Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Havasupai, Part 1 (May, 2011)

Before I get started, let's reveal some background info. I started hiking a number of years back, and those first few hikes were hard! I could barely make it 2 miles and I would collapse afterwards. But by the end of that first year, I climbed to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. The view from the top, and the accomplishment of something that difficult after one year of hiking, made me want to continue hiking more and tackle bigger and better things. That said, I have no allusions of climbing Everest! I've continued to hike over the years, but not as much as that first year.

Earlier this spring (2011) a friend asked if I wanted to hike Mt. Whitney in September. I couldn't say "yes!" fast enough, even though I knew I wasn't even close to being ready. I was out of shape from the winter and only did a few hikes the previous year. Also, I've hardly done any camping in and I've never done a backpacking trip. I should also add that I'm mostly a solo hiker, and now I need to work with 6 other people, spending 3 days backpacking to the highest mountain in the continental United States. Time to start training. And hence part of the reason for this blog: document my hiking (along with other interests.)

About a week after agreeing to Whitney, the same friend (JY) says he has an opportunity to hike a canyon near the Grand Canyon in March. It sounded sort of interesting, but I was hesitant. I've never been to the Grand Canyon, so I was intrigued. He then showed me some pictures on the internet of the destination: Havasupai. Wow... What a beautiful Eden in the desert. And I recognized it from a Grand Canyon documentary I had seen 6 months before. Now I wanted to go! We ended up realizing we couldn't go with that group in March, but nothing was stopping the two of going on our own in May.

The hike to Havasupai is basically 10 miles each way. Havasupai is an indian village in a reservation. The village has no access except by the trail and helicopter. When you hike the trail down the canyon to the village, you pass numerous mule trains bringing supplies to the village. So that we could take more gear, like fancy cameras, we hired a mule to carry our backpacks so we'd only need to hike with a day pack. So I'm not quite doing the backpacking thing, but it was close. Our plan was to hike down on day 1, day 2 was exploring, then day 3 hike back up. So 2 nights in the campground.

Looking down Haulapai canyon from the Haulapai Hilltop trailhead.

We had nice cool weather on the first day, which was awesome. In fact, we even had some rain sprinkles to keep us cool.  The hike started with a set of steep switchbacks before entering Hualapai canyon about a mile into the hike. It's a pretty wide slot canyon, but you don't want to be in it during the monsoon season and the rain water rushes down the canyon. Hiking down through the canyon was quite nice, with lots of wildflowers and the tall canyon walls blocking the worst of the sun.

Some of the switchbacks near the trail head.

Part of the well-maintained trail through the canyon.

One of many mule trains passing us.

About 6 or 7 miles in, you reach Havasu canyon. This canyon contains the Havasu river which is the source of the amazing waterfalls to come. Another mile or so down this trail brings you to Supai village. There's a store here for re-supplying, a post office, a school for the kids, and even a hotel. I never saw the hotel, but from the look of things, I preferred my tent. And the campground is in a beautiful location!

First view of the Supai river and its beautiful colors.

The two sentinels greet you as you enter the Supai village.

The welcoming committee.

After checking in and getting our campground permits, it we hiked one more mile to the campground. About one third of the way to the campground we see our first amazing site: The New Navajo Falls. They look amazing. Because of the seasonal flooding from the monsoon season, the waterfalls occasionally change shape and move position. I've been told the original Navajo Falls were much more spectacular than the ones we see now.

New Navajo Falls.

New Navajo Falls.

We continue another third of a mile and come across Havasu Falls, which takes your breath away. They are stunning to behold.

First view of Havasu Falls.

After a quick stop it was time to continue to our campsite and get set up. The campground is quite large, so you can get away from other campers. We found a nice spot near the river. I must say, sleeping next to a river is amazing.

After getting our gear from the mules, we had to carry it and our daypacks a half mile or so to our campsite. (photo by JY)

My tent set up.

At this point, I was quite tired after hiking 10 miles downhill. I had some blisters and my knees hurt from the downhill grade. It was time to call it a day.

To be continued...

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