You know those times when you find yourself somewhere or are doing something particularly memorable and you think – “I will remember this until I’m dead”? I’m devoted to gathering up as many of those little life moments as I can before I die.
Life moment in progress. photo: Chris Surette
Columbia Sportswear gave some of us journalists and a wild pack of social networkers ample opportunity to snag some life moments on our press trip to Havasu Park in the Grand Canyon.
Bottom line: Havasupai Park is a nature-made theme park. Plain and simple. The waterfalls were the main attractions with the hurricane caves (yes, it is as cool as it sounds), the natural showers, the cliff jumps, and the dizzying heights. But there were also the little oases, shaded pockets of verdant greenery and burbling creek that had no place in the desert, yet were there anyway. Oh, and there’s some abandoned mine shafts for you Scooby-Doo types.
The 10-mile trail to the Havasupai campground is wide, and mellow – no technical singletrack here. It drops 1,000 feet in the first mile and a half from the South Rim, then smoothes out to a flatter trail, dropping another 1,300 feet over the next 8.5 miles of scrub brush, cottonwood trees and pack horses whipping around corners at you.
About 2 miles from the campground, roughly 450 Havasupai Native Americans live year-round in the town of Supai, where you can load up on some essentials (Ice cold Gatorade? Yes, please.) at the general store or the cafe for the last two miles to camp.
We were led by Brian, Chris, Jen and Sheldon, guides from AOA Adventures who have an unbridled enthusiasm for and encyclopedic knowledge of the region. They led us down the trail to their campground, spouting facts, legends, and anecdotes along the way. When we got there they had a great kitchen setup, tents by the creek, and a slew of composting (read: no stank) toilets. Toilets. Not holes in the ground, but honest-to-God toilets. Nothing but the best, baby.
And once we got there, well shoot. Where to start?
Oh right – the waterfalls. We had our hands (and days) full climbing, swimming, showering, jumping off, and exploring the park’s cascades.
Havasu Falls (120 feet)
Havasu Falls was a few hundred feet from camp and made for a scenic entryway and a great little swimming hole. The mineral-rich water is a haunting blue-green hue, from which the Havasupai tribe gets its name (“Havasupai”means “people of the blue water”).
Mooney Falls (210 feet)
Mooney Falls is about a 15-minute hike downstream from camp. You’ve got to head through some tight caves and climb down a wall holding onto a series of chains, but that’s just part of the fun: it’s a gorgeous cascade with a bombastic “hurricane cave” right at the base. What’s a hurricane cave? It’s a nook at the base of a waterfall where the wind and water are churned up and whipping around from the force of the falls. It’s amazing and it looks like this:
Hidden Falls (20 feet)
Upstream from Havasu Falls is a series of increasingly entertaining waterfalls starting with Hidden Falls, so named for its relative obscurity. Most people aren’t aware of it because you can’t see it from the trail. It’s about a 20-foot cascade with a great 25-foot cliff jump at the top. Here’s Columbia’s Scott Trepanier giving it the first huck.
I had to talk myself into it a bit longer than he did. I pretty much had to hurl myself off the ledge before I lost my nerve. And I loved it. Boom. Life moment.
Rock Falls (30 feet)
Just past Hidden Falls is a cascade known as Rock Falls. This crescent-shaped beauty offered a longer drop, but it was much easier (from a mental standpoint) to jump from. It was also easier to hit the bottom, to my surprise.
Not enough waterfalls for you? Fine. Head a couple hundred yards further upstream and you come across New Indian/New 50-Foot Falls (permanent name pending). It used to be called 50-Foot Falls, but massive flooding in 2008 blew it out, cranked the height up to 70 feet, and added a slew of new features, including the jacuzzi tub (a still pool filled with surprisingly warm water) and the paradise pool (pretty much what it sounds like). Just your basic Garden of Eden scenario, just one surrounded by mile-high walls of desert. No biggie.
We wandered through the falls to the jacuzzi tub, then swam out into the paradise pool, where we were able to climb up about ten, fifteen feet and leap off the wall. Oh yeah. Fun stuff.
And let’s not forget the abandoned mines.
We found two mines, both about thirty feet up a cliff wall by camp, one accessible on foot, one requiring an iffy scramble. Somebody pooped in the first one. Besides that, they were awesome.
Both went back about a hundred feet or so, and the further back you go, the darker (and quieter) it gets until you’re at a dead end and the only sound you can hear is your own breathing. If you’re the kind of person that has to stick your head into everything you see (guilty as charged), the caves also had some vertical corridors that made for some very fun bouldering. I wriggled my way into one that went several feet above the ceiling and ended in a tight nook that was lined completely in crystal. Whaat? Life moment.
Downclimb from the nook. Photo: Steve W. Weiss
And if you’re not into wriggling yourself into increasingly tight crevices with the potential for an ankle-popping vertical drop, both mines have areas at the mouths at which you could sit and gaze up at the jagged crack of stars framed on two sides by the silhouettes of the canyon walls. Snap, son! You just got Life moment-ed.
We crammed all of that (and more) into a three day trip, and despite all the activity, despite the two 10-mile hikes in three days, and despite the charred skeleton of a dead horse halfway up the switchbacks (got you wondering there, huh?), once we got to the rim, we still had the energy to do this:
Everybody say “life moment!” Photo by Chris Surette
If you want to score a few life moments of your own, The Gearcaster’s piece, Hike to the Land of the Blue-Green Waters, will tell you how to get there and what to bring along.
You may also like:
Author: Billy Brown