Arizona, Havasupai

Preparing Physically for Havasupai

Before I go into detail about the hike, I wanted to make sure people know that they should do a little physical preparation if you plan to backpack to and from Havasupai. The first thing everyone asked me when I got back from Havasupai was, “How was the hike?!” And for those who didn’t know where Havasupai was before, they asked me “How do you get there?!” [See previous post :)] I don’t blame them for asking how the hike was because I’d be curious too!

As soon as I got back to civilization, I posted something to Facebook to show that I was alive to my family and friends. That post was 50% “Hallelujah! I actually survived and made it out!” and 50% “I cannot believe Nature created such an amazing place!”

She certainly knew how to protect it too, because it was not easy to get to and from. There were about a thousand times I seriously thought I might not make it out of the scorching canyon. And 90% of those thoughts were during the last 1.5 miles up the merciless switchbacks.

The answer? The hike was HARD.

From the top of the trailhead looking down at the white trail paths below. No shade 🙁
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Look at how desolate and bare the bottom of the valley looks. But a beautiful desolation, huh?

 

The next question that always followed was, “But was it worth it?!” Never mind that I just told them it was hard and I almost died (at least it was one time in my life I really thought it was a possibility) — was it worth it??

Yes. Of course! Have you SEEN the pictures?! 😍 And pictures don’t do the real thing complete justice.

BUT…It was only worth it if you made it out to tell the tale, right? I’m not trying to exaggerate or sound like a baby, but you should definitely try to prepare for this hike (physically and mentally) because it was draining! The hike in wasn’t actually too bad except the last 2 miles, but the hike out was horrendous if you didn’t leave while it was still dark. Case and point = me.

My Physical Ability

Now, a disclaimer: I’m a novice backpacker. I can hike long distances just fine, but I’ve never had to carry all 30 pounds of my supplies on my back before for 10 miles up and down 2400 feet. The difficulty was not even really in the distance or the elevation loss/gain or even the weight that I was carrying. It’s the heat that gets ya. In combination with the rest of all that. It was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit on the day we hiked back out.


Before assuming that I just don’t exercise and it’s my own fault (ha!), here’s a little background about my fitness so you can have some reference:

I’m definitely not the most fit girl I know, and I know my endurance could be much better. But I do go to the gym pretty regularly, twice a week for at least an hour each time. I do a little cardio on the rowing machines or the elliptical with resistance and incline (because I hate running), and then I use the weight machines to work out my arms and core. I can do about 3 pull-ups on my prime days when I’ve been regular about this routine, but I can tell I’ve been slacking when I can only do one. 😝  And then I occasionally do a yoga or Pilates class because core workouts and flexibility are important too!

Admiring Mooney Falls after the descent down the rock tunnels and ladders!

 

Even with this modest regular exercise regimen, this hike kicked my butt on the way out. I will admit that the whole week before we left for our trip, I was also sick, so I didn’t actually go to the gym. I wasn’t fully recovered either when we went, so during the whole trip, I had to have a pack of tissues handy to blow my nose. I was basically sniffling loads of snot the. entire. time. From start to finish. Sigh. (Ew, I know.) And I didn’t have anywhere to really get rid of my Kleenex either! (Double ew.)

Travel Pearl: Keep in mind you that anything you bring into the canyon, you will have to bring back out. This includes trash! A good place to try to unload your trash before the campgrounds is in the Supai village because there won’t be another good place until you’re back out of the canyon.

I think I also had the wrong impression of this hike because the tour groups sites I had read said it was a “moderate hike” and someone else said the “descent was the hardest part.” ALL LIES. Well, sort of. But when we were done with everything, my opinion was that it probably could be a moderate hike if it weren’t so hot and I didn’t have to carry my heavy pack. And the ascent was the hardest part, hands down! For the purpose of getting a more moderate hike, consider hiring a tour group and going when it’s cooler!

Hiring Tour Groups

Before we decided to backpack to Havasupai, I strongly considered was hell-bent on hiring a tour group to take us in so I didn’t have to carry more than 10 pounds (essentially just my water) on me, fight frantically for a permit, research the supplies supplies to obtain, or worry about getting lost. Sounds pretty good not to have to worry about all of that, right?!

Well, my best friend somehow convinced me that the trail didn’t look too hard, that we could do it all on our own, and that she had backpacked before so she knew the supplies to get. “And we can save so much more money!” Sigh. Fine. That last part really got me because she had a point. That, and it was a little harder to fit their tour dates into days that my husband and I could get off from work.

See, plenty of people hike in without tour groups!

 

With the convenience of the tour comes the hefty price tag of $1240-$1400 per person (depending on number of days) before adding in costs of flights, lodging pre and post hike, tour guide gratuity, and some other essential hiking supplies that were not provided. I was looking at budgeting around $4000 for the two of us…for 4 days. Pricey, huh?

So…we trained for it. But if you’re loaded, book the tour!! 😛

Recommended Training per Professional Tour Groups

The tour guide company I reached out to, Wildland Trekking Company, is pretty highly rated. They had emailed me a guide on how to train when I inquired tour date availabilities (see, I was actually serious about booking them!).

Their recommendations were to start 12 weeks before your trip. They advised to get outside at least 3 days a week and do a “short hike” for an hour in length each time with a light daypack. Then, they suggested gradually increasing your hikes to 6-8 hours with increasing weight in your pack, up to 20 pounds.

Now, that sounded really crazy to me back then. Who has 6 hours to hike three times a week?! Okay, granted they advised 2-3 hours hikes on a weekday and the 6-8 hour hike on weekends. But I can see where they were coming from because our hikes in and out were about 6-6.5 hours with some breaks. Still, in a practical world, that’s a lot of commitment.

How We Actually Trained

My husband and I decided to train by first purchasing some basic supplies we’d need to hike and then taking the gear on practice hikes. I would suggest that the top 3 things you should get first to start practicing are:

  1. The right backpack (invest in a good one!)
  2. Quality hiking shoes
  3. Lightweight hiking poles

The other stuff can come later. I learned so much about how which equipment was better, why certain gear was needed, and what the advantages to more expensive gear was, so I will write a future post on this if you’re interested!

Pack. Shoes. Poles. Check x3!
These poles were awesome and a lifesaver. I’m pretty sure I took this photo on accident too.

 

Once we had these items, we loaded up our backpacks with some items like towels, weights, water and made sure to weigh them so we knew how much more to add next time. I started with a pack just under 20 pounds and he had about 25 pounds.

Then we found some nearby trails by our house, suited up with the packs, poles, shoes, and practiced hiking! We got a LOT of funny looks from other people hiking these trails just for leisure, who wondered where we were going or where we were coming from. Haha! The quizzical looks got even more obvious once we bought our awesome floppy sun hats! 😛

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A gorgeous trail near home for an early morning hike
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The rain this year pulled California out of a bad drought and gave us some super green hills!

 

The practice hikes we did were about 5 miles total with some elevation change to get used to the steepness. Over the course of 2 months before our trip, we probably did about 4 hikes (took a vacation to Bora Bora in between lol) and increased our practice packs to about 27 lbs and 34 lbs, respectively, as we acquired other gear we were actually going to bring. Our actual packs ended up being closer to 30 lbs and 40 lbs, respectively. (We overpacked.)

An added bonus of practicing that I enjoyed was getting the chance to explore all the trails I didn’t know that existed near home. We’re lucky that we live in California where good hikes and views are a dime a dozen! I definitely think without these hikes, I would have done worse on the actual hike. But what I should have done was actually doing a 10 mile hike before the trip too!

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California hiking! What a majestic tree!

Travel Pearl: Practice hikes allowed me to get used to walking with hiking poles, break in my shoes, and learn how to adjust my pack and notice where all the various pockets and closures were. If you can at least do ONE practice hike, you can get the benefits of these things at a minimum! 🙂

I hope outlining all of this was helpful for you to get an idea of the hike and mentally prepare too. It’s no walk in the park is all I will say. For experienced backpackers, it may be easier, but for someone who didn’t even know why people needed hiking poles before this trip, it was definitely a challenge so don’t underestimate  it! I don’t regret doing it, but I’d train a lot harder next time! Or take a helicopter out! 😛

Next post coming — details on the actual hike into the canyon and some beautiful photos of the gorgeous journey to the Havasupai campgrounds!

4 thoughts on “Preparing Physically for Havasupai

  1. I love this post! You’re right, people tend to focus on the actual hike, but don’t realize all the planning, effort, and training you put into it. Your boundaries were tested both mentally and physically, and you’re stronger now because of it! So proud of you!!! (p.s. love your writing too, you have a gift with words!)

    1. Aw thanks Nina!! 🙂 yea I just wanted people to realize that sure there’s a pretty picture waiting at the end, but make sure to know your limits too and understand it’s not an easy hike! Haha I think we had some understanding of it so we prepped but I didn’t truly get how hard it was til I did it!! Thanks so much for the encouragement 🙂

  2. Wow, that definitely sounds very difficult! I know I wouldn’t be able to hike it unless I built up more endurance. The mule story from your previous post has me wondering how much they would really charge to carry a person (if you were absolutely dying and could not walk anymore). Great information for people who are considering this trip since I’m sure the gear is not cheap and you have to book way early in advance.

    1. Thank Stel!! 🙂 I think they charge between $100-$200 to transport a person, and maybe it’s a good option for people who really can’t physically do it! But it’s still going to be hot so definitely hydration is important. And I feel slightly bad for the animals haha

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