Monday, August 8, 2011

Havasupai, Part 2 (May, 2011)


Upon waking up the next morning, I realized how much stress I had put on my old knees hiking downhill for 10 miles the previous day. Actually, the real problem was it was my first long hike in 9 months and the tendons & ligaments were badly out of shape. My knees would continue to haunt me for the rest of the hike.

I had also woken up to find puddles of water in my tent. It had rained a bit that night, so I was a bit panicked that my tent had a leak. Turns out I left the valve open on my Camelbak and the bag was laying sideways, so my entire water bladder emptied inside the tent! My synthetic hiking shirt was great for soaking up the water and it dried quickly in the sun.

After having breakfast and tending to my blisters, it was time for us to head out and explore the canyon.

We started heading down the canyon in search of the third waterfall. After a few miles we came upon the edge of a cliff and a huge waterfall: Mooney Falls. It is by far the most spectacular area of the canyon.

Looking down the canyon from the top of Mooney Falls.
The first view of Mooney Falls.

Mooney Falls.

After spending time taking in the sights of this amazing water fall, I had to figure out how to get down to the bottom. It was pretty much a sheer cliff face, with many indentations and caves. It turns out there is a tunnel near the top which follows the edge about 45 degrees vertical before coming out on a small ledge, then a second tunnel to another ledge. From this ledge, you scramble down to the bottom by holding on very tightly to a number of chains and a few ladders. It's a bit scary, but not impossible. But you need both hands to do it.

The tunnel starting the descent.

The chains on the way down.

JY working his way down the chains and ladders.

The pool at the bottom of Mooney Falls is wonderful, but the force of the spray doesn't make it the best spot for wading and swimming. I stood in front of the waterfall and it puts out a terrific wind and it instantly cools you like a massive air conditioner. I heard you can go behind the falls, but one person I talked to said they nearly got pulled under the water and trapped there, so I decided it was safest to keep my distance. Just beyond the pool are are some cascades with just amazing colors.

Some cascades further down river from Mooney Falls.

Looking back at Mooney Falls.

We continued working our way down the canyon hoping to find the elusive fourth waterfall. We were told it's not nearly as impressive as the first three, but we had all day to explore and were hoping to find it. After continuing down the canyon about a mile, we reached a point where we could go no further. It turns out, most of the rest of the hike consists of river crossings, and just plain wading through the river down the canyon. Neither of us brought canyoneering gear or wet shoes, so we decided to head back. The canyon down did get very green and it was like a mini jungle in the desert.

We finally headed back up the canyon, past our campsite and returned to Havasu Falls, where we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. Havasu Falls is a nice place to wade, swim, and relax. Annoyingly, some young girls were in water next to us shampooing their hair and shaving their legs! Ugh! Please don't do this in the river! By the end of the day, I estimated we had hiked another 7 miles and my knees were really bothering me a lot.


The last day... we got up early so we could get through the worst of the hike before the afternoon heat kicked in. But my knee was so bad I could barely walk. We found out that helicopter rentals were quite reasonably priced and JY was trying to convince me to fly back to the parking lot. I've never been on a helicopter and would love to it, but I was determined to hike back up and finish the trip properly. I took about 4 ibuprofens and we hit the trail. Once I got moving and my knees warmed up, the pain wasn't so bad (or was that the pain killer?) I did well, but the final mile became unbearable. My knee was actually getting wobbly and wouldn't bear my weight. I pulled out my trekking poles and used them to pull myself up the last big climb. I think we were at our cars by  noon and beat most of the heat, which was fantastic.

JY took off and heading to LA for a few days and I headed over to the Grand Canyon for a day before driving back home. The area is beautiful and I would go back in a minute. Hopefully my knee will get stronger and it won't cause any problems by the time I get to My Whitney. The trip was my first time camping in a number of years. Because we used pack mules, it won't count as a backpacking trip, but I did get in 27 miles in 3 days after a long 9 month break.

Full set of photos from the trip: Smugmug photos

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