The first thing I remember about the hike to Havasupai, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, is the heat. It was “drain your life force” heat. “Make your feet drag” heat. “Throat as dry as the sand you’re stepping on” heat. It bounced off the limestone, sandstone, and shale and wound its way across my body, engulfing me until the only words I could mutter with my leaden tongue were, “It’s… so… hot.”
Maybe there was an expletive at the end of that sentence. Probably not. Cursing would have required too much energy. It was no later than 11 am and I couldn’t have been more than two miles in, but I was already more than halfway through my water bottle. There was more water in my backpack, four gallons of it, but I’d need that for the days to come.
A line of pack mules clomped past, ankles wobbling slightly as they picked a path across the rocks. They were burdened with bags and water jugs. A few carried riders, who looked at me with a mix of guilt and pity.
“I should have put my backpack on a mule,” I mumbled, stepping under a shady rock overhang. (Though maybe I shouldn’t have, the Havasupai have come under scrutiny over the treatment of these animals.) I readjusted my pack, cinching the straps so tight across my hips that I felt short of breath. Anything to offload weight from my shoulders.
“How close you reckon?” my Aussie buddy Sam grunted.
“Not close,” I said, stepping out of the shadow cast by the overhang. “Not even close to close.”
I was right. We weren’t even close to close. The thing about the hike to Havasupai Falls is that you feel every inch of the eight miles down into the canyon before you arrive at Supai Village and every millimeter of the last two miles, to the famed falls and camping area. By that point, your pack is chafing, the tops of your ears are sunburnt, and your desire to have a conversation of any sort has been obliterated. It’s a strenuous, often agonizing trip.
Which begs the question: Is it worth it? Is a few days of fun at Havasupai worth the effort of the hike into the canyon? Is it worth the oppressive heat? Is it worth lugging your water in and your trash out? Yes. One million times, yes.
Trekking to Havasupai Falls — to dive into that iconic water, bask on the banks of the river, and hike up the creek bed — is one of the last great adventures in this country. It’s wild and raw in a way that so few experiences are these days and worth every ounce of effort. The peeled up toenails after stumbling on rocks. The sunburns that make your skin flake. The planning and racing to score reservations. All of it.