Wollangambe Canyon

An easy canyon in the Blue Mountains, requiring no abseils and basic navigation skills.

Leaving Sydney around 8:30am, we were parked at the Mt Wilson fire station and on the track down to the Wollangambe River by 10am. The plan was to hike/wade/swim “Wollangambe One” (also known as the Upper Tourist Section), and possibly continue on and complete Wollangambe Two (Lower Tourist Section).

It’s about a 45min walk down (3km) on a narrow but well-defined track; the track forks a few times and we took the left fork each time so we entered the river at the uppermost point that can be access from Mt Wilson (via an established trail!).

The first kilometre or so is easy going, with water depth no more than about a metre. Pleasant wading on a warm summer day! A beautiful tiger snake led the way for a short while and crayfish were frequently spotted, before we reached the “normal” entry point for this section of the canyon (Wollangambe MGA546914).

From here, it got very slow. And very wet. Having ignored the recommendation to wear a wetsuit and bring a lilo, it was very slow and tiring with long swimming sections. About 80% of this section of the canyon is “swimming depth”, with a few rock scrambles and a bit of wading. We reached the end of Section 1 (at MGA560916) around 4pm, exhausted and very cold – the exit here is well marked, with a large arrow marked on the cliff behind a small beach.

In hindsight, a wetsuit was not required (being a fairly warm day – although of course the water was pretty cold) – but a lilo would have made it a much more enjoyable excursion! While we only saw two groups along the way, at the exit point there were about 20-25 people, including a number of families and children. All of whom were clearly more sensible than us and had wetsuits, lilos – and waterproof bags that actually kept their possessions dry!

About an hour or do later and we were back at the car; the track up is well marked with one short-but-steep section that requires some care.

Location Starts at Mt Wilson fire station (off Bells Line of Road, Blue Mts)
Distance Around 9km. Allow up to six hours.
Grade Easy-moderate (with a lilo!). Easy navigation.
Season/s Ideal in summer on a warm day. Avoid before heavy rain or storms.
Map Wollangambe 1:25,000
Resources OzUltimate.com has helpful track notes

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Havasu Falls, Arizona

A hidden gem: a two-day walk through a dramatic landscape red canyons and turquoise waterfalls.

I stumbled across this hike somewhere in the depths of the Web… it looked amazing, and yet I hadn’t seen it in any of my US hiking  books. After a bit more research, it was added to my mental “wish list” of hikes! “The Havasupai Waterfalls are the most dramatic waterfalls in the Grand Canyon and possibly even the entire Southwestern United States” and “Havasupai (Havasu Falls) might just be one the the most beautiful places on Earth” are a few of the descriptions of this hike.

Getting there was the first challenge. I needed to be in San Diego on Monday for a conference, so the best approach was to fly to Las Vegas from LAX and pick up a car, overnight in Peach Springs and drive the last 100km to the start of the hike at Hualapai Hilltop early the following morning. Getting there at sunrise, the hike started with impressive views down the Hualapai Canyon, a side canyon of the Grand Canyon. A few mules are tethered near the start of the trail – this is the only place in the US where mail is delivered by mule (UK Daily Mail).

The trail drops quickly  from 1575m down into the canyon via a series of switchbacks and follows the dry floor canyon. After about 10km the Havasu Canyon is reached, and some trees and greenery start to appear… another 2km and I reach the village of Supai at 975m).

Supai is an interesting place. Home to the Havasupai Tribe, which has a population of about 600 people, it’s the smallest Indian nation in America. Reached by foot, mule and helicopter, Havasupai tribe has been living in the area for centuries. The land on which the Supai village is now situated was claimed from the National Park in 1975, after many court battles, granting the tribe a trust title to approximately 185,000 acres (source: Wikipedia). The village now has a shop, cafe, church, post office, health clinic and a lodge, which is where I stayed overnight (day-hikes are not permitted, and it would be a very long day hiking back up to the top of the canyon). The village looks pretty run-down and while many locals are reliant on tourism, no-one appears particularly friendly…

I check-in to Supai Lodge around midday and continue hiking down Havasu Canyon. The best is yet to come: Havasupai is roughly translated as “the people of the blue-green waters”, in reference to the amazing turquoise colour of Havasu Creek, formed by leaching from minerals. Navajo Falls is reached first, a short detour off the main track about 3km beyond the village. It is spectacular. One of those spots where I know the photos won’t do justice to what I am seeing.

I take many photos, and continue… Another 3km and I reach (arguably) the star attraction: Havasu Falls. Being outside peak season there are a few other people on the track and swimming, but there is also a sense of isolation and serenity. It’s somewhere I could happily camp and stay for a few days.

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A little further again (another 2km) after walking through the fairly-empty Havasu camping ground, and I reach the 70m-high Mooney Falls (these are the highest). The base of the falls is accessed through a rough track carved through the cliff and then down some less than confidence-inspiring wooden ladders. But worth the effort. Each waterfall seems to outdo the last in beauty and amazing-ness!

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I climb back up the narrow trail to the top, with one last waterfall to reach. There’s now a 4km stretch to Beaver Falls. The track is well-defined it gets rough in sections, with a number of ladders and steep sections to scramble down as it alternates between the two banks of Havasu Creek.

At last, Beaver Falls. I’ve walked 24km from the start of the hike at the top of the canyon many hours ago. I still have another 11km back up to the lodge at Supai where I’ll sleep tonight. It’s another 7km further before  Havasu Creek meets the Colorado River, and I fear that I won’t be back at Supai village in time to get some dinner.

I take a few (more) photos, and reluctantly head back up the trail. I’ve got enough time for a swim at Havasu Falls – the water is warm and relaxing – and make it back to the Sinyella cafe in Supai on the far side of the village about half an hour before it closes. A cold drink and fry-bread never tasted so good!

Supai Lodge is fairly basic, but I sleep very soundly (after a mix-up with rooms is eventually solved, and I am allocated a room that doesn’t already have an occupant)!

It’s an early start again the next day. Back through the village, up Havasu Canyon and then the final ascent up Hualapai Canyon to the car.

I get back mid-morning. It’s been a spectacular day and and half. I wish I could stay longer and I will be back one day. But today, I have a conference to get to.

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Location From Highway 66 near Peach Springs, turn onto Indian Route 18 and follow this for 100km to Hualapai Hilltop
Distance 47km (35km Day 1 to Beaver Falls; 12km Day 2).
Grade Moderate.
Season/s March through June considered the best time. Avoid monsoon season (mid-July to August) where flash flooding can occur
Map Havasu Falls, AZ  36112C6
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources Permit required: refer NPS web site
Good track notes on BigBoyTravel web site
Photos Google Photos gallery

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