Thursday, May 23, 2013

There and Back Again: A Havasupai Tale

Update on the weekend plus!

So, Friday we met up around 6:00, packed everything into the car, had some pizza (Courtesy of Zach and Emily!), and took off for Saint George. Several hours later we arrived and Brandon and I loaded our packs (they'd been waiting for us in St. George and we'd just brought everything in normal bags) and looked through the assorted pads, sleeping bags, and tents we'd be using. Two surprises for the evening:

1.) When Brandon brought out the sleeping bag I was going to borrow, we opened it up and looked at it to make sure it would be warm enough (it totally was!) and in shocked surprise, noticed that my name was embroidered not only on the sleeping bag, but on the bag for the sleeping bag and printed on the tag for the bag (which was still attached). I looked back and forth between Shauna, Duane, and Brandon, but they all appeared equally surprised. I remain...skeptical...but I'm fairly certain that it is all a coincidence...fairly sure. ;) When we got back after the trip Duane said he found the sleeping bag that they'd meant for me to borrow, and that he has no idea where the "Geneva" bag came from as he had no recollection of seeing it before.

The sleeping bag that does not belong to me but has my name on it....
2.) As we were talking about tents and the sleeping arrangements - we'd originally planned on bringing three two-man tents - we realized that per some miscommunication between Cam and Brandon, Cam had only brought one two-man tent instead of the anticipated two two-man tents. We quickly found a solution in a very cozy four-man tent that Duane had which we'd originally thought would be too big and too heavy.

Saturday morning bright and early we all showered (last showers for several days!) and prepped to go and had a delicious french toast breakfast (Duane and Shauna were wonderfully hospitable - as usual!) before running a few errands and then heading over to the movie theater to see Star Trek: Into Darkness - which was quite good.

Our group tags!

Science-fiction entertainment satiated, we finished loading everything into the car and headed for the freeway - stopping to grab a quick lunch on the way (Jack in the Box?). And we were on the road again! Through Vegas and into Arizona I think it took us about seven hours to get there - maybe less than that. We arrived in the parking lot at the top of the canyon around 8:00 and debated for a minute as to whether we wanted to camp at the top (a rather crowded little spot) or hike down past the switch backs and camp there. We opted to hike down so we quickly changed into our Sunday hiking clothes (so as not to bring any unnecessary clothes) and got our packs on and hit the trail. I don't think we hiked for more than an hour, only going about a mile and a half down, but it had gotten dark pretty fast so we pitched our two tents on a little ledge overlooking the wash. Our first freeze-dried dinner, Chicken with Noodles a la King (or something like that) was so delicious! And freeze-dried ice cream for appetizer/dessert as we waited for the 8-9 minutes it took for our freshly boiled water to re-hydrate our dinner. Though our camping spot was pretty flat, I don't think any of us slept very well that night. We had the company of the loose horses roaming around the canyon (both the neighing and the sounds of their hoofs sound somewhat ominous in the dark when you first hear them) as well as the hikers that started passing around 3:00 in the morning. (Though we didn't sleep very well where we were out, it was slightly rewarding to hear people pass by and say things like, "Oh, we should have done that!)

Sunday! 5:00! Bright and early we woke up and packed up our tents, had a delicious blueberry granola for breakfast (freeze-dried but only requiring cold water rather than hot water) before departing. Before we left was the one and only time I used the restroom out in the wild - as I was pulling up my shorts a thorn got stuck at the hem of the shorts and left a wicked looking scratch up the length of my left thigh. I haven't figured out the easy way to use the bathroom in the wild....clearly. The rest of the hike was pretty good. Given the time that we'd started, we were in the shade the vast majority of the time we hiked. My only complaints were that my pack seemed to be centered in the middle of my back rather than on my hips and somehow managed to dig into my pelvic bones at my lower back - not exactly comfortable. Though the build and orientation of my pack was very square, the weight itself (30 to 40 pounds) wasn't a problem. But at some point the top of my pelvic bones started to feel bruised and small areas on my feet were finally starting to feel rubbed by hiking shoes. As a result of all the little things, by the time we'd hiked the 6.5 miles into the village, I was pretty convinced I wanted to have the mules carry my pack out. The reservation check-in desk is all the way in Supai village. For whatever reason we'd originally thought it was up at the top of the canyon. Anyway, we checked in, got our wrist bands (I opted to use it as an ankle band - one of my better decisions during our time down there) and then hiked the last two miles to the campground, stopping at Lower Navajo Falls on our way down.

Lower Navajo Falls

We'd unpacked and set up camp by 10:30, so we made pretty good time but we were also exhausted fairly early. But there were things to see! We got into our swimsuits and hiked back up to Havasu Falls (just above the campground) and walked through the water and swam a bit. Brandon and I had our first MRE there (Chicken in Marinara Sauce) and while it was still ok, it definitely wasn't as good as the freeze dried meals. Cam jumped from a ledge near Havasu several times - cool to watch but easy to pass by - the climb up to the ledge looked rather precarious. We headed back to camp after hanging out there for awhile and had a proper lunch for everyone (Brandon and I split another MRE). After lunch we played Rook for awhile and several of us took naps before we headed down the camping area to climb up to explore some small caves and then wander down to Mooney Falls (at the lower end of the campground) Mooney Falls was easily the tallest of the all the falls we came across. In addition to that, the descent to the base of the falls was one of my favorites. You essentially went through two small sets of cave steps and then the last bit was a series of ladders and chain that you let yourself down by. Think awesome slightly precarious adult playset. I loved it. We wandered around the pools surrounding Mooney for awhile before heading back up to dinner (Brandon sweetly carried me across the water so I didn't have to get my running shoes wet.). More freeze dried food for dinner! We had a yummy breakfast skillet for dinner, which was good, but eggs seem to have a hard time reclaiming water all the way through - or we just didn't let ours sit for long enough. We played a few more card games that evening and then headed to bed. I think all of us slept much better that night.

Havasu Falls

Havasu Falls

Straight down path to Mooney Falls

View of path from below

Mooney Falls

(Note: A group of 87 7th graders came in around 2:00 on Sunday. Loud and noisy! But we felt bad for them because the camp ground had been overbooked and there wasn't a good place to put 87 of them and no one really wanted them to be near to their camps because of their volume. They moved around a few times that first day but by the time we came back to the camp they'd moved about half way down the campground and had all their sleeping bags and pads laid out in the open air - described as a mass grave by more than one of our party members. They moved closer to where we were the next day after some other people left and that seemed like a much better location for them.)

Monday morning we slept in (as much as that was possible) and then got up and had a lazy breakfast - bacon and eggs (freeze dried) for Brandon and me. Where we'd been a little achy after the hike in on Sunday, Monday started the legitimate soreness that continued until about Wednesday afternoon. Everything from the shoulders down the back to the entire lower body ached. But there was still more to see! After breakfast we changed into our swimsuits, packed up our day packs for the day and hiked back down to Mooney, climbing down the awesome obstacle course again to reach the base of Mooney. We then headed down the Canyon the anticipated two miles to Beaver Falls. I've likely mentioned this already, but just about everywhere you looked down here in Havsupai, the landscape and vegetation was gorgeous. Breathtakingly beautiful. The hike down to Beaver Falls was pretty badly marked and we got turned around a few times, but no matter where we went, it was always beautiful. After what seemed like far more than two miles, we finally reached Beaver Falls and climbed down to it. We swam for awhile, and Brandon and I headed up one of the higher pools. I knew he was going to jump in and that I didn't really want to, but as I followed him up and around to the jump point (a jump of ten to twelve feet), I felt kind of foolish just standing there, so off the jump I went! I'd changed from my running shoes to my sandals earlier when we'd waded through some water and I was still wearing them when I went off the jump. And did they stay on? Nope. One of them came off right away and as the other slipped off, I grabbed it and looked around for the one that had come off, and it wasn't to be found. I swam to the edge and walked over to where Brandon was watching Zach jump off a ledge in a lower pool (after which he swam right into a wall - youch!) and we tested with the shoe I had left and found that it didn't float. :( No shoe for me.

Lots of wild grape vines!

Hike to Beaver Falls

Beaver Falls
We went back up to the jump point and hung out there for awhile until the rest of the group came up. Cam and Zach jumped off several times and then they tried to get Emily (the Younger) to jump off - something she appeared to want to do and not want to do at the same time - a feeling I totally understood. After a little more coaxing, she finally jumped and then we all jumped again (all six of us!) and headed down to grab all of our stuff and bring it up to have lunch at a picnic table near one of the upper pools. As Brandon and I had just reached the water to wade across to where our stuff was he saw something at the bottom of the semi-shallow water by the ledge. What was it? My shoe! It was amazingly lucky that we just happened to be right there, after at least fifteen or twenty minutes of having lost it, to find it at exactly that moment. I was thrilled. We got our stuff, headed up, and had a lovely freeze-dried lasagna lunch. When we'd reached our table there had been two guys sitting there who we'd passed back and forth all down the trail to Beaver. They were about to head down to a cliff jump just a little past the waterfall and asked if they could leave their pack with us. Cam immediately asked if the guys (only one of the two who wanted to jump) wouldn't mind waiting about half and hour and he would go with them to jump as well.  So we had our lunch and then he headed down with the guys and we gathered everything up and started to head down. The part of the falls we were at had one crossing that was a little deep and fast moving and as we were heading back towards the path down, Brandon jumped in his flip flops at this deep spot and didn't lose his shoes, but ripped the base of the thong between his toes out. It was very sad. I'm still determined to at least try and fix them...

Beaver Falls
Anyway, we hiked back to the base of the little climb back up to the main trail and found Cam returning with the guys he'd been with. We walked back with him to the jump spot after everyone had joined us and looked down on the forty foot jump that he'd made. So cool! As Brandon looked over the ledge I could tell that he'd wished he'd jumped, that it looked like a lot of fun and he was sad to have missed it. Particularly as Cam was describing it as the highlight, thus far, of the trip for him. As Emily (the Younger) looked over the edge she asked me if I'd do it and I (hypothetically) said that I found it intimidating, but that I'd do it. I didn't think we planned on really doing it since we were all ready to head back. But then Emily started saying she really wanted to see someone do it and Brandon didn't want to do it and then have to hike back up by himself for 15 minutes, and then I felt like I had to do it so he could do it. And then came the shaking! That anticipatory, excited, but frightened shaking. It was so high! All in all, four of us jumped - Cam, Zach, Brandon, and me. I was worried about losing my shoes, but I needed them to hike back up so Cam tied his go-pro camera and floaty through the loops on my shoes and then he turned it on and then I just had to press the record button and go! The camera was running so I just needed to bite the bullet! And I did! Forty feet passed in a flash and I mostly hit smoothly. I'd gone in pretty tight, but at enough of an angle to feel liked I'd been slapped on the backside a bit. But then I was done and the fear was gone and only the excitement was left. Brandon did an aerial after me and then Zach and Cam came down. We walked/swam down the river, looking for the supposed trail, found what we thought was the trail and followed it (a precarious ledge) until we found the actual trail back up to the ledge. Just as we were about to reach the ledge we came across a sign saying we were leaving Grand Canyon National Park and entering the Havasupai Reservation, so at least for about fifteen minutes we were in the Grand Canyon National Park. :)

After gathering our stuff again and watching the different videos of the jump (both Emily (on Zach's camera) and Cam took videos - so hopefully you'll see them here eventually) we then started the hike back up to Mooney. I don't know why exactly, but the hike back to Mooney went soooo much faster than the hike down. In no time at all we were back at Mooney Falls, taking our last pictures and heading up the fabulous cliffside jungle gym one more time. Dinner, mashed potatoes and chicken (freeze dried) was delicious with some more freeze dried ice cream to top things off. We all packed everything up and got as much ready to go for the hike back as we could before settling for the night. Brandon and I listened to music and played games on our phones together until we dozed off and slept well. I woke up frequently throughout the night every night, but after that first night, even with the constant interruptions, I still felt like I slept well. I think we were just exhausted enough to help our bodies get some good rest.

Mooney Falls (back from hike to Beaver Falls)
Bright (or not so bright) and early at 4:00 we woke up and packed our tents and sleeping bags up. Delicious Freeze-dried granola for breakfast again and we were leaving the camp by 5:10 or so.

Before I forget, let me mention the restrooms. I've always been pretty unimpressed with port-a-potties and outhouses, but as those things go, these restrooms were pretty fantastic. They were essentially two story houses with about four to five doors on them each (there were three of these structures throughout the camp). The doors didn't always lock but the restrooms almost always had toilet paper (though we'd brought our own just in case) and they'd devised a system that seemed to work remarkably well to contain the smell, though there were a few times when we noticed it wasn't working as well. The instructions they had in each stall basically said to use the restroom like you normally would, but to then take a scoop from a bucket full of wood shavings and dump in down the hole and then close the lid. Two very simple steps that seem to eradicate the smell usually associated with sewage. And the times when they did smell, those instructions always appeared to have been ignored. All in all, I was very impressed.

Anyway, out of the camp around 5:10 we hiked up to the village (two miles) and then, after a longish break, went for the rest of the eight miles out of the canyon. Lots of breaks and lots of hiking later, Brandon and I finished around 11:00. We'd been in the shade for the majority of the time, but that last hour or two we were in the sun going straight up the switchbacks. Oh, and remember how I was going to pack my bag out on a mule? That never ended up happening because we always saw the mules leaving with packs way later in the morning and we were worried they wouldn't get up the canyon before us. And that was a pretty legitimate concern because, while we saw number of mule/horse trains going up (the first one thundered by - so glad we were out of the way!) they didn't have any packs until the very last group. It felt so good to finally have that pack off my back! And on top of that there was a lady selling cold soda at the top for $1. So good. Zach and Emily (the Older) came next and then Cam and Emily (the Younger) finished it off gloriously! And we were out!

Horses/Mules running up the trail! Get out of the way!

Almost to the top!

We're out! We made it!

Our group!
A few notes on the general experience:

1.) Take water shoes. I was advised by two friends who'd been down there that I might but probably wouldn't need them, but I so wish I'd taken my five fingers! Pretty much every time we went into one of the falls or hiked down to Beaver (potentially having to frequently cross water), I wanted them. The surface of the pools below the falls can sometimes be soft and sandy, but more often it was rocky and very uncomfortable. So, if there had been one thing I could have taken that I didn't, it would have been my five fingers.

2.) For me, I wore my "hiking" shoes (running shoes) all the way in, back and forth from Havasu Falls that first day, and then half way down to Beaver. I wore my sandals the rest of the time. Because of the little blisters I got going in, my running shoes were never wonderfully comfortable after that. But my sandals? Perfect. Hiking out in them - though I'm certain it looked a little silly to some onlookers - was incredible. Way better than my hiking shoes. When I got sand in my running shoes, it gathered. When I got it in my sandals, it went right through. And blisters from my sandals? Not at all. I was very surprised by how wonderful they were.

3.) I already know this, but skirts rock! I wore skirts on top of my shorts pretty much the entire time except when I was wearing my swimsuit and it just made everything a little more comfortable. I think shorts are a pretty smart thing to hike in, being light weight, comfortable, and good for the weather, but as a runner I hate wearing shorts because they frequently tend to ride up in the middle as your legs brush together and you often have to awkwardly pull them down to feel comfortable. With a skirt, this is a non-existant problem. Plus, I think skirts just look a little more flattering. Definitely a win there for me.

4.) Brandon and I brought way too much food! We ended up sharing everything we ate so we had twice as many meals as we needed. And, while the MRE's aren't terrible, the freeze-dried food is definitely the way to go as long as you have a stove to heat water.

I feel like I got a good beginning four day cross-training into my system as my program begins for marathon training! So much fun! I'd definitely recommend it to anyone interested in camping and hiking!

After we were all out we changed into fresh clothes and the drove to Vegas where we ate at In-n-Out and I got to see Jacquelyn and Seth and then we headed back to St. George and took a long stint in the hot tub to work out some of our aches and then ordered pizza, took showers, and hung out. And then bed! Brandon was quite pleased, if still sympathetic, to see me awkwardly walking around the house, stiff from the hike and long drive. It was a nice reminder to him that I am, in fact, human. ;)

Wednesday morning after a lazy morning and delicious German Pancakes from Shauna we hit the road and are home!

My pictures are all posted to facebook, but, as I'm sure you've noticed, there are a few here as well!


  1. What an adventure! And what beautiful photos. I read and enjoyed every word. I'm glad you had a great time, that you were safe, and that you found your shoes. So... what's the next adventure? Aside from a marathon.

  2. Next adventure? St. Louis! We go next weekend for one of my cousin's wedding. That aside, I've got a half marathon in July and then the full in September. And we need to figure out a time to come and see you! And then after that, I need to make time for us to go visit my parents and grandparents. :) There's always so much to do! (Like applying to grad schools as well!)