Backpacking Havasupai: The Power of Sisterhood
By Laura Feeney, Bold Betties Community Manager
Havasupai is high up on a lot of bucket lists and for excellent reasons: waterfalls, canyon walls, golden light, long hikes, swimming holes, fascinating history, and amazing people. There are a lot of ways to experience such a beautiful place, some more intense than others. When Bold Betties started considering hosting trips to Havasupai, we knew there was only one way to do it: no mules, no helicopters, just our Boldest members carrying everything they needed on their own backs with well-informed guides leading the way.
With our two female guides and eight Bold Betties, we set off for the rim of the Grand Canyon. Our first night was spent at the quirky Grand Canyon Caverns Inn and Campground.
The dinner we had that night was warm, delicious and incredibly filling. As we finished our first meal as a team, a thunderstorm moved in and we retired for the evening. The next morning we said goodbye to flush toilets, and drove to the trailhead where we were greeted by an overflowing parking lot and overflowing portable toilets.
We shivered as we waited to start. Chilly from the cold, and nervous as we looked down into the bottom of the canyon below. We geared up, took a “before” photo and started down the switchbacks.
The views were incredible and the people who were climbing back out foreshadowed our own ascent that would come a few days later. Sweaty, red-faced, and panting, we reminded ourselves that there was still a lot of work ahead.
Five miles in, we reached the halfway point and our guides provided an incredible spread for lunch, with filling sandwiches and fresh veggies and the ever-present skittles. We learned about the local legend of the bear and the Supai brothers, and we started understanding what makes this journey so special. After lunch, we waited for the mules to pass, loaded down with gear to deliver to the hikers below and as we felt the weight of our packs, we wondered what on earth we were thinking.
We hiked through Supai village and stopped to fill our hydration bladders. Some of us bought a patch at the tourist office and stopped off for Gatorade and Cheetos, the ultimate in hiker fuel. There was an endless queue of hopeful hikers waiting for a helicopter out of the canyon to avoid the eight miles back to the top. We sent our last text messages and began the last two mile descent to the campground.
Pomegranate trees surprised us all and a pecan tree made me sweetly homesick for south GA. The last two miles were hard as the trail was sandy and my knees began to scream with every step. There were no complaints. Not a single one. We were happy and relieved to be almost there.
Soon enough, Havasu Falls was on our right.
Due to the rain the night before, the falls were a murky color instead of the bright blue we had expected but it hardly dampened our spirits. We made camp and took deep breaths. We had accomplished our goal for Day One. Our guides made a quinoa and lentil green curry, and we stuffed ourselves silly. As we taped up our blisters, we discussed plans for the next day and several of us contemplated just staying in camp because we were just so tired.
Early next morning, the sun came up and a few of us made a run to the bathrooms. One of my teammates, Nora, commented about how we had come all of this way to see the place and that staying at camp just didn’t seem like the right way to go. It was the reminder I needed that despite the soreness and blisters, I was there to explore! No way I was staying in camp!
I’m proud to say that all of us suited up and were ready for whatever the day was to bring. And honestly, I can’t imagine what would have happened if any one person had decided to stay behind. We needed every one of those positive mindsets to get us through the obstacles still to come.
Our second day of our Havasupai Trip started with a breakfast of sausage, hash browns, and eggs. We filled our bellies and got ready for a casual little jaunt to Mooney Falls, a mere 3/4 mile from our campground.
When we reached Mooney Falls, we stopped off for pictures and an explanation of what lay below: two rock tunnels followed by travertine covered rock walls with worn rock steps and wet, muddy chains to help us descend 200 feet to the bottom of the falls.
My anxiety was high and the adrenaline coursed through my body faster than I could control my breath. Our guides empowered us with knowledge and gave us tons of patience and support. They knew that this was a scary experience but they also knew how great the reward would be.
Going down, we faced the wall and lowered ourselves backwards step by step. My teammates below would pass on information up the chain of people. “This spot is slippery.” “This is a great handhold here.” It was slow going and wet from the mist and mud. Towards the bottom was a big step from one old wooden ladder to another. I froze. Tears came to my eyes and I started to say “I can’t do this”. Before I could correct myself, a teammate who had already made it down, saw me struggling and came running to help. With encouraging words, she climbed up a few rungs and guided my foot to the spot I didn’t think I could reach, and sure enough, I made it to the bottom.
I couldn’t contain my emotions at the bottom. I cried and I smiled and I felt alive for the first time in a very long time. One by one we all made it down and we celebrated the fact that we had done it! Some of us were shaken and in disbelief. Others felt powerful and just generally stoked. We took our pictures and some of us even mooned the camera in our delight. Soon enough, we were off down the trail to find swimming holes, grape vines, and even a rope swing.
I had imagined the bottom of the Grand Canyon to be a desert, dry and rocky, with life struggling to survive. But what I found was a lush, green wonderland that was a joy to explore. At every turn there were gasps and shouts of awe. We traipsed across rivers and played in waterfalls and marveled at the amazing life all around us.
The only way into Mooney Canyons was the treacherous descent from earlier and lucky for us, this was the only way out. We waited at the bottom of the falls for a break in the long line of people still coming down and enjoyed a rope swing and the sun coming into the canyon. Soon enough, our shaky legs were heading back up, and while the up was certainly easier, there were still a couple of moments where I felt paralyzed with fear.
I clung to the muddy chains and tears came to my eyes, and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I froze. And as I looked down from where I’d come, and up to where I was going, the realization dawned on me: there was no other choice. I had to keep moving. The encouragement from my teammates gave me the courage I needed to move, and suddenly I came out of a tunnel onto solid ground, and I was overwhelmed with accomplishment.
It occurred to me in that very moment, just how brave I really can be. Because being brave doesn’t mean not being afraid. It means being afraid but doing it anyway.
On Day 3, we woke early for what we jokingly referred to as an “Alpine Start”. 2:30 am in the canyon is dark and chilly and with other campers close by, we were as close to silent as possible. We packed up and were surprised with yet another delicious breakfast of fresh bacon and oatmeal. As soon as we were done, we started the hike out.
We were given the option to hike at our own pace on this day. The guides would catch up and it would be a great chance to experience some time on our own if we chose. Fortunately for me, no one chose solo time and instead we paired off at random and began the ascent.
Before this trip, I had been diagnosed with pneumonia and my lungs were a definite concern. Armed with an inhaler and a pocket full of cough drops, the only answer was to put one foot in front of the other and just keep trucking along. Nora stayed with me the entire way. We kept checking in with each other. “Is this pace good for you?” “Drink water!” “Do you need a break?” Before we knew it, we were half way and were regrouping with everyone at Bear Rock just as first light came through.
The quiet that came over the canyon was incredible. I had no room in my head for any thoughts except to memorize that exact moment so I could carry it with me in my heart into the busy weeks to come. As we tripped over rocks and our poles sunk into the gravel, we laughed at our blisters and urged our feet onwards. Despite our soreness and our readiness to be done, there were no complaints. Only positive comments that moved us forward to our goal. We knew the switchbacks were still there, waiting for us. The toughest part was still to come.
As we reached the switchbacks, we took a deep breath and started. This last section had 1100 feet of elevation gain in a mile and a half. It’s bad enough with a daypack, but with sore knees, blisters, and a huge backpack it felt daunting. We stuck together and took breaks. We waited happily for the mules to pass, and we tried our best to smile at the fresh, new hikers bounding down canyon. Suddenly we could see the top, and we realized that the end was finally within reach.
The last switchback was a blur. There was Katie and Christie and Anna all waiting for us. I shrugged my backpack off and hugged and high fived and then immediately got the food out of my pack. I ate a PB&J, a bag of Cheetos, a bag of pretzels, half of a cliff bar, a tangerine, and peanut M&M’s in less than 10 minutes. We had three more teammates to come up, before we could officially end our journey, and we couldn’t wait to celebrate with everyone.
As Bindy, Patti, and our guide Jessie rounded the corner there were cheers all around. We had done it! Suddenly, we all understood. While there were easier ways to do this trip, we were able to feel just how capable we are. We carried everything we needed, and we relied not only on ourselves, but on our teammates as well. We had cried together and celebrated together and every last one of us finished this journey with a beaming smile and heart full of pride.
As we said our goodbyes later on that afternoon, we knew that we were leaving with new friends to carry with us. It wasn’t just the waterfalls and the beauty of the place we had just been. It was the shared experience of a hard journey that bonded us together. We pushed each other and helped each other, and we learned the difference that a positive team of bold women can make in our journeys.
Interested in backpacking Havasupai with Bold Betties in 2019? Check out our April trip by CLICKING HERE!
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