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Havasupai Backpack Trip
Havasu Canyon
May 23-26, 1998
by Jeannie Van Lew
  Route Map 
Kelly and Jon Anonson, Craig Baker, Robert Bonne, Barb Brackett, Mike Burgess, Shelly Burgess, Elaine Cobos, Stan Hansen, Gloria Jiang, Anatoli Korkin, Nate Le, Daniel Leonard, Henry Leung, Anne Lewis, Jarvis Lowndes, Yefim Minkov, Chuck Parsons, Bill Ruppert, Doug Scheitlin, Sam Sonive, Tom Squire, Gina Szklarz, Adrienne, Jeannie, Jon and Tom Van Lew and Mike Wargel.

Havasupai Prayer to the Sun:

Sun, my relative,
as you rise, be good to me.
Bring good things to us.
Give me strength to work,
so that I can be strong in the garden,
so that I can hoe, plant corn, and water my fields.
Sun, my relative,
as you go down, be good to me,
as we lay down to sleep,
give me peace.
As I sleep, may you come up again.
May you go on your course many times,
Making good things happen for people.
Let me be always the same as I am now.
Seven centuries ago, the Havasupai Indians who call themselves the “people of the blue-green water”, settled the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Across its vast high plateau, they built homes of wood and earth, faced their doors toward the rising sun, and lived with nature and each other.

Here they found water holes, wild food, and healing herbs. Here they taught their children to hunt the deer, to leave offerings at the springs, to tame young hawks, revere the bighorn sheep, and run each day toward the rising sun. When summer came, they gathered up their children and moved down into a lush and shady side canyon, where they grew corn and sunflowers and peaches. When the harvest was in, they went home to the wide plateau for races and games and fireside stories of Raven and Bear. And so their lives went round with canyon and river and earth and sky.

We began our day with a buffet breakfast at the Grand Canyon Caverns Cafe. After loading up our cars and trucks, the 13 car caravan descended onto Hualapai Hilltop. The parking lot was packed due to the Memorial Day weekend, dashing our hopes to be on the trail by 8:30. We had a few minor problems with the packs at weigh in and it took a bit to get everyone in for the group picture.
By the time we headed down the trail, it was closer to 9:00 AM. The first 1¼ miles of the hike is a steep descent into the canyon along several switchbacks, which provided incredible views of the canyon beyond. The next portion of the hike is through the wide canyon, which narrows as you get closer to Havasu Creek. The canyon walls seemed to tower above us with the rock creating interesting formations.
The trail down.
The trail down.
As we hiked we told stories of Miss Elle, the mysterious death of the nude woman on the beach and the midget on the elevator. We made stops to take care of blisters and admire the views along Hualapai and Havasu Canyons. We finally met up with Havasu Creek and had our first encounter with its turquoise waters. We crossed the bridge and began our decent into the village of Supai. I stopped at the tourist center, checked in our group, and picked up the necessary tags for everyone’s packs.

There are a series of commercials on TV now that features a talking Chihuahua for Taco Bell. Taco Bell is also sponsoring commemorative cups for the new movie Godzilla. In the commercial the dog has a box trap and is saying, “Here leezard, leezard, leezard.” Once he sees the size of Godzilla, he comments, “I think I need a bigger box!”

In trying to coax Anne down the trail, Sam kept saying, “Here leezard, leezard, leezard.” That became our ‘theme’ phrase for the weekend.
Some of the homes in the village had satellite dishes, air conditioners and evap coolers. But there are no paved roads and no cars, although we did have to make way for a backhoe. Continuing on the trail, we stopped to view Navajo Falls, which is about a mile and a half from the village, then we continued our trek to camp. We caught glimpses of Havasu Falls from above and again from one side. We could see people enjoying the cool waters cascading over the falls and into the travertine pools below. We decided to continue on to camp and soon found Robert, Dave, Elaine, Dan, Anne and Sam. They had secured a site large enough for our entire group on the left side of the trail near Fern Springs, our source of water for the weekend. The campground itself is between Havasu and Mooney Falls. We picked our spot, just off the trail, under a couple of cottonwood trees. The red rock walls of the canyon rose 400 feet above us. The blue-green creek flowed near by and the frogs supplying the background noise. gatekeepers
The towering gatekeepers.
We were told the pack horses would be in around 3:30, so we pulled off our boots, rested on the picnic tables and wished for a “cold one”. A few of the guys went up to the ranger station at 3:30 and were told to come back at 4:00. We decided to trek back up to Havasu Falls to get a closer look. As we returned, the horses arrived with our packs, which we carried back to camp.

Before dinner, we went to Fern Spring to fill our water bottles for drinking and cooking. The water flows out through a pipe in the canyon wall. I had to shake the habit of wanting to turn off the faucet. The first night’s meal was Ramen noodles, brownies and Jell-O. I think Ramen noodles was the meal of choice for just about everyone there. The kids pulled out their cards and were joined by Mike, Shelly, Jarvis, Henry and Nate. They played until well past dark, using flashlights to see by. We had a few dogs take residence under our picnic tables, but they didn’t seem to bother us much. We hung our packs, especially the ones with food, but I don’t think I saw any squirrels, dogs or other critters bother the packs.
hav8a Tom and I woke early, dressed, grabbed our cameras and headed to Havasu Falls.

We were delighted to see we were the only humans there. There was no one on the travertine ledges or in the mist and spray below the falls. We had it all to ourselves.

I was intrigued by the cliff walls nearby that seemed to have melted and were dripping under the pressure of the water.

We could see a few people heading out on their trip back up the canyon, but no one was in the area of the Falls. We explored around, above and below the falls, then headed back for coffee and breakfast.

We talked to Doug and Elaine who were going to Beaver Falls for the day and decided to go with them. As it turned out, nearly 15 from our group followed Doug up the trail.
We started climbing down the steps, and vertical tunnels holding on to the chains and footholds to Mooney Falls. Someone said it made them feel like Indiana Jones.

At 220 feet, Mooney Falls is taller than Niagara Falls. It was named after a miner who fell to his death nearby.

After rejoining the group that arrived earlier and were already swimming in the pools below the falls, we continued on down the trail. When we got to the first stream crossing, we had to change from our boots to water shoes and lost a few people who were not interested in continuing on. We crossed the river 5 times, with the deepest being mid-thigh.
Field of wild grapes.
The trail itself was interesting, with many opportunities to stop and swim in the aquamarine pools. We went through a field of wild grapevines, gingerly picked our way through a forest of prickly pear cactus, scrambled over boulders, climbed a rope, ladder and make shift steps and finally made it to Beaver Falls. There was a group of people who had come up from the river who were jumping off a ledge into the pool 40' below.

Climbing back up the steps and chains at Mooney Falls was scarier than going down for some reason. About half way up, I began to feel nauseous and lightheaded. We think I was suffering from lack of food (it seems I skipped lunch) on top of taking the BIG Ibuprofen for my knee. (Maybe taking 800mg Ibuprofen on an empty stomach will make you sick. Instructions “take with food” should be heeded.)

Jon and Adrienne played cards again with Shelly, Mike, Kelly, Henry and Nate. Adrienne and Shelly found out they had a common bond of Girl Scouting and began a reverie of old Girl Scout songs. The guys in the group looked oh so bored. Tom and I went to bed early, even though by dinnertime I had felt much better.

Today we thought we would take it a little slower. Anatoli and Robert, however, packed up and headed up to the hilltop. After a breakfast of, you guessed it, oatmeal and pop tarts, we dressed and again hiked with Doug, Elaine, Stan, Shelly, Kelly and Jon (Anonson) to the village of Supai. I felt new blisters and wished I was 10 years younger – at least then I could breathe easier and didn’t have bunions! Everyone headed for ice cream while Tom and I stayed back and went to the lodge, with its air conditioned lobby, and bought some post cards and patches for our backpacks. We then went and sat on the porch of the cafe and sipped on an ice-cold soda while leisurely filling out our post cards.
Beaver Falls
Beaver Falls
We then headed back down hill – better for my lungs, but worse for my blisters – towards Navajo Falls. I found out there are two falls there, but couldn’t get in a good position to take a picture of the falls which are closest to the trail. There was some great backlighting on one portion of the falls and we all took advantage of making the perfect portrait. The water was COLD, but it felt good after the warm day’s hike. We watched the guys climb one side of the falls and jump off into the deep waters below.

The girls, perched on a fallen log, did the Olympic judging. Tom got a 9 for his facial expressions going in. Jon only got an 8. Jon Anonson got a 10 for his belly flop – ouch!
We soon decided it was time to eat and planned to have a picnic lunch at Havasu Falls. Everyone packed their lunches, but since we had gone light, our lunches were still at camp. Tom, Jon and I retrieved our lunch supplies and soon returned to Havasu Falls. When we got closer, we noticed a crowd of people on the dam. I began to panic when I could not find Adrienne. Finally, I spotted her and the rest of the group across the pool. As we made our way to join them, we found out an NAU college student had dived off one of the boulders and had broken his neck. He needed to be revived twice and a few hours later when the helicopter arrived from Flagstaff, he had feeling in his arms and chest but not any further down. We made our pitch for safety to the kids, hoping now it would surely sink in.
After the morose afternoon we gave up on the idea of going back to Mooney Falls. I guess we’ll have to save that for another trip. Dan and Craig returned from their hike to the river. They had met a group of rafters and were offered a beer and fresh drinking water before returning back. Jarvis, Mike, Nate, Henry also returned safe from their hike up to the top of the cliffs. They were looking for the cemetery somewhere on the top of the cliffs. We found out that Barb, Mike and Bill had found an old mine and discovered some crystals embedded in rocks there. Gloria and Gina played around Mooney Falls all day, enjoying the cool sprays and pools below the falls.

Mike called a group pow wow at 7:30. We talked about our day, the accident at Havasu Falls and future hikes and camping trips. Most of us decided to try to get out of camp around 6:00 AM in an attempt to beat the heat.
Tom, Chuck and Yefim showed up late for the pow wow, but without Barb. We broke it up, got our flashlights and radios and began a search party, as now it was after dark. We found Barb coming down the trail from Havasu Falls with some new musician friends. We lingered there on the trail by our tents, talking awhile, not wanting it to come to an end. Most of us were tired and knew it would be an early day so we were soon headed for bed. I cleaned my feet and did what patching up of my blisters that I could. I didn’t sleep well that night. I guess I was stressing out about the hike the next day – how my knee, feet and other body parts would do.
The day began early with Tom and I finally awaking at 4:30. We could see lights in Gina and Gloria’s tents so we knew they were also trying to get an early start. We packed up fairly quickly and had hoped to be on the trail by 6:00. Half way up the trail to Havasu Falls, Tom discovered that he didn’t have his walking stick. He and Jon returned to the pile of packs waiting to be picked up by the mules when they met up with Bill Ruppert who had spotted the stick and began walking with it. As it turned out, he was our hiking buddy for the entire trip up. We soon lost sight of Jon, but Adrienne stayed with us. Partly because her hip was bothering her, and partly for the companionship. We rested twice and soon found ourselves playing leap frog with Gina and Gloria who had left some 15 minutes ahead of us from the campground. About 10:30 we received a radio call that Sam had already made it to the top. Of course he and Anne had stayed the night at the Lodge, and therefore had a 2-mile head start on us! creek
Most of the way we hiked in the shade of the canyon walls. As the walls became shallower, clouds began billowing up in front of us and a nice breeze kept us cool. A couple of times on the switchbacks, the breeze turned into quite a gust, with the sand peppering our bare legs. We were able to talk to Mike and the group that was with him as well as Stan and Barb who were acting as the sweepers.

We made it to the top in exactly 5 hours. We found out that the people who arrived at the top ahead of me had to wait for me to sign off for the bags packed up by the mules. We enjoyed our cold sodas and snacks that were left in the truck but not as much as taking off the boots. We spent a little bit of time talking with the Havasu woman in charge of the packs and eventually loaded into the truck, Jon in the drivers seat, and headed for home!
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updated February 12, 2016