Havasupai Falls: May 31-June 1, 2017

History/Background:

The Havasupai people, or Havasuw `Baaja, the people of the blue green waters, are the traditional guardians of the Grand Canyon.  The Havasupai have from the beginning inhabited the Grand Canyon and its environs.
In 1919 the Grand Canyon National Park was established.  At that time the Tribe was restricted to 518 acres, 5 miles wide and 12 miles long in a side canyon.  The Tribe had 188,077 acres of their former homelands returned to them which makes up their Reservation today.
The Havasupai Reservation is located in Coconino County, at the southwest corner of the Grand Canyon National Park.  The nearest community to the Reservation is Peach Springs, 65 miles southwest from Hualapai Hilltop.
The Havasupai Reservation consists of plateau country, dissected with deep, scenic canyons characteristic of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.  Notable geographic features include The Great Thumb, Long Mesa, and Tenderfoot Mesa, which converge on the Coconino Plateau at the south end of the reservation.
Havasu Canyon, now the permanent home of the Havasupai Tribe, is internationally known for its blue water and spectacular water falls adorned with travertine columns, shelves and skirts.  Topography of the plateau areas varies from rolling, gentle slopes, to escarpments of outcrops of the Kaibab Limestone.
The population for the Havasupai Tribe is 639 with a median age of 24.8 years.  The largest employer of the tribal members on the reservation is the Tribe.  The main occupation of individual members is packing and working for tribal tourism enterprises.(Retrieved from grandcanyon.com June 4, 2017)

Entrance to the Supai VillageDSCF0567

Specs:

Length: 20 miles (Round-trip)
Type: Out and Back
Rated: Moderate-Strenuous
Elevation Gain: 2,400 ft
Hualapai Hilltop to Campgrounds: 10 miles
Campgrounds to Mooney Falls: 0.5 miles
Campgrounds to Beaver Falls: 4 miles
Campgrounds to Colorado River: 8 mileshavasu_trip_topo

Permits/Reservations:

Hiking permits are required to visit the Havasupai Falls.  Day hiking IS NOT allowed.  Some people will bend the rules a bit and buy a permit and then just go down for the day to enjoy the beauty of the falls and the surrounding pools.  We were checked on the hike  to the campground for our permits.  So yes, they do check.

Havasupai Falls Arizona – Official Website – Contact and Planning Information
The Havasupai Tribe – Official Website
PO Box 10
Supai, Arizona 86435
(928) 448-2111 Phone
(928) 448-2551 FAX
http://theofficialhavasupaitribe.com/

Please contact the Havasupai Tourist Office for Entry and Camping Permits:
928-448-2121
928-448-2141
928-448-2180
Online Reservations: https://www.sunrisereservations.com/reservation/selectSiteCriteria?cgId=461

Please contact the Havasupai Lodge directly for lodge reservations at:
928-448-2111
928-448-2101
E-mail: htlodge0@havasupai-nsn.gov.

Helicopter rides are offered daily, weather permitting. $85 each way with one medium sized backpack (20-40 lbs).  The flight leaves from Hualapai Hilltop, and drops you off in Supai Village 2 miles from Havasu Falls Campground.  The helicopters are first come first serve, and the flight is less than 10 minutes.

Mules are available for personal transport and to carry gear.
Gear Transport: $75 one way/ $150 round trip
Personal transport: $75 one way/ $120 round trip + $40 non-refundable deposit
(These are the prices listed on the website.  We were charged $120 dollars to hire a mule to pack are gear back up to the Hualapai Hilltop)

We chose to hike in with our backpacks. The packs ranged from 30 to 40 pounds. We carried sleeping bags, sleeping bag pads, ultralight tents, clothing, food, water, stove, towels, ultralight camping chairs, ultralight hammocks. We all carried at least four liters of water.  The Havasupai Falls website recommends two liters to 1 gallon of water to hike each way.  There is a wonderful freshwater spring available in the campground to replenish water.  The village has a market with food supplies.  There is a small area in the front of the campgrounds where the Supai sell cold water, Gatorade, and sodas.  You can also purchase fried bread tacos and hotdogs.

Fern spring

You must be in good physical shape to hike to Havasu Falls.  As mentioned above, this is a moderate hike by general backpacking standards, but it is 10 miles long and can be very hot, up to 105°F in the shade.

The Adventure

This adventure began with trying to get a permit to hike to the Havasupai Falls campground.  Since first seeing photos of the Havasu Falls, I was obsessed with going.  Permitting begins February 1st of each year.  This year, the Supai tribe launched a new website to book permits which crashed after 48 hours.  Such is the demand to get to the falls.  We began calling February 1st with the rest of the world.  We called daily, over and over, only to receive a busy signal.  On February 27, after 27 days of trying, someone finally answered the phone.  I was so shocked it took me a moment to remember why I called.  By that time only two days were available.  Only two days!!  I was given a choice of a Wednesday in May or August.  August in Arizona?  The average temperature in Arizona in August is between 103-106 degrees.  I chose May.  So the planning began, spear-headed by our friend Garrett.

The Hualapai Hilltop (the start of the hike) is 460 miles, or 7 hours from my home.  It is strongly recommended to get an early start on the hike to avoid as much of the daytime heat as possible.  Therefore, we had to find a place to stay close to the trailhead the day before the actual hike.  The closest town is Peach Springs, Arizona.  Peach Springs offered two lodging choices, both with challenges.

The first was Grand Canyon Caverns
Address: 115 Mile Marker AZ-66, Peach Springs, AZ 86434
Phone: (928) 422-3223Cavern room

grand-canyon-caverns

The other was Hualapai Lodge
Address: 900 AZ-66, Peach Springs, AZ 86434
Phone: (888) 868-9378Hualipai LodgeHualipai Lodge outside

The reviews on the Grand Canyon Caverns accommodations were described as rundown and kitschy with poor wi-fi connectivity.  They do have cavern tours which received good reviews.  The Hualapai Lodge reviews described the accommodations as great except for the trains.  Trains run by the Lodge hourly.  And let loose their train whistle as they go by.  The Lodge is incredibly close to the tracks.  Every review mentioned the trains.  The Lodge offers ear plugs to everyone who stays there.  I didn’t use them.  We chose the train over kitschy.  The Hualapai Lodge has the only restaurant in town.  They served yummy fried bread tacos. We all tried them except my husband.  He ordered spaghetti.  I am still shaking my head over that one. We all slept through most of the train whistles. Except my husband.  He can tell you exactly when each train came by.  To the minute.  Was it the spaghetti?  I don’t know.  I would suggest you read other reviews before choosing between the hotels.

indian tacoear plugs

By the way, Peach Springs offers nothing for entertainment.  We walked around taking pics of several abandoned buildings.  There was a market that offered an Internet Café.

abandoned buildingRoute 66 abandoned gas station located in Peach Springs

The Hualapai Lodge is operated by the Hualapai Native Americans and is located on their lands.  The distance from both hotels is about 65 miles (1 ½ hours) to the trailhead.  There are no gas stations between Peach Springs and the trail head.  Make sure you have gas before heading out.                                                                                                                                                  Road to haulapai hilltop

Beware of Cows!!!  You travel through grasslands on the way to the trail.  There are several warning signs about cattle crossing on the way.  Between mile 30 and 31 we saw a dead cow on the side of the road.  Just beyond the cow was a totaled red truck.  My husband met the daughter of the man who had been driving that truck at the campgrounds.  They were traveling at night when they hit the cow.  Fortunately, they had been traveling with a church group.  They had enough vehicles to get the family safely to the campgrounds.  No one was seriously injured.  Except of course the cow.  Which reminds me, there is no cell phone reception on the way to the trail.

We left the Hualapai Lodge at 5:30 a.m. and made it to the Hualapai Hilltop at 7:00 a.m.  I was surprised by the number of cars in the parking lot and along the roadway. We were able to find parking easily however.  We loaded up our packs, and headed off.

Begin the train

The trail drops down dramatically as soon as you begin.  You will hike down a series of switchbacks that are cut into the cliff.  The switch backs (with the exception of the first two) are not too steep.   In the first mile you descend 2000 feet to the dry wash in the bottom of Hualapai Canyon.  We passed several people who were making their way to the top as we went down.  They were red-faced and looked exhausted.   The majority had day packs.  At this point I didn’t understand why no one had large hiking packs.  I later learned that most people hire mules to pack their stuff out.  Several mule trains passed us going up to the top of the canyon.

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After the 1st mile the trail flattened out significantly with a slight downward slope through the canyon. For the first 3 miles of the hike you are fully exposed to the sun.  For this reason it is very important to begin your hike early and to hydrate well. Hats and sunscreen are recommended.  One hour into our hike, we found a black flag on a hillside. I could not read the flag and have no idea what it represented. This flag became very important on the way back because once I saw it I knew that I had approximately one hour left to hike.  The average length of time to complete the hike is 4-7 hours each way.

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barbon hike

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We pushed on for two hours before we took our first break.  I randomly chose the break-time.  I wanted to get close to half-way through the hike before stopping.  This is a mental survival trick for me.  I strongly recommend to stop as often as you feel you need to.  Each hike is individual.  It was around this point when we heard a great commotion and people screaming to get out of the way.  A mule was on the loose!!  The mule came charging through at an incredible pace and was running at people.  We jumped out of the way and hid behind a tree until it finally ran off.  You learn very quickly to just get out of the way of the mule-trains as they go by.  It adds time to the overall hike but that is much better than getting hit by a mule.  From mile 3 to mile 8 we had a lot of shade-cover from the canyon walls and an occasional breeze.

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At about 6.5 miles in, you begin to note water trickling in a few areas.   Following the trail, you begin to first hear, and then see, the river.  You turn downstream beside the river and find yourself protected from the sun by the shade of willow and cottonwood trees.  You will see a sign the says “you are almost there” and cross a bridge that points you on to the village.  You are not almost there.  It is 1.5 miles from the start of the river to the village of the Supai.  At this point you have been trudging through thick red sandy/silty dirt.  It filled up my shoes and my socks.  I was tired.  My 30-pound pack was bruising my hips.  It’s really too late to turn back, so you keep trudging forward.

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Finally, after 8 miles and 4 hours, we made it to the village.  At the village there is an office where you have to check in.  And you get to take the pack off for a minute!! For those of you who haven’t back-packed this way, it is hilarious how little control you have of your forward movement when you first take the pack off.  You feel thrust forward and stagger around.  Everyone is given a wrist band to wear when you check in.  It is to be worn the entire time you spend at the campground or the village.  My first question to the staff was how to hire a mule to pack my stuff out.  I was not carrying that thing out.  The $120.00 was money well spent.  If you decide to have your stuff carried out on a mule, bring a small daypack to carry the water you will need to hike out.  From the office you hike two miles further to get to the campground.

On the way to the campgrounds you will first pass the Fifty Foot Falls

DSCF0570

And then the beautiful Havasu Falls as you travel down the canyon towards the campgrounds.  Havasupai is roughly translated as “The people of the blue-green waters,” which refers to the beautiful turquoise color of Havasu Creek.  The color of the water is the result of having been stored underground – in limestone caverns or aquifers – for as much as 30,000 years.  While underground, the water leaches out minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium, from the limestone.  These minerals saturate the water and reflect sunlight, making the water a turquoise color. (Retrieved from Wild Backpacker, June 5, 2017)

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When you walk into the campgrounds you are tired.  The temptation is to find the first camping spot available.  The spots are first come first serve.  We found a beautiful spot.  I recommend to walk a little further back into the campgrounds during your search.  You may be exhausted but go a little further.  The sites get more beautiful the further you walk in.

hammock

camp river

bridge cross

The water is cold, but certainly not as cold as most mountain run-off streams I have been in.  Bring water shoes to protect your feet.  We swam in the river next to our tent as well as the pools surrounding Havasu Falls.  There were a lot of people staying at the campgrounds.  I have read many posts complaining about the number of people who visit Havasupai Falls.  I am not sure if we were lucky and picked a good day or not, but the camp was quiet our entire stay.  We saw fellow campers, but it never felt crowded.  There is NO ALCOHOL allowed and therefore no loud parties.  Also, many campers go to bed early to begin the hike out at 3 or 4 in the morning.

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If you continue along the river for ½ mile you find the majestic and breathtaking Mooney Falls.  The Supai people call this “The Mother of Waters”.  It is just beautiful.  To reach the bottom of Mooney Falls you’ll have to descend the chains, ladders, and bolts down a 200-feet tall travertine cliff.  This is a potentially dangerous descent.  Appropriate footwear is a must.  We found Mooney Falls too late in the day to descend to the bottom.  If you have the time, I would recommend going down.

mooney

havasu-falls ladder

We had fry bread tacos and hotdogs wrapped in fry bread for lunch/dinner.  They are sold by the Supai in the front of the campgrounds.  The prices were reasonable.  We also heated water and cooked dehydrated foods later in the evening for dinner. We turned in to sleep at around 8p.m. when the camp became dark.  It was quiet and the sound of the water was peaceful.  I slept well.  We were up at 5 a.m. to break down camp.  We had our gear at the front of the campgrounds by 6 a.m.  You are told to have it there by 7a.m. so that the packs can be loaded on to the mules.  We then head out of the campgrounds.

supai child

We reached the village in 45 minutes.  What seemed like such a difficult and long walk with the packs the day before now seemed pretty easy.  There were a lot of people in the village.  Many were waiting for breakfast at the restaurant which opened at 7a.m.  Some were lining up to get the helicopter back.  Eighty dollars and it’s first come first serve.  After a quick break, we headed out again.  You will be going up for the entire 10 mile hike back.  Again you will need 2 liters to one gallon of water to get out.

village church

leaving camp

There was a mule incident on the way out.  At about mile 4 an escaped mule came flying around the corner of the canyon at top-speed with very little warning. My husband yelled at me to get out of the way.  I yelled which way and he yelled to the left.  I turned to see the mule barreling down on me and literally dove off the trail, hitting a boulder and scraping up my leg.  It was very frightening.  You heard yells as it continued up the canyon.  Beware of Mules!!

black flag

mule pack out

daysi out 2

garretdone2

We did not stop for any breaks on the way out as it was getting hot.  I was so surprised at how fast we came on to the black flag.  Very soon after passing the flag we came upon the swithbacks to get up the side of the canyon wall.  I’m not going to sugar-coat it.  It was difficult.  I am not sure if I could have done it with the big pack.  We just kept going and going without breaks just to get out of there and out of the sun.  We stepped onto the top at 10:00 a.m., just under three hours after leaving the village.  There were people at the top that cheered you on as you came up.  I liked that.  It is important to remember to hike your own hike at your own safe pace.  One of our party came up at 11:00 and one at 11:40.  All of us had fallen under the spell of the beautiful oasis of water falls in the desert and want to go back.  We felt bad ass and accomplished and were all ready to move on to the next big adventure…Angels Landing in the Zion National Park.

zion

 

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