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Havasu Canyon, 3rd, 4th and 5th of July 2006
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
||Where to Where
||Hualapai Hilltop (el. 5200) to Supai Village (el. 3205 ft)
||Supai Village to Havasu Falls and start of Campgrounds* (el.
||Campgrounds to Beaver Falls (el. 2350 ft)
||Beaver Falls to Colorado River (el. 1750 ft)
* The campgrounds start just below Havasu Falls and continue for
about 1 mile to the top of Mooney Falls.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Use the links below to see photos of the following areas:
Trail to Supai
Trail to Colorado
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