This story/trip was over 8 months in the making, and in recent history that is the farthest out I’ve started planning any one trip by a long mile! Sometimes I don’t even do preliminary planning until just days before an upcoming trip. It started with a group called Girls Love Travel #GLT on facebook where women can come together and talk all things travel all day ere’ day if they want to. I joined when there
It started with a group called Girls Love Travel #GLT on facebook where women can come together and talk all things travel all day ere’ day if they want to. I joined when there was less than 5,000 members and in less than a year the group has grown to over 85,000 of us.. !
Early last year, a girl named Tippe posted in the group about traveling to Havasupai, an Indian reservation in the Grand Canyon and asked if anyone was interested. Within the day that feed blew up and she made a side group for collaborating. The hardest part about planning a trip to Havasupai is getting the permits. Also for park information. You can’t just show up to the reservation and hike because the Havasu Indians own this part of the Grand Canyon. They also only allow a small number of people onto the reservation each day so getting the permits to hike in can be difficult.
On February 1st the permits went on sale for 2016, and so we coordinated far and wide for GLT members who were interested in the trip to call in to make the reservation. There were at least 15 of us calling on opening day and there may have been more for all I know. We thought this would be easy.. fast forward 48 hours and still none of us had gotten through and we’d been calling non-stop. what the heck?
Turns out there was a bad storm and the phone lines were down. According to Tippe, an iphone will tell you’ve called a number 5,000 times before it won’t count anymore. That’s how many times she tried calling the reservation office without getting through! Thankfully, one of the girls was able to make 2 reservations for July and September for 50 people each. I was signed up for the July trip.
If you are trying to get to the Grand Canyon from California then you can either fly into Las Vegas or Phoneix, it’s about a 4-hour drive either way so I looked up prices for both flights and chose the cheapest one from Monterey, which was Phoenix. 2 girls ended up joining me. We flew in on late flights on Wednesday, and I was playing hooky from school on both Thursday and Friday (a girls got to do what a girls got to do)!
Ella and I arrived at the airport around the same time and Chelsea’s flight wasn’t arriving until after 10 pm so Ella and I picked up the rental car and drove to a gas station for essential supplies. We needed propane, water, and of course booze.
Once we picked Chelsea up and hit the road it was after 11pm. We were supposed to start the hike at 4am which meant that we would get to the trailhead around 3am and have one hour to get our shit together and sleep for the night before starting a 10-mile trek to Havasupai with all of the gear we needed on our backs.
We actually arrived at 3:30 took a 20-minute nap, rearranged our shit and walked around to find a large group of girls, presumably the other GLT members. They weren’t hard to spot. By this time, the night sky had just started to lighten, we made some introductions, passed out shirts, ate some snacks, and packed the big bags that the mules would carry. There were a couple big tents that people had brought and those sorts of things. Mostly everyone was carrying their own weight like Ella, Chelsea, and me.
Once all the logistics were sorted we all jumped on the trial as we were ready, obviously, all 50 of us wouldn’t be hiking all together for 10 miles so we agreed to meet at the gate for the camping passes, which was about 8 miles into the hike.
The first mile is down this winding path that descends into the canyon, I started off at a pretty brisk pace, I felt like I was trying to beat the sun as it slowly crept down the sides of the mountains into the canyon. It almost felt a little bit like in Chronicles of Riddick when they are running to beat the sun as it rises with flaming lava on Crematora, if you’ve seen the movie you know what I mean.
Once we arrived at the gate, we knew that it was 2 more miles before we would reach the campgrounds. Ugh. Those last 2 miles were a fight to keep going. By this time the sun had risen and my pack felt like it weighed 100 pounds, which is an extreme over-exaggeration, but that’s what happens when you’re tired. I couldn’t wait to set my pack down and not pick it up again for 3 days.
As we walked past Havasu Falls and reached the river that runs through the campsite, the clear blue waters with the dark red rock contrast was the most enticing thing I had ever laid eyes on. Seriously!
We found an area that would be big enough for everyone’s tents but would also provide enough shade during the heat of the day, and was conveniently right by the river. It was lovely and perfect for us exhausted, dusty, dehydrated, women.
By this point, I was so exhausted. Why did we think it was a good idea to drive all night, arrive at the trailhead, hike 10 miles into the grand canyon in the middle of July, and with 35 pounds on our backs? As soon as I set up my tent I was down for the count. I slept for 3 hours straight in the peak of the afternoon heat. My tent didn’t require the cover, I just laid there sweaty and dirty, right next to the sound of the clear blue water bubbling past, I was right next to the river, it was delightful.
P.S. There aren’t any misquitoes around these parts. The bugs don’t really bother you which was the nicest thing of all!
That night we all hung out and got to know each other over dinner, laughed a lot, made friends from all around, and most people went to bed early. The 3 girls I hiked down with invited me over for a game of PHASE 10. I LOVE that game and was stoked that they had packed it; and I brought Ella along too. We played for a little while but then decided to go to bed because we were exhausted, and it was an 8-mile round trip hike to Beaver Falls the next morning.
HIKE TO BEAVER FALLS
The group I was going with woke early, Renata, a Lithuanian who speaks Russian became my fast friend. She shared her breakfast with me, and was hurrying me to be ready and off with the first group on the trail. That turned out being bomb too, we were the first group of the ENTIRE camp including the GLT girls, to get on the trail that early and we were rewarded for it later when we reached Beaver Falls.
There were 10 of us together, as Renata convinced me to come with her, I convinced Ella and we became good friends with Brie, another girl in the group. We set off to find Mooney Falls, which ended up being just down the road from our campsite. It was so beautiful in the early morning light. There were only 10 of us there to enjoy it, listening to the thundering water from the falls, it was perfect. I could almost feel my heart skipping a beat from the beauty.
Turns out you pretty much have to climb down the side of the cliff to get down to the bottom where Mooney falls is, and the trail to Beaver falls. It can be a bit sketchy at times because the mist from the waterfall coats the ropes and chains and makes the wooden ladders slippery, but it is well worth the trip down.
The hike is mesmerizing. I just kept thinking this is ‘Jurassic Park, this is Jurassic Park’. I could imagine the dinosaurs down here, seriously. There’s one part where you hike down and there is just a massive valley full of fern plants (this could be wrong) but it seriously was breathtaking. This trip meant so much to me, and moved me as a person, I can’t even explain it.
When we got to Beaver Falls we had a few other ropes and ladders to climb and then we were there and there wasn’t anybody else in site. It was amazing. The water here was calmer because the falls here weren’t nearly as big as Mooney and Havasu, so we relaxed in the waters and sat under one of the falls for awhile before heading over to eat lunch.
After lunch, the other girls already wanted to head back but I convinced Ella and Brie to stay with me, I mean when was the next time we’d be able to hang out somewhere like this alone? We went to the pools farther down and even climbed up and jumped off of some of the rocks, by that time other campers were arriving, and we decided to head back. We saw many different groups of GLT members along the way.
This time, when we were climbing on the ropes and ladders the sun was blazing in the sky because it was almost 1pm and anything metal was lethal to the touch. I mean searingly hot. I burnt myself twice because I grabbed the wrong spot and had burn marks the next day. We pretty much hiked in just our bathing suits at this point and literally every time we came to a part of the river we could reach, we just fell into it. It was the best refreshment of the day by far.
Somehow we hiked a different trail back, and when we reached Mooney falls we found a rope swing to have some fun with and a small cave under one of the smaller falls to sit in. This day was magical. By this point, there was a long line to either climb up or climb down the side of the cliff and so we waited it out by the waterfalls enjoying our afternoon there.
Once the ropes and ladders cleared, we climbed out and hiked back to our campsite for dinner and I put the bourbon I brought on ice (in the river to cool down). When I was carrying my heavy backpack into the canyon I regretted that bottle of bourbon and the weight it added to my pack, but climbing back to the campsite, I knew it was perfect thing I needed after all of this hiking, jumping, climbing, the works.
Everyone’s stoves were going and other bottles of alcohol miraculously appeared, then a yoga session happened, and as the sun started setting the rave bracelets came out (Who had room for those in their backpacks?!) This night was my favorite. We danced and drank, and listened to music late into the night and then we laid on the ground and stared at the night sky. Star gazing is seriously the best thing to do in the world and is taken for granted so often.
Believe me when I tell you, the Milkyway from the Grand Canyon can’t be beat. I don’t know what it was but I have never seen the Milkyway as bright and as mesmerizing as I did during this weekend. That’s saying something because I’ve also been stationed on a warship in most parts of the world and stared at many a night sky on the night watch.
LITTLE NAVAJO/BIG NAVAJO
The next morning was the trek to big and little Navajo, which was not nearly as hard of a trek as the one to Beaver Falls. It was just up the way from the campsites. We swam around and sat under the falls there, which was a lot of fun, and at big Navajo there was a cave that you have to swim under the waterfall to get into. It can be a little scary at first, but so much fun once you are inside.
We ate lunch there and then split up. I decided to walk into town. One of the residents of Havasu told a couple of the girls that there was a T-Rex fossil in the village and I wanted to see it, so I decided to walk 2 more miles to get to the village and take a look.
When I arrived in town, I bought a frozen Gatorade at the small store and it was SO refreshing, as it was so hot out and I only had hot water at this point. Sitting at a table by the check-in office a woman came out and asked me if I was alone. I told her that I was with a group of girls but I was alone in the village and she told me that I shouldn’t have come by myself. That they have had problems with some of the residents and female campers.
That did not make me feel good. She told me to let her know before I started hiking back and she would radio to the park rangers so they could look for me on the trial to make sure I made it back to the campgrounds safely. Needless to say, I did not walk with my earphones in my ears on the way back. I walked briskly as if I was in a hurry and didn’t stop to look at anything along the way. Luckily, I didn’t run into anyone on the trail and I made it safely back to the campsite in one piece.
This is when the girls I had hiked into the canyon with made a decision. Instead of leaving to hike out of the canyon at 2am, we would sleep now, wake up for dinner, and start hiking at 9pm so that way we would have a few hours to sleep in our cars and we wouldn’t have to worry about the heat from the sun. Chelsea also agreed and she started hiking with a group even earlier than us so that she and I would be able leave for Phoenix early the next morning because we had flights to catch later in the afternoon.
At 9pm we started the trek. At first, everything was going well. We made it to the village, and we were about 2 miles past the village on the trail when something to the left rustled in the bushes and one of the girls saw a tail, which we believed was either a foxtail or a coyote. I would like to say I wasn’t scared at all in ths moment, but I was scared shitless! For all I know, it could have been a mountain lion in those bushes.
We were in pitch darkness except for our headlamps and illumination from the moon, which means visibility was shit and 2 of the girls thought we should drop our bags and run back to the village for the rest of the night. As scared as I was, I wasn’t scared enough to hike 2 miles back to the village, adding 4 miles to our trip, and with our backpacks on.
We agreed that we should hike on. I was definitely having an adrenaline rush and was ready to run, but one girl had a pot and a rock to bang together, 2 girls had knives, and I was holding lantern with a blaring light to try to scare whatever it was away. We started screaming, blowing whistles, and running down the trial linked arm and arm, except we were not on the yellow brick road and we were not going to see the wizard. We must have been a sight to see in those woods. The problem was that the moment we took 2 steps to walk to get the hell out of the danger zone, there was a low growling coming from the left side. WTF?!???!
My heart jumped out of my chest and got caught in my throat. I thought I might be killed in the canyon. We stopped again to contemplate what to do. Only 2 of us had heard the growling but I swear that I wasn’t making it up. In the end, we pretty much ran probably a half of a mile in pitch darkness linked arm in arm and every few seconds I would look behind us and flash the lantern to see if anything was coming. Luckily nothing followed and when we realized how completely unrealistic the pace we’d set was, we slowed down. At this point the canyon had opened up and we felt safer away from all the trees.
Once our heartbeats had slowed down and we were sure nothing was coming to kill us we stopped for a break and I finally had a moment to pay attention to the night sky. I will remember this hike out of the canyon forever, the way the sky looked, how liberated I felt, how this weekend changed my existence for the better. I let a lot of bad blood go in that canyon, I talked to so many different girls and heard their stories and realized that I didn’t have anything to complain about compared to some of them. We all came to the canyon for different reasons and I was so glad to be a part of something so special.
When we started hiking again, we asked each other questions and answered each other honestly and I felt fully alive; invincible. The next 4 miles flew by, and soon we were making the ascent. As we came to the last mile and a half that winds up out of the cavern we saw the headlamps of a couple groups of people just starting their hike to Havasupai.
If I could just touch their hand and transfer a flash of memories of all of the things that I’d done in the past weekend to their minds so they could see what they were in store for I would have. Instead we awkwardly tried not to shine our headlamps into each other’s eyes and I just smiled as they passed, too exhausted to say much.
The last steps to the car made me tear up a little. I had made it all the way down and back. Total badass. I found Chelsea in her hammock near the car and woke her up to come sleep in the car, it was quite windy and chilly at the top. My entire body was wrecked. The next morning I just tried to stand up after sleeping in the car for 3 hours, and my feet wouldn’t even move.
We hit the road around 8am to head back to Phoenix and got there just in time for lunch. Afterward, we headed to the airport to drop off the car and catch shuttles to our flights. There’s a small piece of my heart still back there in the canyon. This was a dream I never knew I had until it became a reality, which means I lived a dream weekend in real life. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Havasupai and get your hands on one of those precious permits, then you have to go, at least promise me that.
P.S. We hiked over 40 miles in 3 days.
P.P.S. Yes they do offer helicopter rides for $90 one way so if you get down into the canyon and don’t feel like hiking out, then you can catch a helo out :).
This article appeared first on The Cassey Excursion.