I thought about this trip for months before I hit the trail. My wife and I had been preparing for our cross country move for over a year and the last couple of months preceding the move were very tiring and stressful. Planning the details of the move and packing boxes kept me up until midnight many nights. Most mornings I was awake by 4 am. Looking forward to ~10 days of hiking and backpacking was how I got through this exhausting period.
Unfortunately, I did not look into permits for many of the areas I was interested in until a month before my trip was to begin. I had no idea that mid to late March was such a popular period for backpacking in Utah and Arizona. Most of the areas that I had been researching did not have any overnight permits available. While we could have day hiked a few of the trails we were researching, I had been obtaining overnight gear for months leading up to the trip (Seek Outside Divide 4500, Katabatic Gear Flex 22 & Helios 55, JRB High Sierra Sniveller, Black Rock Gear Down Hat, etc). With the complications of the cross country move, I had already cancelled several overnight trips and I wasn’t sure when my next opportunity to backpack would be; I absolutely needed to get out for a couple of nights with this gear before posting reviews. After expressing my disappointment in my lack of planning as well as the unavailability of permits, a few people suggested I look into Coyote Gulch.
After some research, my friend Joe and I decided that Coyote Gulch was our best option; the area requires permits for overnight stays, but there isn’t a trail quota. I made several calls to the ranger station in the week leading up to our trip to confirm the information we were finding online. We were also told that the time period we’d be in Coyote Gulch is one of the area’s busiest times of the year. Based on this information, we decided that we should be at the ranger station soon after it opened to make sure we hit the trail early. We were told that based on the volume of hikers they expected, we may not find a campsite near Jacob Hamblin Arch.
The night before our hike, we stayed in Bryce. The hotels in Bryce were much cheaper than the Escalante hotels for some unknown reason. Wiped out from the long drive from Southern California to Bryce, we hit the road a later then expected the morning of our hike. After stopping at the ranger station to pick up our permits and wag bags, we headed down Hole in the Rock Road towards Red Well Trailhead. Although we kept an eye on the map, we managed to miss the turn for Red Well and ended up at Hurricane Wash. We turned around, a bit frustrated, but eventually found the correct road. We finished loading up our packs and headed down the trail and soon heard someone yelling for help. A few seconds later, we saw a disheveled and very tired hiker come over the crest of a hill. She said that she was lost and was wondering if we could give her a ride to meet her group. Unfortunately she did not know the name of the trailhead where her hike had started. We drove towards Hurricane Wash and hoped it was the right trailhead.
On our drive, we learned that she was backpacking with a group of friends from college. During the prior two days of her trip, she was the slowest hiker in the group. On the morning we met her, her group had told her to start hiking alone and that they’d meet her somewhere between the campsite and their car. After dropping her off with her group (and resisting the urge to tell her friends how foolish they were), we headed back to Red Well and finally got our trip into Coyote Gulch started.
By the time we got back onto the trail the sun made it uncomfortable and first couple hours of the hike were unpleasant. After the first 4 or 5 miles, we started to see the beauty of the canyon and were finally getting excited about the sights ahead. The trail is relatively easy to follow with only (if I remember correctly) only two side canyons that could cause problems; an unmarked canyon (on the left as you descend into Coyote Gulch) and the junction with Hurricane Wash (another trailhead, on your right). We were quite surprised that we didn’t see any other hikers until we got near the Jacob Hamblin Arch. Even more surprising was the fact that there weren’t any tents setup when we arrived. We felt somewhat rushed to grab the best campsite in our immediate area because we could hear other hikers in the canyon. We ended up camping just under the arch. After some exploring though, we realized that there were much better spots just around the next bend and on the other side of the arch.
After filtering some water for dinner and the next days hike, we ate dinner and went to sleep early. As I fell asleep that night, I thought about the following:
- Joe was able to hike from Red Well Trailhead to Jacob Hamblin Arch in mid-height waterproof boots and keep his feet dry and sand free. If you have no existing foot issues, Teva-style sandals would work well for most of the hike in. If I were to hike this route again in similar conditions, I would use waterproof boots on Day 1, then use something like Columbia Men’s Supervent Water Shoes for Day 2.
- The water was very silty. I recommend using a coffee filter as an additional pre-filter for your water filter.
- We were told that it was 6 miles from Red Well TH to Jacob Hamblin Arch. It seems like it was much longer and our GPS devices tracked it as such. I need to clean up my GPX file and compare stats.
- The group of college students was very lucky that nothing bad happened to their friend. If she had taken the wrong turn at the unmarked junction, who knows what could have happened to her.
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- WoolPro Juno Merino T-Shirt, Agena Merino Longsleeve and Zond Merino Arm Warmers
- I wrapped up my testing for these items on this hike and I am very happy with how they worked for me. After this trip, I wrote my review, which can be viewed here: Gear Review: WoolPRO Merino Wool
- Seek Outside Unaweep Divide 4500 Backpack – My first long trip with this pack and I am very happy with it. With all of my camera gear, my pack was weighed 43 lbs. This is the best back I’ve owned for carrying loads >40 lbs!
- Katabatic Gear Flex 22 Quilt – The temps dipped into the low 30s our first night on the trail. I stayed warm and slept comfortably
- Hi-Tech Flash Force Low I WP Trail Shoe – I made it through Day 1 with no ‘bottom of foot’ pain. This was a big step in my goal to transition from heavy backpacking boots to trail runners.
- MyFootShop.com – Spring Plate Carbon/Graphite Fiber Insole – no ‘bottom of foot pain.’ I’m very happy.
- Joe used some of my UL gear on this trip, which were his first experiences with a UL pack and backpacking quilt. He’s in the process of figuring out with quilt he’s going to buy and may consider a UL pack to replace the heavy 85L pack he’s been using for years.