Wednesday, July 11: Grand Canyon: Havasu Canyon
We got up around 7:30. It was already light out, although the sun hadn’t reached us at the bottom of the canyon (it would do so shortly after breakfast).
The main event for the day was to hike below Mooney Falls, and then spend most of the day hiking/wading/swimming around there. Due to Amy’s condition, she was planning to stay in camp, maybe waddle over to the creek, and soak her feet, watch the birds, and pretty much take it easy.
The start of the hike was about a mile through the camping area. Then came the “interesting” part--the descent past Mooney Falls. In short, it is about 130 foot cliff. In 1905, they had a number of near vertical ladders strung together to descend, which from the picture I saw, looked very dangerous. Since then, they had cut some tunnels through the rock, and hacked out some steep irregular steps in the rock, using chains as railings. The main advice was to always have three points of contact, i.e. only move one limb at a time.
Surprisingly, I didn’t have much trouble with my fear of heights. I thought that some of the trails in Acadia were worse. The way I phrased it was that on my scale of fear of heights, it really didn’t register.
These falls are known as being in the Travertine area. There are enough dissolved minerals in the water that as it evaporates, it deposits travertine sort of like stalactites, but in sheets instead of in icicles. Also, in the stream bed itself, for some reason, it tends to build up small “dams” across the stream, so you often get these cascading pools rather than a stream in the normal sense.
We hung out in the pool at the bottom of the falls for a while, then we started this “circuit”. Outbound, we split hiking through the stream/pools and sometimes on the shore next to the stream. Sometimes we walked over the travertine walls that formed the pools.
We visited this one ferny grotto with water dripping from the ceiling. Next to it was a staircase waterfall from a side stream coming in.
At a few places, we paused for a while and people did some wading/swimming. At one such point, I took off my shirt and did some swimming myself. I found that once I got in, the water wasn’t really that bad.
When we got to the end of the interesting stuff, we retraced our route until we got to the staircase waterfall. We then climbed up the waterfall! The only way that this was possible (as well as half of the rock scrabbling we had done in the stream) is that the rocks were inexplicably not slippery! I don’t know why this is, but your feet had a pretty good grip on the rocks without slipping. Otherwise, going up that waterfall would have been asking for it.
My main problem was trying to get up it without getting my camera wet. My case got rather damp, but my camera survived.
We then continued up that side stream a short while into a side canyon, where we had lunch, which was somewhat abbreviated, as we could see the sun creeping closer and closer to the food (and us).
When we finished, we left our packs behind and hiked a short distance up the canyon to where there were a pair of “lemon squeezes”, i.e. some very small openings in a boulder jumble blocking the canyon.
The canyon ended a short distance afterwards. There was a scree slope about 75 feet up the side. Michael of course climbed to the top and then out along a ledge that was a foot or two wide, until he was 10-20 feet above the scree. This was just to get my heart racing, I think.
Then we all climbed back down, squeezed through, got our packs, and headed back to the base of the falls. We hung out there for a while, and then climbed back to the top of the falls. Mike wanted to go first, so the guides let him, with me following. This was accomplished with no problems, except for me bonking my head on literally the last step out of the last tunnel.
We then hiked back to camp.
We had time to kill, so I hiked back along the camping area looking for pictures of the stream. After that, we still had time to kill, so I changed into my hiking boots, and I decided to go back to that first “swimming hole” we had visited the previous day, and take some proper pictures with the tripod.
This is where things got interesting. As I proceeded, taking pictures wherever my fancy desired, I noticed a pretty dark cloud over the main canyon of the Colorado (i.e. down-canyon from us), which had occasional cracks of thunder.
I kept telling myself that it was stupid to go hiking a mile or two up the canyon with a thunderstorm brewing, and with no rain gear, but I really wanted those pictures. Also, I was a bit complacent because it was a desert, and we hadn’t had any rain yet on the trip. So I continued on.
The trail climbed more than I remembered it descending. Eventually, I saw some neat falls below me, with some side trails heading down to them. I took some pictures and continued up the main trail. Particularly with the storm brewing, I didn’t want to take the time for side trips. I just wanted to get to that watering hole, take some pictures, and then head back.
As I continued hiking up the main tail, I started thinking. The main trail was pretty wide, maybe about 5 feet wide. But the trail next to that swimming hole was only a foot or two wide. Obviously we had taken a side trail to get to the watering hole. The more I thought about it, the more sure I was that I had just been taking pictures of the watering hole, but from a different angle.
When I reached the other end of the side trails, I looked back, and the side trail now looked very familiar. I hiked back down it, and sure enough, there was the watering hole. I took some pictures, then with more and more rumblings in my ears, started hiking straight back.
I decided that I had taken my last picture. In my mind, it was sort of a deal between me and the storm: I took the pictures of the watering hole that I wanted, and I would take no more; in exchange the storm would not dump on me.
I began to breathe easier when I got past the Havasu Falls and reached the start of the camp sites. I almost stopped to use the bathroom, but I decided not to and to continue straight to camp.
When I got there, people were just sitting down to appetizers before dinner. I chucked my camera stuff into my tent, and I was halfway to the table to join them, when I felt the first drops. By the time I reached the table, it was clear that the first drops were by no means the last.
Then it started to pour.
There was a mad scurry as people dashed to their tents and jumped in. Once safely dry, I just lay there watching the water on the tent fly, and looking at insects buzzing around between the tent and the fly.
Based on the timing of the storm, literally seconds after I returned, I figured that I must have lived a good clean life. Had I stopped for one more picture, or had I stopped to use the bathroom, I would have been caught away from camp in the heavy rain.
It was very warm in the tent, but it was now also rather humid. I felt like we had switched from being baked to now being steamed.
Eventually the rain let up, and one by one we left our tents. Drew worked also for a different company that had a permanent tent/roof over some picnic tables nearby. They were not using it, so we could use it. The rain was over, but the tables at our site were all wet.
We were getting up around 4:30 so that we could hike out in the cool, so we got our stuff ready (including making sandwiches to be put in the cooler), then hit the sack.
It turns out that only Drew, myself, and the older couple were hiking out. Amy and Mike, and the family of four were all being helicoptered out. Drew said that this kind of ratio was rather unusual.
That night was a bit cooler. Due to the threat of rain, I only undid half of the fly. I started out sleeping out in the open, but later had to drape the sleeping bag over me.
Around midnight, I thought that I needed to use the bathroom, and it was keeping me from sleeping, so I got dressed, put on my Tevas, and walked to the bathroom. At that time, it was very dark. It turned out to be only gas, so I returned and slept the rest of the night.