VACATION IDEA BLOG #4
HAVASUPAI FALLS WITH JUSTIN BROWN
Permits open for Havasupai campgrounds in February every year and sell out within minutes, so when you get a permit no matter what time of the year, it’s like winning the lottery. Lauren and I were able to snag a 3 day/2-night permit. There is an extra charge to go during the weekends or on holidays, but we got a Monday thru Wednesday (10/22-10/24) permit.
With our trip so far out in the year we had plenty of time to buy all of our gear and research how we wanted to spend our time exploring. Also, since neither of us had been backpacking before, we did a 2-night trip in the Sierras prior to Havasupai, to make sure we knew what we were getting ourselves into. It was a good learning experience and I’d highly recommend trying out all your gear before going on any trip.
Eight months later and the time had finally come for our big adventure to begin. We decided to drive up a day early and stay at the Halaupai Lodge in Peach Springs, Arizona which was a 5.5-hour drive from Orange County. From there it’s still another 1.5-hour drive to the trailhead. Since it was October, we didn’t have to leave super early to avoid the heat, but we still left around 6:45AM. We got to Supai village, 8 miles later around 10:30AM, taking a few breaks for the rain to clear and to snack on some food.
The village is where you officially check-in and get your wristbands and instructions for camping. There is a small little market that stocks basic food necessities, as well as a restaurant that serves hot meals most of the day. The service is kind of slow and food is a little overpriced but what do you except, you’re in the middle of no-where eating a prepared meal. We got some fry bread (a must-try) and a breakfast burrito to fill our empty stomachs before hiking the remaining 2 miles to the campgrounds.
Leaving the village, you will pass two waterfalls, Fifty-Foot Falls and Navajo Falls. Both of which we blocked off and raging with muddy water because of the previous night’s storm. You will pass a fry-bread stand right before seeing Havasu Falls, which leads you into the campgrounds. Typically, there is plenty of camping options along the mile-long campground, but we were limited to only one side of the creek because of the bridge crossings were swept away by the flash flooding.
Once we found a good spot, we set up camp and relaxed for a bit. Around 2PM and we decided to walk back up to Havasu Falls and explore a bit. It definitely wasn’t the turquoise blue water that we were used to seeing in the pictures, but it was still a sight to see. During warmer months the water would probably be filled with people in rafts and floaties, but it was empty when we were there. The water temperature doesn’t change much during the year but I’m sure the brown water was the main reason people weren’t swimming.
It had been a long day already, so after spending some time at the falls we headed back to our campsite to make dinner before it got too dark. If you are like us, a small backpacking stove is all you need to make a good dinner. We opted for some freeze-dried meals from REI that just require you to boil water. There is a water-spigot at the beginning of the campground that flows with drinkable spring water for when you need to refill your bottles or hydration packs.
The next day, our only full day in Havasupai, we planned to wake up early and hike to Beaver Falls, another 3-miles past Mooney Falls. When we got to Mooney Falls there was caution tape up blocking off the trail, preventing people from going any further. This is the only route to get to Beaver Falls. My guess was that the rangers had put this up because of the possible erosion and unstable grounds. We decided to take some pictures at the top of the Mooney falls and hang out for a bit to see if anyone else was willing to venture past the tape.
After about an hour or so we saw enough people going past the tape that we decided it must be some-what safe and we had to try it for ourselves. There are a few “Descend at your own Risk” signs warning you that it won’t be easy to get down and many people have gotten injured in doing so. I was the only one willing to risk going down in hopes of seeing Mooney Falls from the bottom.
The path itself is only wide enough for people to go one direction at a time, so it can easily get backed up during busy times of the day. It ventures through caves and down slippery-steep mud, so if you aren’t paying attention of where you’re stepping you could get seriously injured. I was prepared by carrying everything in a small day bag which freed-up both my hands to grab the chains and repel down the last portion of the path. I also wore some cheap maintenance gloves that I got from Home Depot to help with my grip because the mist from Mooney Falls is always blowing onto this area. Once you make it down you can really feel the scale of the falls, as they stand over 200 feet tall.
Unfortunately, I didn’t go any further because I didn’t want to leave Lauren by herself for most of the day. I did however get some cool pictures looking up at Mooney Falls before making the ascent back up the path. Going up is a lot easier in my opinion because you can see where to place your hands and feet. If you have time going up, snap a few pictures through the caves facing towards the falls, for a cool perspective. For those who don’t hike all the way down the path, there are a bunch of photo opportunities up until the section where you have to hold onto the chains.
For the rest of the day we just hung out around the campsite and ventured through the campground, looking for good spots for when we return one-day. We also knew we had to make the 10-mile trek out the following day, so we wanted to save our energy. After making dinner we decided to pack up as much as we could around camp to make the following morning a lot easier. For the hike out, we had decided to have our heavy bags carried out by mules and we would just carry a day-bag full water, snacks and anything of value. Normally I don’t like to use animals at the expense of my well-being, but the mules looked like they were in good health and weren’t being treated maliciously. After dropping off our bags at the beginning of the campsite, we made our way up the hill to get a last glance of Havasu Falls. By now it had been 72 hours since it had rained, and the water had drastically changed back to a more normal blue. Seeing this definitely sparked our interest to come back one day and see it in its full potential.
Hoping to get some more frybread on the way out we stopped at the village restaurant, only to be let down because it was too early for them to start making it. So, we got another breakfast burrito to give us some fuel for the remaining part of the hike. The hike out did feel like it took a little longer than going in, but we ended up doing it in the same amount of time. I will have to say that the last 1.5 miles, are grueling switchbacks, where you climb a substantial amount of elevation. Luckily for us we didn’t have our heavy bags, but it was still a challenge. I couldn’t image doing it with the summer’s heat with a full backpack. Making it back to the car felt great but then it hit me that we had to make the 7-hour drive back home still. All in all, it was an awesome experience to have finally witnessed it with my own eyes after many years of attempting to get permits and I can’t wait until I get the opportunity to revisit.