- ELISABETH BRENTANO
HAVASUPAI LIVES UP TO THE HYPE
I first saw a photo of Havasu Falls a few years ago on Instagram, and ever since then, I've been dying to go. Could the water really be as blue as the pictures suggested? Spoiler alert: It is.
My friend Holly was lucky enough to snag four Havasupai permits for the first week of April, and I didn't even check my schedule before I said yes. It was going to be chilly and packing would take some planning, but I was beyond excited to go with such an awesome group of women. I randomly met Holly on top of a mountain in Washington last June and I connected with Andrea at a coffee shop in Banff in August, but aside from those brief exchanges, I had never hung out with either of them. But hey, we're internet friends, so that's gotta count for something, right? I met Breeze in Yosemite last January and we've been on a few adventures together, so she was the only one I actually knew.
During our three days there, we pushed ourselves to try new things, we shared intimate details of our lives and we were able to get comfortable with one another. We marveled at the color of the water and the force of the falls, and though we were exhausted when we finished the hike, we couldn't stop smiling. I know I can speak for everyone in our group when I say we're dying to go back.
We got wet, wild and met some people who made us realize that this is what adventure is all about. So, you wanna do this too? Rad. You should. Here's some basic info:
Holly is kind of like Superwoman. Not only did she break her ankle in December and go through a grueling recovery process before this hike, but she somehow managed to get our permits online back in February. As far as I can tell, the online system is currently down, and the only way to get permits is to call. And call. And call. That's all I can tell you...
The hikes and distances
You start at the Hualapai Hilltop parking lot and hike for 8 miles before coming across the village. This is where you check in at the ranger station, and there is a small store where you can purchase snacks and other essentials. From there it's another 2 miles to Havasu Falls and the campgrounds. The hike to Mooney Falls is .5 miles (more on that below), Beaver Falls is 3-4, and the Colorado River is 8. The campgrounds have tables, and there are plenty of water sources, as you're literally right next to the creek.
The hardest part?
On your way back, the last mile of the trail is the hardest. Even if you start early, you're wrapping up a ten mile hike with 2,500 feet of gain in the middle of the day. And most of that gain is on the switchbacks at the very end. Bring sunscreen, hiking poles, and re-up on water at the village before you go the remaining 8 miles. Make sure you also have water in your car, because you'll need it.
We were warned about the aggressive rodents, and we thought we were safe. We weren't. Not only will the supersized squirrels gnaw through tents, but they are strong enough to take a large stuff sack of food and carry it 200 feet from your campsite. This happened to us. Even hanging your food is pointless, so either keep it on you at all times, or use a bear bag/canister and bury that in your tent. Thankfully, a lot of campers are happy to share their snacks with you, and of course, there is fry bread...
Fry bread is available at the village and at a stand at the entry to the campground. You can get it around a burger, as an open faced taco, or you can slather Nutella and powdered sugar all over it. All of these are good options, and had we known that there was a station a few minutes from our campsite, we wouldn't have brought three days worth of MREs.
The ladders to Mooney Falls
I'm in great physical shape and I've done far sketchier hikes then the .5 mile trek to Mooney Falls, but when you're in the middle of making your way down a wet, slippery rock wall with nothing but wobbly chains and soaked wooden beams beneath your feet, it's still pretty anxiety-inducing. Once I got in my own head, my legs were shaking so much I truly believed it would affect my ability to place my feet on the rungs and get down. You'll be fine. I was. But just make sure you wear the right shoes and be mentally prepared for what you're getting yourself into if you want to see Mooney and Beaver Falls.
We carried our own bags in, but if you don't want to do that, you can pay for mules and horses to carry it for you. As a result, much of the trail is littered with manure, which is a bit of a bummer. You can also take a helicopter in and out, but it's only available a few days a week. While I'm grateful options like these exist for people who physically cannot hike in (in case you didn't know, my dad has muscular dystrophy, so I often think of this), we saw far too many fit twenty and thirtysomethings taking the heli or using pack animals. I'm sorry, but that's not the way you do it. If you want to get the full Havasupai experience, tough it out. It makes you appreciate the beauty so much more, even if you're sore and missing some comforts from home. I promise. This place is pure magic.