Utah’s Escalante River SUP first descent

In All, Escalante, SUP, Utah, Wilderness by Dylan2 Comments

Chasing light following an epic downpour. We were cold, tired and in dire need of rest.


As an adventure photographer, I struggle with deciding whether or not to publish something. Especially in my own backyard. Some places are meant to stay secret! But when done right, it can bring awareness to an area and keep conservation efforts high. The Escalante was one of many magical tributaries that suffered during the development of the Glen Canyon Dam (Lake Powell) and in subsequent years, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument continues to see record number of visitors. This area of the world is growing in visibility, so as a lover of the land, I strive to document and bring awareness. Yes, sure, this means awareness to the potential for adventure sports, but also brings to light the beautiful landscape that needs to stay protected, as well as the potential impact that thousands of visitors may bring each year. To that end, Moe and I discussed quite thoroughly how to appropriately write about this area.

Please take a moment to track down a copy of SUP the Mag‘s expedition issue, which documents our trip, but also talks about the impacts people have had on this fragile ecosystem, from Tamarisk mitigation to the construction of Glen Canyon dam. It’s a damn good read and I couldn’t be more stoked to have collaborated with Moe!!

And what is an adventure trip without it ending up in Outside Magazine. Please head over and take a look at the amazing photo gallery! Another great collaboration with Moe from one of the most epic trips of the decade.

Opening spread in SUP the Magazine.


The Escalante River has come to define the wild-west’s canyon country. A saw the Escalante River SUP first descent as a double opportunity: first, to revisit one of my favorite areas in the world, and second, to see if Standup Paddle boards are in fact useful as a low-flow expedition vessel.

After tons of research, I wasn’t able to track down any record of anyone else ever having paddled the entire length of the Escalante on Standup Paddle boards. And rightly so, even in Alpaca rafts, this trip tends to be a bit of a suffer-fest! Thus, arranging a solid group was no easy task, especially finding people who can take nine days off (two travel days and seven on the river). I had decided to film and shoot stills along the way, so it was important to me to find a collaborator, who would add to the group dynamic, as well as raise the bar when it came to the written word (conservation was key here). That person, a well-published and well-connected writer, was Morgan Tilton (Moe). The rest of the crew came together organically: my long-time, good vibin’ friend Morgan Smith wanted to get out of his comfort zone; super athlete (and excellent model) Aaron Kloer is always down for an adventure; and standup paddle aficionado Jordan Curet wanted to expand her SUP experience. No one knew eachother, except me. Still, adventure was what everyone wanted, and was what everyone got.


Jordan was the only person in our group with extensive SUP experience (or who even owned a board), so that meant sourcing boards and paddles. But this also meant that we were able to be picky: research which boards could handle the extreme demands of the Escalante River. We needed a board that could support gear with D-Rings (for me, that meant 60 pounds: camera gear and trip oriented gear), as well as take the abuses of Russian olive thorns, endless sharp rocks and the more-than-expected portages. After talking with many manufactures, we finally settled on a Hala. They supplied us with the expedition boards, the Straight Up and Hoss — both of which performed extremely well. Please take a look at the review by Moe here.

Each of us took 1 large dry bag (75L) and one smaller one for day necessities. We packed as if were going backpacking: freeze dried meals, sleeping bag, no tent, water filter, basic snacks, MSR stove and pressurized gas cans, teflon, ultralight cook stove, etc. For clothing we wore Stio quick-wicking long-sleeve shirts (sun protection was huge) and boardshorts. Footwear, we wore river shoes, with socks (again, sun protection).

My Hala Hoss setup with camera box in back.

To document the trip, I brought a Nikon D600 camera body, a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, a 24-70 f/2.8 lens, a 20mm f/1.8 lens and 10 batteries all stuffed in a waterproof hardcase; a Surui tripod and a D810 with a 35mm f/1.4 enclosed in waterproof housing to shoot on the fly.


Of course, this is a photo-centric blog, so please scroll down to enjoy some of the epic imagery from our successful Escalante River SUP first descent.

Aaron and Morgan S. in the upper narrows.

Aaron surfing the golden light.

In the midst of the mid-section.

Portaging one of the first major rock falls.

Neon’s Golden Cathedral.

A wild flashflood!

The final splash in Lake Powell.

Please visit email dylan@dylanhbrown.com for licensing inquiries or to see the whole collection.

Thanks for viewing!


  1. You guys passed us the day you saw
    the Golden Cathedral in the middle of May last year. I’ve been looking forward to hearing this trip report. I was pretty sure you guys were the first. Congrats to you all. It was an awesome trip.

    1. Author

      Hi Greg! Glad you found this post. You guys were visibly surprised… haha!
      It turned out to be an incredible trip, and well, the craft was also a great choice. I might go shorter next time if I can. But overall, the drag was minimal and the adventure epic!

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