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My sister tells the story all the time. The one about me being a whiny little sister. The one where I preferred not to walk. Or run. But instead, when faced with covering some ground by non-motorized means, my go-to response would be: Can somebody carry me?? (pleading in the whiniest of voices to be sure – at least that’s the way my sister tells it).
I can picture my chubby cheeks in the photo of the three of us sisters crammed into the dinosaur soup pot at the Drumheller campground (you know the one, we all have this picture in the archives, don’t we?) and the defeated look on my face that says, Seriously, we have to explore the hoodoos now?! Can somebody carry me?!
I’m not sure what age this was. I’m thinking it was likely sometime before the Can I pleeeeease read out loud to you? phase and sometime after the phase that had already earned me the nickname “Chubby Cheeks.” But I can’t be sure. My sister usually tells this story when I am planning a trip — a hike, a trek, something requiring two feet (my own) and a heartbeat. And we laugh. It’s funny. I’m sure I was adorable.
I don’t remember exactly when I decided to put one foot (my own) in front of the other, but ever since, I have been constantly amazed at the incredible places that can be experienced by simply doing just that.
I do remember specifically, however, what made me want to pursue my most recent hike that took me into Havasu Canyon on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in northern Arizona — Instagram! More specifically, it was a photo taken by selfie stick held high above the head of a person walking precariously across a wobbly ladder bridge while the most spectacular blue-green water gushed underfoot. Turns out apparent danger is what does it for me.
And so, I made it my mission to visit this seemingly untouched oasis. Which was perhaps a bit naive. Turns out one needs not only two feet and a heartbeat to visit, but also a whole lot of luck, persistence, patience, and a high tolerance for busy signals to be one of the lucky ones each year to secure a permit. Read here for more permit and logistics info.
And so, with permit in hand (two years later, not for lack of trying to come sooner!), I find myself at the Hualapai Hilltop trailhead at the end of Indian Road 18 checking in with a man with a clipboard who also appears to be tasked with simultaneously herding mules and people and backpacks. Because we are not using any external
horse mule power, we simply give our names, snap the o-blog-atory pre-hike photo and head off down, down, down the switchbacks cut into the cliff.
I let the thought of the inevitable return trip back up, up, up slip into my consciousness for but a minute before focusing on the expanse that lay ahead. The red canyon walls narrow around us, enveloping us. It feels grand. Like the Grand Canyon’s charming and slightly more approachable neighbour. I feverishly take photos, thinking it can’t possibly get any more beautiful. And then it does. Around each and every corner. I foolishly try to catalog the trail before conceding that I am not going to be able to do it justice (I mean, the Auto setting on my SLR—
the only mode I know my preferred mode — is good, but sometimes mental pictures are the best). Not to mention that preoccupation with digital devices leads to narrowly escaping the path of oncoming mule trains — the sherpa of choice for many hikers and the official mail carriers of the Havasupai tribe (the smallest Indian nation in America) living in the village of Supai, eight miles from the nearest road, at the base of Havasu Canyon, and the only place in America where mail is still delivered by mule. I can’t help but wonder if Amazon Prime honors its delivery promises down here.
An old man stooged on a boulder smiling a toothless grin under a hat brim that looks like it has withstood its fair share of flash rain storms, high noon sun exposure, and many an afternoon nap points us in the direction of the village and assures us we are ten minutes away. Ten minutes later, I give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant 10 minutes by horseback (his trusty steed having been loyally ground-tied beside him). A solid 25 minutes later, we reach the village.
We check in at the registration office, get the ever-important tent tag and wristband to prove we belong (yep, just like a resort, without the swim-up bar. Or pool boy. Or, ya know, beds.), and carry on toward camp. We weigh up our surroundings. We smile at locals. We look just a little too long into backyards. We are curious. We are outsiders. We pass the Fry Bread stand, the rodeo grounds, the basketball courts, the school, the general store, and the jayco holiday trailer parked behind a home. We are thinking “We’re almost there!” while simultaneously thinking, “Aren’t we there yet?!” But, if I’m honest, considering the path we have traveled down, I am mostly thinking, “How did all of this get all the way down here?!” We pass through the ‘centre of town’ and take a hard left right on out of it. The campground, and Havasu Falls, is still two miles away — much of the way in deep sand. The calf-burn is real.
At the first sight of Havasu Falls, to my admitted surprise, it is indeed everything Instagram promised it would be! True story. Despite its lure, we resist the urge to strip off our packs and sweaty clothes and run straight into that beautiful blue water in our underthings! Instead, we opt to stake out territory in the campground, set up our tent in record time (and in the company of the resident dog population), change into our swimming things (hiking underthings afterall are especially unattractive at best) and return to the base of the falls to experience our reward up close and personal. Backpackers are congregated — swimming, cannon-balling into pools carved out by cascades, and soaking up rays. It is here that I discover the joy of the newly purchased selfie stick, ‘capturing the magic’ two-years in the making, while Nekky rescues a small child who gets swept over a cascade and can’t swim. For real. NBD.
And while the base of Havasu Falls is an easy approach, Mooney Falls, just beyond the other end of the campground, is accessible via a rock tunnel, a series of slippery near-vertical ladders, soaking-wet handholds, carved-in-stone steps, and a good dose of hoping for the best. But so worth it! With the place to ourselves, we rope swing (and by we, I mean Nekky. I don’t like to get my head wet. It’s a thing. I don’t know why) and like the instagrammers who have come before, we attempt to take that money shot in front of the waterfall (and by we, I mean me). Yoga pose and all.
Except, I don’t actually do yoga. It’s not that I have anything against it. I’ve just never given it the ol’ college try. I went to a hot yoga class. Once. But I’m not sure that counts.
Before hiking to Havasupai, I had browsed the hashtags, been in awe of the blue water set off against the red rock canyon walls, and been determined to get my own insta-worthy pose in this coveted location. Except, well, I apparently don’t have a say-cheese presence that is anything resembling a graceful, zen-like, natural pose. Which is why, instead of that picture-perfect, striking, whimsical pose I had in my head, I have this giggling picture of me poorly impersonating someone who actually does yoga. (Truth be told, I also walked away with a few particularly unflattering rear shots; a photo sequence that includes flailing arms and ridiculous slo-mo faces as I fall off that
stupid perfectly placed stump; an entire picture progression with my body in various states of imbalance brought on by one especially humiliating attempt at an arabesque; and, obviously, the most patient behind-the-camera guy on the planet.)
So, I don’t do yoga. Clearly. My first go at it on a slippery log in the middle of a waterfall was perhaps a bit misguided. (Technically my second go if you count that hot yoga class.)
Turns out my favourite snap from the trip was taken upon arrival, taking in the first breathtaking views of Havasu falls, relishing the accomplishment. And while I continue to envy the pictures and poses of others more yoga-inclined than myself that show up in my feed, creating a picture-perfect replica is not in the cards for this gal. And while I thought the trip was about the take-away shot, the story my sister tells reminds me that it is indeed instead about celebrating what I can do! I can (and often do, lucky me!) make my way to fancy-strike-a-pose-worthy locations with just two feet (my own) and a heartbeat. Inability to strike an actual fancy pose notwithstanding.
never almost never ask somebody to carry me. (Anymore).