Thursday, December 4, 2014

Hiking Havasu, Day 2: Village to Colorado River and Back

November 29, 2014

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Do something every day that scares you." Now let's say, hypothetically, if you do like 20 scary somethings in one day, can you save them up and not do anything scary for the next 19 days? I think I need a break after today's adventure. :)

Breakfast of champions!

We awoke before dawn on Saturday morning and enjoyed scum tea and oatmeal with homemade raisins. We packed 2 bags full with food and water, bundled up for a chilly morning, and were off!

Okay, so we goofed around a bit before we left. I was kind of stalling because I knew some of the things that we'd have to do today, and I wasn't really looking forward to it. I knew that there would be river crossings and sketchy ways of getting down the canyon walls, and even if it weren't for those things, I knew we'd still have 20 miles to hike today. I wanted to make it the whole way, but didn't know if I was ready for the challenge. Well, ready or not, we set off at 7:30!

As we walked, we only ran into people going the opposite way. We love hiking when we're on our own, so that was a good sign for us! Oh yes, and there is a letterbox somewhere down there...and as the clues state, "Don't do this hike just for the letterbox. Let the box be the bonus for doing this amazing hike!"

Mooney Falls

Mooney falls was about 2-2.5 miles from the village, a little ways down the trail from Havasu falls, where we had stopped the day before. We stood on the top of this ledge and took in the beauty below.

Now, here is where the trail got interesting. To get down the the base of the falls, you have to go down basically the side of the canyon wall. And we're not talking about switchbacking - this is going down through tunnels and using chains, ladders, and crevices in the rock face to slowly and carefully reach the bottom. Mitchell had warned us about it - this is as far as he had made it last time - and I was definitely dreading it.

Descend at your own risk is right! There is only one recorded death though - in 1882, a miner, D.W. "James" Mooney was climbing up the falls and he fell to his death. A year later, a friend of his came here to bury the body, and he brought with him stakes and chains to help make the descent easier...and I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't use the exact same chains that he did. Trust me, this was terrifying!

Into the tunnels we go... It doesn't help that all you can hear is the roar of the waterfall. The lower you get, the more muddy and slippery it is from the waterfall's spray. Curtis went down first, with me right behind him, and when it came to the part where there are only chains and the rock face going straight down, he helped show me where to put my feet with every step. I was so nervous, I thought I would hyperventilate or be sick. Instead, I listened for his instructions and pushed everything else out of my mind. There's no quitting now!

Mitchell, descending the last ladder!

Spoiler alert: we made it alive! It was a huge relief to finally set my feet on the ground, but there was the tiny stress of "we're going to have to do this again tonight!" Of course, it's way easier going up than down, but I knew it'd be a push to make it back here by dark. For anyone reading this and planning to do this hike, make sure you bring gloves - they helped out so much, especially when holding on to the muddy chains for dear life! ;)

Of course the views from the bottom are breathtaking. Mooney is the biggest of the falls, and here you can see the size comparison between us and the great waterfall. We spent as much time here as we could - even back where Mitch is standing while taking the picture, it's hard to face the falls because the spray of the water is cold and heavy! It made taking pictures tricky as well.

The above picture gives you an idea of the canyon wall that we just came straight down. As you can see, there's a set of 3 ladders at the bottom, then a long stretch of just chains and rock face before entering the tunnels. Considering that I'm not even a big fan of using ladders, this could be like my worst nightmare... but not anymore! :)

After we were finished with Mooney, we continued on - I now knew that since I made it down Mooney, I HAD to make it the entire 20 miles. There was no way I'd make myself have to come back here later to do it all again. The trail gets difficult to follow after this because there aren't many people who will go farther than Mooney. 

The first of about 9 river crossings! Thankfully, we all knew about these in advance and planned accordingly. Both Mitch and Curtis brought old hiking boots that they planned to throw away after today's hike. I didn't have old hiking boots (I've only been hiking like this for less than a year, and I'm not ready to give up my wonderful boots I've used since January!) so I went and found water shoes at a consignment store. I'm pretty sure my shoes kept my feet the most comfortable throughout the rest of the hike! 

This was another huge accomplishment for me. Both Curtis and my brother had to put up with me last March being unwilling to get my feet wet, and that was with like 5 inch standing water at the most. Okay, so I would only cross holding Curtis' hand, and I had my hiking pole in the other, but we're talking about crossing a flowing river that got to be chest deep. It wasn't easy, but after doing it a few times, we all got the hang of it and I even looked forward to it because it meant getting a chance to cool off.

After the first 2 crossings, there was a long stretch of walking through this green area that was thick with vines. We were interested to know what it'd look like in the spring and summer, and if they happened to have grapes, berries, or flowers in other parts of the year. For today, we got to enjoy seeing everything in fall colors.

Another crossing! You can see on my pant legs how deep it's been. I was concerned that I'd be freezing the whole time because of the cold water and colder weather than I'm used to, but it really wasn't that bad. I had a comfy coat that stayed dry, and hiking just naturally warms you up!

Red rocks, blue water, green trees, yellow leaves...This has to be the most beautiful and colorful hike we've ever done!

While this trail proved to be very challenging, there were long stretches of trail that were very easy. It would have its small ups and downs, but we were able to cover a lot of ground quickly, which made up for some of the technically tricky parts that took some more thought.

Like this...This took a while for me to wrap my mind around. I'm supposed to walk across this board where I could easily lose my balance and fall 20 feet down? I went right behind Curtis and held on to his backpack, like that would help anything. The guys both instructed me to not look down... but I went across staring at my feet the entire time. No wonder I have these problems. :)

Here we have come to another river crossing, except here, the creek is moving far too quick to walk through it... so they put a board on top. A board that was split down the middle. *shudder*

As Mitchell put it, "Sketch level is like 100." The part toward the end is the worst, as you have the loud roars of the rushing river right beneath you. Once again, I went right behind Curtis and held his hand...I seriously couldn't have done anything here without him. Haha.

Mitchell snapped this photo of my pathetic-ness. Whenever I came to anything like this on the trail, I didn't just have to gather the strength and courage to do it... I also had to do it, knowing full well that I would have to do it again later, possibly in the dark!

After the sketchy bridges, the trail started going up the side of the canyon. The trail was sandier and it  would have random big steps, sometimes with ladders, other times without, and once with this vertical log with a few slots on it. This trail is not for the weak!

This palm tree was awesome. It was the only one we came across all day, and it was huge!

In the above picture, you can see there is this random ladder just standing there. We came across this a lot. I had to wonder every time we were going up or down if the thing was really secure. You really don't have any other choice but to trust in it though! We referred to the area right before Beaver Falls as the "adult jungle gym." Maybe just a tad bit more risky than the kind for kids. :p

Finally, we came to Beaver Falls! It's about 6 miles from the village, and is basically a series of small, cascading falls. Again, truly unique and beautiful, and it would have been worth the hike to see just this! (But of course, once you're this far, why not go to the Colorado? It's only 4 more miles away!)

Beaver Falls at ground level.

We've all made it this far!

Another sketch ladder. You never know how much space will be between each rung as you go down!

The trail after Beaver is probably the most terrifying. The trail ascends a bit more along the canyon wall, and becomes more narrow and steep. What makes this possibly even more challenging than Mooney is that there is nothing to help you - no chains, no ladders, just rock face. Slippery rock face with loose rocks. I have no pictures to show of this because documenting the memories was furthest from my mind at this point. Curtis kept looking at me nervously, just knowing I was doubting everything. "Do you hate me?" He asked, and let's just say it was the wrong time to ask me that. I hated everything. ;)

So we walked along this narrow trail, then it started switchbacking downhill. It was steep, it was frightening, and the rapids below made it seem even more terrifying. It was so steep that there were only like 2 switchbacks to get to the same level as the creek, and from there, the ledge disappeared. We had no choice but to cross through these roaring rapids to get to the trail, which was clearly marked on the other side.

Thankfully, only the first bit was fast and deep. Both of the guys helped me across, all 3 of us taking one step at a time, and making sure that foot was secure before thinking of lifting the other. Fighting the water was a struggle, but after the middle part (which you can see above was above ground, then much more shallow) we were safe to make it the rest of the way. Once we were standing at the other side, looking at the trail we had just came down, it was literally impossible to tell that there was a trail there. It was only by a small cairn that we would be able to know that it was where we were supposed to go up later.

After this, the trail was much easier. It was either flat ground along the creek, or through more shallow crossings. It was around 11:30-12 at this point, but none of us felt like we were exerting ourselves too much physically. Adrenaline was running high, and we were proud of all we had overcome and were excited to press on to the end. 

Suddenly, we saw something moving to the side of the trail. Was it a deer?

No! It's a bighorn sheep! The first time Curtis and I had ever seen any in the wild! And they were close... really close! And not afraid of us...

There were 6 ewes and 1 ram. They just stood there and either ate or stared back at us. I was really nervous and was feeling both excited to see them, but incredibly nervous about what they might do. There wasn't really anywhere we could hide from them, it was just this small area of land, then the river and the other canyon wall. This land was all theirs.

Our faces are not at all showing how we really felt. It'd be more accurate if they were swapped. When I'm nervous like this, all I can do is smile and try to be calm. Curtis is just plain silly. :)

There's the ram! He was pretty chill here. It was that one ewe that I was more worried about.

We made it past our new bighorn friends, and continued moving at a fast pace. It was still breathtakingly gorgeous all around!

Stopping in the middle of the creek for a selfie :)

We could compare the last couple miles to the last mile of Mt. Humphrey's. When hiking Humphrey's, we had to walk along a ridge, past many false peaks until we finally reached the end. Here, we kept looking up at the canyon walls and wondering when we'd finally see the North Rim. We were so excited and had so much anticipation for finally seeing the Confluence at the Colorado river, but with each corner turned, it seemed like there would be many more to go. And even when you feel like you're close to the next canyon wall, you still have a ways to go. This part is more mentally challenging than anything else!

Finally, we came to this narrow point in the above picture, and we knew that the Colorado river was just on the other side. However, here is where we made a tiny mistake: We missed the last river crossing, which would have taken us up the rock face on the left and given us a great overview of the Confluence and the Colorado. Somehow, we had it in our minds that the only way to get to the Colorado was the same way Havasu Creek does: through the canyon. Oh yes, it was deep... chest high on the guys, so probably neck high on me. :p 

However, our mistake led to some unforgettable memories. We decided to leave things that we didn't want to get wet on what we thought was the end of the trail. This included our coats, the guys' shirts, flashlights, cameras, letterbox logbooks, and a few other things. Then, both guys went in through the water, carrying their backpacks over their heads. Curtis had promised to carry me through the deepest parts, and Mitch was going to hold him to that. So after he left the backpack, he turned around and started walking upstream to me. Both Mitch and I will never forget his struggle as he fought the current. It was awesome. :)

Here's the kicker: While we were struggling, we looked up and saw another hiker, walking up on the canyon wall. He yelled some things at us, but we couldn't hear what he was saying...we guessed that he was telling us we were crazy and that we should use the real trail like him, but we had made it this far, we couldn't stop now! Not after seeing how much of a struggle it was for Curtis!

WE MADE IT! Above is the Confluence, where the blue water of Havasu Creek meets the green/brown water of the Colorado. 

We were so excited, but extremely cold! I'm disappointed that we weren't able to enjoy our time here as much. We got some pictures (Both Mitch and I had 2 cameras, we each left one with our "dry things" and brought another, just in case!) then decided to find where our "trail" went without us. Thankfully, there were these naturally formed steps that helped us get up the side and finally meet up with our trail. We followed it down, back to where we were supposed to cross. Mitch ran to grab our dry things, and we had a quick lunch there before beginning our long trek back!

The confluence: where Havasu Creek meets the Colorado river and the Grand Canyon!
It was around 3:00 when we began to hike back. Since we had gotten so many pictures on the way to the Colorado, we didn't feel the need to take any more on the way back. We were starting to warm up again after our cold "swim," thanks to our fast paced hiking. My main motivation at this point was reaching Mooney before sunset...but it wasn't seeming likely, because that was about 8 miles away, and since we were in a canyon it would get darker faster.

Hey look, our bighorn sheep friends again! We saw 7 ewes once again, just a little ways before we had seen them before. We made it past them... only to have the ram waiting for us a ways up the trail. He was standing on the trail and wouldn't move as we got closer. Mitch started yelling at him and clapping his hands. The ram didn't get scared - instead, he took a step toward us. "This is the end! We're done for!" Curtis and Mitch both grabbed the biggest sticks they could find, and I looked around for any place to hide. Nope, we were doomed. Thankfully, with the guys yelling and threatening him, he took off across the river. Whew.

We continued on, going quickly as we could when the trail was easy, taking it slow and carefully when we came to the challenging parts. It started to get dark after we had crossed Sketch Bridge over the rapids. Crossing the creek in the dark just wasn't as fun as it was in the daylight. As frightening as it was when we reached Mooney, knowing we'd have to climb up in the dark, it was still absolutely gorgeous in the moonlight. God blessed us with a beautiful, clear night, with the moon lighting our path and the stars shining bright in the sky. It was truly beautiful and worth seeing.

Going up Mooney was way easier than going down - being able to see where you can put your feet it always a blessing, and not having to look down helps tremendously. Thanks to the flashlights, we were able to make it up quickly and safely, and finally take a truly relaxing break as we sat at the top, admiring Mooney by moonlight. We still had 2 miles to go, but we weren't worried about it because we knew those were easy miles, not life-threatening ones. The man who we had seen just before reaching the Colorado came over to talk with us - he had made it back just a half hour before us and was still enjoying the beauty of the falls. It was fun knowing that we were the only 4 people in the world who had gotten to enjoy the beauty of the entire Havasu Creek on this day. On our way back, we also ran into the night ranger and had a good time talking with him. Besides these 2 men, there was only 1 other couple that we had seen all day. We truly had this entire hike all to ourselves!

We finally made it back to the lodge around 7:30 - which means it took us less than 5 hours to walk the 10 miles from the Colorado to the lodge! We were greatly satisfied with what we had done, and were all able to get some wonderful, much-needed rest after today.

End day 2: Hiked 20 miles
Number of things I did that scared me: 13, but double that if you count having to do them again on the way back. Mooney should definitely be counted twice.

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