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  • Writer's pictureKari & Ryan

Hiking Havasupai and What to Expect For Your First Visit

Sleeping in our car atop the Grand Canyon, we expected to be safe. We never knew that Chinese water torture could happen in the Grand Canyon. For those who don't know, Chinese water torture involves cold water being slowly dripped on a person's forehead until they are driven insane.

Little did we know, a car on a ledge just above the Grand Canyon's edge is completely exposed to high speed winds and freezing air. Surrounded by a few other vehicles, we snuggled in for our car-camping night prior to our hike, early the next morning.

We awoke in the middle of the night to find icicles dripping onto our foreheads from the inside roof of our car! We could see our breath. We could hear the howling winds. We pulled out hand warmers, snuggled deeper into our mummy bags, and warmed our feet with MRE heater packets. We were anxious for morning to come and for the hike to begin!

If This is Your First Time to Havasupai

1. Plan, Plan, Plan - Well in Advance. Entrance is restricted to a certain number of permits per day and they sell out within a couple hours for the entire year once permits become available. Create your account before 1st February, so when the permits open up on the 1st you'll be able to jump right in and snag the dates you want! Get a permit here.

2. Prepare for Emergencies. Havasupai is remote. It's a 4 to 5 hour drive from any main city. Make sure you're always running on a full tank of gas, have proper hiking/camping equipment, a first aid kit, a spare tire in case of flats, and plenty of food and water. Summers are HOT and heat exhaustion can be dangerous. In July and August flash floods are also a concern. Watch the weather and come prepared.

3. Sorry, Fido Can't Come. Unfortunately, no dogs allowed on this hike.

4. Get in Shape. This is a 20 mile hike, downhill the whole way in and uphill the whole way out. Be prepared for the steep switchbacks after 18 miles of hiking. Practice day hikes with your pack to get the weight right before going to Havasupai. Work on strengthening your hips, and then stay hydrated while hiking! There's almost no shade along this hike.

5. Know When and How Long To Go. Peak season is May - September, but permits are available February through November. As of 2019, permits now require a minimum of a 3 night stay. No day hiking is allowed. (When we hiked in 2018, we were able to do a 1 night stay, but I think it's smart to do a couple days. There's more waterfalls to explore, and it's a pretty strenuous hike to do in 2 days)

- February to April: It's gonna be chilly! You could brave the polar plunge... but the water will likely be too cold to swim. Hiking in and out is easier during these months if you struggle with the heat.

- May & June: Average temperatures will be around 96°F. Be prepared for the heat, pack plenty of water and a water filter to refill at the falls. There is no shade on the trail.

- July & August: This is the most popular time to visit Havasupai. It's also the sunniest and hottest time, and this is peak monsoon season. You may be evacuated if it rains, or if there is a flash flood then your permit could be canceled.

- September: Temperatures will still be hot, but starting to cool down. Monsoon season is ending, and traffic is letting up on the trail.

- October & November: It might be too cold to swim, especially as you get closer to November, but the trail wont' be too hot!

5 Ways to Survive the Trail

  1. Start the hike as early in the morning as possible. You'll avoid a lot of the heat. You will want to make sure you get to the campground before dark, too. Plan 4-7 hours to hike in. It will take you longer to hike out (5-8 hours) since it's all uphill on the way back.

  2. Take breaks, hydrate and stretch. You'll likely stop once you reach the end of the switchbacks, readjust your pack, and stop for a snack and water. Make sure you take breaks to roll out your ankles, shoulders, stretch your muscles, and take a drink.

  3. Plan for sun and heat. There's almost no shade so you'll want to make sure you have a sun hat, sunscreen, and a bandanna you can wet to put around your neck to keep yourself cool.

  4. Don't forget trekking poles. They'll help stabilize you coming up and down the switchbacks, especially when you're tired.

  5. Pack it all in and out. Bring a minimum of 2 to 3 liters of water per person. There's nowhere to get water until you reach the campground, and even then you'll need a water filter. (We like this one and this one). You'll also have to pack in all your food and pack out your trash. Also, you'll have to protect your food.... from SQUIRRELS. Yes, they will chew their way through your pack, tent, gear and wreak havoc. We used a wire mesh bag that we hung from a tree. If you have a plastic container like a bear canister... guess what? Your food might be safe from bears... but squirrels can chew through plastic.

Starting Our Drive to Havasupai

For a few years now I have dreamed of going to Havasupai Falls in Arizona. This turquoise waterfall in the middle of the desert can only be reached by a 10 mile hike in and out. Okay... so it's not the only can take a helicopter in if you want to avoid 20 miles of hiking... but don't do it! The whole hike is BREATHTAKING.

The waterfalls are located on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. This means the only way to get in to see the falls is with a special permit. Permits go on sale February 1st at 8:00am and typically sell out for the entire year within a few hours or by the end of the day.

I forgot about that blessed time frame... so I figured when I looked on February 3rd that there would be absolutely no permits left. When I logged on, however, there were still a couple dates left!!! ..... in February.

Backpacking and camping in February? Are we crazy!?!? Well, it's a once in a lifetime experience. So, I did the impulsive thing and bought permits for Ryan and I with only a week or two notice to jump into this adventure.

We took off work and spent some time in Arizona. It worked out well because a huge storm hit Utah on February 19th. It was only 10ºF when we left for our trip to head down south to Arizona. Yay! We will miss the freezing cold storm! (Or so we thought...) We were excited for it to be warmer in Arizona.

We broke up the 10/12 hour drive to Arizona over 2 days. That can feel like a really long time to be in the car, but Ryan doesn't make it feel so long. He's a wonderful travel buddy!

It snowed our entire drive to Arizona, which slowed our drive time down significantly. We were getting worried as we reached St. George, because it was still snowing.

Would it be snowing in Havasupai? We hoped not! We were also worried that the pass through Beaver might be closed, since that is the only way to get through St. George. The roads were horrible. We saw several cars that had slid off the road. We were grateful to have 4-wheel drive. We did hit a patch of ice at one point, but nothing happened.

We stayed with some friends and got a great night's sleep.

Pit Stop in Vegas to See the Titanic

In the morning we left and drove to Vegas. We stopped to see the Titanic exhibit.

At the start of the exhibit, we were each given a boarding pass. Each boarding pass contained the name and story of someone who had been aboard the Titanic when it embarked and eventually sunk.

My boarding pass was for a woman from India who was traveling alone, coming to visit her sick mother in the Americas. She was hoping to see her mother one last time before she passed away. Her name was Annie C. Funk.

She was a forward thinker. She opened a school for girls in India to educate them when she realized they had little to no educational opportunities. She taught them herself. I felt connected to this woman as I learned about her and walked through the exhibit. I was curious to know if she had survived the voyage and was able to see her mother that last time.

I learned she did not. Annie C. Funk died in the sinking of the Titanic.

Ryan also received a boarding pass with a man by the last name of Straus. He did not survive either, neither did his wife or his manservant that were with him, but his maid did survive.

It was so sad to finish the exhibit and see all the lives that were lost! So many families and many needless deaths. A lot of crew members and 3rd class voyagers were listed among the deceased.

It is amazing to me that there were sooo many warning signs signaling the Titanic's impending fate, yet the ship sailed on. Because the Titanic was unsinkable, many people dismissed the warning signs. Humility truly has it's place in our lives. We can't push forward in pride, blind and convinced that we're unsinkable. It's important to take time to listen to the messages around us, warning signs to slow down, pay attention, and change our course. We can always turn our ships around!

One thing that shocked me in the exhibit was all the craftsmanship of especially simple, seemingly worthless items. 80 years after the sinking of the Titanic, divers began pulling up her artifacts from the ocean floor. People on board the Titanic had their own custom handmade bags, decanters, tea sets, beauty and jewelry boxes, cuff links, dishes, etc. It's odd to think that in that day you would pack your dishes or your tea set; I would never put those in my luggage today!

Today these items are so common, mass produced, and ordinary that you wouldn't value them as expensive items.

The museum was set up in such a way that you felt like you were on the Titanic. You could stroll along the deck underneath the stars in 1st class, climb the grand staircase, see the 1st and 3rd class bunkers. They even simulated the noises that you would have heard had you been aboard the Titanic. There was even an iceberg that you could touch, with a plaque below describing how the water would have been colder than the feel of the iceberg because it was salt water. (Meaning temperatures have to be even lower for the water to be able to freeze into an iceberg). Many people died of hypothermia instead of drowning.

There was a piece of the ship called the Big Piece that they had pulled up from the ocean floor using cranes. The first time they tried to pull it up it was so heavy that the chains broke and it fell 2.5 miles back to the ocean floor. It was amazing to see the huge and heavy MASSIVE cranes that were used to pull it out.

Vegas is a place where people go to lose themselves. The Grand Canyon is where you can find yourself, again.

Reaching the Trailhead

We left Vegas and continued our drive, which is BEAUTIFUL through the canyons. We passed Lake Mead, drove across the Indian reservation, and stopped at Peach Springs for our final gas stop. It is the last available gas station before reaching the trailhead. You don't want to get stuck out in the middle of the desert without any gas. Stop and fill up here.

From Peach Springs we drove 60 miles to the trailhead.

At one point we walked into the gas station on the reservation and school had just gotten out so lots of kids and teens swarmed the store to get snacks. We felt like the odd ones out and got quite a lot of stares. I think it's important to venture out into other cultures and to experience being a minority, especially since I don't know what that feels like most of the time.

Once we reached the trailhead we car camped in the parking lot up above the canyon and OH MY GOSH!!!! IT WAS FREEZING!!! Coldest sleep of my entire life.

Literally, at one point we were scraping ice off of the inside of our car. We literally slept inside of a freezer.

When we looked at our temperature gauge it was about 18-20ºF, but it felt so much colder because of the incredibly violent winds. Come morning, we were READY to get moving.

I cooked up some oatmeal for breakfast with our pocket rocket, as well as a smoothie mix and some trail mix. We geared up and off we started!

Down the switchbacks all bundled up because its as still freezing in February. This has been the most amazing and gorgeous sightseeing experience. I've never seen anything so beautiful and all 10 miles were like that!

There wasn't a dull spot.

It was all gorgeous. We were so blessed to be there. I only made one poor decision... hiking in my Sorel snow boots. I ended up with some gnarly blisters. I had hiking shoes, but I left them in the car because it was so cold I thought I would want my boots the whole time. Once we actually got down in to the canyon, though, it warmed up quite a bit. My feet got too hot and sweaty.

We passed a few of the mule trains and lots of wonderful people on our way in. The most wonderful people in the world are dog people and backpackers!

One band of Mexican brothers who passed us was hilarious to overhear. I overheard them in their Spanish accents as one of them said, "Hey bro, can you imagine coming here in the summer? Man, you hike this in July... you'd have to hike naked! ... with an umbrella..."

We loved our hike and the water at Havasupai was so blue. Once we reached the falls my feet were tired and my knees were hurting. We stopped at Navajo Falls and I made us some smoked salmon burrito wraps. They were so delicious after that long hike!

Everything tastes better when you've just worked for it.

We were so blessed by beautiful scenery and it wasn't too hot. People even took photos for us along the way. At times we didn't see people for an hour or two while we were hiking, but it never felt crowded.

We loved getting fried bread at the bottom of the canyon. Dinner in the campgrounds was lovely and we were grateful for flushing toilets in the village.

We took 6 hours to hike in and 5 to hike out. My pack was about 35-40 lbs, hefty but doable. (When you're a little person like me this was about 1/3 of my weight so I couldn't carry much more). It was too chilly for us to swim in the waters at Havasupai, but they were beautiful to look at and enjoy. Some people took polar plunges, but not us.

Surviving the Switchbacks on the Way Out

On our way hiking out we packed with a gentleman from Boliva named Javier for a little while. He was so kind to us and got some cool pictures of us coming up the switchbacks which he shared to us. Another little blessing! He was so much fun to chat with while we walked.

This has been a wonderful getaway. My body definitely feels like I've been hit with a semi-truck (curse my bad knees!), but it was all worth it.

I can't believe the pain in my calves! It was only 20 miles, but I've been walking as if I got off a horse all day. (Granted, it was 20 miles with a heavy pack with some uphill and downhill, which my body isn't used to, but still!) Moral of the story, drink lots of water! Stay hydrated. Prevent charlie horses.

The switchbacks were KILLER--about 2 miles of straight uphill at the very end. You can see the little office at the hilltop and you think, I'm almost there! But then there's a long push with intense effort at the very end. All worth it for the beautiful sunset.

Our hike got me thinking a lot about enduring to the end. Even though there are parts of our journey that will be more taxing or challenging that others, even though some stretches of our lives may require greater or slower speed, the journey is beautiful and it's not only about the destination. I think we all can improve on enjoying the moments and being less future fixated.

It's sometimes hard to focus being happy now when we're so focused on being happy then--at some point in the future. There is so much to be happy about now. The final destination is important, enjoyable, and worth looking forward to, but this life is not only about reaching our final destination. It's also about enjoying the path that gets us there.

Grand Canyon Here We Come!

When we made it out of the canyon, we started to drive towards flagstaff. Our hope was to car camp and then spend 1-2 days seeing the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately... there was Satan snow (the kind that slowly plunges you into hell). It hit the roads and we froze. We didn't really feel like sleeping in a freezer again... so we pulled off the road and stayed in a little motel on Route 55. It was so quaint and cute.

It felt sooooo good to shower. Boy, was I stinky from all that hiking! I got quite a laugh out of the dollar tree cashiers when I ran from our motel across the road in my PJs, towel still wrapped around my wet hair, to the dollar tree to quickly buy some lotion before they closed.

Before heading out the next day, we stopped in at the Road Kill Café and oh. my. gosh. That was the best hamburger and hot chocolate I've ever had in my life. (Probably because I was also famished from hiking so much... but man, it hit the spot).

The next day we tried to drive to the Grand Canyon, but got stuck in hours and hours of traffic due to all the snow. There was several feet of it.

So, we had a snow day. (We did eventually make it to the Grand Canyon)

We stayed in a hotel in flagstaff and just relaxed. We watched the movies Holes and Cars. (You have to watch Cars on Route 66, right?) We ordered some Thai food that we had delivered to our cozy room. I ran to Walmart just to buy a few essentials, and so many things had been bought out! There were incredibly bare shelves. It looked like an apocalypse.

I had fun doing some people watching. (P.S. that's the thing to do at Walmart). I saw a dad sneak up on his wife and daughter and scare the beegeebees out of them. It was hilarious. Then there were lots of families together, walking around pursuing how to best spend this snow day. I saw one family that was rushing out of the store to try and get to their car with their shopping cart, but they couldn't even get it across the parking lot because there was too much snow! The cart completely halted and would not move. They had to pick it up and carry it across the lot!

This morning we've enjoyed our lovely continental breakfast and are now driving to the Grand Canyon. It's 8ºF, so it's gonna be cold, but at least it's sunny and it's no longer snowing!

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