It’s 5:30 am, I awake to the cold desert night air. Not wanting to leave the comfort of my Marmot Cloudbreak Mummy bag, nor remove my Columbia Omniheat base layers. The temps on the hilltop must have reach below 30°. And my hiking partner must have froze his keister off, considering he bailed out of the truck bed at 4 am in favor of the cab. I think he seriously considered just turning around and going back home, but I quickly put the Kibosh on that idea. You see, every other person whom was to accompany me on this trip had already dropped out. Everyone had a life changing event in the span of 2 months. A surgery of a loved one, a new job, the expected birth of a first child, loss of a childcare, work business trip and not enough money… Slowly I had watched this trip fall apart, and I wasn’t going to stop now. Less than 10 hours ago, I thought my last partner was going to bail at the last-minute. It seems he was coming up short on funds as well, but somehow made it happen. I’m not sure what bank he had to rob, but in retrospect, I believe he knows it was worth it.
It was just under a year ago when I discovered Havasupai. After seeing the Columbia Omniten team make this amazing trek last June to test out some new Columbia products. I had become infatuated with seeing and experiencing this place, and plans went into effect last summer. If you ask me, the Omniten project has been an inspiring success. Not that I’ve actually experienced it, but it has opened me up to new exciting places to adventure, and informed me of the amazing new products created by Columbia Sportswear. And now, it seemed as though the Cosmos were telling me now was not the time to make this Epic trip. But my will is stronger than denial…
There really is no good place to camp at the hilltop, that being the reason we decided to just sleep in the bed of the truck. The first time I had actually just camped under the stars when not being in my own back yard. But I just bundled into my Marmot mummy bag and put my Columbia Omniheat base layers and Omnifreeze Zero Neck Gaiter over my head for warmth. (I know, Omnifreeze for warmth?? It works amazing, like a light weight beanie.) I have to say, I was quite comfortable…
We chose to rise early in hopes of beating the heat of the day. No breakfast, just trail snacks and a few bananas. Seeing other hikers already making their way down the trail, was more than motivating enough to get me moving. About 2 miles into the hike, Miller said his hands were freezing and he thought he was suffering from the first stages of hypothermia… WTF? Seriously? We live in Utah man! We see colder weather than this 6 months out of the year. I said “your just going to have to man up, or put them in your pockets”.
We made good time, reaching the village of Supai in just about 3 hours, even stopping to change from the early morning comfort clothes into shorts and a Columbia Omnifreeze Ice shirt. On the trail we made a new friend and hiked the last few miles with him. He was a Polish man named Bob, a truck driver from Chicago (Poland originally). As we began talking, it was nice to see I could have so much in common with someone whom came from such a different walk of life. I also realized, I haven’t seen shit in my lifetime… This guy had seen 59 different countries, mostly hitch hiked through them. He was a mad man, and extremely funny. We invited Bob to share our campsite that night and the 3 of us decided to hike down to the bottom of Mooney Falls. It’s a short quarter-mile from the camp (if that). And we were all famished, so that was all we had left in the tanks for the evening. The hike down takes on small switch backs and then pretty straight down a sheer rock face with a chain anchored into the wall for about 100′. It’s single file down, and single file up… Can quickly turn into a log jam. As it is the only way in and out, it’s one of the best parts of the entire hike. And totally worth it.
When we set up camp, I was surprised to see that both Miller and I were able to assemble the Teton Sports Outfitter XXL Quick Tent. Neither one of us had ever used or really seen one set up before. So I decided to video it and it took under 2 minutes to set up, rain fly and all. I had asked my good friend Shawn Parry from Teton Sports if he had any interest in joining us. But the dates conflicted with business. And though he didn’t go, he was good enough to hook us up with some awesome Teton gear for the hike.
The next day, we woke and had a nice breakfast. Bob was scheduled to hike out that day, so we decided to accompany him 2 miles back to the town. After a fun swimming session in the pools near Havasu Falls, and jumping off the Lower Navajo Falls, the 3 of us trekked back to Supai. We stopped in the store where you can buy everything from ice cream to steaks. Then said goodbye to Bob and had a nice little lunch at the cafe. Though the food is pretty good, plan on waiting an extremely long time for your order, and the service pretty much sucks. Anxious to get back to camp, so we could begin our hike out to beaver Falls, we moved pretty fast down the trail. On our way back to camp, we came across 2 female hikers just arriving. We began talking with them and immediately made friends. Although they were too tired to make the 2 mile hike out to Beaver, we gave them a few ideas of things close by to see. And later that evening they crashed our campsite with vodka, Cuban cigars and good company.
Miller and I began our descent down Mooney Falls once again and stopped by to check out Ghost Canyon before hiking out to Beaver Falls. Just passed Ghost, you can see a steel ladder bolted into the rock face where miners used to mine Uranium. Hiking out to Beaver is more of a water hike, so be prepared to get wet, and bring water shoes. This was probably the best hike we made the entire time we were in Havasupai. River crossings, beautiful blue pools, small overflowing falls and steep cliff side trails. A must see for all who make the trek down to the Havasupai Reservation.
Once again, we had planned on beating the heat, though the way out was much steeper than the way in. The first mile, I thought we were going to die, a steep sandy trail that wreaked havoc on the calves. But once we made it back to the town, rested for 20 minutes and refueled our water, we gained a little strength. Fueled by coffee and creamer (strategically stolen from the cafe) the creamer, not the coffee. And donuts purchased at the store we pressed on. Taking a break with about 4 miles to go, I decided to change my socks. We ate some energy bars and moved forward. I felt rejuvenated. I had my second wind and left Miller in the dust… He caught up to me after I had a 20 minute rest at the base of the switchbacks. He laid his pack down, I picked mine up and said “I’ll see you at the top”. Following my hiking mantra “You can’t let the weak set the pace”. I reached the top to the sound of cheers. People exclaiming “you made it!” Then crashed into the bed of the truck while I waited for Miller. He topped out about 30 minutes after me, I thought the dude was going to collapse from exhaustion. We High 5’d in victory, and dreamed of an ice-cold beer.
In Hindsight, I would’ve packed much light. My pack weighed in at an astounding 45 lbs. And though the Teton Escape 4300 did an amazing job, I definitely used up every inch of the bag. The pack rides high keeping the support more towards my shoulders, which works great for me, as anyone who has climbed with me knows, I am extremely shouldery. Next time, I would hike out in the same clothes I hiked in. Pack just some water shoes, hiking boots, and board shorts for swimming. A few cameras, 1 cooking pot each and food for yourself. the rest of the weight would go to water, sleeping bag and maybe a lighter tent. Though I do love the Outfitter XXL, it is a little heavy for long distance packing hikes.
Havasupai is definitely a tourist trap. For $85 you can actually take a Helicopter down to the town. Most people hike in, but have the Natives pack their gear in by pack mule for only $187 round trip (4 bags up to 130 lbs). I kinda feel this defeats the purpose of “backcountry” hiking..? Alcohol is not allowed, though everyone seems to bring it anyways. Neither is jumping off the falls, but once again, everyone does it (including yours truly). The Natives are not very friendly, and they pretty much live as we do in our houses, with electricity, ever child has an Ipod, and I even saw a few Razor Dirt Quads in the town. With the town seeing around 300,000 visitors per year, I figure most stay 2 nights. That’s $80 per person, averaging out to somewhere between 20-30 million per year (not including helicopter, food, and pack mule $$). Not a bad way to make a living for this town. And though 60-70% of visitors are more of city people, and the campsites are crowded. It is a must see place in your lifetime… After all when will you ever get a chance to jump off of water falls?