Havasupai, June 9-13 2015


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012
Bucket lists are confounding things. Some people fill them full of wishes that will go forever unfulfilled. Others voraciously tackle each item in course, eliminating the sense of a life unlived long before reaching retirement.


As a pragmatist, I've never seen much use for bucket lists. Death will take me when it does, regardless of what I have or have not done. I get why others have them, though. This was an experience my sister had long sought. I simply came along for the ride.


Our group ran the gamut. We had the men of the family, all hearty with at least some backpacking experience. Three brothers, myself being the youngest of the trio but not the group, were joined by their father and one of their sons.

The women, not to be discounted, more than held their own. My sister, sister-in-law, my brother's girlfriend and my sister's roommate all made the trek. It seems safe to say they learned a bit about backpacking along the way as well.


The weather on the drive to the south rim of the Grand Canyon wasn't all that encouraging. We knew rain was in the forecast. When we arrived at Hualapai Hilltop, the watercolor skies suggested we were in for rain.


In fact, we'd come in between pulses of the storm. Thirsty horses were slurping the puddled remains of the last surge off the asphalt.


We grilled shish kebabs and pitched camp behind our cars. A skittish little cat hiding out beneath a dilapidated camper with windows blocked out by the flattened remains of cardboard boxes gave me a nervous sniff. Finding me friendly, she arched her back and pressed her face against my scratching fingers.


Rain pattered on our tents all night and into the morning. We came awake to the noise of it on taut nylon, dressed in damp clothing and made preparations under a downpour.


Clouds dove beneath the canyon rim, pressed against the rock and transformed into fog.


The downpour kept on well into the canyon, soaking through layers and reaching the skin.



In what had become a theme for me in 2015, the dry upper canyon started flowing with water.


The clouds didn't start to break until we were more than halfway to Supai.


We stopped there for what seemed much too long taking care of the necessary permit hoopla. By this point, some of the less experienced members of the group were feeling the effects of the long hike under heavy packs. Worried that we were going to miss a shot at a prime camp site, I pressed ahead of the group.

My hopes to capture that iconic Havasupai blue were somewhat damped when I realized the storm flow had fouled the pool at Navajo Falls.


Thankfully, the sediment soon settled.


The sun emerged and the heat came on, making my sweat replace the rain in my soaked hair. Extra effort was rewarded though with a beautifully shaded spot on a little island in the middle of the creek.


Or so I thought. After dropping pack and claiming the spot, I waited for the rest of the group to arrive. I waited, waited and waited some more. At last, my brother wandered by looking for me. The rest of the group, he said, had refused to move past a spot right on the main drag at the very top of the campground.

Frustrated, I agreed to go check the spot. Once there, I quickly realized it would not support my hammock without a lot of sketchy rigging work. I rushed back down to the camp site I'd first secured.

It was taken, along with everything else.

In a now rotten mood, I set up my hammock in a swampy little nook away from the rest of the group. At night bugs came. It was not ideal.


At least, not until the thunder came. Deep booms of it, rolling up the canyon from the north, from toward the river. It drowned out even the chorus of innumerable frogs. Distant lightning lit up the sheet of my tarp like a movie screen.

[PARSEHTML]<iframe src="http://www.mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.php?q=https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/3847512/GPS/Havasupai.kml&t=t4" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" width="800" height="800"></iframe><br><br>[/PARSEHTML]On the second day, we started bit late. A long queue had formed on the path down Mooney Falls by the time we started toward Beaver Falls.


The drunken revelers at the base of the falls severely detracted from the experience. While slowly working our way down the chutes and ladders, we and plenty of other people were forced to watch a bunch of party people posing for a would-be photographer. They took turns trying to one-up each other, doing push-ups or taking yoga poses. Then one guy decided to go full monty, flashing his bare crotch at my sister, my nephew and plenty of other people who had no desire to see it.

Why do people put this place on their bucket lists, again?


Oh, right.


We traveled lighter, for obvious reasons, and took more opportunity to enjoy the jungle-like lushness of the lower canyon. Coming from my experiences in Utah's canyon country, nothing had quite prepared me for the stark contrast between the green canyon bottom and the sheer red walls.


Beaver Falls was crowded. Most of our day passed there with the masses, sunning and rock-jumping and relaxing away the aches of the hike.

I'd had aspirations of continuing down canyon to the Colorado and back, but found little appetite for the journey among my companions. In the interest of safety and unity, I held back.

This decision ended up being a boon, however, as the light was just right for some amazing photography on our way back toward Mooney.




The situation at Mooney had mellowed significantly by late afternoon. Still, I found plenty of reason to feel irritated. Afternoon sun was starting to creep up the canyon walls and I worked around the base of the falls looking for interesting angles to shoot.The clock was ticking.

One group of people remained though, parked right in front of the falls. They posed for selfie after selfie, insisting on getting every permutation of people possible together for an endless series of shots.


I stink-eyed them as hard as I could and started grumbling under my breath loud enough to be heard, at least if it weren't for the crashing torrent of water that drowned out all other noise.


Thankfully, they did eventually move on before all of the best light had climbed up the cliffs. I followed it, ascending the mossy ladders and spray-slicked chains.

At camp, I spotted a better site and relocated the tarp set up to spot right along the river. While still separated from my family, I was at least no longer subject to countless nighttime spider bites.

[PARSEHTML]<iframe src="http://www.mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.php?q=https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/3847512/GPS/Beaver_Falls.kml&t=t4" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" width="800" height="800"></iframe><br><br>[/PARSEHTML]On our final morning in the canyon, I rose early. Rushing breathless back up the hill toward Supai, I found New Navajo Falls deserted.


Over the course of an hour or so, I shot brackets and long exposures, all the while watching the warm light cascade down the canyon walls.


Standing alone with the falls, listening to the calls of crows, I could at last sense what this place must have been before the arrival of tourism (of which, I recognized, I was a part).


Many avid hikers I know have never come to Havasupai due to its reputation. It is not a place one can expect solitude.


The thudding report of helicopter blades replace the birdsong at least twice a day, disrupting the peace. Litter abounds. Many, though not all, of the locals eye visitors with a sort of grudging disdain.

There is a narrow window, however, when it is just sublime.


For my sister at least, it's one more place checked off the list… out of the proverbial bucket.


Descending back to the campground after sunrise, I joined my nephew for a little dip beneath Havasu Falls. Upon exiting the water, I spotted blood in my footprint. To my surprise, the jagged rock had sliced open the underside of my big toe. With a limp, I headed back to camp for a disinfecting and wound dressing.


Then, I hung around in my hammock for hours through the afternoon heat, trying to figure out how to handle the 10+ mile hike back out that afternoon.


The answer: just take it. Pride would not allow me to take a helicopter ride out of the canyon for just a flesh wound. That left only the single option.

The hike out started around 3 p.m. We staggered our departures a bit. As we passed through Supai, the helicopters were making their last runs, swooping low beneath the canyon rim.


A piece of discarded paper sat in the muddy road. I flipped it over. It was a criminal complaint for public intoxication, obviously discarded with a dismissive toss.


The light failed long before we reached the switchbacks.


I urged the group to avoid flipping on their headlamps right away, preaching the virtue of using their senses. Navigation, I reasoned, was not difficult here.


The eyes do adjust quite well. I managed to avoid using the light until well past twilight, after I'd outpaced the group and hiked a good distance ahead of them. By the time I started the steep ascent back toward the trailhead, the darkness mandated headlamp use.


My throbbing toe screamed. So did my lungs. Drenched with sweat partway up the slope, I sat for a breather a bit off the trail. Another group was approaching from behind — a bunch of kids in their late teens or early 20s. None were carrying more than just day packs, having obviously paid to have their gear carted out by mule or horse. Not wanting to disrupt them, I switched my headlamp over to its red LEDs.

Over the sound of my own beating heart I could hear them whispering to themselves.

"What is that guy doing?"

"I don't know, but he's kind weird."

What did they just say?

I rose, taking their insult as a challenge. Prepare to get your asses kicked by a weirdo.

With renewed vigor, I started hauling myself, my pack and all my extra camera gear up the switchbacks in double-time. My toe, now looking like hamburger, screamed with each heavy step.


The youth tried at first to keep pace, but fell behind. When I crested the final rise to see the cars, only one of them was alongside me. Utterly spent, I inhaled some salty snacks and drank deep while watching their bobbing headlamps go back and forth up the trail.


Mind your elders, young ones.

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Great photos and report. I have mixed feelings about doing this one because of large groups of people and how they behave, but it's such a pretty place.
Beautiful shots man! Well done there for sure. Unfortunate about all the other things that didn't go quite right for you. But a beautiful place no doubt.

One I've also never wanted to do, for the aforementioned reasons.

I'm sure I'll get down there sometime, but it will probably be a family members idea, and I imagine I'll have a similar experience.

It really is a spectacular looking area. Great shots.
Fantastic pics, and I share the views and frustrations of most others in this thread. I've been to Supai once in June 2014. It was beautiful and also a zoo at the same time. Had a real "spring break" feel to it. I went as far as Beaver Falls but really really regret not going as far as the Colorado, I think that would be one of the few places to find peace and solitude down there. Exploring the mines in Carbonate Canyon is also a good place to get away from the crowds.

I took my copy of Desert Solitaire down there, I love the chapter where Abbey visits Supai. His writing really evokes the beauty, mystery and trippiness of the place, which you can still feel a little of today in that "narrow window" that @ashergrey describes.
I have thought about visiting as well but now I'm not so sure! The last two trips in the Grand Canyon were more remote then I've done before. How does someone go backwards? Glad you did get a little time of peace and quiet.
Amazing pictures @ashergrey! Such a beautiful looking place. For different reasons of my own I won't visit the area, but hopefully one day things will change there and I'll get to see it for myself.
Trying to be a photographer and having to work around "selfies" is exasperating. There once was this woman with a phone on a stick and....................."just take a calming breath Harry"
Awesome pictures! The misty clouds in the first few really give a nice effect.

With so many people around its amazing that you got so many great landscapes without people in them.
Soooooo good, Dave. I agree with Blake, some of the best pics I've seen from there. I'm on the same page as most of you. Aside from the pretty photos and Abbey's excellent write up, I've never considered going there due to the obvious reasons. It makes me think about something like the permit process at The Wave. Most people hate it, but how bad would Coyote Buttes suck if it was run the same way as Havasupai? Sometimes government oversight and a tough permit system can be a wonderful thing.
Had a real "spring break" feel to it.

I think that describes it perfectly. It was odd to be in a "natural" setting but surrounded by people who obviously shared none of the same backcountry ethos.

How does someone go backwards?

I can imagine being very, very disappointed with Havasupai if you've spent significant time elsewhere in the Grand Canyon.

For different reasons of my own I won't visit the area, but hopefully one day things will change there and I'll get to see it for myself.

Care to elaborate? You have me curious.

With so many people around its amazing that you got so many great landscapes without people in them.

Timing, mostly. At blue hour, most of the popular areas were deserted, since people don't want to be splashing in the water when it's not sunny,

It makes me think about something like the permit process at The Wave. Most people hate it, but how bad would Coyote Buttes suck if it was run the same way as Havasupai?

The sad thing is Havasupai really doesn't need to be run that way. The tribe could set much smaller visitation caps, charge a lot more and make the same amount of money. It would be worth the expense if you could have 20 or even 60 people in the canyon at a time. Several hundred is just too many.
Nice pics......falls are nice as usual. But the crowds...not so nice. Haven't been down there for many, many years ..... people we nonexistent back then.
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