Adventures, Outdoor
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Wild women: Finding sisterhood and adventure on an all-female backpacking trip

It was 3 AM at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and I was crawling over a rickety footbridge on my hands and knees, wearing a 30 pound backpack. The river below looked dark and uninviting, and I could feel the thin boards flexing as I made my slow progress towards the safety of the riverbank on the other side. My friend Kate was barely visible ahead in the darkness, her headlamp a dim beacon.
“You got this,” our other hiking companion, Nina, said encouragingly, from somewhere behind me.
I could feel the bridge wobble threateningly under my knees as she started her journey across.
Finally, I reached Kate’s hand and grabbed it, thankful for the steadying force as I ungracefully wiggled off the bridge and onto the trail. We turned to watch Nina complete the traverse, our headlamps illuminating the rushing river several feet below. I cringed as I imagined what would happen if one of us toppled into the water –although not particularly deep, dunking a pack would definitely add weight to the 10 mile trek ahead.
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The 3 AM bridge crawl. Havasupai, Arizona.

Thankfully, Nina kept her balance and made it safely to the riverbank. We cheered, then started off down the trail towards a nearby natural spring to refill our water bottles.

There was something magical about this spring. It was little grotto on the canyon wall, surrounded by a lush growth of ferns and aspens, with a gushing stream of naturally filtered water pouring out of a crack in the red sandstone. Our thirst quenched and packs feeling heavier than before, it was just after 4 AM when we finally hit the trail, waving goodbye to the beautiful, thundering Havasu Falls which were nothing but a dim blur in the darkness.

The threat of the desert heat made us hike quickly and we were soon breathing hard and shedding layers. We were determined to reach the top of the canyon by 10 AM, when temperatures could reach above 100 degrees and the shade diminished to tiny slivers. It was going to be a close race with the sun.

Choose your own adventure

The idea of this all-girls backpacking trip to Havasupai Falls, an enchanted waterfall located on a Native American reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, had started out because my boyfriend traveled to Bali on a surf trip, and I was jealous of his adventure. I’ll have my own adventure, I decided, and I’ll do it with my girlfriends. I recruited Nina and Kate and we set off on an epic week-long trip to Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon and Havasupai. There was no one I would have rather shared the adventure with.

After scoring last-minute permits to Havasupai Falls, we camped at the trailhead before starting off on the 10-mile trek at 5 AM. Watching the sun rise over the canyon walls was indescribably beautiful; the shadows slowly creeping lower and the red cliffs lighting up with golden early-morning sunlight.

The last few miles of the hike were agony; the sun was almost directly overhead and the trail turned to soft sand. We passed through the Native American reservation, a small village above the falls. The trail wound along beside a succession of waterfalls, each more spectacular than the last. The color of the water was a vibrant turquoise, contrasting beautifully with the red rock of the canyon.

 

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Beautiful Havasupai Falls; warm turquoise water surrounded by red rock.

 

Below the falls, we had our pick of campsites along the river. Each campsite offered awesome perks; but we were determined to find one where we could hang our hammock beside the river. Finally, we discovered a precarious bridge crossing the river to a secluded campsite with a picnic table and two trees perfect for hanging up our hammock.

While Nina relaxed in the hammock at camp, Kate and I spent the following day exploring downriver to several of the lower falls. I won’t give away any secrets, but if you make it this far, you can’t miss this surreal day hike –it’s like the Goonies meets Pirates of the Caribbean, in the Grand Canyon, in real life!

I decided to spend the night cozied up in the hammock like a butterfly in a cocoon. As I listened to the rushing water and gazed up through the leafy trees at the stars twinkling overhead, I reflected on how alive I felt after hiking all day to this beautiful destination. I was filled with gratitude for the time spent with two of my best friends, away from social media, our boyfriends, and the constant distractions of work and school.

Real life was waiting for us when we returned; Kate was applying for medical school residencies, Nina was preparing to move to Santa Cruz and start a new chapter in her career, while I was struggling with some challenges in my relationship and my desire to move back to northern California.

While we hiked, Nina, Kate and I shared our various challenges, insecurities and  and empowering each other

 

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The views of the canyon were stunning.

On the trail

Although I typically prefer the silence of nature, for the trek from Havasupai back to the trailhead, I choose an upbeat tropical house playlist on Spotify to keep our steps moving. It was a ten mile uphill grind. We made a few stops for snacks and water, which invariably turned into dance parties. Our dancing threesome drew some strange looks and amused smiles from hikers headed down the trail towards the waterfall.

 

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Kate, all smiles as she races the desert sun.

 

The final mile tested our grit with a steep switchbacking incline up the canyon wall. Nina and Kate took drastic measures, drinking or pouring out most of their water before starting up the final section of the trail. I opted for the more cautious approach and kept my water, figuring one of the girls might need it before we reached the top. The sun was blazing, every muscle in my body was protesting, and each step seemed to move me only slightly up the hill.We wet our shirts and handkerchiefs, and raced for the shade, which was receding up the canyon wall at nearly the same pace as we approached it. Kate put her head down and kicked it into a higher gear than we’d seen yet…Nina and I shrugged and continued at a snails pace –it was all we had left.

The switchbacks of the trail zig-zagged in and out of the shade, torturing us. The top of the canyon seemed close, then farther away. We staggered off to the side as a mule train passed us, headed for the canyon rim.

Finally, it was the home stretch. Just one more switchback, and I would drop my pack, turn to look back at the stunning red striations of the canyon walls below and feel like I was floating away. Nina and Kate were cheering. The moment of achievement was so pure that anything seemed possible. I had conquered the trail and my own physical limitation, the heat of the desert and the weight of my pack. In my soul I felt that Kate, Nina and I could do anything we set our minds to.

Anything at all.

 

Uncommon adventures
Kate, Nina and I jumping for joy on the rim of the Grand Canyon.
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This entry was posted in: Adventures, Outdoor

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Hello and welcome! I’m Gretchen, a twenty-something solo female traveler with a passion for adventure and telling stories that inspire. In 2016, I quit my job in the surf industry and set out to travel around the world. After nearly a year of wandering Europe, Asia and Australia, I drifted ashore in Santa Cruz, California. This blog is a collection of my words and photographs created along the journey. It’s meant to inspire you to travel the world or even just take a weekend to try something new in a place you’ve never been before. Follow my adventures on Instagram: @wildcompass

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