I Thought I was Fearless, Until This: Cliff Jumping at the Grand Canyon

By Jose Castellanos, 27

I don’t consider myself one with a lot of fears and I never thought I’ll be writing a story about facing fears, but adventures come with facing fears you didn’t even know you had. I live for road trips and adventures; the very last one, a hike down the Grand Canyon to the beautiful falls of the Havasu River.

When we planned the trip I knew two things: camping for three days and hiking 12 miles to get to the campground. I have camped in Florida in various campgrounds and have completed several marathons, so I felt well prepared.

We arrived at the Hilltop on a Thursday afternoon and had the first look of the path ahead for the hike which we had agreed to start at about 4 am Friday morning and here is when the heart started pounding at higher rates. We spent the night in our cars “sleeping” — in my case thinking about hiking in a pitch black rocky dessert or wondering if we were really well prepared for a 12 mile hike.

The hike began on schedule. It was dark and scary. I believe in a rule of thumb to every task that I face scary or not, and it is the KISS rule: Keep It Simple Stupid. This means that one only focuses on the simple task that one can accomplish. For me, the simple task was to just walk not thinking about how dark it was, or how heavy my bag was, or how many miles we had left to walk. All these things are distractions that only make the task scarier and more difficult to achieve. The only worry I had for the first two hours of the hike was to descend at a steady pace while staying on my feet as the first descent was very steep and the terrain was slippery. After about an hour and a half we had reached the bottom of the canyon. It was the crack of dawn, the terrain was much better and now we only had about ten miles to reach the campground.

We continued our hike thinking the hard part was behind us. The group had dispersed as some walked faster than others, but we took a rest and were able to regroup and refuel. Apart from great views, the walls of the canyon provided us with shade from the blazing morning sun of the hottest state in the country, Arizona.

After about five long hours we reached the village of the Havasupai Indian tribe. We were happy to find a little store that had cold water. At that point we were just two miles from the campground. We did the two miles in about an hour and right before entering the campground we saw the Havasu waterfall. I took it as the price for surviving such a long walk and the beginning of our vacations.

The Havasu Fall stands at about 90 feet tall; it’s the first of two great falls in the Havasu River deep inside The Grand Canyon. We were still with our backpacks on so we moved on to the campground to set up camp and rest from such a long morning hike. After resting for a couple of hours we came back to this fall and spent the rest of the day here. Our trip included swimming in Havasu fall, Mooney fall, and for the real brave: cliff jumping into the river from Beaver falls. Once the sun was out I found my way inside my tent and quickly fell asleep.

On day two we woke up at sunrise and walked to the next fall in the river Mooney Fall. This fall was just about 20 minutes from the campground but the descent was as sketchy as they come. In order to climb down to the pool of the fall we had to cross two caves inside the walls of the canyon. The descent was another scary part of the trip but this was much easier to face just because we had the prize in plain sight. The stunning Mooney Fall stands at about 120 feet tall which makes it taller that the Niagara Falls. Mooney is the tallest and most majestic fall of the Havasu River. The energy of the water can be felt from the climb down and the pool it creates is just amazing.

For the third and final day we had planned to go all the way to the end of the trail at Beaver falls, four miles from campground. In order to get there we had to pass again through the caves and the sketchy descent at Mooney Fall. After that, a very difficult trail that involved crossing the river multiple times, some climbs, and some descents.

The four miles took us about 2 hours to complete. Beaver Falls is a series of small falls that are not as powerful and majestic as the previous falls we had already seen but for some unknown reason has a very deep pool which makes it possible to jump of the cliffs of the canyon walls into the river from heights of about 50 to 60 feet.

It was time to face some fears! The climb was vertical and at the highest point involved a rope which we had to climb in order to reach the top. Only ten of us decided to jump and I decided to go third. My heart was pounding as I was trying to stick to the KISS rule. I was so concentrated on not letting fear get to me and prevent me from jumping that I forgot to take my shirt off. After jumping and looking back up to where I had jumped from, I felt accomplished, courageous and a complete badass.

this time my life was actually on the line.

But all of it quickly went away as I looked at the climb back up. The only way up was to climb the wall of the canyon. At one point where there were no more places to hold on, we had to reach for a rope to climb to the top. I remembered the rope climbing techniques I learned when training for a mud run. The difference is that this time my life was actually on the line. This activity was by far the most fearful and dangerous I have ever faced.

Once back at the top I felt very relieved as we had fulfilled the reason of the trip, to cliff jump from the wall of the Grand Canyon into the Havasu River.

The next day at 3 AM we packed our bags and walked back to the village where we took a helicopter back to the Hilltop. The ride was smooth and gave us a final breathtaking view at the Grand Canyon and the adventure we had just accomplished.

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