Imagine being the only hikers/backpackers/campers in Havasu Canyon. It was awesome. A winter storm had hit on Thursday night and had closed I-40 east and west of Flagstaff and closed I-17 south of Flagstaff. There were 1-3 inches of accumulation at lower elevations and 6-8 inches of accumulation on part of the Hualapai Reservation road. The forecast called for cold temperatures, more snow Friday night with rain at lower elevations. I had some anxiety but was up for the challenge. Eric has camped in snow on Shasta and had the skill & experience for much worse than forecasted. It's all about being prepared, having the right gear and knowing how to use it in the cold. Layers and layering.
We left Phoenix at 0600 figuring that would give some time to clear roads. ADOT had done a great job of clearing the roads. Indian Road 18 on the Hualapai Reservation was a different story. It looked like a couple of Ford F350s had gone in creating a single lane double track through the snow. The weather was gray and menacing as we pressed on. Open range cattle slowed us down a little. Got to Hualapai Hilltop around 1115 and hit the trail by 1130.
The hike down the switchbacks was pleasant. About an hour in we saw a couple hiking out. They were anxious about the road conditions and all their gear was wet from the weather the night before. The 5 miles or so through the canyon gets to be a slog. And that Bell 206L-1 helicopter (N85AW) sure makes a lot of trips. At about the 6 mile mark we met two backpackers heading out, one with a Park Service cap who told us we were almost to the bridge. Checked in at the Tourist office and got our tags. A Havasupai woman talked with us outside the Tourist Office. She seemed incredulous that anyone would want to backpack or camp in these conditions. We told her this was really not bad - just a matter of being prepared. Adapt, Improvise and Overcome. OOHRAH!! I think she must have thought that we had "very strong mojo" or were crazy.
Ate at the Cafe then headed to the campground. We were amazed by all the horse droppings all over the campground. We speculated as to whether or not the horses were left to roam or were used for work projects? (perhaps both). I guess they just let the droppings naturally decompose into the campground. Do they clean it up better in the summer? This campground is huge. We chose a campsite along the creek about 100 meters from the camp gate and set up camp. We went over to Fern Spring for water. Eric couldn't understand why there was a chlorinator attached to the spring. I figured it was because they were collecting the flow in a cistern and needed to keep the cistern clean. With all of the horse manure and general lack of sanitation we decided to filter anyway. Used my new Platypus Gravity filter and it worked like a charm. Threw the filter into a ziplock and into my sleeping bag to keep it from freezing. Freezing will ruin these flow-through filters. Went to bed about 1830 and the rains started. At about 0300 I touched something that seemed cold & wet. I had visions of a seam leak. I've used this tent in heat and cold and had noticed some wear on the seams. In retrospect, it was just some condensation. But I am going to condition this rainfly before I use it again. Eric apparently had visions of the creek flooding and got up a few times to gauge the rise of the creek.
Rain had decreased to a cold drizzle which continued all day. We got up a little before 0700 and made breakfast. The piezo on my Jetboil would not fire up in the cold and damp so we lit it with a butane lighter. Eric had his Keen watershoes and hydrosocks. I went with Keen sandals and hydrosocks. Getting down to Mooney was "sporty" with the wet and icy conditions. But having Mooney all to ourselves was awesome. The cold created a foggy misty condition. Definitely not the "tropical oasis" in all the calendars, but amazing none the less.
We headed down to Beaver Falls. Found the first creek crossing easily. It was a little above our knees. Went down the east side and found the second creek crossing by the rope swing. It was a little below our knees. This was not a day to play on the rope swing. The grapevines are amazing. We got to a place in the trail where there was a small island with 3 white rocks as a cairn. We thought that was cute but not sure what it meant. We kept going down the west side of the creek even as it got tougher. Sometimes up a little higher sometimes down in the creek. We kept looking for a crossing. Found some orange trail ribbons which got our hopes up. We found the orange trail ribbons where that group had crossed, but the creek was running a lot higher today. And I slipped off a log and tumbled into the creek which got Eric worried about me getting hypothermia. So we started backtracking up creek. Finally found a place that looked like a good crossing, I looked about 10 meters upstream and there was that cute white rock cairn. Crossed the creek. Water was a little higher than our ankles. And kept going. Found the Palm tree and the rope wall. A nice looking red rope (10mm -11mm) with nicely spaced knots has been installed. Eric went first. The rock was really wet and slick. Looks like you can go up the left, up the middle or up the right. Eric went up the right to get some assistance from the crack on that side. If it hadn't been so wet it looks like up the middle might be best. At the top Eric asked "Now what?" I said "I don't know but I think it keeps going up". He found the rebar and looked a little further and found the log with the steps hacked into it. I hit a comfort zone moment here and worried about the anchor being sound or the rope frayed. But I figured Eric would check those and warn me. I trust Eric's skills and judgment. So on we went. Saw a few ways down to Beaver Falls but we wanted to get to the National Park Boundary sign. That was as far upstream from the River that Arizona Raft Adventures had let our rafting group hike. So this completed my Hilltop - River - Hilltop segments. I wanted to keep going down to the creek, but we decided to turn around.
Meandered back to camp. Made dinner. The sky was starting to clear and the moon was visible as we turned in. I had quite a bit of anxiety about the road conditions we would face in the morning.
Woke up a little after 0630. Ate, packed and hit the trail a little before 0900. The Village was quiet. A horse was blocking the path. We approached it calmly and worked our way around it before we realized it was probably blind. At the Rodeo Grounds a white bull was blocking the path, calmly worked our way around it (realized it wasn't a bull any more but had been veterinarily adjusted) and kept going.
This canyon can get to be monotonous (unless you are running from a wall of water in monsoon season). It must be like an oven in the summer.
Took our time and got to the Hilltop a little after 1300. Temperature showed 27degrees. The road was plowed and not icy. Hallelujah!!. We had planned on stopping at Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delgadillo's_Snow_Cap_Drive-In
in Seligman but they are apparently closed on Sunday. Went on to Williams and ate at Cruisers Cafe 66. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g31407-d517455-Reviews-Cruisers_Cafe_66-Williams_Arizona.html
A great adventure and a nice test of our cold & inclement weather skills.
Eric was curious about the history of the Cataract Mine. So here it is.
And whether there are any health concerns of lime/mineral content in the water.