Bowknot Bend

ATV loaded with raft and rappelling gearLast August when this geocache on Bowknot Bend was placed, I knew it was something I wanted to go after. It wasn’t going to be easy, though, and it took me more than a year to get serious about planning for it. I took an exploratory trip there in December, hoping to look at possible routes to the top of Bowknot Bend from the road on the opposite side of the river. The truck wasn’t suitable for the rough, narrow road, so the trip wasn’t helpful in planning a route to the top, but at least I learned that I’d need the ATVs when I returned. In the following months, I looked at topo maps and various satellite imagery in Google Maps, and daydreamed about going there. Finally, two weeks ago, I decided it needed to be done. I asked Chris when his next free weekend was, and we made plans to make our assault on Bowknot Bend over Labor Day weekend.
Checking out Bowknot Bend along the Green RiverChris came to my house late on Thursday, and we spent Friday getting our gear packed, testing our rafts, and loading the ATVs. Despite a late night Friday, we were up early on Saturday and, after a quick breakfast, on our way southeast toward Moab. I took the turn toward Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point, then a gravel road toward Bartlett Flat where we parked the truck and unloaded the ATVs. It was a relatively quick jaunt west to Spring Canyon, where we followed the awesome shelf road and switchbacks into the canyon bottom. We got to the Green River and took the right fork in the road around the north side of Bowknot Bend. I had planned on stopping adjacent to where I thought we could climb up on top of Bowknot Bend, and I was disappointed when we got there and the way up looked impossible. We scoped out all the other chutes cut into the cliffs around Bowknot Bend on the way to our planned boat launch, but they all looked hopeless. I was already discouraged that none of the chutes was a grand slam. Then again, I probably wouldn’t have been trying for this geocache if anyone could just march up there and find it.
Rafts along the Green River at Bowknot BendNot sure what to do except cross the river and make a go of it, we parked the ATVs at a spot with good access to the river, lubed up with sunblock and bug spray, inflated our rafts, and set off. Although I knew the routefinding up the cliffs would be the most difficult part of the trip, the river crossing had me the most nervous. We launched in a hurry to get away from what we thought were some pretty bad mosquitoes (we would find out later that these were rather tame and sparse). The Green River is well over 500 feet wide where we crossed, and we had to float a third of a mile downstream before landing. Chris and I each used one of the small oars that came with my raft, which made paddling across the river go a little slowly. The current itself was slow, however, and we made it across well before needing to land. To our relief there was a flat spot to take out and a grassy spot above the river bank to park our boats. There was a canoe tied up in the river where we landed, and some gear on the shore, but no people around. We ditched our life jackets in the boats and hoofed it downstream along the bank.
Steep, rugged terrain aheadAlthough it seemed obvious that no single one of the chutes cut into the cliffs would lead to the top, we started up the first major gully. It was relatively easy scrambling for the first bit, until we hit the first cliff band. Chris climbed half of the way up the cliff and thought he could climb the rest of the way up, but I wasn’t confident that I could do the same. Instead of continuing, Chris skirted around the bottom of the cliff and found an easier way up in a different gully. He returned and I followed him to the next weakness in the cliffs, where we did some scrambling and easy climbing to get above that first layer. We followed the top of that cliff band until we were above the first cliff we’d encountered, then zig-zagged back and forth between the two gullies for a couple of hours. I was lucky to have such a capable partner along. Chris did a lot of the routefinding while I waited. He would often appear above me and tell me how to get up there, then he would continue trying to find another weakness in the next cliff band while I worked my way up to where he had appeared.
Rest break atop Bowknot BendBefore we even reached the top, I realized that I was getting low on water. I started trying to conserve, and I knew that I wasn’t in good shape when occasionally I noticed that I wasn’t sweating at all. When we were about two-thirds of the way up, there was a cliff that Chris climbed where I didn’t feel comfortable climbing, so he lowered a rope and I used it as a handline to pull myself up. After that point we just had some more fairly easy zig-zagging to reach the top. Chris had already scouted the way and was confident that we’d make it to level ground above us. Three hours after leaving the rafts and starting the hike, we reached the top of Bowknot Bend. We shaded up under an overhanging cliff and rested for a bit, then set out across the flat top of the plateau.
Chris rappelling to the geocacheI felt relieved that the most physically demanding part of the trip was behind us, but we still had the geocache to find. It was 0.8 miles from where we topped out to the cache. We approached the northeastern edge of the plateau where the cache was hidden, and our GPS units zeroed out at the top of a cliff. We assumed from a photo on the cache listing that we’d need to rappel down to it. The location should be obvious if viewed from the right angle, since the container was hidden in an alcove, but visible behind a small column of rock. We couldn’t see any such location from the top of the cliff, but there was a large crack in the cliff where we couldn’t see. We decided upon a sketchy spot to anchor the rope, then Chris geared up and rappelled down the crack. He searched as he descended and eventually found the cache. There was a lot of shouting and and hollering in celebration of our accomplishment. I donned my harness while Chris climbed back up, then I rappelled down and signed the cache log. Climbing back up was moderately difficult since the crack was not quite wide enough to climb up facing forward, but I used that to my advantage. I wedged my shoulders in the crack and flexed while holding tightly to the rope, then lifted my legs up in front of me until I could get my feet on a ledge that was at about chest level. Once my feet had a good hold, I relaxed and turned my shoulders slightly to the side and pulled myself up with the rope. Once past that first tall ledge, it was an easy scramble back to the top while pulling myself up with the rope.
Green River through Labyrinth CanyonWe packed our gear away and reveled in the feeling of accomplishment for a moment. Just as we were leaving, and as I was thinking that we had been somewhere and done something that few people ever would, I saw a golf ball buried in the dirt. Perhaps many more people than I suspect actually go to the effort of climbing atop Bowknot Bend. We steeled ourselves for the hot hike back to the boats and, after a short float, a one mile hike along the road to the ATVs. And we were both out of water. Luckily there would be no routefinding on the way back down and much less exertion going downhill. As we descended the steep hill above our rafts, we saw that several people had set up camp there, and we had high hopes that they’d have some water to share with us. They were a friendly group of guys from San Diego who were on their first river run, and they were more than willing to give us all the water we needed. We talked for a moment, said many thanks, then threw our gear on the boats and set off downstream.
Floating the Green RiverIt was two-thirds of a mile down river to where we thought the tamarisk would be the thinnest along the bank, but we were eager to land earlier if possible as long as it meant a shorter hike to the ATVs. We landed on the opposite bank at a nice flat beach after a third of a mile, and there the tamarisk appeared to be thin near the shore. When I got out of the raft, dehydration caught up to me and both of my legs cramped up horribly. It felt like every muscle below my waist was on fire, and I couldn’t even walk. The mosquitoes were insanely bad there as well, and to top it all off Chris walked up through the first thin layer of tamarisk and found an impenetrable thicket beyond. I was in agonizing pain and couldn’t even get back in my raft yet, and Chris couldn’t stand the mosquitoes any longer and got back in his raft and shoved off. I tried walking it off and eventually the muscle contraction and severe pain subsided enough for me to get back in the raft. I nearly caught up to Chris again just before we reached our intended landing spot. He landed and sprinted toward the road while dragging his raft behind him, but again my muscles locked up and I couldn’t climb the short steep river bank until it subsided. The mosquitoes were maddening, but the pain in my legs overshadowed everything right then. I could faintly hear Chris in the distance, yelling obscenities at the bugs, while I tried to loosen my muscles enough to get away from the river. I was finally able to climb the river bank and amble toward the road while carrying my raft above my head. It was 400 feet from the river to the road, and I made it halfway before I realized that the mosquitoes weren’t going to let up–I’d been hopeful that they’d diminish as I put distance between me and the river. I had reapplied bug spray, even spraying it directly on my face, but the mozzies were unfazed. I dropped my raft and continued toward the road where Chris had left his raft, and I made a feeble attempt at jogging down the road. Even a fast walk was enough to give a slight respite from having bugs in my eyes, nose, and mouth, but I could barely maintain that speed.
Sunset on Bowknot BendChris had run a full mile, then rode his ATV back three quarters of a mile in the time it took me to cover a quarter of a mile. He skidded to a stop in front of me and scooted back on the seat and told me to get on and drive. I did so and, once were were back up to speed heading toward my ATV, the mosquitoes were no longer much of a bother. I had to endure them again while I jumped on my ATV and got it turned around, then I was free of them again until I had to stop to retrieve my raft. We didn’t take the time to properly deflate the rafts. I just opened the air valves on mine, threw it onto the back of the ATV, and hit the throttle. I didn’t stop to stow my raft until I was almost half a mile up Spring Canyon and away from the river where the mosquitoes were nonexistent. We topped out above Spring Canyon and I called Traci to let her know we were out and on our way back to the truck. It was almost fully dark by then, and as we rode back to the truck the horizon glowed a deep red for what seemed like a longer than usual twilight. Arriving at the truck, we drank some cold Powerade and ate some salty snacks before loading and securing the ATVs and heading home.
Sunset from Bartlett FlatI wasn’t certain I’d be able to drive home due to my legs still trying to cramp up, but once we got on the pavement I was able to use the cruise control and keep my legs in a relaxed position. I was awakened that night with more leg cramping in my thighs, and though I haven’t had any cramps since then, my muscles are still quite sore three days later. There’s a big knot in my right calf muscle, and I’ve been walking every day to keep things loosened up. The mosquitoes and muscle cramping at the very end of the trip put a big damper on my attitude at the time, though looking back now the negativity has diminished and the positives shine through. The passage of time is kind like that, I suppose. If I had this to do over again, the only thing I would change is to bring more water. In hindsight it was foolish to bring only two liters, but when planning out the trip I was only considering the miles I would be covering on foot and not the time I would spend doing it. For the first float across the river I was pretty anxious and didn’t get a chance to enjoy it, and the second crossing was marred by muscle cramps, but even that small taste of river running was enough to leave me wanting more, and I now see a float trip in my future.


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