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We Survived Havasu!

Who spends hundreds of dollars on light-weight camping equipment that they may never use again, only to carry it all on their back, hike 2,200 feet into a canyon, cut themselves off from civilization (aka no cell service – oh the horror), string up a hammock, and voluntarily choose not to shower for four days? Yeah, that would be us four.

Disclaimer: this is our first time backpacking. Please excuse the lack of knowledge, the unknown protocols, and the fear of all things that crawl.

February 1st rolled around and for many, it was a typical Thursday morning. For the five of us (we lost a fellow camper two weeks before go time), it was the morning that registration opened for Havasu Falls, a waterfall located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in the Grand Canyon. We charged our phones and laptops. We poured our tea (or coffee) into mugs. We placed the group on speaker phone. By 9:00 am, we were ready. Then a few glitches in the system later, we booked a March 20-24 stay. These dates worked perfectly as my birthday was the 19th and D’s was the 23rd. Weee! Celebration.

Prep time started. Stair Climber at the gym. Hot Springs National Park trails with a 32 lb pack. Strength training. Hill climbing on the treadmill. Researching affordable but quality (and lightweight!) camping items. The others made fun of me as every item that went into my pack was weighed and recorded in an excel document. Advil, wipes, gloves, etc. You name it, I weighed it. My pack weighed in at at a doable 31.13 pounds, including 2.5 liters of water (question: do you count the stuff you wear (hiking boots, clothes, jackets, etc)?). No idea if that was the actual weight on game day (as I kept tossing in a bunch of small items and switching out other items), but the weight was barely felt on my back. Yay for training!

The time passed slowly as we waited for the 14 day Supai weather forecast to appear for our trip dates (which we then checked on a tri-daily basis). Seeing snow in the forecast (ugh, sigh, tear), we tossed into our packs a down winter coat, some hand warmers, a beanie, light weight gloves, extra layers, and hoped we’d not have to use any of it. *High Five Weather*, the temps only dropped to the low 40’s, maybe high 30’s.

Rules 
The first night was the worst, but I think I sweated, then my sweat froze (ish), which made me cold. Is that a thing? I have no idea, but it was miserable. Hot, cold, hot, cold. The second night, I switched from a nylon pants lining to shorts and did not wear my beanie, but experienced the same issue (which is why I think it was my sweat’s fault). Eventually, I took my sleeping pad out of my sleeping bag (I only did this because it kept moving around and made me feel like I’d slide right out of my hammock), unzipped my mummy sleeping bag (it WAS rated at 10 degrees but other people said there’s no way it would keep you warm at 10 degrees. I’m now thinking it’s possible), flipped it over so it covered me like a blanket, and then loosely tucked it around me, sometimes kicking a leg out for coolness. I loved the hammock sleeping; I hated the body temperature regulation (mainly because I failed miserably at it).

Fry Bread Huts at the Campground
A few days before we left, I started panicking about scorpions. One lady, on a random FB post, said she saw one. I’m not sure if I read that it crawled across the hammock line into her sleeping bag or if that was my own projection. No matter the reason, I started researching. I wanted to bring natural oils that would repel all things that crawl in nature (aka cedar wood oil or lavender for scorpions and spiders, citronella for the mosquitoes, pepper for the squirrels and so on). Then I discovered Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent. Goes against everything in me, but those ropes were going to be sprayed. Ordered on Amazon. Set to arrive on Wednesday. Guess what? Someone stole the box off our porch! Sigh. I guess I wasn’t meant to use the harsh stuff.

Happily, I did not see any scorpions (I even asked* A to bring her blue light scorpion finder and you can bet I used that flashlight on a nightly basis). So, no scorpions, but the worms (caterpillars?) were everywhere. Night fell and they came out to play. Crawling all over the trees, on the ground, and eventually finding their way into our hammocks. The first night, I was almost asleep when I felt something fall into my hair. Freak. Out. Moment. I gingerly reached into my hair and pulled out…a small piece of bark. Phew!

The second night, the same thing happened, but it WAS a caterpillar. Ugh. So gross. One also fell onto my bare shoulder. They were so gooey. Tiny. Left marks on my hammock. Side note: I completed intense inspections of my hammock and sleeping bag each morning when I woke up and again before going to bed. The caterpillars didn’t freak me out too much and I surprised myself at my calm reaction when I saw a tiny spider crawling its way towards my face. After gently flinging him over the side, I admitted to myself that perhaps outdoor sleeping wasn’t for me.
*by asked, I mean begged

Day 1: Hiking to Havasu (10+ miles)
I felt like my training paid off. I’m not sure if everyone’s comments about it being extremely difficult made it so much worse in my head or if I was just physically and mentally prepared. I bought trekking poles (buy, buy, buy, buy – best purchase ever), KT taped my right knee (two ACL surgeries – boo), and didn’t have any problems with the descent. I would say it was fairly easy, even with the 28-30 pounds on my back.

We arrived in the village and each ordered a fry bread. They were HUGE. You could easily split one with a friend or even two friends. Thankfully, the lady misheard one order, so we only received three fry breads. Even then, a lot was thrown away. :( Used the restrooms one last time and washed our hands (oh, the luxury of running water!), before starting the two mile trek to the campgrounds. (Regarding check-in: the friend that had to cancel two weeks prior due to a job change/moving to a new city was able to move a single reservation to September. Thank you, Leah, for the assist!).

A mile+ from the village, we discovered Little Navajo. Gorgeous. Loved the cascading falls. A & D climbed towards the top and saw multiple falls. Another half mile of trekking through thick sand and Havasu Falls appeared to the right. Beautiful. It’s hard to believe that color blue/green exists in the desert and outside of a Pacific island.

Walking into the campground, we were surprised by the crowds (it was a Tuesday in March) as every camp site was taken for the first half mile. Eventually, near the second bathrooms, we found enough trees to hang the three hammocks (side note: we were pleasantly surprised by the clean and stocked bathrooms. Go nature-loving people!). Setting up our hammocks was fairly easy, but I moved one strap each night (too close to A, too close to J, just right the third night, but then had to move it because my rain tarp had to protect me and A). Also, it was great to have D’s tent where we could store our packs and where J could sleep when it rained.

Day 2: Hike to the Confluence: where Havasu Creek (aka the blue) meets the Colorado River (aka the brown)
Uff-Da! We started our 11 hour journey at 8:00am, which caused us to arrive at Mooney before everyone else. This allowed us to descend the ladders and chains without worrying about pace or other people. FYI: the spray from the falls made the ladders and rocks slippery, which caused a rough descent to become harrowing. Take your time, be confident in your shoes, and you’ll be fine (but if you’re afraid of heights, I wouldn’t recommend this route).

Within a few minutes of hiking towards Beaver Falls, a guide and two men passed us. We kept them in our sights to know when to cross the water and soon made it to what we thought was Beaver Falls. Impressed but meh. Then two girls passed us and said they were going to the Confluence. Nice! Us too.

We finished our snack break then followed the direction they traveled, discovering within 5 minutes that what we thought was Beaver Falls was not in fact Beaver Falls (our sincerest apologies to the couple that we apparently lied to when asked if it was Beaver Falls). Beaver Falls was gorgeous. The same cascading falls found at Little Navajo but continuing for much longer. (Hint: there’s also a sign that says, “Beaver Falls” so keep hiking until you find it).

We followed the cairns (aka stacks of rock) to the Confluence, which was 4 miles from Beaver Falls (Beaver was 2 miles from Mooney, which was roughly a half mile from our camp site, making the total mileage 13+. I say + because we off roaded quite a bit or walked ahead, then walked back to the group). The hike was fun as we climbed over boulders, scaled down mountains, walked through thorn briars (okay, this part wasn’t fun as my shins and calves were sliced to pieces) and crossed the river 8 times (which was our favorite part as the cold water felt amazing on our sore, tired feet). Blisters started forming around mile 12, but (for whatever reason) I chose not to put on the socks that I brought with me. Go me for smart decisions!

Ate lunch at the Confluence, enjoying the rushing waters and huge trout, then started the trek back at 1:45pm (so we’d make it back by dark). A Havasu Guide was waiting for us near Mooney and wanted to know if anyone was still behind us. We told him we left a group of three at the Confluence but he decided they would have no trouble making it back before dark and left with us towards Mooney (hmm?).

It was a struggle, these last two miles, from Beaver to Mooney (if only they allowed camping at Beaver, it would have been the perfect hike). Made it to Mooney around 6:15pm and again, we were the only people on the ladders. Small gifts. With the addition of exhausted legs, it was more of a challenge ascending, but luckily, no mishaps.

Everyone’s reaction to our hike: “Oh, my goodness, you hiked how many miles?”. So, yay for bragging rights, but if I return, I plan to stop at Beaver Falls and enjoy the beauty and water by being lazy.

Day 3: Havasu Falls
We planned the third day to enjoy the falls and rest before our hike out, but unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with us. It was overcast and sprinkled off and on all day. Plus, the temps were cooler than the previous two days. Boooooooo. So sad. We still went to Havasu Falls and took the iconic photos in front of the falls. D swam a bit (so jealous of his lovely bath) but we three ladies only waded in the water (didn't want to catch a chill as we doubted our hair would dry). Oh, the challenges of being female and camping without electricity.

It was D’s birthday, so we hiked back to the village (5+ miles roundtrip) so he could call his daughters and mom (and charge his go-pro). Plus, D and A wanted to eat at the village café again. Everything we ordered in the village tasted delicious and was better tasting than the food we ate in Vegas. Seriously. There were two stores in the village that carried a large section of fresh produce and packaged food items (decently priced too!). People could hike in with no food and buy everything at the village to take down to the campground. Plus, in the campground, there were two fry bread stands and a smaller stand where the lady sold fresh baked cookies, soda, Gatorade, and water.

Day 4: Hike Out
We woke up early on Friday to make it to the village by 9:00am. J decided to fly out (she’d hiked 35+ miles in the last few days on a hurt ankle and was at the end of her mental toughness). D decided to carry his pack (physical challenge accepted!) but A and I were okay with paying $20 to fly out our packs. We figured the hike out would be challenge enough (and we were still carrying 8-10 pounds...that adds to the difficulty level...right?).

We dropped our bags in a huge cargo net, gave a guy $20, and said a little prayer that our bags would be waiting for us at the top. D and A ate breakfast in the café (one last yummy meal), then we said good bye to J (who would take her 5 minute helicopter ride sometime between 10:00am and 3:00pm) and hit the trail. Side note: if we visit again, we would take our bags to the helicopter, then hike back to Havasu or Little Navajo and spend the morning at the falls. This was one of the hottest days (so we could have enjoyed the falls), but we were focused on hiking out and completing the drive to Vegas.

The hike up was not as difficult as expected. We stopped and stretched a few times, continuously drank water, enthusiastically engaged all downhill hikers in conversation, and enjoyed the scenic walk. Finally, we made it to the last 1.5 miles (which was the straight up part that was the focus of training over the past two months)! I pushed myself and moved at a decent pace. We stopped at one point to wait for A but she yelled at us to keep going, so we did.

I’m happy to say that my legs were not tired. I was out of breath and eventually overheated, but leg muscles felt great! I stopped for a few seconds in a shaded overhang and my body yelled at me to stop longer to enjoy the cooler temperature. Request denied. When I made it to the top, my stomach was cramping and my body was suddenly overcome with goose bumps. Ecstatic to conquer the canyon or onset of dehydration/heat exhaustion? Happiest moment of the trek: a Havasu tribe member was waiting for me at the top (yes, just for me), selling ice cold Gatorade. I chugged the bottle then walked around for a bit, waiting for A and D to catch up. Within five minutes, my body was back to normal (phew!).

We walked over to the helipad to meet up with J. She arrived at 1:30pm (about 30 minutes before we made it to the top), but was waiting for her bag. If bags weren’t on the same flight as their owner, they seemed to arrive within two additional flights (so 10-20 minutes of waiting). However, J and another person on her flight were still waiting. Every helicopter that arrived, we’d all stand with abated breath, waiting to see if this flight would contain their bags. When the bags finally arrived at 4:30pm (via cargo net as it was the last trip for the helicopter), the relief was tangible. Oh, did I mention that our car keys were in her pack (backpacking error #47)?


Recommendation: make sure that you keep your bag with you on the flight. Be stubborn.

Overall, I recommend a trip to Havasu Falls. With advance physical training, mental preparation, and proper equipment, you'll excel. So, invite a few friends who won’t irritate you, go attend some REI classes, and have a blast exploring this small slice of heaven! Oh, and best of luck obtaining the dates of your choice!

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