Arun and I hiked the Havasu Canyon for Thanksgiving weekend this year. It was 10 miles one way. We camped the night there. So we carried a tent, sleeping bags, food, water and everything else we needed. Because it was our first time backpacking, we (micro)planned, bought gear and packed for almost a month leading up to the trip. Here's a day by day account of the trip.
Upto 25 November
Countless visits to numerous stores and hours spent online before we bought backpacks, a tent, sleeping bags, hiking shoes, water bladders, a Swiss knife and a zillion other things. Lists made, blogs read, hours of obsessing over details and you know the drill...
26 November - Thanksgiving
We flew into Phoenix. Alternately one could fly into Vegas or Flagstaff. We kind of knew that Arizona goes to sleep at sundown, but nothing had prepared us for the deserted streets and the miles of shut stores and restaurants we encountered. The locals we spoke to told us it was worse because it was Thanksgiving day. And we had planned to buy food for the hike in Phoenix because we couldn't fly with it. So after a hopeless search for open stores, we bought chocolates, energy bars, bread, cheese and anything else we could find at a gas station's convenience store. We were almost reconciled to the idea of bananas and ice cream for dinner when we spotted a TGIF with the "Open till 2am" sign on. It was a sight for sore eyes and more so for growling stomachs. After fueling up on pasta and fajitas and delicious red velvet cake, we hit the road for Flagstaff where we stayed the night before the hike.
27 November - Hike down
The trail head at Hualapai Hilltop was a 4 hour drive from Flagstaff. So we left after breakfast at around 8am. Thanks to the liberal speed limits, we began our hike at 11.30am. As we were about to begin we met a group of four guys (and their dog Sammy) with whom we would cross paths numerous times during our hike down. The hike started with a mile of switchbacks or hairpin bends rapidly descending 1000 ft into the canyon. 200ft into the hike we had to take off our jackets despite the cool sub-40 deg temperature, for we were literally melting under our 30 pound backpacks. The descent was done in 25mins and we had 9 miles of a fairly flat hike ahead of us.
Although both of us have been to the Grand Canyon before, the constant change in terrain within the canyon was something we did not suspect based on our view from the top. The switchbacks were carved out on the rock face had a white sandy surface. Deeper into the canyon we walked along miles of what must have once been a riverbed, now just gravel, lined with large hard rock at times and with dry bushes and cacti at others. The constant presence of the towering canyon walls on either side had a humbling effect on us. Every now and then we would see lush green plants, some even had traces of fall colors. We walked past small caves and partially enclosed hollows in which our voices suddenly echoed.
The silence was hard to miss and probably one of our favorite aspects of the hike. Apart from a couple of trains of pack horses and the occasional group of hikers making their way back to civilization, the whoosh of the wind and a bird's rare twitter were all that punctuated the silence that reigned the canyon. We hiked for 4 hours, talking about this and that, lapsing into our respective brooding worlds and stopping only to eat (we discovered that after 3 miles with a 30 pound backpack, even a cold Subway sandwich will taste like heaven!) or drink water before we reached Supai village, a tribal Indian settlement, where we stopped for coffee, a bite to eat and to pay the camping fee.
By then our feet were nearly dead and refused to walk the last 2 miles to the campground. We trudged along, cranky and complaining, when we came to the first of the 4 waterfalls. Our misery began to fade. Arun grabbed his camera and ran down 50ft to get a better view. I spent the time listening to a couple of women who did the hike every year tell me that these falls had not existed before the flash flood of August 2008. I was amazed at the terrifying force of water, the same fluid we have managed to domesticate, even abuse, in every way we can.
We then walked on, the roar of water getting louder all the while. We were suddenly looking at Havasu Falls. This is when we realized this hike was worth every sore muscle, our screaming joints and whining shoulders. We stood in the spray, astonished by the sheer blue of the water, drinking in the idyllic setting. It was like nothing we'd ever seen before.
By the time we set up camp and cleaned up it was dark although it was just 6.30pm. So we set up the picnic table and had a candlelight dinner of cheese and peanut butter jelly sandwiches, Oreo cookies and chocolates for dessert. By then the temperature had dropped well below 30 deg. So we layered up, got into our tent and talked a little about how great the hike had been before we fell asleep to the lullaby of the creek running by the side of our tent.
What's camping without a little adventure?! Our tryst with the beast - coming soon in Part II...