A few weekends ago, I survived my first backpacking-and-camping-in-the-middle-of-nowhere experience. It was intense! I hiked in 100 degree weather and spent four nights eating dehydrated astronaut food and sleeping in a tent full of ants. Yeah, I couldn’t believe I’d paid to do that either. Here’s a recap:
My Hike to Havasu Falls: A Photo Recap
Sleeping with spiders in a parking lot
My friends and I wanted to hike down to the waterfall at sunrise so that we’d avoid most of the heat, which was why we drove out to to The Grand Canyon National Park trailhead the night before. The plan was that we’d be get a good night’s sleep and be rested and ready to go at daybreak. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work because not only did we NOT get a good night’s sleep, but we got a late start the next morning and wound up hiking in the heat anyway. Which sucked. Big time.
This was because hundreds (yes, HUNDREDS) of hikers had had the same idea. The parking lot was packed and noisy and we had the misfortune of trying to sleep next to a boy scout troop who stayed up all night talking and blasting music. It didn’t help that I was sleeping outside either (I was too lazy to pitch a tent and slept on top of a blanket), because every 20 minutes or so, I was jolted awake by the tiny spiders who were attempting to colonize my face.
And then there was the cold. Here’s me at the beginning of the hike wearing a sweatshirt. Yep, a sweatshirt! In the desert! In July.
Too bad the chilly weather didn’t last long. I shed my sweatshirt about 10 minutes into the hike down. Here’s me posing with my ginormous bag, right before the sun rose and nearly killed us all.
I was still in a good mood at that point, optimistic that the hike wouldn’t be that bad. Ha.
Running away from a stampede of horses
Although I’d known that the hike would be long, I’d thought it’d be tolerable because we’d be walking mostly along flat terrain. What I hadn’t accounted for, however, was how hard it’d be to walk in sand. I also hadn’t accounted for the fact that every half hour or so, I’d be dodging stampedes of large animals. The Indian village of Supai, Arizona is one of the most isolated places in the world and the only way anyone can reach it is either via helicopter or by foot. There’s no way to reach the village by car, so the locals use donkeys and horses to bring down supplies. Thus, several times during the hike I had to jump out of the way of a stampede of horses and donkeys. The trail was narrow and the horses would come charging down at full gallop. At one point I had to scramble up a hillside to get out of the way and wound up pulling a muscle.
As it turned out, although I hadn’t packed much, what I had packed wasn’t light weight enough for trekking. My tent was huge and bulky and not one of those ultra lightweight, one-person backpacking tents everyone else had brought, and my sleeping bag was thick and made for cold weather, not the 100 degree heat, which also made it heavier. My friends’ packs were at least 10 pounds lighter, which made a big difference. It’s true what they say, every ounce counts! Especially when you’re hiking in sand.
And then a dog peed on me (true story!)
When I finally reached the village, I was so exhausted, I collapsed on a patch of grass in front of a shack selling ice cream. My muscles felt like jelly, I was hot and drenched in sweat and could barely summon up the energy to say hello when a few other backpackers sat down next to me. That was why I barely reacted when one of the village street dogs wandered over and proceeded to lift his leg and pee on my backpack. I just watched in daze, too numb from exhaustion to do to anything but half-heartedly wave my hiking boot at him.
It was all worth it though when we arrived to the waterfalls (which were two miles outside of the village). They were gorgeous.
We camped next to this river. The campsite had compost toilets and a water spring that you could collect fresh water from. Although I’d brought a water filter with me, I didn’t actually need use it because the water was drinkable.
Camping was rustic. Over the next four days, I ate mostly dehydrated mac and cheese and beans and rice, which I cooked over a small gas stove (fires weren’t allowed at the campsite) and I shared my tent with a family of ants and a baby lizard (luckily, they mostly left me alone). That first day I did nothing but lay by the waterfall and sleep, too hot and sore to do much else. Everything hurt. I could barely stand and even walking to the bathroom or the water spring was a slow and painful experience. My hips hurt, my ribs, my writs…I had blisters all over my feet and I was sunburned. I felt as though I’d been hit by truck…or a stampeding donkey. I don’t think I’ve ever been in that much pain. It was intense.
I was lucky though. Several people I was camping with got heat stroke and one person got water poisoning, which I hadn’t even known was possible. Apparently he’d become OVER-hydrated – he’d drunk too much water – which made him sick. He threw up and then fainted and later had to be helicoptered out of the canyon. Crazy!
By the second day, though, I was feeling better, and my friends and I went and explored some of the neighboring falls. We also went swimming and cliff jumping, which was TOTALLY AWESOME.
Yes, the water really was that color. None of these pictures were photoshopped!
Despite the torturous hike down, the trip was definitely worth it. While I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to consider myself one of those hardcore wilderness types and it’ll be a while before I embark on another long hike like that, it was fun “living off the land” for a few days. When it was all over, I was bruised, blistered, sunburned, exhausted and in desperate need of a shower, but I was also proud of myself, too. I’d done something scary, challenging and completely out of my comfort zone, but I’d survived.