So let me just start by saying that I had NO camping experience, much less backpacking experience. In fact, in preparation for this trip, I went on ONE hike that was about seven miles long and just a couple hundred feet in elevation. That is it. The only thing that I did for the last two weeks before the trip was actual meal prepping with healthy food. I knew that backpacking required a different type of diet, so I wanted to prepare for it, at least in that way since I was in no way physically in shape. I promise you that – I am in no way an athlete or skinny. If I could do it, you most definitely can.
I am happy and proud to announce that I did all my own preparation for this trip. I created my own Food List, as a well as a Gear List of everything I took, and I did not really miss a single thing. For you ladies, I also had my period on this trip (YEAH, I KNOW), and I documented it here. including information about the bathroom situation. Let me tell you, as my first time backpacking, I was a nervous wreck about this aspect and reality of hiking as a woman, but I got through it and now feel unstoppable! Although I have yet to take a #wildernesspoop. One day though!
We left on a Sunday.
My trip had finally come, and I still did not know how to feel as we set off to the biggest adventure of my life. After months and months of planning, I was confused at my sudden sense of indifference. So much of my personal pursuit of independence depended on this, and I had no rush of emotions? It did not make sense.
We departed at about 0800 hours and the drive itself was pretty uneventful. At Kingsman, AZ, however, we made some stops at Walmart, Big 5, and at in-n-out, of course, before heading out to Peach Springs.
Now Peach Springs is the last bit of civilization before the trail head, and also the inspiration for Disney’s Cars, apparently (I did not confirm though). But after Peach Springs, there is about a 60 mile stretch of just desert blackness before the trail head of Hualapai Hilltop.
There is a hotel here if you’d like to stay here as opposed to Kingsmen, AZ, and there is also a gas station if you need more gas, but its expensive!
We stopped here to just kill some time before we got to the trail head, but also to have dinner and purchase some last minute goodies to munch on.
On this last stretch, I will highly recommend having good night’s sleep or an energy drink. I remember sitting there and feeling sleep creeping in slowly, and sure enough, when the driver and I got to chatting about the stars, we almost ran into TWO big cows in the middle of the road.
We had also just passed some elk as well as a jack rabbit, so just drive diligently because you will see a lot of animals. Nothing like seeing your life flash before your eyes to keep you awake, don’t be like us, haha.
Arriving at the trail head was actually anticlimactic as well: a bunch of cars and noisy people surrounded by pitch darkness. As our eyes adjusted, we could see that we were at the edge of this vast canyon, and that the clouds resembled brain matter and blocked the moonlight. We set up camp right next to this canyon and it was here that the excitement hit in, mixed with the delirium of exhaustion. But did we sleep? No.
Long story short, I acquired about an hour of sleep, and lots of laughter because we were relieving ourselves of our corporate lives and channeling our inner #wildchild.
However, I would recommend getting as much sleep as possible. Bring a big tent so that everyone can sleep inside on Night 0, with sleeping pads or a mattresses, that you can later leave in the car.
Just think of Night 0 like you are car camping, and bring ear plugs! My friend had to tell our neighbors to kindly be quiet because we were trying to sleep. I can still hear that lady’s shrill squawks about how her friend can have the salad that she brought with her. I am forever #traumatized.
The Dreaded Hike:
We finally got up at around 4am. My pack was really heavy. But with no real way to weigh it, I just shouldered it on and wobbled towards the trail with the rest of the group. In this moment I realized the wonderfulness of my the cheap trekking poles I bought from Big 5. The added weight disturbed my equilibrium greatly and it took my body some time to adjust, but the trekking poles came through and helped tremendously, especially with the trail’s decline and its tumultuous rocky surface. Don’t forget your trekking poles!
Walking down felt like a dream. We began at 0445 and the only thing visible was three feet of the down-slope in front of me and the other headlights shining in the dark. Everything else was pitch black, that is until they hit the bottom of the switch backs, about two miles in.
Yes, they’re blurry. Lol.
From the trail head on, it felt like an expedition. Maybe it was the adrenaline of the moment, or even the delirium settling in from the lack of sleep, but I definitely found myself humming little tunes that resembled musical scores from very inspirational scenes of movies. I was Frodo exploring the Shire and headed on to Mordor! Except, this was definitely more like Rivendell, minus the graffiti.
The village was just 8 miles from where we left our cars, and just two more miles from the campground. Here we rested and ate dinner, while our group leader checked us in a got our bracelets to confirm our reservation. We headed quickly past the church, and towards our final destination, but I was met with lots of sandy trails, it was like I was walking at the beach!
The biggest concern acquired during the hike were my ankles. Towards the end, they felt like death on my legs and I even limped and felt like dragging myself through to the campground. Here, I almost threw a fit. My ankles were shot, and it seemed to be taking a long time to find a campsite. But alas, after 6 hours, we found our home for the next couple of nights.
Tip: I definitely recommend investing in good shoes. Mid-length boots, and good water shoes if you are a beginner, otherwise, you’ll be like me and limping towards the end. One of our guys though only took one pair of waterproof trailrunners and he was just fine! But he also trained for triathlons…
Also, I ended up packing too much water. Yes, too much! Halfway through our hike, the experienced guys in my group suggested I dump out at least 2L. I took five! So that meant I took 11 pounds of water on my back IN ADDITION to my gear. Being the newb that I was, I didn’t dump any out, and didn’t even drink 3L. So, guess who was carrying extra weight? Me. That being said, it’s better to pack more than less, especially depending on what time of day you are hiking. We left at around 0445 and only experienced about 15 minutes of direct sunlight due to the protection the canyon, and then trees, provided.
We also took just two breaks, and although us girls had like negative hiking experience, they said we did really well considering the circumstances, but we were all mindful of each other and checking in with each other as well. So, just make sure you listen to your body and don’t push yourself to hard. If you’re the slow one (like me), you also get to enjoy gorgeous views without interruptions. I took advantage and took many pictures!
Note: The further into the campground you go, the better the campsite–at least in my opinion. If you go all the way, you will hit the Mooney Falls sites which are quite popular but also busy. Make your way backwards, and settle in between.
This was by far the longest day of my life. At camp, we quickly dropped everything on the tables, and headed to the water where we found a table in the middle of the stream. We felt like we found a treasure! It was perfect to dry our clothes, but also to sit while we submerged in the cool turquoise water.
Don’t get your hopes up, and do not try to move a table into the water if you do end up going. We quickly were joined by two tribesmen who removed the table from the water and told us not to do it again–even though it was there to begin with.
After setting up camp, we all passed out one by one, me first. It was much needed, but it also seemed to ruin my concept of time and created the illusion that we had already spent an entire night there. But the nap did its job, and when we woke up re-energized, it appeared like their adventure was finally beginning.
Our first stop was Mooney Falls, by far my favorite place.
It was only about half a mile from our campsite, but because we had to descend through a cave and by using metal chains and ladder on the side of the canyon, it felt like you were entering an entirely differently realm.
I do want to suggest that anybody be ESPECIALLY mindful here. Your life is physically in your hands, so work your way carefully. I made sure to stop talking to anyone to focus, always had one hand and one foot secure before taking pictures, and that upon descent, I faced the rocks (unlike my friend in the above picture) and grabbed chains with both hands, and securing EACH STEP I took. A place as beautiful as this can easily become our worst nightmare. Let’s just avoid that altogether and be safe.
Things that were especially useful here were my water shoes. They did not slip once, and made me feel super secure in all aspects of adventuring in this gorgeous area. (If you need/want to know exactly what gear I took, I wrote it all out here). I would highly recommend taking water shoes that are strappy and cover some aspect of your toe to prevent all the little rocks from sliding in and causing blisters.
We explored here for a while downstream but came back to this little spot. We spent a lot of time at that bench and jumping off of the swing that was attached to the tree. I could not be any happier.
We ended up waking up leisurely the next day, I am not sure why. Maybe because being in a place that promotes presence actually causes you to slow down.
We ate, we packed and we got ready to leave to Beaver Falls. (For a more detailed Food List, click Here).
We needed to pass through Mooney Falls, and then we continued downstream to some wonderful views.
It is about four miles to Beaver Falls from the camp, and we’re hiking through the canyon where you are met with humidity, river(s), plants that are as tall as your shoulders, and walking between trees. I casually look at my compass thermometer slash whistle, and it read to be about 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Yikes!
Now, that Palm Tree felt like a scene out of a movie upon reaching it–the end was in sight! There were two options for us there. Either climb up the ladder, or head down the water. We chose the water.
This picture was on the way back. Again, as the slow hiker, I was able to submerge myself in the beauty of the canyon.
Note: Bring lots of water! I could easily see how some one could pass out from heat exhaustion if they were not careful or hydrated. There are chunks of time where we were nowhere near water to cool off, and waves of hot air would wash over us. Bring a buff to keep you cool and electrolyte tablets like Nuun to keep you hydrated along with, of course, your water bladder, lunch, and a smile! 🙂
We took this day pretty easy as well. Woke up and just chilled at the campsite, but we wanted to trace our steps back to Havasupai Falls, which was the first major waterfall that greeted us when we neared the campsite.
We spent a couple hours here:
The best time to come to these places is probably early morning. There were quite a few people everywhere and it was rare to take a picture without people in it.
As the day progressed we actually followed the river down towards our campsite until we were forced to return to the main trail and back to our little home.
The above photos are from our last day in camp. We actually decided that we would helicopter out of the canyon so we took our time (again, lol) getting ready in the morning. It was a bittersweet moment.
We actually got really lucky when it came to the helicopter. We did not get to the village until about mid/early morning and there was already a very long line that had formed early in anticipation for the helicopter. However, it began to rain and everyone headed to cover.
With the line dispersed, there was essentially chaos when it came to signing up on the list to take helicopter out. The man in charge came out, priority was given to tribal individuals, and then it was a mad dash to see who could sign up first. I squeezed my way to the front when I saw that all integrity was thrown out the window by the masses, and I was able to sign us up a little ways after halfway down the page.
I am being so specific because although we were on the front page, it still took us over four hours to all get a ride on the helicopter. FOUR HOURS! So either head out super early or be prepared to be waiting all day for a helicopter ride out.
I was first in my group on the paper, so I flew out on my own by chance. Got to sit with the pilot. Can you believe the views?! I was floored and couldn’t stop taking pictures. I got so much crap from some coworkers by “copping out” and taking the helicopter instead of hiking out. I DON’T EVEN CARE. Look!!
Yes, I asked the pilot, “Does this get old for you?” and guess what he answered?! …..”Yes.”
Stunning. I could not have asked for anything better.
When I reminisce, I can’t help but feel silly. But It’s not. I discovered apiece of me that only exists in the wilderness and there is no going back to the old me, and there is definitely no apologizing for it.
My gal friend, who joined me on this trip, and I were amazed at the magic that is backpacking and the wilderness. We sat one night just talking about how free we felt, and I frequently wondered why was this experience so incredible for me?
I realized, Havasupai was the first time in years, the first time since I can remember, that I felt NO STRESS. None. I was shocked that I find myself in a daily state of constant stress and high cortisol levels. But it’s true! My friend has the clearest skin she ever had during those couple days in Havasupai, and on the same drive home, she broke out again when we began talking about our regular lives.
Since then, I made a decision to living actively, to #optoutside, in order to gain some sanity. I have not only spent ridiculous amounts into this new hobby, but I know that I am a better person for it. Definitely, no regrets.