Follow The Leader

Adventure |

Teva Explorer Andy Cochrane reflects on a past journey through slot canyons in Utah and their tradition of surprise trips: one friend orchestrates, everyone else comes along for the surprise. Words and Photos by Andy Cochrane.

When most people arrive at an airport, they know where they’re going and what they’re doing once they get there. They’ve likely spent hours debating the right clothes to bring, how many pairs of underwear will be sufficient, and if they’ll actually need tennis shoes. After packing four times in six different bags, they’re finally ready to go. But that’s not how we like to travel.

Years ago we started the tradition of Surprise Trips. One person plans and orchestrates, everyone else goes in blind. Followers Venmo the leader enough money to cover flights, food, and rental car, and trust that they won’t screw it up. A week ahead of time everyone gets a note with details such as what airline they’ll be flying on, when to arrive, and a basic packing list. That’s it.


Grandview GTX

Pictured: Grandview GTX hiking boots.

The key component of this formula is trust in your friends––blindly walking into an airport and asking the agent to tell you where you are flying requires a lot of it. In my experience, the risk is worth the reward.

Before Gil, Sam, Connor and Kyler entered SFO last Friday, we all had to become friends first. Let’s rewind to where this all started.

Your mid-twenties are a formative time. Out of college and allegedly an adult, most 20-year-olds have little idea about what they’re doing or how messy life can get. It’s a perpetual fork in the road, with both your parents and peers pestering you about your career direction, lack of stable relationships, and financial future. If you’re anything like me, you turned a blind eye to this outside commentary and decided to chase something else: having fun.

Utah slot canyons

That’s not to say I made all bad decisions or acted in complete self-interest––I simply eschewed many norms that I thought to be silly or a waste of time, in favor of spending my time outside.

With this mindset, I stumbled into like-minded adventurers who also were trying to balance present-day fun with plans for the future. We climbed mountains, ran trails, and biked to Alaska, all on a budget, and all with the intent of learning from each other. We grew up together––getting advanced degrees, moving on from packaged ramen, helping each other through breakups and work woes, and celebrating marriage, while never taking ourselves too seriously. Above all else, we always put a priority on showing up for one another.

Sure enough, this life chapter eventually ended. Jorge moved to Lander. Josh to NYC. Kyler to Boston. Connor got married. Gil and Sam found love, too. Jobs got more serious, relationships took priority, and free time slipped away. To stay close and feed the adventure drug, we created Secret Trips.

Hurricane XTL 2

Pictured: Hurricane XLT2 in 90s Multi.

Grandview GTX

The Grandview GTX hiking boots: “Lightweight, comfortable fit, and great traction. The waterproof leather helped keep our feet dry in shallow puddles and quick-dry mesh helped get water out after wading through the deeps.” 

The first one was to Zion National Park, then Glacier, then the North Cascades. Each had its own itinerary and flavor. Canyoneering, backpacking, mountain biking and mountaineering––the only rule was to bring a good attitude. The tradition stuck and each year we plan another trip, it’s something we all look forward to.

This iteration was hosted by yours truly. I sent out invites and dates and every couple weeks followed up with hints––some helpful, some not. The crew would fly in from various places around the country and rendezvous in Vegas. From there we’d drive four hours northeast, into the high desert of Utah. We would hike the longest slot canyon in the country, Buckskin Gulch, a 26-mile hidden gem.

Despite a few flight delays and a rental car snafu, no one showed signs of stress. Most of our trips don’t go exactly as planned and we wouldn’t want it any other way. Finally loaded with our gear in the two 4×4 rigs, we set off, grabbing snacks and driving late into the night. We eventually stopped in the middle of nowhere on BLM land (Bureau of Land Management campsites) to pull out sleeping bags and get a few hours of sleep.

Hurricane XLT 2

Pictured: Hurricane XLT2 in 90s Multi.

Grandview GTX

Pictured: The Grandview GTX hiking boots.

The next morning we woke at sunrise and made coffee on the tailgate. The guys still didn’t know what we were going to do. Most of them had never been to this corner of the country, either, so they were gawking at the colorful mesas surrounding us. We drove the last couple hours to the trailhead, dropping one of the cars as a shuttle. Finally, they saw the sign “Buckskin Gulch” but few knew what it was.

For fairness, few people anywhere know about this gem. I questioned writing about it. It’s the longest slot in the world, hidden just an hour from the traffic and chaos in Zion and Bryce, two popular national parks, and not terribly far from the Grand Canyon, either. Despite little name recognition and not having national park status, it’s just as beautiful and even more remote and wild.

The beginning of the hike is underwhelming. The canyon starts slowly, maybe a mile or two in. The ground is sandy and a few cows linger nearby, wondering what any other animal is doing in this desolate land. We marched for a few hours, finally getting into the real slot. Stopping for a late lunch it finally hit––we were fully committed to this adventure.

Hurricane XLT 2

Well worn Hurricane XLT2 sandals in 90s Multi. 

For miles upon miles, we wove through the slot canyon, wading through water, climbing over boulder fields, and slipping through small gaps in the rock. Without much light to tell what time it was or any sense of how far we’d come, we focused on the present. Just enjoying where we were.

Each of us brought along a pair of Grandview GTX boots. They worked almost perfectly for this adventure: lightweight, comfortable fit, and great traction. The waterproof leather helped keep our feet dry in shallow puddles and quick-dry mesh helped get water out after wading through the deeps. Paired with neoprene socks, our feet stayed warm and blister-free, even after 30 miles of walking in and out of 30-some degree water.

After nearly eight hours the canyon opened up just enough for a large, grassy hill. With the little light left in the day, we changed into dry clothes, rolled out our sleeping bags and started making dinner. Laughter rang off the canyon walls, echoing for miles. A simple macaroni dish was one of the best meals I’ve ever had––or at least that’s how I remember it.

Soon enough we were falling asleep while watching a small strip of stars through the slot in the canyon, hundreds of feet above us. The next morning we woke, ate, and repeated the process. We followed Buckskin to its confluence with Paria River, then turned upstream and marched through water for seven miles until we got back to our shuttle car. Muddy, dusty, and grinning ear to ear, we loaded up and started searching for milkshakes on Yelp.

Buckskin Gulch Slot Canyon

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