I Challenged Myself to Hike Havasupai Falls and Got Out of the Canyon on Crutches
Let me tell you the story, and I hope you get a good laugh. After spending the night in a beat-up hotel on the famous Route 66, Brett and I headed to Hualapai Hilltop, where the 10-mile hike starts. Standing there, I looked down at the long, dry, and rocky Havasupai trail, which takes around eight hours to hike down. A rush of adrenaline and fear hit me hard; however, there was no going back. I had driven seven hours from Ogden, Utah, to get there, and I spent about $1,500 on backpacking gear and a sexy leopard bikini. More than anything, though, I had planned my victory dance.
The trek started down a steep set of switchbacks where the zig-zag makes your legs burn. They are one mile long, and after that, the trail gets a tiny bit easier. I challenged myself to do the 20-mile hike for three reasons; I was doing 35 adventurous and cool things before turning 35. I wanted to feel that I still could do challenging physical activities regardless of my arthritis. Lastly, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. Seeing my tiny 5-feet body carrying a backpacking backpack almost as big as me descending 2,500 feet into the bottom of the Grand Canyon was funny. The Havasupai Indian reservation doesn’t allow alcohol, or else I’d hiked down, sipping down some mojitos.
Very few times, I have felt as alive as I did hiking the vast coral Canyon. A mixture of adrenaline, peace, and pride filled my whole being. Physical pain was not going to stop me. So, I told my joints off and hiked like I was pain-free. Some things are made to be enjoyed slowly. We took our time to admire the cool rock formations and climb up a few gigantic rocks. The towering cliffs and canyon walls make the perfect background for selfies and goofy pictures.
Many hikers from around the world hiked in and out of the Canyon. There is this certain camaraderie among hikers that adds to the experience. Those coming out smiled and cheered us up, “You’re almost there!” “You will love it!” and those coming in stopped to exchange a few words about the adventure we had embarked on. Many were from European countries, some from India, and a few from Latin America.
A sandy and rocky trail makes for good exercise and gets your belly hungry. After walking for eight miles, you get to the village, where you register in the tiny tourism office. The small town has a cafeteria, a store, a little clinic, a helicopter landing track, and a crazy-expensive hotel. Brett and I hurried into the cafeteria and ordered Navajo tacos. Our feet were pounding, and our legs were shaking in exhaustion. Stopping to eat is kind of a bad idea because you lose momentum and then don’t feel like hiking the next two miles to the campground.
I dragged myself to the campsite, and by that point, I was more fried than an egg under an Arizona summer sun. Two more miles Francia, and you will swim in turquoise water! I told myself.
You’re almost there! Announced a trio of 60 and 70-something women, more energetic than me in my best times. “You will see a hut and smell the Navajo tacos; from there, it is less than half a mile to the campsite.” One of them said. They were right. My eyes crossed in excitement when I saw the hut and smelled the tacos I couldn’t eat because we had no cash. Bummer!
We walked a few more steps down, and there it was, the famous, dreamy, glorious Havasu Falls in all its majestic! I took my camera out and the memory recording started. I’ve made it! I had hiked ten miles of rough and steep terrain in the heat of a beautiful day in March.
Walking into the campground was an exquisite multicultural experience. People speaking different languages were warming up by fire pits, carrying water, resting in hammocks, and telling stories.
From that moment on, I had the time of my life, even when my knees and ankles wanted to give up on me. That raw thrill that worked through my body felt exquisite. We got a fantastic camping spot right in front of the green river. We quickly set up the tent ,got drinking water from the artesian spring, and made dinner. The night was quiet; the stars sparkled and shimmered against the black canvas. That night we enjoyed ourselves and the surroundings. We let ourselves submerge into the magnificent and peaceful Grand Canyon’s vastness. The mellow sound of the stream running along the camp echoed, accompanied by the calming sound of cricket chirping.
The following two days, we trekked through one of the most enchanted paradises on Earth. The hike to Mooney Falls is nerve-wracking. The descent is steep and very risky. The rocks and the few “stairs” get soaked with water and dew and have been worn smooth by the myriad of travelers. There is no other way to get to falls than going through a short and narrow tunnel, which can be pretty claustrophobic. While descending, you must hold onto a chain like your life literally depends on it while the wind and wet breeze from Mooney Falls get you wet.
Brett jumped in one of the ponds, and I posed against the fall in my sexy fuchsia swimsuit. We crossed turquoise water to get to the breathtaking Beaver Falls, and from there, we witnessed nature’s grandiosities. Along the trail, we encountered deer and ducks, and many birds.
You climb up and climb down and do it all again. That’s how it goes to get to the five falls. The trek is an adventure in and of itself. When night came, the breeze of the trees soothed us into a deep sleep, but not before gazing at what seemed like an infinite stars-paved street.
We woke up super early to hit Havasu Falls, Navajo Falls, and Fifty Foot Falls. The morning sun shone over the blue and green turquoise water. We’d decided to depart that day since our kids were missing us, and we would spend two days getting home. So after spending time at the majestic can’t-belive-it-is-real Havasu Falls, we packed and started our 10-mile hike out.
Everything was going perfectly until all of a sudden, I felt a sharp, excruciating pain in the middle of my left foot. Every step I took afterward felt like agony. There was no point in going back to the camp because we were already halfway to the village. Nevertheless, I proudly boast that I walked more than a mile with a hurt foot. It took me a little more than an hour, and when I saw the village entrance, I wanted to jump into happiness. However, jumping with one foot is rather hard, so I just smiled with joy. My husband, who had gone ahead to get help, took me to the clinic. The doctor said there was nothing they could do. So, I bought crutches and went to the hotel. I needed to find a room before night. There was no way I could hike up 8 miles to the top and then to our car or walk the two miles back to the campsite. My mouth fell open when the receptionist told us it was $400 the night. Are you kidding me?! I took my crutches and walked out.
The helicopter only carries tourists out on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The rest of the days, it carries the villagers out. Since it was a Wednesday, they refused to fly me out. It was cruel if you ask me. We had two choices, either sleep on the sidewalk or hike back to the camp, which would be painful and take me forever. Keep in mind that I am hiking on crutches carrying a 50-pound backpack. The tourism office ladies should have seen the concern on our faces because they offered to ride us back to the camp and told us they would find someone to take me out of the canyon on a horse.
Night came, Brett made dinner, and despite it all, I felt intense peace as intense as the pain in my foot. I felt happy and fulfilled.
The next morning things got exhilarating. At around 7:00 am, a guy picked me up and put me on a brown horse and my backpack on another horse. His horses, approximately five, would carry the tourists’ bags up to Hualapai Hilltop. It would take about three hours. He tied all the horses with the same rope to keep them close to each other. I said bye to my husband. He had to hike out. From there, the real adventure began.
Around 20 minutes later, the adventure turned dangerous, thrilling, nerve-racking, daring, and unforgettable. A herd of wild horses ran through scaring all the horses and mine. He jumped, kicked, and moved violently. It almost sent me onto the ground face-first. It happened again later. A big black horse trying to avoid the wild ones, slammed his heavy body against my injured foot. I felt nauseous with pain. But I held onto the reins and tried not to scream to avoid more commotion. My heart was racing and my foot pounding.
After riding for a couple of hours, one of the horses got spooked by something and scared the rest. They were tied to the one the guide was riding. As we were on a narrow high rocky trail, he untied them to avoid them falling into the abyss. They ran away, and mine ran at a full gallop. He gained speed at every stride. He galloped down hillIs and up hills. I looked like a horsewoman, so hikers enthusiastically waved hello, not realizing I was terrified and had no control of the horse. It took me seconds, which seemed years, to realize that to avoid my skull getting cracked on the ground, I had to manage my fear and control my horse. My memory took me back to when one of my aunts rode her black horse through a steep mountain with my 10-year-old hands holding onto her waist. She took the rein like a goddess and showed the horse who was the boss. Whenever I controlled my fear, I felt invincible, unstoppable, and on top of the world. Whenever fear controlled me, I almost fell several times and yelled at the hikers, “Move away, I can’t control the horse!” They jumped away from the road looking at the fear plastered on my face.
My body jumped up and down and the crutches bounced on the horse’s sides, but he wouldn’t stop his race. Even though my hands were frantically shaking, I hold onto the handle as if my life literally depended on it. The wind was blowing so hard, and the pounding of the hooves and my heart were so loud I couldn’t hear anything else. I used my injured foot to hit hard on him while yelling, “Oh, oh,” like my grandfather used to do when riding his horses in the meadow. There was a moment when the horse’s right hoof was half in the trail and half in the air—just inches from the precipice. I dared to look down and saw what my deathbed would be. Luckily, my horse manically raced up the switchbacks, and I finally got to Hualapai Hilltop. I walked to my car in an injured foot and shaking legs.