For those of you venturing to Havasu Falls.  Grand Canyon Cavern Campgrounds offers an excellent alternative to sleeping in your car at the Hilltop Trail Head parking lot.

Late night Milky Way Photo Op at Grand Canyon Cavern Campground

I have done the Havasu Falls trip on numerous occasions. More than once some years.  Once I trail camped up off the trail below the switchbacks (I don’t believe it is allowed any longer?)

On another occasion I attempted sleeping in my vehicle.  That was a negative experience and I vowed not again.

Since then, until a 2017 trip, I have always left Las Vegas and made the drive timed to arrive at the Trail Head right when I want to start hiking.  At times that meant leaving Vegas at 2am.

Traveling in the dark means missing much of the scenery along the way, or fun stops such as Hackberry, Arizona.  Perhaps missing Seligman, Arizona if you are coming in from the east.  Both are interesting and great photo op stops.

The last 60 miles off old route 66, once you start heading north on Indian Rd 18, is a desolate and hazardous stretch of highway at night.  It is not the road to be driving in the dark due to wildlife and open range cattle crossing or standing in the road.

Our Havasu trip planned for mid May 2017 found us debating the early morning departure from Las Vegas.  After recommending the Grand Canyon Cavern Campgrounds on the website so many years we decided to give it a try.

The entrance is a few miles east of the RT 66 & IR 18 intersection.  The view from the road side appears as an old run down gas station, and a small cafe.  Some old vehicles staged around the parking lot up by the buildings.  We stopped in the cafe and the friendly staff pointed us to the road/drive, that snaked around the back of the cafe, and up over a small hill.  We almost got nailed by the cops tucked in behind a tree (Vintage black & white cop car staged along the road) LOL!

The campground is about a mile on this paved road that winds through low growing evergreen trees.  You eventually come to the restaurant first.  This is some distance off the main road RT 66 and not visible from the main road.

Don’t expect RV resort accommodations.  Though they do have power pedestals on many sites.  The campground is typical high desert and appears not well kept.  Sites are dirt.  Some have picnic tables, some do not.  No sites have any type of shade structure.

The Evergreen tree’s peppered about average about 15ft tall.  This is high desert.  So I suspect these are Cedars or Pinon Pine.  They offer relatively little shade except in the late afternoon.  They do provide a little privacy from some neighboring sites.

There are rough graded roads and ample sites tucked into out of the way places if you want to enjoy some privacy.   We saw no site numbers.  Once you pay you simply have squatters rights to any open place you want to make your camp.  Bathrooms/Showers…..not the best.  But they are centrally located at the front of the camping area, and not too far from the restaurant building.

We made reservations at the last minute, the night before.  Mid May there were plenty of sites.  The grounds are large enough I would think you would not have trouble at any time?  You might not get a level site, or one with power, but I think they would be able to accommodate you?

The prices of $32 a night for 2 with a tent.  I don’t remember if that included power or not.  We did find a picnic table that had a power pedestal next to it.  In hindsight a small electric heater and an extension cord would have been nice.  It got real cold that night.

We had a picnic table and lots of 15ft Pinyon Pine or Ceders that offered wind breaks and some privacy.  The campground location makes it near ideal for starting the trip the next day.

We didn’t have time to check out the Cavern tours.  The Caverns are the actual reason this place exists!  That might be another story for another day.

We arrived around 6pm and took advantage of the restaurant that looks like it is open until 8pm.  We can both recommend the Pulled Pork/BBQ sandwich.   We washed those down with several ice cold brews and had a very relaxing visit.  It sure beat driving over in the middle of the night tempting fate driving in the dark.  It certainly beats sleeping in the vehicle at the trail head.   It beats waking up after attempting to sleep at the trail head, being tired and cranky, at the start of the hike down.

We tried to set up minimal gear to head out right at first light.  It was a very cold night for sure.  I believe more so because of the higher altitude.  We survived the cold, and packed gear about 4am to take off.  Several others must have had the same idea because two other groups took off right before us.

The drive up IR 18, the last 60 miles to the trail head, was a pleasant one.  The sun just below the horizon.  Enough light to avoid slamming into black cattle standing on the road,  or wandering Elk.  Both of which could quickly turn a fun trip into a disaster.

At the trail head, in the morning light, we made a breakfast.  A batch of bacon, eggs, and coffee on the camp stove stove out the back of our vehicle.  With some hearty protein in our systems we started hiking near sunrise.

So our recommendation is to allot the time to make this your stop.  Enjoy the restaurant the night before.  Even come early enough to check out the Caverns.  Then give yourself 1 hour of driving time, plus packing up your camp, to be at the trail head right at sunrise.   You will easily be down the switchbacks all in the shade.  All at a much more relaxed frame of mind.

Those leaving after a trip, and after hiking back out, this is also an excellent place to camp over.  Avoid a long drive after hiking out.  If this is your first trip you will not believe how cramped up your legs will get if you hike out, and make a long drive.  Been there, done that too!  Getting smarter and enjoying the whole experience way more.

Summer time may be different, due to heat.  Camping could become unpleasant?  Be sure to check this all out in advance.

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This collective of Footwear recommendations is by numerous experienced backpackers that have provided input.  Backpacking not only this area, but backpacking in general, anywhere.

We will discuss Footwear, Socks, Toenails, and Water Shoes.  Especially for this trip, this terrain, and for safety reasons that many choose to ignore.

Many ignore functionality for the sake of looking ‘cool’ or “rad’, or whatever your generational lingo might be.

If you have something that needs added please email us with your thoughts.


The type of boot or footwear you hit this trail with, will probably be your most important decision concerning gear.

Many people attempting this trip may have never done long distant hiking, let alone Backpacking under a load.  Also not in such terrain.

Hiking and backpacking are two different worlds.  We aren’t providing info for those that wimp out and have their gear transported.  Or for those that have their gear transported due to some special need due to medical or physical issues.

This info is for those that will truly be strapping all their gear on their back and hoofing it down the trail.  Then back up the switchbacks.

Many have hauled their own gear while backpacking in.  Then decide, there is no way they are carrying it back out.  Remember those uphill switchbacks will be facing you the day you leave.

The terrain and climate on this trip can be a challenge to many even without a pack.  Add to these facts, the majority of people doing this trip tend to carry a pack that is way over weight.   Many people are also not in peak physical condition.

There are many brands of footwear out there.  It all boils down to personal choice, fit, and what you can afford.  This is one item that really falls in the category of  “You get what you pay for”.  Don’t go cheap (Cheap in terms of poor quality) just because you think you will only use them for this one trip.

Don’t be swayed by recommendations that just don’t make sense for the terrain, pack weight, distance, weather (cold/wet) etc.

There is a reason Military personnel worldwide wear boots.  The type that protects the ankles, provides sole protection, and arch support….. to repeat some of the reasoning.  Not tennis shoes, or trail runners, etc.

Wearing proper, properly fitted,and properly broke in footwear will prevent a multitude of foot and ankle pain, and injuries.

Properly fitted also means making allowances for feet swelling or spreading, when hiking long distances, or under backpacks loads.

Breaking your footwear in is a must!

You won’t need many of the foot blister products that people recommend to make up for not heeding this simple step.

The majority of new people will unfortunately not listen to this advice, then end up learning some hard and painful lessons. But experience is a wonderful teacher.

Substantial soles are recommended to protect the bottom of your foot. The stretch of the trail between the trail head and the village is rough and rocky terrain.  After the village it is mostly sand.  In the hot summer sun that sand can be quite hot.  But a thousand steps on poor soles is like beating your feet over many hours.  Walking on stones especially under load, with inadequate soles can cause long term pain that can last well beyond your trip.

Over the ankle footwear is better when used while backpacking under load or used to walk in rough terrain.  It provides added support to prevent sprains.  It is also highly recommended when cold and rainy.

The terrain on this trip can often cause you to misstep and twist or sprain an ankle.

Wearing low cut shoes can raise the chance of injury. Going down with a pack strapped on can cause broken arms, fingers, wrists, and the list goes on.

When backpacking under a load your foot tends to spread out and swell to some degree. Many of us have found boot styles that compensate for this.  I personally recommend Keen’s brand after trying many brands over the years.  They provide ample toe room .

When being fitted you want to take the socks you will hike with.  Have the boots professionally fitted.  Don’t just grab a pair of cheap boots off a discount rack, in your size, and head out the door for home…or worst out on the trail.  They also need broke in!

Higher boots are recommended during the cold weather months.  Especially when there is a chance of rain.  Waterproof even better.

This brings up the point of using waterproof over the ankle boots when it is wet and cold.  We are talking temperatures in the teens through the upper thirty degree Fahrenheit temps.  You can experience such temps in this area depending on time of year.  You may even want to consider “Gaiters” and rain pants over those, to prevent rain or splashed water from running into the tops of your footwear.

You won’t stand a chance with low cut footwear in the wet and cold.  If you can tolerate wet feet at 30°F or lower, then go for it.

Closed toe footwear is highly recommended.   Seasoned backpackers consider it a “must”.  There will always be those that will brag they backpacked this in sandals, flip-flops, or tennis shoes.  That they find them comfortable and the way to go.  If you are new to this, don’t gravitate to this mentality.  Rest assured, there are many testimonials of people having extreme pain and long lasting injuries.  Inadequate types of footwear can be hazardous backpacking or even hiking.

We have made multiple trips into this area and every time, witness people with inadequate footwear dealing with incapacitating foot and ankle injuries.  Blisters seem to be the biggest problem.

Some that become incapacitated can ruin the trip for an entire group.  A group of friends that may have spent months if not years waiting and planning for this trip.  This is no longer an inexpensive trip either.  Fee’s have been jumping each year.

Many ignore the recommendation of bottom soles rated for backpacking.  Or ankle support to avoid twisting an ankle.

Some people will blow off experienced people recommending shoes/boots rugged enough, and made specifically for backpacking.

Proper footwear may also prevent knee and back injuries, or the unfortunate accident of going down with the weight of your pack on you.  As said earlier, such a fall can result in finger, wrist, arm fractures, and damaged knees.

We even have a story from an acquaintance that went down.  Hard enough to result in a broken nose.

Full protection footwear with socks is recommended.  Both for protection from sharp objects, and to prevent sand and small stones rubbing your skin.

Open toes shoes are famous for getting a person stuck in the toe by thorns, cactus needles, twigs, or some other pointed object.  Remember this is desert terrain.

It’s an invitation to peel off a toenail.  Or worse, catch a toe and break it.

With punctures you would have to be concerned with tetanus or other types of infection.  Or run something sharp up under your toenail.  The coyotes will come running to your howling!

This is the same reason seasoned deck hands on boats wear closed toe footwear.  They have the learned knowledge concerning similar hazards such as catching a toe on a deck cleat or other hardware.

Open footwear has a tendency to load up with sand or sharp small pebbles.  All of which act like sandpaper on your tender feet.

There are endless rookies out there that have been lucky.  People that pay no heed, and haven’t had an accident happen yet.  They suggest or even brag they backpacked in sandals or other inadequate footwear.

This is the same mentality as not wearing a seat belt in a car because of never having a crash yet.  People wouldn’t have accidents if they could see what the next few minutes of life had approaching.

You are pretty much on your own in this remote area.  Leaving pain and suffering out of the equation, it is real inconvenient and expensive to seek any type of emergency medical attention.

Should you be injured, you will more than likely have to do considerable hiking with serious pain.

Tribal ATV transport fee’s (if they can get to you) has risen to $500, starting with the 2018 season.  What 2019 brings may be higher?

Helicopter medi-vac….I can’t even image what that would cost someone.  We have heard $20K to $40K….and that is on your dime.

Don’t be that rookie that ends up suffering to save a few dollars, believing what some say of hiking with the lesser.

Or not heeding those with the life long experience that have contributed to this collective of recommendations.

If you aren’t concerned about yourself, at least be concerned about wrecking the trip for others that may be traveling with you.







I am sure you will pass some ill prepared people that are doing this hike in everything from tennis shoes to flip-flops.  I have seen them limping to get on the helicopter too.

Backpack smart, enjoy the trip, and don’t ruin it for someone else that is traveling with you.  It is too hard to get permits into this area.  You want a trip you can brag about.  Not one you complain about.

Break the boots in long before you ever do long distance hikes or backpacking.  Try them out soon after purchase.  Wear them around the house, to go shopping, etc.  If they don’t feel right take them back while you still can.

Eventually work up to walking several miles in your boots.  Then start hauling around some weight in a backpack to prep for your actual hike.  Somewhere in your planning and prepping stage you need to be doing several conditioning hikes in the 12 mile range.

Don’t do this trip cold turkey with no conditioning.  Again some macho types will have you believing going cold turkey is possible with no pain.  When you wake up the next morning after your hike in you will know what some of us are talking about.  Hiking/Backpacking down, and uphill works muscles you don’t normally work when traveling on flat terrain.

Include some inclines or stair steps in your conditioning.  Remember you have over a mile of downhill incline going in (the switchbacks), and the same incline going up, on your trip out.  Going downhill in this case is almost as difficult as going up.  Carry your 800mg of Ibuprofen!

The secondary benefit of breaking in your footwear, and conditioning with weight, distance, and incline, is the fact you will be toughing up the skin on your feet.  This especially benefits people not accustomed to long distance backpacking. We aren’t talking about building up any super layer of callus. But those that put in miles constantly, have definitely built up hardened skin that provides a huge protection factor.  These people fair much better than those with soft feet.

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 Submitted by: Slim Woodruff 2/24/2017.   A “Leave No Trace” Trainer

Havasupai has been called a paradise, and deservedly so.  Havasupai is  a favorite destination for the first time hiker.  However some of these new time campers, and admittedly many of the old ones, do not seem to understand the idea of “Leave no Trace”.

Leave no Trace is a system of ethics regarding the use and protection of public lands. It is a system of ethics, because often one may follow rules only when there is a possibility of getting caught. Ethics are what one does when no one is watching.  There are a list of principles of “Leave No Trace”.

Plan ahead and prepare.
Make sure of the regulations before starting down.  Don’t go without a permit.  Day hikes are not allowed.  Alcohol and illegal drugs are prohibited, and use of same is disrespectful.  Yes, there are those who indulge and they usually get away with it.  However when visiting a friend’s home, one respects the wishes of said friend.  The Havasupai do not allow alcohol.  The same goes for cliff diving, drones, and professional photography.

Travel and Camp on Durable surfaces
Stay on the trail.  Admittedly, most of the trail is in a wash, but in those last, long, sunny switchbacks, do not take shortcuts between said switchbacks.

If visiting certain waterfalls, be aware that the newly-cut creek bed is unstable in places.  Respect those signs which tell you to stay back from the edge.   Climbing cliffs and rocks is prohibited.  Hiking anywhere but the one established trail is prohibited. This is the home of the Havasupai people, and they don’t want trespassing.

Dispose of waste properly.
Simply put, this means carry it out.  If you can carry it in full, you can carry it out empty.  Do not toss your trash by the trail.  Do not leave it in the campground.  There are those who decry the use of pack horses to carry gear.  How do you think trash which is left there gets out?  On these same pack horses.  Trash containers in the outhouses are for feminine hygiene products, not your camping trash.

If some of your equipment breaks or tears, carry it out. If clothing or shoes get too dirty to ever use again, carry them out. The only exception is leftover stove fuel.  It is permissible to ask the rangers if they can use this.  But ask first.

Soap does not go in the water, period.  Not biodegradable, not hemp soap, not natural, hand-crafted by Buddhist monks soap.  Biodegradable soap is designed to be dumped on the ground, not in the water.  Would you like to drink water with soap in it? Soap affects not only fish and other aquatic wildlife, but the microbiological systems in the water.

Leftover food must be carried out.  Animals will eat it, yes, but that trains them to become dependent on humans and thus become pests.  Buried food will be dug up.

Use the outhouses provided.
Yes, sometimes it is a long walk, particularly after dark.  Yes, sometimes there is a line.  But if people do not use the outhouse, the campground will start to smell like a cat box.

Hanging food from trees is a good idea.
But take down the ropes when finished.  I collect several yards of cord and rope every time I am down there.  This could be a hazard to birds or to climbing animals.

Leave what you find.
No collecting rocks, flowers, or any artifacts.  You may, however, pick up as much trash as you wish.

Minimize campfire impact.
This one is simple: no campfires are allowed.  Yes, you may see fires, but they are illegal, rude, and inconsiderate.  You will notice leftover fire rings and blackened ground from these illegal fires.  These marks will last for decades.

Respect wildlife.
Do not feed the animals or leave leftover food.  See above. If you bring a dog, keep it on a leash.  Regarding Supai dogs, it is temping to feed them, but do you feed junk food to your own dogs?

Be Considerate of other visitors.
Not everyone wants to hear your boom box or your external speakers.  Some hikers take to their bed sooner than you so as to get an early start on the trail hiking out.  The campground is very crowded and close quarters.  Keep the noise down.

Stay within the confines of your camp.
The campground is almost always full.  If you have a smaller group, do not spread out over several tables.  If someone camps right next to you, it is usually because there is no other place available.  Play nicely and share.

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Many seasoned backpackers carry an “In Case of an Emergency Card“.   This might just be a review or reminder for many. To those new to the joys of walking off into the woods, or into a remote canyon, this may be a life saver.

Several things are stressed to those familiar with venturing off into remote area’s.  In addition to leaving itineraries with loved ones.  do the same with the local rangers.  Check In and Check Out.   Stick to your itinerary and time table.  Check in at designated times.  Always make date and time entries along with your full name, on trail logs or at trail check points,  should such logs or check points exist.

#1 Leave your itinerary and contact info with a loved one. Provide them contact info for rangers, park personnel, etc. Have an arranged time that a call is made to notify that loved one, you have completed the trip, or a leg of a trip safely.

Stress that they call someone in authority if you fail to call in at your designated time.  Or some form of acceptable delay variation. Then stick to your plan.

#2 Advise local Rangers.  Provide your Itinerary and time table.  Check in & Check out.

#3 Carry a “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY CARD” A card you carry on your person. Some phones have a app for this but I would not depend on an electronic device when backpacking or hiking.

There are bracelets available that can be engraved.  Many First Responder’s look for medical bracelets.  It might be advisable to engrave one with “See my “In Case of Emergency Card” in my wallet…..or something to that effect.

There are new bracelets that have a code engraved. The code gets called into an 800 number to retrieve details you keep updated. Bad idea in my judgement, for many of us. You have to depend on phone service with some of these options. So they may not be feasible for many “remote” Backpackers/Hikers.

Nothing works better than good old fashion paper.

Remember you may become unconscious due to an injury, some type of bite, or a medical episode. This can happen not only on the trail, but also while traveling in a vehicle, or just going about your normal day.

Medical personnel, Police, and other First Responder’s will need this info, and perhaps use precious time looking through your things in an attempt to care for you.  Or they may inadvertently apply some normal first aid, that might be ineffective or hazardous to you.

So the advice is;  Don’t leave home without it!  You are a rookie if you do.

What do you need on the card?

I create a card using card stock grade paper, using my computer and printer. It is a front and back thing. As small of font as possible that is still legible. I make it slightly less in size than a credit card. When I am satisfied with the info I laminate both sides and allow a little of the laminate to extend past all edges of the paper. It is then trimmed to the size of a credit card. You can use the self sticking type of laminate on both sides. Or the heat type if you are fortunate to have a machine for that. If you have more info you think should be known you may have to create multiple cards.

In my case, I carry mine in my wallet, or with my ID.  I carry it 24/7 even when I am not out in nature.  I have to replace it from time to time.  Check its condition and readability prior to each trip.

I have altered my card over the years. I once had a signed statement spelling out who was authorized to make legal, medical, and life support termination decision on my behalf should I become Incapacitated. That was before I was married.

Things to consider having on your card:
*Your Full Name
*Social Security Number
*Emergency Contact Telephone Numbers, the persons name, address, their relationship to you (The more the better in case someone doesn’t answer)
*Medical Insurance Info. Tel#. Policy #, Group #
*Medical Conditions Such as being diabetic, Seizures, Anemic, on blood thinners, etc.
Allergies to Medications/Food
*Perhaps what a First Responder needs to do if you are having a medical episode and can’t talk
*Medications you take, amounts, intervals

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PACK COMPARE – Weight – Storage Access – Other Options

Pack Compares.  No two packs are the same in comfort or in weight. Often times comfort is sacrificed to reduce weight.

In my experience, reducing weight is far more important, the longer your trek. Especially kicking through sandy trails, doing switchbacks at high altitude, trudging in the heat, stepping up endless rock stairways, or generally clicking away 10 miles or more a day.

I have backpacked many years, many miles, and with a wide selection of gear. In a pack I evaluate and rate based on several factors.

(1) Weight is my main factor. The dry weight must be in the 2lb range.

(2) Comfort is next

(3) The pack must have accommodations for a bladder. i.e. a compartment or pouch, and a slit in the pack to extend the bite valve and tubing through. Tube attachments on the straps are a plus.

(4) Pack must contain many external pockets. Preferably zippered compartments to prevent loss. Also enough external compartments that I can access most of my items without digging through the pack. If my tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag, can fit in the main compartment, and I can spread my other items to the external pockets, that is ideal. The type that incorporates a break-a-way day pack is beneficial.

(5) Must have a padded hip belt for distributing most of the load on the hips.

(6) Prefer padded shoulder straps and a quick-release breast strap.

(7) New on the market are swivel pack to waist belt. Reports of one on a 2017 came back very favorable on a 40+ lb pack weight.

As a comparison of the packs I morphed from and to.  My original carbon fiber external frame pack, was extremely comfortable short term. (Which is very deceptive when trying on in a sporting goods store).   I even had extra quick connect straps attached all over, to strap down my tent, bag, and pad.  I used this system for a good decade.

But long term, and long miles, the extra weight of the dry pack takes its toll when factored into total pack weight. Simply changing choice of packs, and no other gear, shaved 6.5lbs off my total carry weight. I then went to a ultralight bag and tent. It was easy to drop 15 lbs.  Expensive though.

Taking this approach to everything you stuff in your backpack.  You will soon be rewarded with a pack of less that 25lbs verses 40 or 50 lbs. Believe me….after 10 or 12 miles of backpacking you will definitely notice the difference. 


GossamerGear Mariposa 60

Those that have a knack for writing, and have true life experiences with other packs, we would like to hear from you.  Send us something short and with some photos.  Email to:

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Beer or Soda can stoves are a great alternative to expensive high tech gear.  One year, some members of our backpacking team, made a huge effort to go light, and go cheap.  Several of us did DIY and built what is commonly referred to as a beer can stove.  Cheap, easy, and surprisingly very usable.

They are virtually weightless if you are only talking about the stove. They burn denatured alcohol which you have to factor that weight in. Also the weight of a leak proof fuel container.

There are plans all over the internet. So we will not go into the details of construction. Build and use these stoves at your own risk. The flame from the alcohol is virtually invisible especially in bright sunlight. But they put out some incredible heat.  Great for boiling water to prepare dehydrated meals.

Wind can make them a little difficult to light, and at times hard to maintain the flame. Carry some type of wind screen even if that might be folded up aluminum foil.  Or stack some rocks or other natural wind screen.

Lighting is a bit tricky until you get the hang of it.  There is a primer stage to get the fuel vaporizing….then things take off nicely.  They light easily using survival type Fire Starter Sticks that incorporate magnesium rods and striking sticks.  Sure beats being cold and hungry to find out your matches have gotten wet.

These stoves can also be used in an emergency situation in which you need to start a campfire with wet or damp wood.

Burn your unused fuel before you hike out, and you carry nearly no stove/fuel weight on your return trip.

Regardless of whether you end up using one, they are fun to make and try out.

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HACKBERRY’S GENERAL STORE – Old RT 66 – Road Trip stop

Hackberry’s General Store is a “must do” road trip stop. If you are traveling on Old Route 66 between Kingman, Arizona, and Peach Springs, Arizona.  This is a great spot to stop.  No gas available that I know of, but a fun place. Photo ops in every direction.

Hackberry’s General Store is a trip destination in itself. If you have the time, travel old Route 66 heading northeast out of Kingman, Arizona driving toward Peach Springs. Time it so you are in the area during the day. Hackberry is roughly midpoint between Kingman and Peach Springs.

This building has featured photos appearing in numerous advertisements. It’s iconic image is known worldwide. It is a favorite stop for many enjoying a trip on old Route 66.

Also a popular stop on any trip people are making to Havasu Falls for backpacking trips.  Especially if traveling in from the west.  Just allow yourself some extra time for this stop. You might think a few minutes is all that is necessary.  No so.

If you enjoying shooting photos your better factor in at least an hour. Tons of old cars and car parts are scattered across the property. Old gas pumps, old metal signs, and broken down machinery.

Stop in and browse the interior too. The place has an old time staged soda fountain. The bathroom decor is a hoot. There are dollar bills plastered on the ceiling and walls by travelers from all over the world.

Bring your camera because the building and all of the “old iron” scattered around is a photographers dream.
11255 E Hwy 66
Hackberry, AZ 86401

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MOONEY FALLS TRAIL – VIDEO – Tunnels Chains & Ladders

Mooney Falls Trail Article and Still image by: Rick Beach.
Video by: Nataliia Sheianova.

Mooney Falls is about 200 ft high. The trail from the top to the bottom is not for some with a fear of heights.

The last half of the climb down is normally bathed in mist off the falls.  For some this part is very scary.  You are grasping chains to secure yourself.   Rock footing is wet and slick.  You are on a near vertical cliff face.  Descending first.  But the only way back out, is to take the same route back up.

There is often 2 way traffic.  Some people have no courtesy to wait.  This is even more intimidating to those that are timid and not real sure they should be attempting this climb.  Maintain 3 point contact at all times! For many it is the highlight of the trip.

Once down at the base of Mooney Falls it opens you to a vast area of more water falls.  Beaver Falls several more hours of hiking downstream is a “must do” also.

Mooney Falls Trail Video: Courtesy of Nataliia Sheianova

Photo and graphics by: Rick Beach

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Trip Report – Havasu Falls-Supai, AZ June 3, 2012

Written and Submitted by: Brian Johnson

The trip had been planned since December 2011, when Rick “Southwest Rick” and Brian “Gator” were sitting around drinking a Coffee on a cold day in the desert of Las Vegas. Talking and reflecting about their last backpacking/camping) trip they had taken together the previous May. They had gone on a week long backpacking trip then to Havasu Canyon, AZ with 2 others guys.

“Let’s go again in the summer.  This time so that we can swim under the huge waterfalls at the bottom of the Canyon”, said Rick. Gator agreed to return since he had a great time 6 months prior and couldn’t wait to get back.

Brian suggested something different this time. He asked, “Can we split the ‘Crew’ into (2) groups this time? Each group was hoping to start and finish, at the same time and place?” Both groups sharing the experience at the bottom of the Canyon together?”

Some of Brian’s group would camp too, but stay in the Lodge their last night. Rick’s group would be camping in the campground. All agreed but suggested one change…..schedule the trip during a Full Moon week to enjoy the night time moon reflections, and light on the trail. It was announced to friends and the Facebook Group Facebook Backpacking Havasu was created. The trip was “On” and would start in 23 weeks; the first week of June.

The group quickly grew to 10 friends and family members that all had an interest either in backpacking, camping, adventure, photography, nature, or the Great Outdoors. There were also other friends and family members that could not go, but were interested enough to join and follow the weekly discussions and planning.

The main group was subdivided into two smaller groups. The seven (7) members that wanted to backpack the first (and toughest) 9.5 miles down into the village were to be nicknamed “The Bighorns”.

The three (3) members that wished to bypass that stretch of the trail and avoid hiking to the village were to be called “The Blackhawks” (Since they would be travel in by helicopter).

An AirWest Helicopter flies into Havasu Canyon onto the Indian Reservation 5 days a week to transport the Locals, Officials, Tribal Members, and Backpacking Tourists down on a seven (7) minute flight between the Village from the Trail Head parking lot. This “Bypass” avoids the 9.5 miles of hiking to the village. (GPS actual walking miles)

Early June temperatures here are in the 90’s. July and August temps often exceed 100 degrees. The Sunday afternoon the Bighorn crew set off to backpack down the canyon wall switchbacks, the temperature had exceeded 100 degrees.

All water has to be carried in personal water bladders or canteens on this trail for 9.5 miles until resupply can be purchased at the Indian Village.

The Supai Village Store and Café are supplied daily by pack horse teams that carry nearly everything into the settlement to sustain 500 inhabitants year round.

The General Store here looks like your local 7-11 with ice cream, soda, snacks, frozen burritos, canned goods, meat, and fresh bread. These pack horse “trains” work hard 12 hours a day and pass backpackers on the trail with great speed and determination.

On Sunday June 3, 2012, Gator and his cousin Rhonda, from Georgia, departed Las Vegas around 9 am. They drove over the Hoover Dam southeast towards Kingman, AZ while enjoying the trip in Phil Hall’s pickup truck. He allowed them to use his vehicle since he and his son Carter would be riding back to Las Vegas with them on Thursday. The two travelers stopped at a Tourist Attraction known as Hackberry’s General Store for photos and drinks around 11 am.

Eventually (Sunday Evening) the three Blackhawks settled into their hotel room in Peach Springs. Backpack gear was reduced in hopes of minimizing weight. They also talked and shared thoughts of menus, camera gear, and foods. They finally fell asleep around 9:30 pm.

The Bighorn group had already hiked down the switchbacks and had set up an overnight bivouac camp up above the trail in the rocks.

Monday morning June 4, 2012 started out for the “Blackhawks” with cold air conditioning, hot showers, and front desk checkout. Another visit was made to the motel’s restaurant for a free breakfast that awaited them. Continental foods, fruits, and coffee were consumed in mass quantities for energy.  Phil’s pickup truck was loaded; canteens filled, as well as water bladders for the backpacks. The 3 departed Peach Springs around 9 am for the one hour drive to the “Starting” point/Parking Lot on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. There they would board the helicopter.

Monday morning June 4, 2012 started out at first light for the “Bighorns”.  With cereal, hot coffee, and some trail mix.  Tents were broke down, sleeping bags rolled up, gear packed, and the backpacks strapped on.  They hit the “long” half of the trail, to the village, shortly after sunup. They had the memory of the awesome full moon of last night, still fresh on their minds. On a totally clear night the Moon had lit up the entire canyon. There was no man made light for miles around. It lent a spiritual element to those on this part of the trip.

The AirWest helicopter could be heard coming up the Havasu Canyon around 10 am….right on time! It hovered over the boarding pad, near the Trail Head parking area.  A worker crouched down and ran under the whirling blades.  A  drag line and hook where attached and the chopper quickly departed downhill WITHOUT passengers! It was strictly a cargo run.  It appeared at that moment that the “Blackhawks” would NOT be boarding on time for the 7 minute flight to the Supai Indian Village.   It was soon evident “time” was not a priority in this part of the world.

The Bighorn crew by this time had hiked all the way to the village and was sitting in the café patio (In sight of the village landing pad). The Bighorn team was waiting for the Blackhawks to get dropped off at the village. They witnessed the helicopter make several passes but instead of landing at the pad, veering off a short distance away. It was delivering bundles of roofing material to several of the homes.

Some of the homes had their shingled roofs stripped clean to the wood. The helicopter lowered the material right to the workers on the rooftops. Then like a dragonfly or bird, it buzzed up the canyon and over its rim…gone from sight and sound.

Alas, the chopper returned. The “Blackhawks” hopes HOWEVER were again short lived, when they noticed a young local man wearing an orange jumpsuit exiting a waiting van. He was handcuffed and his ankles were shackled. The “prisoner” was being prepared to be transported by 2 Reservation Correctional Officers. He was, surprisingly enough, not in a bad mood, but rather, laughing, cursing in his native language, and smiling behind mirrored sunglasses as if he were going to the Grammys.

The “Blackhawks” watched in awe as his chopper took off. Were they going to get on board that day? They had an appointment to “meet up” with the “Bighorns” around noon.

The “Bighorns” meanwhile were enjoying another iced beverage!  Sitting in the shade relaxing while keeping an eye on the landing pad a short distance from the cafe.

The “Blackhawk” group FINALLY boarded the chopper at 11 am after each paying $85.00 for their quick flight. They took photos as fast as they could out the chopper’s windows and attempted to shout over the loud noise made by the rotor blades. When they landed 7 minutes later, they quickly ducked their heads and gathered their 3 backpacks, camera bag, and clothing bag and headed for the gate at the fence.

As they walked towards the fence, they were passed by 3 MORE prisoners in orange jumpsuits heading uphill. As the 3 “Blackhawks” exited the gate, they were enthusiastically met by Rick!. He explained to them that the 5 “Bighorns” had been waiting for them in the Supai Indian Village for 3 hours. They had broken camp early to beat the heat of the day. Mark and Chris (2 Bighorns visiting from Phoenix) had already departed for the Havasu Campground several hours earlier to secure camp sites.

The 3 Blackhawks walked over to the Camper Reservation Office to check in and pay their entrance fees. Upon payment, the 3 were each given an orange tag to place on each of their backpacks.

After buying large bottles of cold water, ice cream, and Gatorade at the Village General Store, the Blackhawks took their small clothing bag 1 block to the Supai Lodge and dropped it off in the lobby. After telling the front desk clerk that they would be returning in 2 days (on Wednesday), they departed on the trail for the 2.5 mile hike to the campground.

Along the dirt path, they took photos of each other as well as the creek and waterfalls that flow beside the trail. The highlight of the hike from the village to the campground is the 100 foot Havasu Falls beside the trail. It is created by the small creek as it cascades down into a large swimming pool. Photo opportunities abounded here.

Rhonda, being an avid photographer, was in heaven as she was clicking away as fast as she could. Four other members of the large group of 8 were also avid photographers. Gator, knowing this, didn’t feel the need to bring along a camera. Besides, the previous year, he had taken many photos.

At the bottom of the trail at the base of the Havasu Waterfall, was the entrance to the Havasu Campground. As the group approached the gates, they saw a local woman behind a folding table. On the table could be seen a gas stove, foil, gas canisters, and a cooler was on the ground beside her. She was cooking and selling fry bread.

The group bought hot, fresh “fry bread” and cold Gatorade from her and quickly departed to enter the Entrance gate where another local woman was checking orange tags on backpacks. Each backpacker had to squeeze through iron posts to gain admission into the campground.  Posts arranged to let people through, but keep horses out.

The Blackhawks quickly found a shady campsite and quickly laid out their gear on the picnic tables provided. They ate the fry bread and gathered their water bottles and bladders for a 5 minute walk to the fresh water spring back towards the campground entrance. Upon returning to the campsite, they hung their 3 hammocks and relaxed until time for sleep around 8:30 pm.

The next morning (Tuesday) was spent boiling water for Starbucks instant coffee and eating granola bars and cereal. The 3 discussed the prior night’s sleeping arrangements and concluded that the campsite selected was a poor choice due to its closeness to the main trail.

All night long backpackers walked by as they shined their flashlights and awed and commented on the “coolness” of the 3 hammocks. Needless to say, the 3 Blackhawks slept poorly. The 5 Bighorns had selected another location, off the trail, but in close proximity to a large group of scouts that starting moving in. They also had the same complaint about the scout group.

The 5 Bighorns joined the Blackhawks campsite and daypacks were packed with snacks, water, and camera gear for the 20 minute hike to Mooney Falls below the campground. After several hours and many photos taken at Mooney Falls, the group returned to camp and washed up in the creek about 20 feet away.

Clotheslines were strung, towels hung, and shirts and socks were washed in biodegradable soaps. Several of the crew members took off for another hike to Havasu Falls and for a day of swimming in the 90 degree heat.

It was here that member Phil experienced the group’s ONLY injury. His toes were stepped on underwater causing a bruise and swelling of his large toe. This led to concerns of his ability to hike out of the canyon the next day. First Aid bandages were administered and his foot was kept elevated. This also went into a discussion of the hazards of open toed footwear on such a trip. We all learned a valuable fact for our next adventure.

Dinner was prepared of dehydrated meals using boiled water from Fern Spring. Both groups fell to sleep early to start the final day the next day as soon as possible.

The third day (Wednesday) morning June 6, 2012 started out very chilly. Even though the deserts in the Southwest get very hot during the day, the nights are very cool. Each crew member crawled out of their warm cocoons of fleece sleeping bags reluctantly and prepared the morning ritual of hot coffee. Phil had given Rhonda a dehydrated pouch of scrambled eggs and bacon which she gloriously ate.

Today was to be the day that both groups hiked uphill towards the Village. As the sun rose, Rick (the Bighorns Guide) assisted Phil and Carter Hall up the canyon to the village.  Not only were they concerned for his swollen foot, but the heat as well.  Chris and Mark agreed to hike up next graciously carrying Rhonda’s and Gator’s backpacks. Rick returned to the campground at 10 am, then hiked back up a 2nd time with Gator.  Michael and Rhonda were the last couple to leave the campground around 2 pm.

When Gator and Rick arrived at the village around 11am, Phil and Carter were pleasantly surprised. They thought that they would have to wait ALL day for others to show up so that the group could check in at the village lodge. The 3 unloaded their gear inside room #22 at the end of the lodge building. Even though this lodge is basic and has limited amenities, it seemed like a Hilton to these backpackers. Hot showers, running water, flushing toilets, soft beds, air conditioning, and clean clothes awaited them. Also a nice nap was had by Gator, Phil, and Carter.

Rick headed back down to the campground for the second time.

At approximately 3 pm a loud knock was heard at the door. It was Rhonda and Moe! It was now THEIR turn to shower, change clothes, and freshen up. At 5 pm the 5 departed for the Village Cafe for a steak dinner.

The reason that 5 stayed at the Lodge was to hop on the chopper the next morning (Thursday) in the village. After the steak dinner (wasn’t great, but at least it was adequate), the 5 went to sleep early wearing earplugs that Gator had provided for everyone.

The next morning (Thursday June, 7th) Rick, Mark, and Chris would start their journey the total distance of 12 miles (Center of Campground to Parking Lot Trailhead)

At about 4:30am the group remaining in the campground (Bighorns) had been up since 4am. A quick breakfast and gear packed. This group was setting out on the trail before light. The backpacking group was hoping to reach the Parking lot, 12 miles away, before noon and the heat of the day.

The Bighorns made it to the parking lot, covering the whole uphill 12 mile trek in 4 hrs. The majority of the gear had been arranged for pack horse pick-up back at the campground. Regretfully the gear didn’t arrive for those waiting at the parking lot for nearly an additional 3 hours later, at 11:30am. After grabbing their gear the 3 remaining Bighorns said our goodbyes and headed out with their vehicles. Two of the Bighorns were returning to Phoenix, with the 3rd extending the adventure, traveling by vehicle to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The AirWest helicopter arrived in the village at 9 am. The group of 5 (Blackhawks) were there at 8. Chopper reservations aren’t allowed, so passengers need to stand in line early. The tribal members and officials always get first priority and don’t have to pay the $85.00 per person that the tourists pay.

After about 9 flights up WITHOUT our crew, it was FINALLY our turn. We had to split up however according to our names on the passenger list. At approximately noon, we ALL arrived at the top of the canyon to our awaiting vehicles. The Blackhawks departed for Peach Springs to return Moe to his truck, and the remaining left for Vegas while discussing plans for our next journey.

Our thanks to Brian Johnson for submitting this trip report. Brian is an avid outdoors person, and former professional guide.

Havasu Falls is one of the most popular backpacking destinations in North America. The trip is definitely worth the necessary preparations needed to visit this area.

Come prepared. Reservations are required from the Havasupai tribe. This is in a desert environment. Though there is water once you reach the village, it is 9.5miles from the trail head. Here are some simple cautions:

· Secure reservations prior to making the trip. Check-in is at the village which is 9.5 miles one way downhill. It would be a bad day if you get turned away.
· Be sure to check in at the “Camper Check In” office in the village before proceeding the next 2.5 miles to the campground. You need a wristband or tag to enter the campground.
· Carry plenty of water (More during summer months)
· The is no water available at the parking area
· The parking area is 70 miles from any community other than the village below. Nearly 80 miles to the next gas or small store.
· It is not recommended that you camp at the trailhead parking lot, though some do or sleep in their vehicles. There is no water and no shade. The parking lot is congested with vehicles and horse and hiker traffic
· Summer daytime temps often exceed 100 degrees F
· Spring, Fall, Winter night time temps are cold and can drop into the 20’s.
· Watch weather prior to trip and be prepared for the extremes
· Be sure to carry rain gear (can double as a shell in case of cold)
· Take cash money. There is a store and a café. Be prepared to pay high prices though. Remember it’s packed in on horseback

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Our initial trip was organized under our former trademark business.  This all started back in 2010.

At at the time TOPONAUTIC was a business under another name and trademark. This was written up in one of our old newsletters.  We have gone through and changed the name to our current business name of Toponautic.

Yes, the TOPONAUTIC Staff and Friends made the trip. We basically shut down operations for 4 days so we could all join in. This was our first trip to Havasu Falls. It was to be a short trip since we only secured reservations for one night of camping. It was to be more of a recon mission.

This trip is not for the poorly prepared, nor poorly conditioned. Not if you are backpacking it both in and out. We found the backpack trip fun, difficult at times, but so rewarding for the experience, the beauty, and peace found in the area.

We left out of Las Vegas, driving some 4 hours or so, headed for the trail head. We passed through Kingman, Arizona and headed generally Northeast on an old section of Route 66.  Along the way, just beyond Peach Springs, Arizona we made a turn north on Indian Road #18.

IR#18 is a desolate 2 lane road with absolutely no services. From there we traveled another 60 some miles to a dead-end at the Trail Head.

Our group was made up of an age group from 35 to 61. All of us had prepared in advance by doing conditioning hikes with backpacks. Nothing can prepare you for the real thing we found out.

All of us read as much info as we could find, and spoke to people that have made multiple trips to Havasu Falls. We had all chosen our equipment, packs, and the weight we were going with. The lightest was a pack weight (minus water) of 20 lbs. The heaviest in the group was 40 lbs (minus water). So, add 7.5 lbs. of water to find our actual pack weights. Mine was 30 + 7.5 or 37.5 lbs. I found out the hard way this was way too heavy to enjoy the trip!

We had our meals figured so we were not packing extra.

We arrived late afternoon with an original plan to camp near our vehicle at the trail head. Probably what many people think might be do-able. Upon arriving we re-thought that plan. This proved to be a large error on our part. But that is why we considered this a recon mission. We had people tell us they set up tents here. Wow, that was misleading. At least to us.

The parking area is basically a shelf cut into the canyon wall. Nearly a straight drop off on the west side. The remaining side is nearly straight up with barely room to park. There was rock fall evidence in the remaining 5 or 6 feet between vehicles and the rock wall. I even feared damage to the vehicle from falling rocks. Pitching a tent or just plain sleeping on the ground in that space was out of the question.

The area is dark and trying to lay out something between vehicles might be hazardous with late arrivals coming in. Plus the parking lot was full, with cars lining the road leading back up the hill.

At the trail head we found horse corrals, composting toilets, a few dogs and a couple locals there to coordinate pack animals. We asked if it was OK to head out and camp along the trail. We were told yes as long as we got away from the trail to camp. (I think if you check now, this is no longer allowed?)

Our objective was to get down the descending switchbacks before dark. We grabbed our packs and hit the trail. The weather was very pleasant and we made the 2 miles of switchbacks in short order (about 45 minutes). We dropped into the wash trail and headed downhill, north, toward the village of Supai.

We estimated we had made about 3 miles in close to an hour, since leaving the trail head. We found a large flat ledge several hundred feet above the trail. We scrambled up some rocks and set up camp. Tents were up and dinner cooked and eaten. It was time to relax and talk about how those switchbacks might be, going up the day of our departure. We knew is wouldn’t be nearly as easy! Little did we know at that time how true this was.

We had planned our trip on the full moon, so as darkness set in, the canyon wall off to our east gradually started showing signs of the moon coming up. Suddenly it peaked above the dark horizon. Then with surprising speed rose higher and cleared the horizon. It lit us up as if we were camped near a street light. We tried for the longest time to capture the moment with our cameras. But nothing can capture what we saw and felt. Those will just be fond memories to us.

Morning came with cool air and a light breeze. We boiled some water, mixed up some oatmeal and sipped on a hot cup of coffee. Food Prep cleaned up, tents and bags rolled up, and we were off heading the remaining miles to the Village. The total distance from the upper trail head to the village is about 9 miles. We had already spent 1 hour hiking the day before, and estimated we had 3 miles behind us. The view from where we had breakfast that morning was totally awesome. It was high enough to see the larger canyon that lay before us, and also the narrower trail canyon down below us in the wash.

The trail had a fairly steady drop, but not that steep, generally meandering along a deep wash that had been cut through steep sandstone walls over eons of time. We were walking somewhat labored since the trail was loose gravel and deep loose sand. At times the trail went to a little higher ground and through some desert vegetation. This went on for several miles. Occasionally we came to a more narrow passage and large slabs of sandstone that had broken loose and fallen from the walls above

We were traveling fairly fast, averaging over 3 mph per our GPS. Suddenly we heard a strange noise. We thought a waterfall at first. About that time several horses came running around the corner, headed up hill, with a rider close behind. The horses were pack animals. Some of the tied down material was the US mail making its way out of the village. This wash is the only way in and out of the village other than by helicopter. No roads exist. Off and on we would meet more oncoming pack animals.

We read, and were also told that this is the only US Post Office that still delivers US Mail via horse back or mule. We made a point of wanting to send a post card home from the village once we arrived.

We moved fast in the cool of the early morning, though the sun was rising we remained pretty much in the shadows of the steep canyon walls. We paused briefly among some huge slabs of rock, ate a snack, and watched another string of pack animals trot by in a cloud of dust.

South entrance Village trail

Dropping down a gentle slope you enter the south end of the village and follow a dirt path between fenced off property lines to eventually come to the general store, post office, school, etc. The village is home to around 500 locals. Nearly every property was fenced with horses or mules staked or loose within the confining fences. It might make you think you were back in time until you see evidence of electrical power and water to the homes. Life here seems way more simple, but more stark and hard.

In a little over 2 hours we covered the remaining miles to the village center. So for our group, the 9 mile trip from the hill top trail head to the village took less than 4 hours, closer to 3. We met few people on the trail. But it was still pretty early.

We found our way to the camp check in office, paid our fees and then wondered over to the store, bought something to drink, and mailed our post cards at the post office. The post mark I found when I returned home is shown below. A memento of the date and time a well as a great trip.

As were started out for the campground area we walked north past the school, then a small church. Then we were out of town heading toward the Camping area another 2 miles from town.

We soon came to Navajo Falls on the way to the campground. Navajo Falls at this time was totally different than what you see today. A flash flood was to later completely alter this waterfall.

The trail constantly dropping, we soon came to a second sight…Havasu Falls. This falls is located just before reaching the campgrounds

The color of the water against the sandstone was breathtaking. What you see captured by a camera will never compare to the real view! Nor the sound of the thundering water dropping over 100 feet to the pool below.

From here we proceeded to the campground area. We replenished our water at Fern Spring. Though it is supposedly safe we pumped it through a filter to insure we had no problem. The water tasted great and was really cold.

This last leg to the campground took about 45 minutes. This would make the total one way trip to be 11 miles. The 11 miles would be from the Trail head to the Campgrounds. Our GPS would later tell us we hiked more like 12 miles. Total hiking time was in the 4 hour range.

We set up camp and proceeded to hike downstream to Mooney Falls, Mooney Falls is 210 Feet high and is quite impressive too. We messed around there too until we thought we should head back to our tent and fix dinner.

We eventually made it back to camp and started to relax. The winds picked up and we could tell weather was changing and the cold front we feared was moving in. Toward dusk the winds kicked up to 50 MPH and gusted even harder.

The cottonwood trees we were under started losing some rather larger limbs. We opted to move all of our tents to a safer location. (Note to self: check what is above you before setting up camp – their can be widow makers above you).

The winds kept up until the early hours of dawn. We had sand in the tents, up our nose, and in our ears. We had slept with T-shirts pulled over our faces. The winds were ushered in with a major cold front.  The temperature had dropped drastically from the 80 degrees the previous afternoon. We were up at first light, having already decided we better head out to beat the rain that was sure to come.

Our plan was to get all the way back to the base of the switchbacks and camp there for the night. Then do the last 2 miles up the switchbacks the next morning.

About half way to the village the rain hit us. The wind kicked up again. We dug out our rain gear and put it on. It was cold enough now we didn’t want to be wet on top of dealing with the cold air.

We made it to the village and looked back to the north. The sky was looking dark and nasty. Raining hard or snowing in the distance.  It was certainly cold enough for it to be snow squalls.

We pushed on hard knowing this time the grade was to be all up hill. We took GPS readings at several points and realized our time was a pretty quick pace. The dark cloud seemed to be moving in just behind us. It did stop raining for awhile. We pushed hard but could not increase our speed much more. The miles clicked by slow and hard. We took only 2 short breaks along the way.

We eventually made it to the last 2 miles. The switchbacks were before us.  The decision to camp or continue up the switchbacks was also facing us.

It was cold and starting to snow on us now. We voted to scrap making camp in the rocks. We all opted to continue on to the top. The switchbacks proved to be brutal, carrying heavy packs. It was painfully slow. We crested the top with it snowing hard and really cold. We were soaked inside and out. We were soaked on the outside from the rain.  Boots socks and everything not covered.  Soaked inside with sweat from pushing so hard. Luckily we all had a clean dry change of clothes in the vehicle.

We crested the summit with stiff calf muscles, and memories for a lifetime! We knew we would return.

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