Havasuper Time at Havasu Falls: Part 1
Checking off the bucket list
The optional extension to the Columbia Sportswear event last month was a three day trip to Havasu Falls, home of the Havasupai Indian Reservation, towering red cliffs, and deep turquoise waters. It is a destination that has been on my backpacking bucket list for several years so I absolutely jumped at this opportunity, especially with someone else taking care of all of the planning and bureaucracy. Because I didn’t have to deal with the permitting and payment myself I’m not going to go into the details of how to visit, you can find that out for yourself.
Our Havasu Adventure started on the Sunday morning with another 5 am wakeup call at our hotel in Sedona. While grabbing a quick breakfast in the lobby we dropped our non-backpacking luggage with a van that would later meet us in Phoenix. Looking like a weird cult in our matching new Columbia Sportswear gear, we piled into two shuttle vans that would take us the four hours to Hualapai Hilltop, the trailhead for our trip. Our shuttle driver, JR, entertained us with tall tales the entire way.
Seligman, Arizona is a strange little town where the old route 66 meets the newer route 40. It was here that we enjoyed our last bit of civilization (mmm Cheese Nips) and met up with Brian, Chris, and Sheldon, a few of our guides from Arizona Outback Adventures. As we drove the final hour to the trailhead, Brian explained the things we’d be seeing and experiencing over the next few days and shared tips about how not to get run over by the mules and horses on the trail (always a good skill to know).
The trailhead at Hualapai Hilltop was crowded with hikers and horse packers both heading into and out of the canyon. We gathered together, got a big group shot, and started down into Hualapai Canyon. In the first mile and a half the trail descends about 1000 ft into the canyon, a relatively comfortable grade even in the hot sun.
After the initial descent into the head of the canyon the trail gently descends another 1000 ft over the next 6.5 miles until it reaches the Supai village. The descent is so gradual I barely noticed it, the only visual indication being the canyon walls. At the head of the canyon it was wide and sunny. The walls slowly grew around us as the trail dropped, eventually giving us some welcome shade opportunities on this hot June afternoon.
I’ve done a lot of desert hiking and actually enjoy the dry and hot conditions. I was well hydrated and very comfortable on this hot hike. But the sudden appearance of this beautiful water was enough to make me fall to my knees. The mineral content is high – this isn’t drinking water – but the mere action of splashing my face and wetting my neck gaiter felt like a gift from heaven. We stopped here and enjoyed our bagged lunch while a group of teenagers repeatedly floated by on this nature made water slide.
Next up was the Supai village, population ~400, and only accessible by foot, horse, or helicopter. We grabbed some cold sodas and Gatorade at the convenience store while our guides checked us in and got our wrist bands. Also there to distract us were the super friendly village dogs. We reluctantly bid farewell to our new canine friends, ready to see what was ahead.
Another mile down the trail and this appeared.
This is New Navajo Falls. I’m pretty sure everyone greeted the view with a similar expression: “holy @#!@”! Groups of people were swimming and jumping off this irresistible ~30 ft fall and we were all ready to drop our packs and jump in too. But our guide Brian shooed us down the trail, promising even better things ahead. And he wasn’t lying. Just before reaching the campground the trail passes by Havasu Falls, one of the most perfect swimming holes ever in the history of the world.
I actually have very few photos of Havasu Falls from this day – we were all too eager to drop our packs and jump in. I left my camera and GoPro with my pack and went swimming, all of us splashing and jumping and playing and laughing like little kids. Pure joy.
After an hour or so of goofing off we grabbed our stuff and wandered the short distance down the trail to our campsite, a semi-permanent base for our guide service, AOA. It was all set up with a huge kitchen, a Columbia tent village, and a private beach.
AOA fed us like kings. Appetizers of baked brie and crackers, and a giant dinner of steaks and grilled asparagus. All of the meals we got were amazing. This is not how I normally backpack but I could get used to it!
As if the day hadn’t been interesting enough, we set out for a post-dinner adventure to explore some prospect tunnels near our campsite. We scrambled up to a ledge and walked about 100 ft back in a tunnel full of interesting crystals and rocks. And cave creepers.
We all crashed pretty hard, tired from our 5 am departure, the hot hike, and playing in the water. Next up: Day 2, filled with more waterfalls, cliff jumping, the time I almost drowned in a hurricane cave, and participating in an awesome photograph. Wheeee!