Hiking Havasupai – My Successful Return to Hiking

Havasupai Falls Hike Arziona

Forgetting the ibuprofen was a bad idea.  It was a rookie mistake and I was paying the price for it.  I sat down heavily on a concrete and rock wall next to several other sweaty, dust covered hikers taking advantage of one of the last shady spots left in the rocky canyon.  I pulled the hat from my throbbing head and wiped the sweat from my brow, eyeing a line of horses kicking up dust on their way up the steep switchbacks toward us.  I wanted to stay ahead of the horse pack but I was loosing steam.  As I caught my breath and waited for the aching in my knees to subside I made idle chit-chat with the guy next to me.  There was probably less than a half a mile left, but it was the hard half mile…and my body was constantly reminding me that I was neither young nor in shape anymore.

The guy beside my made some comment, by this point I was barely listening, and I looked up to see the horses were right on top of us and moving fast around the bend in the switchbacks.  As the huge animals jockeyed for position they took up the entire trail squeezing out our lazy spot in the shade.  One horse cut the outside route with a gallop right toward me and I shot up and spun myself toward him and to the outside edge of the trail, just narrowly missing being trampled by the beast.

“Ha ha!  I thought you were tired!”, one of the other resting hikers was amused by my sudden agility.

It’s amazing what a little adrenaline can do for you.

Most anyone who reads here knows I’ve been struggling with injuries for the better part of a year.  Even though last year was one of the most amazing travel years I’ve ever had, the whole thing was a huge, painful struggle.  Last May I found out I had a double stress fracture in my right foot that sidelined me for the better part of 3 months.  As soon I recovered somewhat from that, I injured my left knee.  When I rushed to get back to training after the knee felt better I quickly re-injured my knee even worse and had to resign myself to doctor’s visits and physical therapy.  I had worked hard over the last several years to get into shape and be able to do the kinds of adventures and travel that I enjoy and this year of pain and frustration was a major setback.

Coming back from this many injuries back to back has been a frustratingly slow process.  I’ve had to accept a lot of limitations and come to terms with losing the fitness level I had earned.  It felt like I had thrown away years worth of work and effort.  But taking it slow was going to be necessary if I was ever going to get back anywhere near where I was.

Mooney Falls Havasupai Hike

 

 

Hanging out at Havasupai Falls

I think it was October or November when we decided we were going to hike Havasupai.  My wife and I have been talking about going for years.  I have hiked into Havasupai several times since moving to Arizona but she had never been and has been asking to go nearly as long as I’ve known her.  When her sister offered to let their oldest come out to visit us, my wife thought it would be a great opportunity to show off our state by taking him into Havasupai and showing him an amazing time.  Jason is 14, athletic and is active in the Boy Scouts so taking him on a sweet multi-day backpacking trip to one of the most beautiful places in the country was a great plan.  For Christmas we sent him an old National Geographic magazine with an article about Havasupai, writing in the magazine “April 2014, prepare yourself!”.

As April drew closer, I didn’t seem to be any closer to healed and certainly not healed enough to train for the hike.  If I was going to be able to go at all it was going to be right on the heels of finishing rehab, with no prep.  Goody for me.

Beaver Falls Havasupai Hike

Hiking Havasupai is an interesting experience.  I’ve done it several times and even though it’s close to 12 miles to the campground it’s mostly downhill on the way in.  The switchbacks are the first thing and they’re over quickly (and your’re going down so it’s not as bad).  Then it’s just a long canyon hike down a dry creek bed for the most part.  The hike out is something else entirely and first timers are often taken by surprise at how challenging it can be.  That long slow, easy downhill all the way in turns into an imperceptible uphill grind that saps your energy and then dumps you at the foot of a mile or so of switchbacks fully exposed to the desert sun.  It’s usually not something you do on a whim with no training or a good base fitness level.  I had neither.

Jason did great and his boundless 14 year old energy had him running circles around us for the most part.  I hope we were able to give him an experience he’ll never forget.  I felt like we could have done better had I been more physically prepared for the hike, but all in all we did well.  We put in over 30 miles of hiking that weekend, explored and swam around countless waterfalls, he slept in a hammock for the first time and got to see at least part of the Grand Canyon.  For me, I got to revisit one of my favorite places on the planet and show it off to my wife.  But more than that, I proved to myself that I have recovered from my injuries and can get serious about getting back to the kind of shape that will allow me to keep up with the serious hikers.

I was pretty beat up most of the time we were in the canyon, walking around sore and in pain.  But it was the soreness of muscles worked past their limits, feet sore and bruised from over-activity, NOT the pain of injury.  My knees held up well despite my lack of preparation and meager fitness.  Despite the soreness we pushed through to go see more stuff, jump off waterfalls and swim in the shallow pools.  I may have spent an hour with ice on both knees after hiking out of the canyon but I could still walk, I wasn’t crippled and that, for me, was a success.

Mooney Falls Hike ladder chain

I’ve left this year’s travel calendar almost blank, not knowing what I would be physically able to do.  But now I want to fill in the time with some of the adventures I’ve missed out on.  I had to pass up so many great invitations last year and take it easy on other trips where I wanted to do so much more.  This year will be about saying yes and pushing myself.  It’s time to start looking at all those summits, canyons, rivers and creeks I longed for all year.  Time to pull out the maps and start planning.  I think I hear Utah calling my name…

The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping…

Over the years, in my back country adventures, I’ve tried hammock camping several times.  I have two hammocks I hang in my backyard when the weather is nice.  I have a hammock that picked up specifically for my (formerly) annual trips to Mexico.  I have tried many hammocks in a variety of locations and I’ve always had a great experience, even when it wasn’t ideal.

Cascade at Havasupai…Imagine hiking 12 miles into a picturesque oasis of fantastic waterfalls and crystal-blue creeks.  High red-rock cliffs rise on all sides dripping with verdant greenery creating welcome shade in the normally warm temperatures of Northern Arizona in late Spring.  After the long, hot hike in to camp you set up a luxurious hammock under the canopy of group of shade trees next to the cool creek water…  This was the setting of my first hammock camping trip, a nine-day hang in the heart of Havasupai just above Mooney Falls.

On that trip, I packed in a very heavy cloth hammock.  It was warm in late May and I did not bring a sleeping bag.  Nor did I bother with a tarp, bug net, or any of the other fun accessories available for hammock camping these days.  I was a little cold the first night there, but was otherwise comfortable the entire time in the canyon…and I was hooked!

Since then, I’ve hiked in to various locations around the state with a hammock and have even taken it on some whitewater trips.  Hammock camping, in general, has always been a warm weather adventure for me but as I work to get out in the wilderness more often I’ve looked for ways to make my hammock a more year-round setup.

The Ultimate Hang BookI recently mentioned getting to use the ENO Double Nest Hammock I won last year to do some camping up near Flagstaff.  One of the comments left on that post was from Derek Hansen.  I soon discovered that Derek was the author of a new book called The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping.  After a quick back-and-forth, Derek offered to send me a copy of the book to check out and I happily accepted.

Derek was introduced to hammock camping at the age of 14 at a Scouting event in Utah.  Later, volunteering as a Scout Master himself in Virginia he began experimenting with hammocks again.  He became a very active voice at the worldwide hammock community, HammockForums.net.  Here, his talent and skill as an illustrator played a major roll in his ability to share his experiences and techniques with the Forum.  Eventually, Derek decided to parlay his talent, skills and experience into a concise, self-illustrated guide to the art of Hammock Camping.

Page samples from The Ultimate HangAs soon as I received my copy of Derek’s book, I leafed through it to get a feel for the presentation, expecting it to be a dry read of knots and gear lists.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a fun, well organized, beautifully illustrated, interactive book that reveals a real passion for the subject.  Derek’s writing style is easy and informal offering a fun read.  It’s organized such that you could read it cover to cover, or jump in to any chapter you want.  The illustrations are a fun mix of diagrams and comic-strip style cartoons, making the book entertaining and informative.

Illustration from The Ultimate HangAs a former freelance illustrator myself, I was very impressed with the consistency and continuity created with the illustrations.  The book has a great, relaxed look and feel but presents you with an amazing amount if information.

Another fantastic feature of this book takes advantage of a fairly new innovation just recently finding popularity in marketing circles.  The book is sprinkled with QR codes, allowing you to scan them with your smartphone for more detailed information, a custom “Hang” calculator, links to web pages mentioned in the text, among other things.  This feature I found to be great fun and a beautiful use of the QR code technology.

How to Layer your Hammock from The Ultimate HangThe best part about this book is that it walks you through many of the basics of hammock camping as well as technical knots and DIY projects, making the book relevant for beginners and experienced hangers alike.  Whether you’ve never owned a hammock before in your life, or you are a regular weekend Hang Champ, this book is bound to teach you something that will make your hammock camping experience more comfortable and enjoyable.

Have you been out hammock camping, or thought about hammock camping, but just don’t feel confident in trying it on your own?  Well, here’s your chance…not only will this book help, but I’ve got a copy to give away!  Derek was gracious enough to send me an extra, autographed copy of his book to give away to one of YOU!

Check out the Rafflecopter widget below and follow the instructions for your chance to WIN your own copy of this book.
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The Hiker’s Hike…

Havasu Creek Canyon, Arizona circa April of 2000

 

Lately, I’ve been thinking I might not be getting the best experience out of my hikes.  I think about how I used to hike and what made me excited about a particular trail and something has changed.  I feel like I’ve been doing so much fitness-oriented hiking lately that I can’t down-shift and enjoy a hike purely for the experience.  As I make the effort to change this, it made me start thinking about why I hike, what draws me to the trail and how what the trail has to offer changes my approach to the hiking experience.

Slot Canyon in Northern Arizona

What draws me to the trail these days is very much about goals.  I find myself choosing hikes based on bagging a new peak, beating a previous time or simply logging miles in to my fitness routine.  My choices are less about the experience and more about the route, the terrain and how fast I think I can complete it and get back home.  So much so that I don’t even carry a camera with me anymore.  There’s really nothing wrong with this, especially since I am in recovery from an injury and I am focused on training for a race.  Fitness goals are very important to me right now, but I do miss hiking purely for the joy of discovery.

Havasu Creek near confluence with Colorado River

When I first moved to Arizona and began hiking in the desert, every hike was about getting to see something new.  It was about the varied terrain, the exotic and esoteric plants, the fascinating little creatures that scurried about…it was about the journey.  The desert was a new place to me and I would find myself randomly picking hikes in far off places just to see what I could find.  I wanted to stand under a new waterfall, look from a new peak, see new trees and hear new birds.  I recall hikes where I would spend huge amounts of time just watching a rattle snake, or the spectacle of a tarantula migration or inspecting some old piece of mining equipment long since left behind.  Some of my best and most memorable hiking experiences were from this time in my life.  A time when every trip was a new adventure in every sense of the word.

Today I feel torn.  Part of me enjoys the convenience of a trail within a 10-minute drive of my house in the city that offers me 3, 5 or 7 mile options that I know I can complete in a set amount of time.  It’s definitely better, in my opinion, than asphalt.  But there’s another part of me that misses the exploration side of hiking, the adventure and the sense of discovery.  I feel like I should have more reverence for the trail, more respect and acknowledgement of the uniqueness that makes each trail special.  The problem I have is that many of these local trails just don’t feel special anymore.

I think it’s time to push out of my comfort zone.  It’s time to visit new places, take the road less traveled and reintroduce ADVENTURE to the outdoors again.  I know there are amazing places out there that I have yet to visit and I want to start making those destinations more of a priority.  We all hike for different reasons and there is no right or wrong, as long as you enjoy yourself and stay safe.  I can still run in town and climb local peaks to build cardio and endurance, but I really want to hike the kind of trails that used to fill me with a sense of wonder…a true Hiker’s Hike.

And who knows, maybe I’ll start carrying a camera again…

Grand Canyon, Arizona circa October, 2007