Thanks to Columbia Sportswear, I spent three days hiking the Grand Canyon to Havasupai, a desert oasis of lush waterfalls, crystal clear aquamarine water, and long time home of the Havasupai tribe (people of the blue-green waters). Columbia took a handful of editors, together with the enthusiastic OmniTen ambassador crew, to test out the new line of Omni-Freeze Zero cooling apparel.
The 10 mile trail to Havasupai begins on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon at the end of the Hualapai Hilltop Parkway. The first mile and a half consists of steep switchbacks, winding their way to down over 1000 feet to the canyon floor. The remainder of the trail slowly loses another 1300 feet, following the contours of the canyon, winding around boulders and cottonwood trees, with towering red rock walls above your head.
Packs of mules and horses litter the trail, rumbling up behind you and surprising you around blind corners. Much like hiking in the Himalaya with heavy yak traffic, the key is to step off the trail, remaining up canyon from the animals so you aren’t accidentally knocked over the edge.
After 8 miles, you arrive at the village of Supai, where around 450 Native Americans live year-round. The town hearkens of another era, with a small little café and general store waiting to relieve you with ice cold drinks such as Orange Crush and RC Cola. Numerous dogs lie in any spot of shade they can find, while postings on the community wall outside the general store advertise cows and horses for sale with nothing more than the name of a tribal member for contact information.
From Supai, it is only two miles further down the trail to the Havasupai campground. After almost 4 hours of hiking through the dusty, hot, baking sun of the desert, there is nothing like hearing the roaring rush of water and rounding the corner to site of Havasu Falls. Everyone immediately threw off their packs and jumped into the rushing pools.
The trip was guided by AOA Adventures who have a permanent camp setup at the front edge of the campground, just a few minutes hike from Havasu Falls. Home away from home for the next couple of days, our lush base camp of tents along Havasu creek, composting toilets with toilet paper, and a big camp kitchen churning out one amazing meal after another was hardly roughing it.
The campground is littered with numerous old mining caves set along the canyon walls. Nancy, ever the consummate explorer, discovered one not far from camp which teed us up for a mini adventure that evening. A short scramble leads you to the mouth of the cave, with endless pitch black tunnels that snake their way deep into the depths of the canyon walls. We found a second smaller cave further down the canyon with a great platform on which to spend a magical evening just sitting and staring up at the stars.
Although Columbia and AOA provided enormous tents with comfy sleeping pads, I chose to spend each night in the camp hammock, swinging in the warm breeze under the vast sea of stars framed on each side by the walls of the canyon, lulled to sleep by the white noise of the creek. As the nights stayed relatively warm with little in the way of bugs, my Columbia Reactor 35 degree sleeping bag offered plenty of cover to keep me comfortable.
The second day was spent thoroughly exploring our remote little Garden of Eden, with three other major waterfalls in the local area. Named after a prospector who fell to his death here, Mooney Falls is an adventurous 1/2 mile hike further down the canyon from camp. Tumbling 190 feet into a large blue pool, Mooney is perfect for swimming and experiencing the hurricane force wind and water behind the falls. Getting to the base of Mooney requires following a well worn, steep trail hugging the side of the cliff, passing through two tunnels and fortified with chains and ladders to aid in your safe descent.
Classic slot canyons lurk around every corner, just beckoning you to come explore. Climbing up a portion of one slot canyon, featured in Edward Abbey’s classic book Desert Solitaire, involved pulling yourself up through a crack in a boulder field, all the time hoping nothing would shift to create a potential 127 hours situation. The views from the tiny ledge at the top were more than worth the scrambling effort.
After a quick lunch back at camp, the remainder of the day involved exploring the new waterfall areas above camp. In August 2008, a massive flash flood swept through Havasu Canyon, bypassing the old Navajo Falls and creating two new falls: New Navajo Falls and Rock Falls. We were all transformed into giggling school kids playing in nature’s water park. We cliff jumped off high rock ledges into the deep pools beneath, climbed up walls and behind waterfalls, hiked through the creek, and generally swam the day away.
The last day we were all anxious to get up and out of the canyon early as the weather was predicted to be over 100 degrees. Adam and I left camp around 6 am and with only one short stop, we powered through the trail and were back up at Hualapai Hilltop in less than 3 ½ hours.
After three days of hiking and swimming in the Grand Canyon, my body was covered in a thin layer of red dust and travertine. Being dirty, tired, and mildly dehydrated never felt so good.
When to go: Late spring and early fall seem to be the most popular times. If you go in the heat of the summer like we did, make sure to get an early start as you will not find much shade on the trail.
How: Permits from the Havasupai tribe must be acquired prior to this hike so plan well in advance. You register and pay an entry fee at the tourist office upon arrival in Supai. For those not inclined to hike, horses are available for both gear and people, as well as a helicopter service that runs four days a week.
More information can be found at: http://www.havasupaitribe.com/
What to bring:
- If you are hiking self supported, you will need the basics such as tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag or blanket, stove, fuel, food.
- Swim suit or something to wear in the water
- Water shoes: Make sure they can take you from trail to water with the ability to drain quickly and offer good traction on slippery rock. Havasupai was the absolute perfect environment for us to play around in the Columbia Powerdrains all day.
- Water filter: Potable spring water is freely available in camp but if you plan to hike from the campground down to Beaver Falls (3 miles) or even all the way to the Colorado River (8 miles), it might be nice to be able to filter water as needed along the way.
- Double wall vacuum insulated water bottle: Keeps your water from boiling in the heat of the sun.
- Sunglasses: You might want to bring a back up pair as many in our group quickly lost them jumping in the water.
- Hiking poles: They save your knees on the descents and provide extra balance on creek crossings.
- Hiking shoes: I wore trail shoes as most of the trail is dirt and scree, so not a ton of need for ankle support. Bring shoes you are going to be comfortable pounding out 10 miles in with some weight on your back.
- Hiking shirt and shorts/pants, ideally with UPF protection
- Socks: your socks are going to get full of dirt and dust as you hike. I found putting on a fresh pair every morning saved me from getting friction hot spots and blisters.
- Fleece: Nice to throw on in the morning or at night, depending on what time of year you go.
- Neck gaiter: The horses and other hikers will kick up a lot of dust so having a gaiter to throw over your face is nice. Neck gaiters are also great for shielding the back of your neck and face from the sun.
- Headlamp: For use around camp, exploring caves, and general safety. In my opinion, you should always have one in your pack.
- Lighter: Another staple you should always have in your pack in case of emergency.
- Cell phone: None of the AT&T subscribers had cell service but the Verizon people did once in awhile.
P.S. If any of the wonderful people below happen to read this: THANK YOU!!!!!