The day I decided to quit my job - A backpacking trip to Havasupai
I remember the moment that I knew I could no longer both work a corporate job and also say yes to all of the things I wanted (needed) to do. It was a Wednesday in early February, I had spent the previous afternoon with Chelsea on a beach on the south shore of Kauai. My phone lit up and it was an invitation from her to go into Havasupai the following week. Every ounce of my being wanted to say yes... but I knew I had to get back to my office - that a week long extension of my trip was not going to work. So I said no (and regretted it immediately), I resented myself for making that decision, I resented the company I worked for - I was just angry. I sat and thought about how badly I wanted to go, I had had haphazard conversations with Chelsea for several months and our schedules never seemed to line up, permits for Havasupai are insanely difficult to get... it was a perfect storm, everything finally was coming together and I had to say no. In that moment I knew that something had to give. The following few days were spent off of the grid backpacking the Na Pali Coast of Kauai with no cellphone reception (another story for another time). Upon return to civilization (and wifi) there sat in my inbox a message from Holly - as if she had been reading my mind - she had won the lottery and obtained permits for Havasupai in April- she was asking me to join! Without hesitation I said yes. I didn't know how I would make it work but I knew I needed to. The following week I sat in my office, miserable, checking Instagram constantly for Chelsea's stories to roll in from the trip I was not on, and my phone rang; it was the head of my HR group - she was calling to discuss the fact that it was only February and I had already overshot my vacation allotment. By the end of the conversation it was clear that in six weeks, at the end of my contract, I would not be looking for a continuation of my tenure with the firm.
My last day of work fell on a Tuesday, it was one of the hardest days of my adult life, I said a tearful goodbye to my colleagues who over the years had turned into my friends and family. By 10am the next morning I had my bags packed and was on a flight south, sitting on that plane was the first time I stopped to realize what was happening. I didn't (and still don't) know how long this adventure will be or where it will take me. I worked hard for years in a job that thankfully allowed me to save money and allow me a little bit of freedom on that front. But I just trusted that somehow someway I would find a way to make it work.
I landed in the Phoenix airport - my parents picked me up and they spent the next few days with me running around, picking up last minute supplies and trying to come to gripes with the life decision I had made. Before I knew it I was on my way to the airport to pick up Holly and head straight for the trailhead, arriving a few hours after the sunset the parking lot was full, we could hear murmurs and see a few flashing headlamp of other campers settling in for the night. In the light of day we met up with the rest of our gang, Elisabeth and Breeze - none of us had done a day hike together before let alone a three night backpacking trip, a group text conversation over the past few months had lead to this point. We made breakfast, we packed and re-packed our bags until we deemed that only the necessities were included. The sun was growing higher in the sky as we made our way along the trail, the 10 miles from the Hualapai Hilltop to Havasu Falls (the beginning of the campground) provided us ample time to get to know one another. By the time we reached the town of Supai we were hot, tired and hungry. Our research had told us of the cantinas were famous for their flatbread tacos, so we took a break and had lunch. We met a local man, Cleve, he told us the history of the Havasupai Tribe and the importance of the land we were visiting and the journey we were embarking on. He pointed at rock formations on the walls of the canyon and explained to us their significance. There was one that stuck with all four of us, the old man, it was a formation on the south wall of the canyon that looked like a person hunched over carrying a large backpack, we sat down with Cleve in the middle of a grassy field and he told us that this was a place to come with your burdens, bring your pain, your suffering, your ailments and be freed of them. It is a place of healing.
The final three miles to the campground revealed what we had been in search of, the blue-green water emerging from the sides of the Canyon- it was like nothing I have ever seen before. We spent three nights visiting Havasuapai hiking, swimming and eating way too much flatbread. There are more than enough resources for what to do while you're in Havasupai so instead I will leave you with some interesting information I found and learned during my experience in the reservation and my packing list.
The Havasupai Tribe (Havasupai meaning "People of the Blue-Green Water") hosts 20,000 visitors annually with an average of 300 daily. Lying just on the outskirts of the Grand Canyon National Park, patience is a requirement in securing permits or crossing your fingers for a cancellation as day hiking is not allowed and permit checks are a regular occurrence both along the trail to the town of Supai as well as once you are at the bottom of the canyon.
What I was not expecting on this trip was the actual town of Supai - it is home to 136 houses with a fluctuating population around the 500 mark and offers services including a general store, tourist office, lodge, post office, school, two churches and the Supai Café (which offers burger, fries, hot dogs, fry bread, tacos, breakfast burritos, sodas, etc). As well, outside of the town, located between the base of Havasu falls and the campground is a ranger station and a small cafe that offers both sweet and savoury snacks for the weary camper.
staying in havasupai:
note: this information is current at the time of writing, October 2017
This may be the hardest part of going to Havasupai if I am being honest. I got (extremely) lucky and Holly secured permits in February, two months out of our camping (I should also note that this badass had also broken her ankle and had surgery in late December... thought she was booking for May instead of April and instead of cancelling or rescheduling...she worked her ass off hiked in/out of Havasupai just over three after her accident).
To make camping reservations in Havasupai, you must call the Havasupai Tourism Office at (928) 448-2121 - from the conversations I had you sometimes sit on the line for hours at a time. If there are no permits available you can call back closet to the date for cancellations - for people like me who have to fly in it is not the most convenient but is an option).
Cost per person (in USD, all fees are taxable at 10%):
Camping permit – $25 (per night)
Environmental fee – $10
Permit – $50
Havasupai Reservation Policies
All payment is due at the time of booking
One credit card is allowed per group.
Payments to the tribe are non-refundable
Permit reservations are non-transferable
To make reservations at the lodge, the only hotel near Havasu Falls, call (928) 448-2111. The Havasupai Lodge is in the village of Supai, Arizona which is an 8 mile walk from the hilltop and a 2 mile hike away from the campground. There are no kitchens at the lodge.
Costs (in USD, all fees are taxable at 10%):
Up to 4 people/room – $145/night
Deposit – $40/room/night
There is absolutely no day hiking allowed in Havasupai - and we were checked at least a dozen times both on the way in as well as once we were down there. There are, however, hiking companies that offer guided tours of Havasupai. They are more expensive than simply backpacking in but they can guarantee a spot (fun fact: my first backpacking trip was with a guiding group and it taught me a lot).
getting into Havasupai(physically):
There are three options for getting into and out of Havasupai; hike, heli or horse.
The trail from Hualapai Hilltop to the first major waterfall (Havasu) and the beginning of the campground is 10 miles and includes an elevation loss of 2,000 feet (610 m) - the majority of which is in the first mile of the trail. There is no water at the hilltop parking lot nor along the trail until you reach the town of Supai (at the 8 mile mark). There is also little to no shelter from the sun on the trail.
Helicopters rides are offered Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday in the summer and on Sundays and Wednesdays in the off season, weather permitting. They are $85 each way (cash, an additional $10 per person credit card fee will charged) - each person is permitted to bring one medium sized backpack (20-40 lbs.) with them. The flight leaves from Hualapai Hilltop, and drops you off in Supai Village 2 miles from Havasu Falls Campground. The helicopters are first come first serve and the flight is less than 10 minutes.
Horses and mules:
Horses and mules are available from Hualapai Hilltop into Supai and the campground, the fee is $121 (one-way) – $242 (round trip) plus 10% tax.
Reservations MUST BE MADE 1 week prior to arrival through the camping office.
Camping: (928) 448-2121 Reservation lines are open from 9 am - 3 pm on Monday through Friday.
Pack Horse & Saddle Horse Reservations going OUT of Supai & Campground.
Reservations MUST BE MADE 1 day prior to arrival at the tourist office in Supai.
One pack animal can carry a maximum of one person or 4 bags for a total weight of 130 lbs.
Maximum Baggage Size: 36 inches long and 19 inches wide.
Ice Chest: Maximum 48 quart capacity, not exceed 24 inches long and 19 inches wide.
*note: there has been a lot of publicity about the welfare of the animals in Havasupai, as someone who grew up around horses I did not see any maltreatment or abuse of the animals when I was in the area on 2017 - for my own sense of accomplishment I personally made the decision to hike in/out.
my (updated after the fact) packing list for three nights at Havasupai:
- Backpacking backpack - 50L
- Water(and you will want lots of it) - I brought a full 2L bladder for each of my hike in and out, and packed in empty bottles for daily use - remember that there is a 10-mile hike through the desert to get in and out of this oasis so staying hydrated is important (I also always toss in electrolyte tablets)
- Camp stove - for me the lighter the better but fires are prohibited on the reservation so you will want a way to boil water (and make coffee) - the smallest canister of fuel will be more than enough and don't forget waterproof matches (self igniters sometimes fail too)
- Food - I packed in oatmeal and almond butter for breakfast, MRE dinners and too many salty and sweet snacks for the inbetweens - we relied on the cantinas for lunch (to save weight and also they are delicious!)
- Cash - all businesses in Supai that we visited were cash only(USD)
- Daypack - someone told me this before heading down and I was hesitant, but I tucked the lightest and most compact day pack I could find into my backpack and used it every day for adventures
- Dry bags - not only for keeping your gadgets dry but a dry bag will (hopefully) keep your food safe from the squirrels - one of our girls had all of her food stolen from camp the first night and we found the stuffsack filled with squirrel teeth marks and garbage upsteam the next morning (a bear bin would also be really great for this)
- Camera - with spare batteries
- Headlamp / lanterns for camp
- Charge pack and cables for your gadgets (some of the girls brought solar panels)
- Sleeping bag / tent / mattress pad
- Sunscreen and lip chap with SPF
- First-Aid kit and wet wipes
- Clothing - I brought(and used) a pair of shorts, a pair of tights, two tank tops, a long sleeved shirt, a puffy jacket, a lightweat rain shell, my toque, small gloves and of course underwear
- Swimsuit - although jumping from the waterfalls is not allowed you will still want to swim in the water - and if you make the trek to Beaver falls you will end up in thigh to waist deep water when river crossing
- Hiking shoes/boots/trail runners - the trek down is 10 miles but not technical, make sure you have comfortable shoes to do it in - I used trail runners
- Water shoes/Sandals - keep your hikers dry for the trek out, and also the rocks can be both sharp and slippery in and around the water
(this list is pulled directly from the website of the Havasupai tribe - be respectful and remember that you are a visitor to their land.)
- Rock climbing
- Waterfall jumping
- (Okay the last two aren't packing items but general no-no's)
- Water purification - we brought a gravity bag and a few steri pens but the campground has a pump with clean filtered water for consumption
- Hammock - we packed in a few not realizing the amenities, with multiple picnic tables at every campsite we hardly touched our hammocks
- Toilet paper - there are established and well maintained/cleaned washroom facilities scattered throughout - save your weight/space