Flood-Drenched

Trip Start May 06, 2012
1
15
Trip End Oct 17, 2013


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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hiking trips are always an adventure, especially when you throw in camping. When the Grand Canyon, monsoon season and waterfalls are added in, it's a recipe for excitement, sometimes more than you bargained for. Our trip to Havasupai Falls was most definitely exciting and an adventure: sometimes painful and uncomfortable, but always interesting.

A group made up of mostly people from the "A Christian Ministry in National Parks," plus a couple stragglers like me, headed to the Havasupai Indian Reservation Sunday morning. Part of the group, all the girls, left around 5 a.m. from Grand Canyon Village for the four-hour drive there, and the rest of us, four guys, left around 10 a.m., getting there around 2 p.m. to start the 10-mile hike to the campground.

Terrance, Ethan, Eric and I started down the trail at a pretty good pace, literally running at some points because it was easy with the downhill slope. Eventually, we reached a fairly level area where we walked for the majority of the hike in. We spent most of the trip in a dry stream bed, which was good and bad: good because it was clear which way to goo and was wide open, but bad because all the loose rocks and gravel often made it more difficult and tiring to simply walk. But we made good time, reaching Supai, the Indian village eight miles inside the canyon, around 4 p.m. We passed some amazingly blue water in some streams shortly before reaching the village. It was shockingly clear and looked incredibly alluring after our hike, but we knew we’d be swimming in pools by waterfalls later that day and had all our stuff, so we resisted the temptation to just lay down in the water. We stopped by the tourist office in the village to register for the campsite and pay our fees and found out the rest of the group had registered at about 1:30 p.m., which meant we had beaten their time to the village by almost an hour and a half. We continued on, our manliness reaffirmed.

The hike to the campground was a comparatively short jaunt of just two miles after the village, and along the way we saw the first waterfalls of the trip. The first was Navajo Falls, where many people were swimming and playing. The trail continued along the river the rest of the way, and we eventually came to the top of Havasu Falls, a tall, beautiful waterfall with several pools at the bottom. We hiked down and around the falls, eventually coming to a good viewpoint of the falls above a trail that led down to the pools at the bottom. We sat down our packs and had a small break, and I went down the path to check out the pools. Lo and behold, I discovered the girls (Lyndsi, Helen, Mal and Kirsten, all part of ACMNP, and Bambi, a French girl who also works at Maswick Lodge, where Lyndsi and I work) playing and taking photos on the rocks near the falls. I let the other guys know and we talked for a bit with the ladies before deciding to continue on to the campground to get our stuff set up and change to swim.

The campground wasn’t far away from the falls. It was a flat, narrow expanse of land between the high walls of the canyon, where the river split into several streams that wound through the area. To go virtually anywhere you had to cross little bridges or on rocks or jump over water if you didn’t want to just wade through the streams. We found our campsite and started setting up our stuff. Most people had hammocks that they strung up between trees, and there were a couple of tents as well. The girls had told us about a big cave they had found beside the camp site that you had to climb up a rock wall to get to, and they said they were going to sleep in it in case it rained. As I had only a sleeping bag, and not a waterproof one on top of that, I thought that was a great idea, so when Eric and I climbed up to the cave to look around, I brought my stuff up too. The cave was surprisingly large. It was basically a tunnel maybe a little shorter than the ceiling inside of a normal building, and it ran back probably 50 yards of twists and turns with some little offshoots and rooms on each side. As we were finding good spots for our gear, the girls came back. Ethan, Terrance, Eric and I decided to still go to the falls because we were ready for a swim, so we changed and headed back up the trail.

The water was cold at first, but we quickly got used to it. The current from the falls was pretty strong: you could swim as hard as you could toward the falls and not move at all, just staying in place, and as soon as you stopped you would be swept backward. We had fun checking out the different pools and messing around, and after a while headed back to the campsite. Once there, people pretty much started getting ready for bed as it was sundown. The girls had ended up setting up their hammocks outside rather than in the cave, so I was the only one to sleep there. I, of course, immediately dubbed it the man cave. After everyone had gone to bed, I wasn’t very tired since it was way earlier than I normally went to bed with my schedule of getting off work around 11:30 p.m. each night, so I hiked back up to Havasu Falls and sat at the top, looking at it in the moonlight. It was beautiful when the moon came out of the clouds to light it up. Eventually, I walked back and climbed up to my cave for bed. I slept as I normally do while camping: off and on. It was enjoyable walking out to my ledge overlooking the campground to have a snack or just enjoy the night air while everyone else around was asleep.

The next day was when the real action began. Some people in the group -- John, Kelsey and Ben, who I had barely gotten to meet the night before -- had gotten up to leave around 5 a.m. for the hike up, but most of us were staying to hike to Beaver Falls, a four-mile hike past the campground. We started off rather late I thought, but not too late to have enough time, and it went pretty well for a while. We came to Mooney Falls, which was huge and tall and looked great. The way down was fun, because we had to take this little narrow, steep path through this cave and along ledges. It was pretty precarious, but I enjoyed it. At the bottom we hung out for a while, taking photos and just messing around before continuing on.

As we walked, at times we had to cross back and forth from one side of the river to the other. Most, if not all, of the others had water shoes, but I was wearing my hiking boots and didn’t want to wade in water. They were waterproof, so I could walk through shallow water fine, but if it came over the tops of my shoes and went inside, the waterproofing would mean it would take forever to dry out. So I took my shoes off and hid them in the woods when we came to a spot where I would definitely have to do a bit of wading in deeper water and continued barefoot.

It was fine for a while. The path was dirt and didn’t bother me at all. However, due to my penchant for exploring little side paths or running off to check out views, I fell behind most of the group. I decided to just jump in the river and drift down. It was a pretty good plan for a while. I could drift until it got too shallow or I came to some little falls I needed to scramble over, then I’d walk or scramble until I drifted again. Eric and Kirsten, who were also a bit back from the group, eventually came into the river too when the trail met back up with the water, and we all continued down a ways. I got a good ways ahead of them, though, because they walked the entire time and I would lie down and just drift when the water was knee deep or more and go faster. Eventually the river became too rough, going over the little mini falls a lot more often, which meant I was having to scramble slowly over them, so I just got out and back on the trail again.

This was the beginning of the really annoying part, because I had misestimated the distance we had come when I left my shoes behind, and there was still quite a long ways to go. The trail, while in places still being plain dirt or mud, would also climb and become very rocky, which translated to painful for bare feet. At some parts you even had to climb up ladders and rocks to higher places to continue. However, I did finally make it to Beaver Falls and met up with the rest of the group. Some were already down in the water a couple hundred feet below, and a couple people were sitting up top taking a break before climbing down. I got a cactus spike in my foot right in a spot that hurt on every step as I started my descent, so I had to stop to take it out. Sadly, I had just clipped my fingernails the day before so I couldn’t grab it because it was so small, so I had to ask Mal, who I had just met the day before, to do it, which I thought was sort of funny because of how weird a request it was. Anyway, eventually I made it down and was able to sooth my feet in the cool water.

The pools were a lot of fun. We swam and splashed and sat under the waterfalls and cooled off from the hike. We spent more than an hour there hanging out before deciding to head back. This was the least fun part of the hike for me. I had already traveled all this ground barefoot before, and now I had to do it again. I sucked it up and started to climb. The trail was rocky and painful a lot of the way. It turned out I did well by getting in the river and skipping a big section of the trail, because a large part of that section was some of the rockiest of the entire trail. It also started to rain as we went back, although this wasn’t such a bad thing as it kept us cool and softened the ground for my feet (at least, on the already-easy dirt parts). There wasn’t really any other choice but to just take the roughness of the trail, so I did and kept going. At one point, somehow I ended up in the front of the group and went down a trail that we discovered wasn’t really part of the main trail when it ended at a waterfall. Not one to be turned back or deterred, though, I began climbing the waterfall, followed closely by the rest of the group. That was one of the best parts of the hike. We all climbed a waterfall in the middle of a thunderstorm. Everyone got some hardcore points from that one.

At the top, I thought I recognized where we were and that we had passed where my shoes were, so I told the rest of the people to continue on and I would grab my shoes and catch up. I doubled back to where I thought they were, but I couldn’t find the landmarks I remembered. I was just in the wrong place, because it didn’t look the same at all, but the problem was I didn’t know where the right place was to go. So that was that: I lost my hiking boots. I did get to climb the waterfall again though, so doubling back wasn’t all bad. The rest of the group was waiting for me at the climb back up near Mooney Falls, and when I got there we continued on. The walk back to camp from the top of the falls, which had been the easiest part on the way there because of how flat it was, was suddenly the most difficult because of how rocky it was. But I finally made it back to the camp where my flip flops were waiting.

We packed up and got ready to leave for the 10-mile hike out of the canyon. Thankfully, Terrance had some hiking shoes he wasn’t going to use – in fact, he was prepared to just leave them behind because they were soaking wet and he didn’t particularly like them – and I was able to wear them for the hike up. I thought that since I had just done about seven miles barefoot, doing the rest in flip-flops would be a big improvement, but later on the hike I was incredibly grateful because wearing flip-flops would not have been fun. Anyway, everyone was finally ready and we set off for the first part of our hike out to Supai. It was still raining.

That rain turned out to be sort of important. As we were walking through Supai, people kept asking us if we were hiking out and then, after we said yes, saying things like, “Good luck!” and “Don’t get washed away by the flood.” So we thought something might be slightly amiss. We stopped again at the tourist office to see what was happening and received some interesting and sort of disturbing news: floods had parts of the trail under as much as three or four feet of water, and they were highly recommending that we not try to hike out that night. After a discussion that was pretty much settled when the weather changed from drizzling off and on to a downpour, we decided we would have to stay in Supai that night and hike out in the morning. We all had work the next day, but we figured they would have to do without us since we would be taking out lives in our own hands to try to leave.

One problem, though – at least, another problem – was lodging. We tried the lodge in the village only to discover that they had no vacancies. We didn’t really know what we were going to do: we had asked about staying in the church but had been told that the people who ran it were not in the canyon at the time since they were off fundraising somewhere. They couldn’t open up a classroom in the school or anything either. But the woman at the tourist office was very nice, staying after the office was supposed to close to ask around for places for us to stay, and we were eventually told that we could sleep in a covered walkway at the school or on the covered porch of the cafeteria. It wasn’t inside, but we were grateful that we wouldn’t have to sleep in the rain, so we accepted and went to get some real, hot food, as opposed to the granola bars and peanut butter/Nutella sandwiches and other snacky, high-energy stuff we had been eating while camping, from the cafeteria before it closed. We sat out on the porch and just talked and laughed about the ridiculousness of our situation, and while we were eating the rain started to clear. We were told that it was clearing up enough that we should be able to go if we wanted, and we all jumped at the opportunity. We finished eating and prepared for a night hike, passing around extra flashlights and any semi-drier clothes we could find in our packs.

The going wasn’t too bad for a while, and nothing like what we were expecting from the doom and gloom we had been getting from the people we talked too. As we came to the formerly dry stream bed, we ran into a changed terrain. There were streams of water everywhere. In some places the trail was gone. For miles we had to pick our way through water and soft gravel and rocks and mud. It wasn’t incredibly difficult, but it was decidedly harder than the walk there and much more time consuming. We pressed on, and finally came out past all the water to relatively dry ground. From there it was nothing more than just enduring to the end. Most of the hike was fairly flat, but the last mile and a half or so was uphill, with plenty of switchbacks and a big climb. I had been in peak form the rest of the hike – on flat ground, even with a big pack, wet shoes that didn’t really fit and water everywhere, I had no problem and never even got out of breath when others were needing breaks – but as we started going uphill, it was like my energy was being drained. I went from being in the group at the front to somewhere in the middle to all but the end of the line. Eventually, as I began to feel weak and lightheaded and a little dizzy, I realized it was because I hadn’t eaten much. On the hike to Beaver Falls, I had a granola bar in my pocket, but it got washed out in the river and over a waterfall before I could catch it, so I just had a few peanuts Ethan gave me and some goldfish crackers from Lyndsi at Beaver Falls. Then at Supai I had a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich while we were sitting around, and then a cheeseburger in the cafeteria, but that was it for an entire day of hiking (on top of all the water I drank, which had electrolytes and such I had put in it). So I had to stop and eat something, even though I was close to the top, and ended up at the back of the group. I think I ate too fast, too, because after that I felt a little sick. But I made it to the top, even if I was last.

That felt good. We took a couple of photos and then got in the cars for the ride home, and just sitting was amazing. I took off my shoes and socks, and both of my feet were completely puckered up from having walked the entire time in wet shoes and socks. I was sore from having done so much barefoot walking, too, using muscles I don’t normally use. I pretty much just passed out in the back and didn’t wake up until Eric had stopped the car and was asking if anyone was up for driving since he kept almost dozing off. I can drive virtually forever without falling asleep regardless of how tired I am, so I volunteered, and we sat off again. As I started down the road, I thought about how it had been about three months since I had driven, and then there was a big bull in the middle of the road. I swerved around it, and everyone sort of breathed out their own version of “woah” and then went back to sleep. I drove to a tiny town called Seligman where we had hoped to stop at a gas station for some snacks and drinks, but the gas stations were closed so we had to continue on. We eventually found an open one about half an hour later down the road in Williams, and I grabbed some juice, which was one of the best things I had ever tasted. Eric started driving again, and we headed north back home to the Grand Canyon.

We got back a little after 4 a.m. Eric dropped us all off, and I just dropped everything on the floor of my cabin, not wanting to deal with all the damp stuff until the next day. I was scheduled to work at 10 a.m. that day, the first time I had been scheduled to work before noon, of course, and there was no way I was going to be recovered enough by then, so I left a message at the managers office that I was sick (because I pretty much was, I was so exhausted) and wouldn’t be able to make my shift and then passed out. I woke up at 8 a.m. when my roommates were getting up, and after they left I called back over to confirm they got my message and see if I was maybe trading shifts with someone. At first it seemed I would just be working at 5 p.m., but then they set something else up and told me not to come in at all, so I got an extra day for my weekend, much needed for recovery. I passed out again. After I re-awoke, I headed over to Maswick for a victory meal and had some really good lasagna with meat sauce and some garlic bread with milk. It was sublime. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and doing laundry and trying to dry out all my stuff (not helped by the big thunderstorm, complete with hail, that swept through in the afternoon).

Even though the trip had its downsides, it also had its incredible ups. The falls were great, the hiking was (mostly) fun, the company was amazing. I love that every time I do something here, I meet more awesome people. Another cool thing is that Mal, unlike the rest of the ACMNP people, won’t be leaving at the end of the summer and loves hiking too (she even had the same basic experience at Dripping Springs I did: continued alone past it on the tiny trail, climbed cliffs, ran out of water, got lost, thought she was going to die, etc., etc. Awesome), so I’ll have someone to hike with after everyone else with whom I normally hike (ACMNP people, all the different groups of international workers) leave. It seems like the majority of people I have befriended here are just temporary works, so it’s always nice to meet more people who are here for more long-term. Anyway, the scenery, even apart from the waterfalls, was spectacular. On the way down during the day we got to see some great rock formations and unexpected lush vegetation in the canyon and the beautiful streams and hills, and on the way up at night we got to see some wonderful clouds, both high in the sky in this cool checkered, almost cotton ball-looking pattern and curling around the walls of the canyon like a whispy fog. The moon was close to full, too, so at times it would come out and light up the canyon walls and our path, and at other times it was behind clouds and would make cool glows in the sky. It was a great night for hiking, apart from the humidity (a source of entertainment whenever we would stop for breaks was the huge amount of steam coming from all over my body). So while the trip didn’t go exactly as planned, I don’t begrudge the difficulties and unexpected hurdles. I had fun, and as someone was saying during one of the times when we were sitting around, when you go through stuff like that with a group of people you get to know them so much better and become closer, and it was great getting to hang out with that group again.

Note: Sadly, as my photos show, what with all the recent rain, the falls weren't their famous blue, but they were still cool. Also, I put my camera in Lyndsi's backpack after Mooney Falls to protect it from water, so I don't have photos for half the trip. Oh well.
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