Words & Photos by | Jun Song |
Almost 10 years ago, one of my best friends invited me to go to Havasupai Falls with him. At the time I wasn’t fully aware of what or where that was and having had a minor work conflict, which in hind-site could have easily been removed, I declined without thinking twice. To this day that is one of my biggest regret-filled travel decisions ever (more like travel-less decision).
Since, that decision frequently taunted my wanderlust, which was further exacerbated when one of my colleagues visited Havasupai just less than year ago. Somehow on February 1st, I started to chat with her about Havasupai, and she reminded me that online permit registration had started that day.
Just as a background, the Havasupai Falls (one of many falls) is part of the Havasupai Indian Reservation, home of the Native American Havasupai Tribe and can only be entered with a limited amount of permits per day, which is very difficult to obtain.
When my colleague reminded me of the online permit opening, I suddenly felt the excitement and logged online to get my permit reserved for sometime later this year. To my surprise, the online calendar only showed available dates for the last three weeks in February, with zero spots available for the rest of the year. I thought this must have been a technical error, so I quickly called the Supai Village (home village of the Havasupai Tribe) to see if I could make a reservation. Long story short, it turned out that the entire permit reservation for 2018, except for February, had sold out within the first 6 minutes of the opening. So I quickly went online, picked a two night camping permit on the President Day weekend, Feb 19-20, for $190 and the rest was history.
This wasn’t an easy trip for me but I would do this hike again in a heartbeat anytime. Hopefully it won’t be another 10 years until I get to visit again.
HIKE TO & FROM SUPAI
After frantically planning for the trip in two weeks, I ended up at the trailhead on the night of the 18th, camped in my car at the trailhead, the started my hike in to the Supi Village next morning before sunrise (8 miles, or 13 km from the trailhead). Having 50 lbs (22 kg) of gears, of which 30 lbs (13 kg) was camera gears, was backbreaking but in hind-site it was worth it when I look at the time-lapse and all the photos I was about to get. The weather on my first day wasn’t the most accommodating, as it rained for an hour while hiking in, followed by some drizzle of snow, but I was too excited to be discouraged by any of that.
The 8 mile hike into the Village took me just under 3 hours as I hiked pretty much non-stop, only stopping twice to put/adjust my poncho once it started raining. The hike out of Supai took me little under 4 hours, for obvious reasons of having to hike out of the elevation gain. Even during the hike out, I only took one rest towards the end where the switch-back climb to the parking lot started.
Like I said, it took me a little under 3 hours to arrived at the Supai Village. I was very surprised at how big the Village was, especially when it didn’t have any car access to it (only by foot, mule, or helicopter). The Village seemed to have everything you need, including a diner/cafe that served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Although not cheap, I didn’t think the food were terribly priced. The only time I ate at the cafe was on the way back out (grabbed an egg sandwich), to load up on energy for the hike out. The grocery score (not shown in the pic), was surprisingly useful. It had everything from snacks to all sorts of canned food, and even cold drinks, such as soda to Starbucks coffee.
The campground was another 1.5 miles (3km) from the Village, which I quickly arrived at since it was all downhill. As you hike to the campground, you’ll first pass by the Havasupai Falls, which is an amazing-welcoming scenery. The campground was almost empty when I arrived, which was probably the biggest benefit of going last minute in February (i.e. much less crowded), so I found an amazing spot to pitch my tent right next to the turquoise stream, and spent the next two days exploring this fairyland-like paradise.
There’s a small cafe/kiosk at the campground where they sell their famous Frybread (pic below). I also tried their Supai Tacos, which tasted like haven after a long day of hiking.
The Havasupai Falls is the main fall in the reservation, which is located at the mouth of the campground (in between Supai Village and the campground). At this waterfall, you can get a great vantage point and since it’s easily accessible even at night, it is a popular destination for night photography. I spent about two hours at night shooting my time lapse (see video above).
The Mooney Falls is less than half mile away from the campground; however hiking down to this Fall was one of the sketchiest things I’ve ever done. In order to get down to the fall, you need to hike down through some very steep and narrow caves, then climb down multiple ladders while holding on to cold and slippery chains. What’s worse, the ladders aren’t fixed, meaning they move if you push against it, which I learned very quickly as I put my leg on top of one of them and the ladder just swayed back-away from the wall. In addition to that, my hands got so cold from the mist-water, it was hard for me to tell how hard I was gripping the chain. If you have any fear of height, this probably isn’t the place you want to put yourself in. There is a helicopter stretcher at the bottom of the climb (pic below), which should tell you how unsafe this place can be. But once you overcome the climb, you’ll continue to be mesmerized by the beautiful scenery of this Fall. I would note that the Mooney Falls do look very similar to the Havasupai Falls from the pics, but in person the surrounding is quite different.
Below is the cave leading down to the first ladder
Since you made the crazy effort to climb down to Mooney Falls, you might as well hike few more miles to the Beaver Falls. Getting to this isn’t a hard hike, but you’ll need to do three water crossings so I recommend that you take water shoes with you. The hike to the Beaver Falls is filled with dozens of small sized step falls and there are plenty of places to stop and admire the beautiful turquoise water. There are few ladder climbs once you get to Beaver, but those are nowhere near as bad as the ones at the Mooney Falls.
Arriving at Beaver Falls is a treat, as it looks nothing like the Havasupai and the Mooney Falls. Beaver is comprised of multiple staircase falls, which is much bigger than anything you’d come across during your hike, and there are ways for you to hike up to the falls and dive into the water. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t able to play around in the water much because it was pretty cold (i.e. February) and the sunlight disappeared from he slot canyon by about 12:20pm.
My only regret is that I didn’t get the three night permit instead. I wish I had an extra day to hike to the confluence, which would have taken me a full day of hiking. In a normal circumstance, two nights would have been sufficient to see all the falls and hike to the confluence, but because I spent so much time in taking pictures and shooting my time-lapse, I would have needed an extra day to make the confluence hike. I guess I need to leave something behind to look forward to when I visit next time. Hopefully soon.