Let's talk about Havasupai, the real Havasupai. The Instagram vs. reality version of Havasupai, if you will.
I was fortunate enough to partner with Just Roughin' It Adventure Co. for a return trip to the Grand Canyon. If you recall, my first trip was 3 years ago and my first ever backpacking trip. That trip involved beautiful views, a desert oasis, bad boots, massive blisters, and what I thought were the world's most exaggerated switchbacks. But alas, it kick-started my love for hiking and backpacking and I found myself knee deep again in Coconino sandstone (a little Grand Canyon rock humor for the nerds).
The Hike In
Our guide Jason met us at our hotel at 4:45 am the day of our hike to drive us to the trailhead. We arrived at the Hilltop parking at around 10:30 am to start our trek. We were met by the loud whirring of the chopper coming in for another load of tourists and supplies, donkeys resting from their last trip and hikers who had just ascended out of the canyon. The hike down the switchbacks into the canyon was a breeze, as expected. Compared to Hermit trail on my first hike, where I experienced blisters within an hour and regretted my decision to do the hike in the first 20 minutes. It didn't take me days to realize that I was actually happy to be in the canyon (shout out to Keen).
Our group hiked for two hours before the sun arrived at our backs and made her presence felt. If you’re thinking of hiking into Havasupai past 5 am alone, don’t do it—reconsider. Read some literature on the subject. The only reason we made it without incident was due to our amazing guide Jason, who carried an extra water bladder to periodically douse us with water to cool our bodies. He constantly reminded us to drink water and periodically sip Gatorade to replenish our salts. At 5 miles, we took a break for lunch to eat salty chips, sandwiches, (and for me) multiple pickles Just Roughin' It provided from Panera. Again, Jason reminded us it was time to chug our electrolyte drinks before heading out again. Another dousing of water and we marched on.
After lunch, I realized how hot it was. At this point in the day, the canyon was hot, I was hot, but not at any point did I feel unsafe. Jason made it clear to stop the group if we felt sick, or dizzy or began to develop hotspots on our feet. Usually within larger groups, one may feel more hesitant to stop the progress of everyone, but our group had already started to support one another. Checking to make sure everyone was ok, asking to help with pack weight. We were already learning how to work as a team. This is something I noted from each of my trips. During both hikes, I was admittedly in the back of the pack. Then, it was due to bad footwear, this time it was heavy camera gear. I also have no shame in being a slower hiker in hotter weather. The heat totally kicks my ass. Those who are slower hikers shouldn't be deterred from booking a guided hike with Just Roughin' It. Each time their guides have done a great job at setting a general pace, and I've never felt shamed or pressured due to my inability to keep up (especially on switchbacks, my kryptonite).
We eventually made it to the village and to a comfortable bench outside the store selling ice cold Gatorades. A quick break, another 2 miles to the campground and I found myself sitting before Havasu Falls. That feeling of walking around the rock wall and encountering the beauty of the falls for the first time is hard to describe. All I will say is that I had to fight back one very determined (thug) tear. I refused to be the only one who cried.
My first impression of the campground was a shock of how many people there were. The site was larger than I expected, and due to the fact that we encountered almost no other hikers on the trail, I was surprised to see so many people. The disappointment to me was how many people don't hike in and out but rather spend money on mules or the helicopter to carry their things. I honestly wish they would take away these options from campers, as I feel it would greatly reduce the amount of trash left behind. There were several camps with 10 or more coolers cooking full course meals for a 3-4 day trip. That is the definition of doing the most. Despite this, the campsite was one of the nicer ones I've visited. I just hope people practice better LNT principles in the future.
Instagram Vs. Reality
Havasupai was heaven on earth. The glowing blue falls and creek, the freezing travertine pools and calcium carbonate rocks were something out of a fairytale. We spent the majority of our second day swimming in the crystal clear waters at Beaver Falls. The cold water brought me back to life after the sun zapped my energy after a tiring 3-mile hike from the campground. We were surrounded by the glowing orange rock canyon walls, and fluffy white clouds floating in a perfectly blue sky. It was everything I imagined it would be, everything I saw during my months of Instagram and Youtube research. But the one thing I didn't account for was how tired I would be. A common opinion shared by our group. If there is any take away from reading this, it'sHavasupai is beautiful, it's hot, it's hard, it's worth it, but be prepared.
Social media has the tendency to put a shiny pretty filter on everything and make it seem like it's the easiest or best thing to do. I fall for this often even for the Havasupai trip. I had a plan before we even hopped on our flight to head to Arizona. I had a list of photos I wanted to take, both for the company I was working for and form my own personal Instagram account. I had a long, ridiculous shot list I was convinced I could knock out in a single day. What I didn't have after a 10-mile hike in 90-degree heat was enough energy.
Don't let the videos and instagram posts from your favorite influencer fool you. Sure their photos of Havasu falls, the Confluence AND Beaver Falls all look great from a 3-day trip. But they most likely used a service to reach the canyon. Any place you visit in Havasupai will require a long walk (2 miles minimum), so don't overdo it. Pace yourself and plan accordingly.
Hiking in means being prepared and maybe staying an extra day to rest up so that you can truly enjoy your stay. I wish we had one more day in Havasupai, but I hope to return with JRI again for a volunteer clean-up trip to help keep this special place beautiful.
Then I should skip hiking in. Right? No. I only recommend visiting Havasupai by hiking in. I don't feel it's fair for the tribe to use the helicopter service or mules, just because I want more time and energy to take pictures. Imagine living in the canyon and having to listen to the helicopter take off and land 8 hours a day 4 days a week. It's loud. My favorite principle from Just Roughin' It is that they believe in getting to where you want off your own hard work. If you didn't work for it, do you really deserve to enjoy it? Hiking in means you will be tired, but it means you did it on your own.
I also encourage everyone to be considerate of the Natives who live there. Not everyone in the tribe is a fan of having to share their sacred land. Practice Leave No Trace principals, follow the rules (no alcohol, no jumping from rocks) so that we can always have these special places to visit in the future.
Havasupai was a trip of a lifetime, thanks to Just Roughin' It. I hope that it will be a trip I take again in the future in a continued effort to help maintain these sacred lands. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to work with Debbie the owner of Just Roughin' It (yup it's woman owned, whoop whoop!) as she continues to celebrate diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. As I mentioned previously, her company not only leads guided hikes to Havasupai but works with the Tribe to explore ways to give back to their village and their land, as a thank you for sharing this special place with the world.
Our guide practiced Leave No Trace principals and made sure we followed suit, cleaned up after other hikers along the way, and even stopped to offer water and support to a few strangers on the trail. This is my second trip with the company and I could continue to sing their praises all day. Thank you, Debbie, for the responsible work you do to guide people to these amazing destinations. Check out more information on Just Roughin' It here.