Havasupai Backpacking Trip 2003: Day 1

Added 25 January 2004

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For information on Havasupai, go HERE

On Friday October 10, I took the day off for my much awaited backpacking trip down to Havasu Falls. I spent the morning finishing packing and getting gear together for Shannon and I. At around 11am, we headed out, picked Janet up, then headed up to Jeff and Necoe's. We arrived just as Jeff was getting home, and very shortly before Necoe got home. We threw our gear into Jeff's truck and headed out to the meeting location. We were a little bit late, but not too bad. Brad and Lori were already there, and as we were approaching the meeting spot, I got a call from Marisa that Mike was running late. She told us to go on without them and they would catch up. So at around 1pm or so, we were off, heading northbound.

We made it through Phoenix in pretty good time, and made it up to Flagstaff in about four hours. Along the way, we got rained on, so we had to make an emergency stop to cover our gear in the back of the truck, and when we got to Flagstaff it was windy, cold and stormy. When I talked with Marisa on the phone, they were still about 45 minutes behind us, which worked out well because people were freaking out about the weather and wanted to go to Target to buy some warmer clothes.

By the time everyone got out of Target and over to the Chinese restaurant we had chosen for dinner, Marisa and Mike were there. We ate a very nice dinner (moderately hastily) then headed westbound to the Havasupai Reservation. We got to Hualapai Hilltop at around 10pm or so and were quite surprised to find a large number of cars there. My recollection from years ago was that there were perhaps a few dozen cars in a small dirt parking lot. I figure there must have been around a hundred cars there that night.

Janet roaming in search of sleep

Marisa and Mike 'adopt' a Rez Dog Everyone chose how they wanted to spend the night (in a tent, back of the truck, in the truck, etc.), and it was probably approaching midnight before most of us got to bed. Shan didn't sleep too well, but as it turns out, we probably slept better than almost everyone else. Jeff and Necoe were sleeping in the back of his truck, and Jeff nearly froze to death. He ended up sleeping in his truck. Brad and Lori tried sleeping in their truck, and apparently hardly slept at all. Janet also slept in their truck and did a little better. I think Marisa and Mike did pretty well in the back of her Pathfinder.
Brian with eyes wide shut Jeff gets ready for bed while Janet is still roaming in search of sleep

Hiking down the switchbacks. The whole gang.We got up fairly early on Saturday but everyone was pretty slow getting ready and we didn't get on the trail until almost eight in the morning on Saturday. We got a slow start, with lots of stops, and we didn't get much faster as the day wore on. I wasn't in a big rush either, but I have to admit I was a bit disconcerted about how many people were passing us on the way down since the camp sites are first-come first-served. At any rate, we had a pleasant hike down the canyon, enjoying the amazing beauty of the area. In the picture (at left) we are, from left to right: Mike, Marisa, Necoe, Jeff, Brian, Shannon, Janet, Lori and Brad.

The group heading down the trail View down the canyon to Havasupai.

It wasn't long before we had decended enough that we could see down the canyon that would lead us to Havasu Falls (near right).

A Supai man directs the mule train down to the village of Supai.

Before long, we got to the bottom of the canyon and started following the dry wash. We were passed by a couple of mule trains heading into the canyon just as we hit the wash (left).

The first part of the hike down the wash is open canyon, with fairly short cliff faces on either side. I stopped often in this section to admire the wonderful blend of earth and plant.

Two large earthen eyes keep watch over this prickly pear cactus (<I>Opuntia phaeacantha</I>). Brad helps Lori adjust her pack. Yellow flowers grace some interesting erosion pockets in the sandstone.

Janet and Marisa head down the trail.The hike in is basically all down hill, but it was tougher than I imagined (or remembered), largely because we were hiking mainly in the wash and the surface we were walking on much of the time was loose gravel. It really saps the energy and works those leg muscles. My ankles were having a tough time because of the nearly 70 pound pack I had on. I was still doing better than most of the people on the trip though. I did decide to dump some of my excessive amount of water about half-way down when I realized that I wouldn't need it. I was carrying more than 3 gallons of water just in case someone else didn't prepare adequately, and since there is water at the bottom (that should be filtered), it is only necessary to carry a days worth of water.

Jeff and Necoe take a break. Shannon and Brian keep on tromping. The gals:  Janet, Marisa, Shannon and Necoe make their way into the deeper part of the canyon.

As we got further down the canyon the walls closed in and got taller, making for some interesting rock formations and magical light effects. At one point, a large section of the cliff face on the outside of a river bend had been severely undercut by erosion. I wouldn't want to be hiking there when it finally gives way!!

A large hunk of sandstone that has fallen off the cliffs above has been sculpted by the wash. The high cliff walls guides the wash around a wide bend. Hiking under the cliff.  The wash has severely undercut this cliff.

At around mid-day, we stopped to rest and have a bite to eat. We found a wonderful jumble of huge boulders to sit and climb on. While we were there, a raven paid us a visit, likely hoping we would leave him some food.

Brad, Janet, Necoe and Brian adjust gear and re-tie shoes. Brian decides to stretch out a bit by climbing this large boulder in the middle of the wash. A raven flies overhead..

As we approached town, Shannon and I bolted ahead of the group to sign in for camp. The camping office was really busy and it took a fair while for us to get our camping tags. The entrance to town is guarded by two impressive sandstone towers.By the time we were done getting our camping tags, the whole group was there. The entrance to town (right) is quite impressive.

On the way down, Janet and Shannon conspired to pay to have a mule haul their packs back up to the car on the hike back out, and Lori agreed to go in on the mule as well. So while Shannon and I waited for Janet to arrange for the mule, I had everyone else take off for camp (another two miles down the trail) to try to get a good camp site. They had a good 15 minute head start on us by the time we left Supai village for camp. Shannon and Janet were busy talking, so I motored on ahead, I passed Brad and Lori within a mile or so, Jeff and Necoe within another half mile, and Marisa and Mike within another quarter mile of that, not to mention all of the other hikers I passed. I was a man on a mission.

My "sprint to the finish" hardly mattered though (though I suppose it could have been even worse without it). The place was absolutely packed with people! I was in shock. Gone is the quiet, lonely Havasu Canyon I remembered from lo those many years ago. Not too far into the campground, we found one relatively secluded spot, but it was pretty damp, so while Marisa kept guard over it and our packs, Mike and I went further down canyon to try to find a better camp site. We came back empty-handed, but went out again with Jeff to scope out some potential sites on the other side of the creek. By the time we got back to those sites, they were taken, which is probably just as well, because at least a few of the folks in the group would not have wanted to ford the rather chilly creek to go to the bathroom.

So we contented ourselves to our little swampland spot. We all set about getting our tents up and gear organized. Then all of us except Marisa and Mike headed to Havasu Falls in the remaining daylight hours. Havasu Falls was absolutely gorgeous, despite the destruction of much of the travertine below the falls during a 1993 flood. Some of the travertine is still there, and it is still beautiful.

Havasu Falls. Jeff and Necoe at Havasu Falls. Brad and Lori at Havasu Falls. Brian and Shannon at Havasu Falls.

Travartine below Havasu Falls. Brian, Brad, Lori, Jeff and Necoe below Havasu Falls.

Havasu Falls. Havasu Falls. Havasu Falls.

Our plan was to head in to town for dinner that night, but Marisa and Mike stayed at camp, and Brad and Lori were too tired to hike to the village, so it was just Jeff, Necoe, Janet, Shannon and I. We left at around a quarter to five in order to make the two mile hike before the restaurant closed at 5:30. We managed to get there before they were supposed to close, but the doors were locked. Apparently they had run out of food. Or so we were told. We had one ray of hope in that there was a Supai couple on the patio cooking food for people.

We soon discovered that all they were making was indian fry bread with honey, and burgers or hot dogs. Our hopes were dashed when we figured out they were only cooking on a two burner Coleman stove, and that each of our orders would add 15 minutes to our wait time. Jeff and Necoe ordered first and their order wouldn't be ready for 45 minutes, leaving the wait for the rest of us at an hour or more. Shannon was getting hungry, and when she needs food, she needs food, so we set out in search of someplace else to eat, leaving Jeff and Necoe behind. The three of us remaining hungry ones went to the general store, where they suggested "Valerie" and gave us directions.

We went down the "alley" beside the restaurant and started towards a gate with a sign on it. As we approached the gate, a Supai man asked what we were doing. We mentioned Valerie, and he had us follow him for a short ways, leading us through someone's back yard before directing us further on. We ended up having to climb through two barbed wire fences and walk across two yards and a corral to get to the place we were told was Valerie's, which was simply a ramshackle house in a whole village of ramshackle houses. We made Shannon knock on the door and a very nice woman (presumably Valerie) answered. Unfortunately, she didn't have anything vegetarian, so we thanked her and moved on.

We had seen some signs for some other private residents selling food, so we continued our quest. We got to the first place just as two people were leaving. We asked them about food there, and they said that the two people who got to the restaurant before them got the last two meals. The second place, a ways down the road had also run out of food. We spoke with the Supai Village fireman (and I do mean THE fireman) who said those were the only places he knew of. So, empty-stomached, we marched back to camp, snacking on a bit of trail mix to tide us over. I have to admit that I was quite surprised to hear Shan say that she wasn't upset at all about our failed food search. We all felt that even though not finding food was not a good thing, wandering around the town was a very interesting and somewhat enlightening adventure.

When we got back to camp, well after dark, we made dinner for ourselves, then chatted with everyone for a short while before we all retired to our respective tents. As we did, we all sincerely hoped that the group across the way from us would soon get tired and shut up. The group was really large (in excess of 40 people) and they were being pretty rowdy.

A little before 10 o'clock, Brad, Lori and myself hiked back to Havasu Falls to see what it looked like under a nearly full moon. The falls were back-lit, but it was still beautiful. Unfortunately we got to the base of the falls just as a somewhat loud and obnoxious group got there. We found a place slightly away from them and tried to ignore them as much as possible. After a while Brad and Lori left, and shortly thereafter, the other group of people left too, leaving me almost all to myself to enjoy the beautiful evening under a near full moon. It was definitely a magical time and place to be. Before heading back, I decided to take a quick bath in the pools below the falls. I didn't quite have the guts to get completely submerged, but I made major inroads on the dust and sweat I had accumulated over the course of the day. I returned to camp relaxed and refreshed, and pleasantly surprised to find that the rowdy neighbors had been reduced to a mere handful of folks in quiet conversation. I slept wonderfully through most of the night.

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