Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Farewell to Supai

Day # 3 - Hiking out of Havasu Canyon


Me at the Havasu Trailhead:

     The hike out of Havasu Canyon was no easy feat.  We got up at 4:00 in the morning.  The walk back out of the village was quiet except for a few people signing up for the helicopter list.  We spent about a total of 40 minutes in the village during this trip, which explains why I have no photographs of it.  Stepping away from civilization made the experience seem even that much more surreal.  
     By the time we reached Rock Falls I realized I was in trouble.  There was no way on earth I was going to be able to use my hiking shoes, as the 12 mile walk into the campground had given me detrimental sores on my feet.  I’d done many, many hikes in these shoes before, and I was under the strong impression that they were broken in for good, but something about that Havasu Hike did me in.  As I look back on it, I think it was the fact that so much of the trail was sand and I hadn’t done much training in sandy territory, and your shoes move over sand differently than they do over rock or gravel.  It’s something that seems obvious to me now but at the time I hadn’t even considered it.  Up until that morning, I hadn’t tried out my shoes since the hike in;  I was in no hurry to realize how painful my hike home was going to be.  But now I was faced with the challenge full force and it didn’t look good.  
     I packed up my shoes and considered them lost for the day.  I dug around in my pack and found a thick pair of woolen socks that I’d gotten at Yellowstone National Park the Spring prior.  It was snowing that day in Yellowstone and my feet were freezing.  Ironically, if I hadn’t bought those socks my Yellowstone trip would have been pretty miserable, and if I hadn’t brought them along on my desert trek, the hike back home might not have even been possible.  What I was doing with woolen socks in the middle of the desert I’m not even sure; it must have been a strange twist of fate.  So I did twelve miles in socks.  I looked ridiculous but I couldn’t care less.  With each step I took, I could feel the gravel under my feet, the sharp sticks, the rough rocks.  All I could think about was overcoming the obstacle.
     I took one last look at Supai before we headed for the last wooden footbridge.  A Havasupai farmer waved at us and smiled.  Before I left for my trip, I’d done a considerable amount of research and now that I have been there myself, I am surprised at how many reviews stated that the Havasupai Indians were unfriendly.  I didn’t find this to be so at all.  Most of the Havasupai nodded a hello here and there, some of them seemed a bit more outgoing, but there were a lot of them who looked right through us as though we weren’t even there.  Perhaps it is this total indifference that we experienced that others are relating to when they call the Havasupai unfriendly, but this didn’t bother me in the least.  If I had thousands of complete strangers hiking through my home every year, after a while their presence probably wouldn’t affect me either.  
     Havasupai means “people of the blue-green water”.  Until the 19th century they had roamed the Grand Canyon for nearly 1,000 years, along the upper plateau as well as the inner canyon.  Upon US Westward Expansion, miners began staking claims upon the land, and in the 1880’s the US Government confined the Havasupai to a mere 518 acres, causing them to lose 90% of their homeland.  Over the following decades, their land was taken away and redistributed several times, until finally in 1975 the amount of 185,000 acres was officially given back to the tribe.  I am an advocate of the National Parks but I am very grateful that the waterfalls belong to the Havasupai Indians.  It is their sacred land, always has been, and should remain so forever.  
     Every mile that we hiked before 8:30 am that morning was done in the shade.  It seemed to be in the lower 60’s all that morning, and made the trip that much easier, even considering the socks.  My iphone had a full battery so I turned on my ipod and we listened to some music to pass the time.  
     The hike out didn’t seem any longer than the hike in until we got to the last mile and a half.   That is where the incline starts.  This incline is somewhere around 2,000 feet.  It was the worst part of the entire hike.  It was especially challenging for us being from central Iowa where the biggest elevation change we ever face is a small hill, and even that is rare.  Combined with the dry desert air that we are unaccustomed to and it made for a very, very painful experience.  Not only that,  but those long steep inclines and sharp switchbacks were bathed in hot sunlight.  
     I would consider myself to be in average shape, and Brett even more so, but we both had one hell of a time getting up the side of that cliff.  As I drudged along, I felt as though I’d aged 60 years somewhere along the way.  Every step was immense.  I had to keep stopping every 10 or 20 feet just to catch my breath.  Every piece of shade along the way we took advantage of.  At the top of every switchback we would stop for a few moments.  It took us a long time to do that last 1.5 miles.  
     Finally we were at The Hilltop; we were back at our car, and we were driving with the windows rolled down and the cool air whipping in.  It was a blessed feeling.  I don’t believe I have felt that happy since that moment, when we were driving down lone Highway 18 away from The Hilltop.  Not because we were leaving, but because we had been there.  Because I’d just had one of the most intense and beautiful experiences of my life.
     Supai and its canyons and waterfalls is one of the most astounding places on this planet.  There is just something about it that you can’t ascertain anywhere else.  The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s Seven Natural Wonders, which makes the trip worth it in itself, but to be able to experience a literal oasis inside of it is out of this world.  The fact that the land is so pure and unhindered and US civilization as we know it has yet to reach it adds great depth to its appeal.  Hiking in gives you a feeling of independence and self-preservation.  It’s an emotional reality that frees you in so many ways.  
     When you’re physically there, you don’t feel as though you’re on earth anymore.  You have reached some otherworldly paradise when surrounded by the golden dragonflies, the moonflowers, the aquamarine water, the snowy cottonwood trees, the towering canyon walls and the overwhelming beauty of the waterfalls; the smell of the hot sand and the horses, the wind rising up off the creek, the balminess in the air, the salty lime that lives and grows before your eyes.  
     There is a complete lack of distractions, your main concerns being where you’re going to sleep and what you’re going to eat.  The rest of the day is completely at your leisure, and you find yourself altogether diverted.  I haven’t felt like that since I was a kid.  The simplicities of life become more straightforward than ever before.  They become all-encompassing; they become your life, and suddenly your world is lucid as youth.  
     Make most of the experience that you can.  I learned a lot during this trip.  There are quite a few things that I will do differently the next time that I visit.  I believe that I will have a horse carry my pack in and out of the village to make the hike a bit easier, especially the hike back out.  I will stay closer to Highway 18 the night before I hike in.  I will make sure that I’ve done an equivalent amount of miles on the same terrain as the hike inside Havasu Canyon.  But more than anything else, I will make sure that I stay longer than just two nights.  Next time, I’ll stay as long as I possibly can.

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