Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Grand Canyon Adventure Part 2: The Hike to Supai

In case you missed it:  Part 1 is here


Our first major hike was to the Native American village of Supai which is at the bottom of a canyon in the Western Grand Canyon.  It is an 8 mile hike descending 2,004 feet, with 1 1/2 miles of very steep switchbacks at the beginning. I'm just being very honest when I tell you that from the minute Little Helen told us about this hike, I obsessed about it and worried, worried, worried.  I just figured no matter what we did to try and prepare, it would be hard.  Additionally I was very worried about holding Mr. Helen and Little Helen up.  Remember, my foot was still a bit wonky and I was carrying that extra weight I'd gained - not to mention that we would be hiking with packs that had to hold everything we needed for 2 overnights and the 2 hikes: about 20-25 pounds.  Worried was my middle name.

The road to Hualapai Hilltop, where the trail to Supai begins, is right around the corner from the lodge where we stayed in Peach Springs.  It is a paved road that literally only goes to the Hilltop and is 65 miles long. The Hilltop has a helicopter pad as all supplies into and out of Supai arrive via helicopter or mule train; mules for rent to carry tents and supplies for those who might be camping or for anyone who might not want to hike their items down; and a few horses should one desire to go to Supai via horseback. Once at the Hilltop, you find a place to park, secure your belongings and go.  Literally cars are just parked everywhere and it feels sort of odd leaving your vehicle behind knowing you won't see it for days - but it's safe.

It was overcast, cool and windy on the hilltop so we all put long sleeved shirts or jackets over our short sleeved shirts.  Little did we know how grateful we would be for those overcast skies.

Just as you start on the path, there is a big sign with the rules which basically are people going down yield to people coming up and everyone yields to the mule trains. Which we did, almost immediately upon stepping foot on the trail.

This photo gives you a good idea of just how steep the 1 1/2 miles of switch backs are!

This fellow stopped right in front of me to say hello.

These mule trains would pass us by for the first 4 miles or so of our hike as lots of people were coming out just as we were going in.  I couldn't believe how much they packed on these animals.

After we got past the first couple of switchbacks, the view opened up a bit and suddenly we could see a good deal of the trail that was to come.

The white squiggly line is where the switchbacks end.  It is still a descent but oh so much better.

Love this shot of Mr. Helen and Little Helen, who led the way for us most of the time.  You can see the decline here but that was a lot steeper than it looks in this photo.

Once we were completely off the switchbacks and past the squiggly line we were on the creek bed which is the trail that leads you to Supai.  That part is a much gentler descent and I'm not sure I can even describe just how incredible it was to go deeper and deeper into the canyon and have huge towering canyon walls surround us;  it really was magnificent!  What was really interesting was the flowers and vegetation managing to grow in that desert. I'm just going to post a few photos of the hike here and let me stress that these few photos just don't do it justice!

I really love these next two shots because they give great perspective.  The first is Mr. Helen and me hiking and holding hands.  The next, I asked him to stop and stand under another tree to show off just how amazing this was:  he's 5'11", then there's the tree, then there's the canyon wall which I couldn't even get the top of in the photo!

We came upon this cairn and, of course, needed to mark our presence as well! As you can see we've shed our jackets as it was probably 20 degrees warmer in the canyon floor.

Here's a mule train passing us on the way back in to Supai, packed with camping gear for a new batch of incoming visitors.

Almost there!  When you start seeing the clear blue stream and feel like you're near a forest, that's means only a couple miles to go! The last 1 1/2 miles or so of the hike are on sand, right next to this stream. Beautiful, but hard to hike in that sand, especially with tired legs.

This stream actually runs all the way through the village and the campground to the falls.

The sign says, "Cross bridge to village."

Entering the village.  Mr. Helen is on the right and you can see folks who are hiking out.

These two rock formations are sacred to the tribe.  They believe if they fall, their village and people will be destroyed as well.

We familiarized ourselves with the small village - found the post office (to mail post cards from as they get a special mule train stamp), grocery store (for jugs of water) and restaurant. When we saw that the restaurant closed at 6 p.m. we decided to get an early bite to eat since all we'd had all day hiking was Cliff Bars, trail mix, and water.  The tribe's restaurant has very basic food - and a lot of it fried.  Stuff like french fries, hamburgers, fried chicken, etc.  When I saw they had a green salad on the menu I ordered it as I was definitely craving vegetables and that was literally the only vegetable option.  Thankfully I ordered a hamburger as well because the salad, which Mr. Helen and I had intended to share (we were basing that on the price of it: $6) was about a cup of iceberg lettuce with a couple pieces of cucumber and tomato.  It tasted fine but just wasn't very much, or very nutritious. Right then we all decided that we had an idea why there is such an obesity issue within Native American tribes.  Especially sad in this village as there are NO vehicles and the natives and tourists alike walk everywhere.  Well, I take that back,we saw one "police" golf cart which I thought I'd taken a photo of but missed somehow.

Anyway, we enjoyed looking around at what would be our home for the next two days.

Even in this tiny village, there were two churches!  The first is the Mormon church and the second is a non-denominational Bible Church.

The cisterns that collect water to supply the village

Supai Fire Station!

The lodge where we stayed

Mr. Helen who is used to roughing it and actually doesn't mind camping, called this lodge camping with a roof over your head.  It was a bit better than that - double beds with a shower, towels, and even soap!  But no other amenities - no TV - no internet - nothing.  We were completely isolated with each other and the beauty of the canyon.  It actually was a really fun evening as we sat around in our room and just enjoyed chatting.  Needless to say, we were pretty tired too, 8 miles of moderately hard hiking is tough!  Mr. Helen and Little Helen made fun of me because I fell sound asleep at 8 p.m. and slept clear through the night until 6:30 a.m.  I guess I needed the rest for our next day's plans.

Our next adventure:  hiking to Supai's famous falls.


  1. whoa.
    we really do need to go and bring the child...

  2. What an awesome experience!! My wife and I went to the Grand Canyon South Rim in 2010. We stayed at the El Tovar for a couple nights. We hiked Bright Angel Trail, but only a couple miles down and back. I would have loved to experience your vacation, but I wasn't in as good of shape back then. Also the pack mules have a weight capacity and if you are too fat you cannot ride them down, aside from needing reservations months in advance. Anyway, your trip looks awesome!

  3. I made a brief visit to the Grand Canyon on my 50th birthday and would love to go back. Your trip looks wonderful!

  4. I was actually wondering what kind of salad you would get at a place like that! That's actually my brother's favorite salad, minus the tomato and cucumber. He will just eat iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing and call that a salad.

    Love how big that tree is! I am sure the photo doesn't compare to the real thing!

  5. It always amazes me to see some type of civilization in the most remote of places - the lodge looks really cool with the backdrop of the canyon walls! Love the river, too - again, so unexpected after all the dry, dusty trails!

  6. Wow!!!! Looks so beautiful Helen. Thanks for sharing these pics with us!!!

  7. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!!!

    I have been to the Grand Canyon once but it was part of a round trip and just one day. You guys took the time to explore it the way it should. I love it.

  8. That river shot is amazing! I would love to see the GC some day.

  9. A trip and hike like this just went on my bucket list. It looks glorious!

  10. Egad, I'm jealous. This is one on my bucket list. Thanks for the pictures, and I'll be poring over this repeatedly to absorb the details!