A Bucket List Hike

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May 26th 2017
Published: December 3rd 2017
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For the longest time I have always wanted to visit Havasu Falls. It's turquoise blue waters just seemed like such a magical place to be. That and all the Instagram photos that I have seen has put this place on my bucket list. It's not an easy destination to get to which definitely adds to the allure. A permit is needed to visit as the falls are located within the Havasupai Indian Reservation. A permit here is not as simple as going on-line to obtain them. You have to call one of five different phone numbers and hope and pray that somebody picks up. I have been doing this for years with no success. If you happen to miraculously secure a permit, getting to the desitination is no simple matter. The nearest city is Flagstaff, Arizona where you have to drive 2 hours west along Interstate 40 then another hour along a 2 lane highway to get to the trailhead. From the trailhead it is about a 10 mile hike to the town of Supai, probably the most isolated town in the lower 48 states. Finally, from Supai it is another 2 mile hike to the campgrounds and Havasu Falls. There is a helicopter that you can take a few days a week that transports you from the trailhead to Supai and also donkeys that you can hire to transport your gear. However, most people choose to hike in and carry all their gear themselves in the heat of the Arizona sun.

After trying for years to obtain a permit, I finally decided to just bite the bullet and sign up with a guided hiking group who would take care of all the logisitics of getting to to Havasu Falls. Searching online I found Wildland Trekking, a company that specializes in guided hiking trips around the U.S and in a few other countries. A good number of friends have previously expressed interest in going but the interest went away quickly due to the cost. This didn't deter me as I was determined to finally make it to Havasu Falls this year. With no hesititation, I reserved my spot on their 4 day guided hike over Memorial Day weekend.

I flew into Phoenix the day before and made the 2 hour drive north to Flagstaff where I met the Wildand Trekking group that evening including our guides Jeff and Alexei. The group consisted of 10 people from across the U.S. That night I met Allen and Kim, an older couple from Chicago, Chris and Marlon, a gay couple from Washington DC, and Christine and Alan from Orange County. I was surprised that there were 3 other single travellers on this trip. Including myself there was also Rebecca from Detroit, Karla from Virginia, and Karen from San Jose. Jeff and Alexei explained the logistics of the trip, what to expect, and what to be careful of. It seemed like this was going to be a really fun group and I was excited to get this trip underway.

The group met up in the lobby of the Little America Inn at 3:30am, got ourselves into the van and set out on our amazing adventure. After driving about 2 hours, we stopped for a coffee break at a gas station where our guides set up a table in the parking lot for some bagels and fruit for breakfast. After another one hour drive, we finally made it to Hualapai Hilltop, the trailhead for the hike to Havasu Falls. As we pulled into Hualapai Hilltop, I was surprised at the number of cars that had filled the small parking lot and were parked along the road to the trailhead. Cars lined the road for a good half mile leading up to the trailhead. With our bags and gear dropped off to be taken down by donkeys, we all set out at around 8am for the long 12 mile hike to the campground. Descending down the shaded switchbacks, we all started off the hike wearing a jacket or some sort of sweater. However, it didn't take very long before we all stopped to take off our layers as the morning sun grew warmer.

For the next few hours, we hiked in the canyon as the day became progressively warmer. Within the first hour, it became clear who would be the faster ones of the group as our group of 12 became split into faster and less faster groups. I tried to be part of both groups as I attempted to make small talk with others in order to get to know them better. Periodically, our guides Alexei and Jeff would stop in order to let the slower group catch up and while stopped they would give us some insight into the geology and plant life of the area. For lunch, we stopped underneath a shady alcove where our guides prepared a surprisingly delicious lunch of chicken, black beans, vegetables and made into a wrap. After lunch, I was bit discouraged to find out that we were only about a half way done. I thought we were at least 3/4 of the way there! As we got closer to the town of Supai, the canyon became narrower and the canyon walls became much taller. By this time in the afternoon, I was totally surprised to still be coming across people who were hiking back up to Havasupai Hilltop. They clearly did not heed all the advice to begin the hike out as early as possible in order to avoid the heat of the day. I could not imagine doing this 10 mile hike completely in the midday sun!

We finally hiked into the town of Supai after about 6 hours of hiking. It is clear that this town with a population of about 200 is the most isolated town in the lower 48 states. There were no automobiles here and outside of the golfcarts that locals used for transportation and the occasional helicopter transporting visitors, their bags, and supplies, you would be hard pressed to determine what century it was. One of my first observations of the local people who were all of native american descent were that they were very camera shy and did not appreciate having their photos taken. Once in town, we all took a much needed break as our guides retreived our permits for our stay at the campground. While resting, it was very obvious that there were way more visitors here than locals. So many people were just hanging out waiting for a helicopter to take them back to Hualapai Hilltop. One guy who had been napping near us said that he had already been waiting about 6 hours. From the town of Supai, it was still another 2 mile hike to the famous Havasu Falls and to our campground. An hour later, as we climbed the final hill to approach our first glimpse of Havasu Falls, we were all filled with excited anticipation as the roar from the falls began to get louder. After reaching the top of the hill and beginning the descent back down the other side, there was Havasu Falls partially covered in shade and just as beautiful and majestic as I had imagined. We all stood there for a few minutes soaking in our first views of the falls and looking down at all the people enjoying the cool turquoise blue waters below. The waters looked so refreshing and we were all eagerly anticipating getting our chance to relax and enjoy the waters.

We arrived at the campground and found campsite which was thankfully in a shady spot right next to the river. After claiming our tents and settling in, we all put on our bathing suits and headed to Havasu Falls. Being that it was now almost 6pm and much of the canyon was now in the shade, the waters of Havasu Falls were a little chilly. After just a quick dip in the pools in order to cool off and wash off much of the grime from the full day of hiking, we headed back to the campsite for a delicious first dinner as a group prepared by our guides. After some post dinner chit chat, everybody was extremely tired and we all retired to our tents for the night sometime just before 8pm. After an early day which started at 3am and 12 miles of hiking in the heat, it was time for a much needed good night's rest.

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