TRIP REPORT – HAVASU FALLS BACKPACKING – June 3, 2012

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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