. We struck up a conversation with Linda who was kind enough to give us two cold beers. Thanks Linda!

Supai Village

Supai village is quite extensive. In addition to this church it features a post office, cafe, clinic, fire department, school, basketball court, and lodge. This photo was taken by someone else.

Here is a typical house in Supai village. Some horses where tethered but many wandered about as they pleased. This photo was taken by someone else.

Don't be fooled by other people's photos of a pristine Supai Village, it is now full of trash. What a terrible setting for a dump.

Havasu Falls

Our first view of 100-foot Havasu Falls...what can I say. We were swimming in the water 4 hours after starting down the trail from Hualapai Hilltop. Note the rainbow in the foreground and the people relaxing on the sandy beach in the background.

Another view of Havasu Falls, this time at sunset and courtesy of Steven Noyes.

Downstream of the main pool, the travertine deposits have created a series of mini-pools, all of which are great for lounging. This photo was taken by someone else.

Mooney Falls

Someone else took this great shot of 196-foot Mooney Falls from way up on the cliff. In the far right you can see the trails that led to our campsite which was less than 30 feet from the brink of the falls. To reach the base of the falls the trail continues on the plateau to the left off of the picture.

And speaking of our campsite on the brink of Mooney Falls, here it is, complete with picnic table and food hanging pole. Havasu Creek flows from left to right, behind you, dear CaseyAndEmily dot com patron.

If only the trail consisted of tunnels all the way down. The sketchy parts are yet to come.

Once you come out of the tunnels great views of the falls appear. In this superior shot by Em, involving much running by me, I am visible at the very top right of the falls. Look for my blue shirt.

This photo shows the trail down to the base of Mooney Falls. If you look close you can see Em (in red) talking to two chickens at the top. You can also see the ladders at the bottom. I took the photo from the top of Mooney Falls, in the same spot that I'm at in the picture above.

This photo shows Em at one of the chain and stake sections.