The following write up is by Nathan Poole and tells the story of his recent hike to see The Narrows with some of his friends. I am publishing it on the Texas River Bum website because it speaks to how difficult the hike really is and illustrates some of the issues with land owners. I have written my opinion at the end of his write up – Dave
Story and Photos by Nathan Poole
Before I tell the story of our hike to The Narrows, I want to give a warning: if you are just looking for a pretty swimming hole, don’t do this hike. The region is blessed with Jacob’s Well, Hamilton Pool, Krause Springs and many others that are all better if you just want to go for a swim in a beautiful environment. If you love hiking (or kayaking/canoeing when there is water in the river), are well prepared, and just absolutely have to see The Narrows, than go for it! It is absolutely gorgeous and peaceful. That said, you should just know what you’re getting into.
Now I realize that as you read this that I may come off fairly negative at times, but I’m recalling it all exactly how it happened for us so that anyone attempting this hike can know what to expect and what to bring. The video of the hike on Texas River Bum’s Dry Blanco article made me think it was long but relatively easy. I was severely mistaken about the relatively easy part (at least when unprepared). However, the whole time in the hike I was thinking if we had been better prepared it would have been a great hike! Don’t get me wrong, parts of it were fun and beautiful, but after a while it got miserable, mainly due to our mistakes.
After mistakenly thinking The Narrows were at the Narrows Recreation Area on Lake Travis, I found out the hard way that they were not actually at that location. I spent hours searching for the true location of The Narrows. Finally, I found the Texas River Bum website and his post on the Dry Blanco. His site was invaluable for a trip to The Narrows. Without the info from his site (the true location, directions on where to park, where to find all the laws to stay legal, flow rates to look for, etc.) our recent trip to The Narrows would have been impossible.
After finding out where The Narrows was actually located, I was set on going there. However, I didn’t want to hike that far, so I tried getting in contact with someone who had access. I spent hours searching for people who might have access to The Narrows. I messaged people on Facebook and YouTube who had pics/videos posted, I emailed anyone that I could find that was related to the retreat there, and called the groundskeeper of the retreat when one of the previously mentioned people gave me his number. When I called, he shut me down before I could even finish asking. He didn’t even let me finish that I was willing to pay for access or anything. I was told that he wasn’t as friendly as the previous groundskeeper, so that is unfortunate. After trying everything I could think of, I realized the only option was hiking.
After checking the Texas River Bum website on what conditions were necessary for the river to be dry enough to walk (we don’t own any kayaks or canoes), I checked the flow rates on the USGS site and checked the rainfall for the whole year. Everything looked good, so I started planning with others. I knew it would be a tough hike and definitely felt there would be safety in numbers. There ended up being five of us (3 guys, 2 gals) who made the trip to Blanco.
We had a late start on the morning of our trip and set off in the River around 8:30-9:00 a.m. When you first enter the riverbed from the bridge, on your right you’ll see a tree that has fallen with a no trespassing sign and a typed up paper that someone posted. They lie to tell you the hike is illegal and all that jazz to try to dissuade people.
This was just the beginning of lies and bullying we experienced there (except the sign was right about it being long and rough). I had already heeded the Texas River Bum’s advice and had familiarized myself with the laws so I knew we were okay to continue. I had even printed off and highlighted copies of all the laws to share in case we had issues with anyone (do this!).
The hike started off fine enough. There were a couple of short, calf deep water crossings at the beginning and a few pools at the edges during the first quarter of the trip, but it quickly went bone dry after that. The hike had some beautiful views along the way. There was a variety of substrates; dried mud, sand/grit, gravel, stones, and boulders. When we got to the rough large rock areas, it got tough.
There were rocky areas scattered throughout the hike, but towards the last half of the hike, it seemed the entire riverbed was comprised of large rocks. It was miserable. Our feet were killing us, we were hot, exhausted, and two members of our group were getting sick from the heat and exertion. It seemed like we’d never make it.
What made it worse was that we never knew exactly how far we had to go. Being poor college kids, we didn’t purchase the book from the Texas River Bum on the Blanco River. Not having good maps or a GPS really made it worse. We had a street map pulled up on a phone, but those aren’t exactly the best for river travel… Why we didn’t purchase the book beforehand or an app during the hike, I know not. So anyways, it went on and on. Forever. We took breaks and drank lots of water and kept on pushing. I’m sure everyone was thinking about turning back but it wasn’t mentioned, at least not to the whole group. It was miserable. Jokes were made about The Narrows not actually being there, and I’m sure there was some fear about that being true. Had I not looked it up on Google Earth, I would’ve been afraid of that too. We didn’t know how we would make the hike back, but we kept going, and going, and going.
The vegetation was increasing so we felt we were getting close, but the map wasn’t too easy to use to interpret the exact distance. Finally, we made it to a pool just up river of The Narrows. It was one of the most heavenly pools ever! After cooling off while being assaulted by minnows, we took off and finally caught sight of The Narrows. Of course, there was a no trespassing sign at the beginning of them, but once again the sign wasn’t in accordance with the law.
There were about 4 or 5 people swimming when we got there. As we entered, they moved off further down and out of sight. We jumped in and swam for a while.
Not too long after, we were joined by a lady in normal clothes. She awkwardly stared at us a while, so we made conversation. We found out she was one of the land owners. She wasn’t friendly, but wasn’t rude. She was really curious about my video gear, for some reason. She then jumped in and went down the narrows. Then who I can only assume was her mother came down in bathing suit and it was really funny watching someone at her age bail off into the swimming holes like she did! The two ladies went on and I started to get set up for a cable cam video shot through the steep walls.
As I was doing so, the Sheriff’s department showed up. They called us up to check our ID’s and to possibly put us in jail for trespassing. As we were packing our things, she asked where we had come from. I told her that we had hiked the river. She said if that was the case, we’d be fine. Then, a landowner or perhaps the groundskeeper for the retreat called out from the opposite side of the river in a very angry tone, asking if we had crossed fences. I replied that we had, but before I could finish explaining that these were fences across the riverbed, he threw his hands up and yelled something along the lines of, “There ya go, officer!” I told him that it was in the navigability laws that I was allowed to cross those riverbed fences and that I had print offs of the law and invited him to come review them with me. He started yelling about penal codes and that we were trespassing and he had already read and knew the laws, yet he wouldn’t come review the laws with me.
Interestingly enough, the law enforcement officer didn’t agree with him and basically dismissed him, telling him to call his sheriff and have them contact her with his name and address. His outright bullying and lying by ignoring certain laws so that he could accuse people to fit his agenda of keeping people out made it hard not to get angry back at him. Thankfully, he left and we went up and spoke with the deputies. The one who did all the talking was interesting. She was trying to intimidate us with tough talk and vulgar, violent language in one sentence, but then admitting we had followed all the laws in the next. She insulted our intelligence in one sentence and then complimented me for doing my homework in the next. It was kind of weird, but at least she knew the laws and didn’t try to get us inappropriately, like some of the landowners would have liked to have done. Overall, I guess I’m glad we dealt with her; I’m sure it could have been worse with someone else.
She told us the other county sheriff’s office would check our cars and she advised we head back. The drivers in our group were worried about their cars, so we decided to head back. Of course if the cars were in danger of being towed it wouldn’t have helped, because it took so long to return. Before we did, I offered to pay the deputies for water and told them we were low. It was now 4 p.m., we had originally planned on waiting for it too cool off before leaving. They said they didn’t have any, but we should call 911 if we ran out and were too hot or light headed. The landowner that had come with the cops just sat beside them, still not looking any of us in the eye, while we were pleading for water and telling them we were almost out. Pretty obvious we wouldn’t be getting help from him but I also realize this was our planning mistake.
After we got a ways away, I remembered I hadn’t gotten the shots I wanted and was really bummed. At the time I never wanted to do that long, rough hike again, but I really wanted those shots, so I was pretty bummed. The two people who had been sick were feeling better after cooling off in the pools, eating, drinking, and taking medicine from my first aid kit.
Shortly after starting back, I got to feeling pretty rough. We took a longer break than usual and I tried to eat some and then we started off again. Thankfully the break and water helped and I got to feeling better. The sun was getting low, so there was more shade but it also gave us a sense of urgency to beat nightfall. The way back was really slow because one of us had bad blisters (around 15) on their feet and couldn’t walk by themselves by the time we got back to the car. I won’t go on about how long the walk is again, I did that earlier.
A truck stopped us on one of the private roads that crosses the river to tell us the sheriffs from both counties had called him to tell him he had 5 trespassers on his land. I replied that the sheriff had told us to come this way, and he acknowledged we were legal if we stayed in the riverbed. Of course, just like everyone else so far, he accused us even though he knew we were legal. If the sheriffs thought we were trespassing, they’d have taken us in, not allowed us to go back the way we came. He then tried to scare us by telling us not to get run over by the animals in the river bed. It was pretty juvenile of him… I was too tired to argue and I desperately wanted to buy water, so I changed topic and tried to buy water from him, but he denied. I guess the ride to the house in his truck was too much work to do for someone who dares go against their wishes (even though follows the laws) and go on “their” rivers. I could totally understand if we were trespassing or littering, but we weren’t and they all knew that.
Anyways, we rationed water to just a sip to wet our mouths and throats, but still ran out of water with a couple miles left to go. It was rough. If it had not been night, we would have called 911, because we barely made it as it was. Three of our group went ahead to go get water for everyone while one of us stayed behind with the one who could hardly walk. We all got back after dark, our 12.5 hour trip completed using the flashlights we had been lucky enough to pack. Cold water never tasted as good as when we got to our cooler! When I was putting stuff in my car, a guy stopped and asked if I needed help. I wish I had ran into him on the hike. Imagine that, a person who actually seems to care about others.
There was a note on our cars from a deputy that said, “Do not access The Narrows from here.” I’m pretty sure if we had done something wrong, he’d have had us towed or ticketed us, so I think this was more bullying to try to intimidate people not to go.
If I am wrong and we were parked too close, than I am very grateful for his being lenient. But I’m pretty sure we were parked right. This was the one area I hadn’t fully researched the laws on.
This community tries to keep it hidden like they’re hiding bodies out there or something. I totally would understand if we were trashing the place or trespassing, but I was very strict on informing everyone about the laws when they joined up on the trip. People tried busting us, but never found anything against us because we followed the laws. My opinion of the landowners we ran into isn’t too high. If you buy land on a public waterway, you have to realize your preference to be greedy and keep people out doesn’t trump state law. And I don’t buy for one second that they just care so much about whatever endangered species may be there. I’ve seen tons of people there on all the pictures and videos I’ve seen on Facebook and YouTube on The Narrows, and while researching the retreat. On the blogs I’ve read, people will be there already swimming, as was the case when we got there. Last I checked, our feet don’t harm anything more than theirs do. The hike itself is so rough that it will never be a huge destination with lots of people visiting. Personally, I wish lots of people would legally make the trip. I wish they’d do it so that the Sheriffs would get tired of hearing the whining, crying, and lying of the landowners and hopefully everyone would stop harassing law-abiding citizens. However, I don’t want people going unprepared, like we did. With preparation, the whole trip would be fun.
There were quite a few things we learned on this trip that I feel should be shared with anyone that might be planning an attempt. There are a few things you should know before going:
• Take tons of water. I would say 6-10 Liters per person, if possible.
• Have good shoes that you know are good for rough terrain.
• Condition yourself. The two people in our group who have gone hiking recently were the only two who never got sick. Do some challenging prep hikes.
• Print off and learn the laws from the TPWD website. My research saved us.
• Be prepared for lies and bullying. Make sure everyone in your party can control their temper. Yelling and cussing back at the deputies and landowners will probably land you in trouble.
• Start early, time your hike (to calculate return), and take a GPS and maps.
• Take flashlights- just in case you are coming back later than expected, like we did.
• Take a first aid kit- I used the ankle wraps, gauze, bandages, and medicine in mine.
• Take socks if you’re wearing Tevas, Chacos, or any kind of sandals. You’ll be glad.
• Park legally. Research it.
• Enter only from the bridge. Do not take any shortcuts through any of the bends by cutting across land. This is a long hike and there is no way of getting around it. I’m pretty sure that as soon as people see your car parked, they alert everyone.
• Never step foot out of the river bed.
• Take a couple snacks, but not too much. Water is most important.
• Keep weight down. Don’t bring clothes or excess camera equipment unless you’re prepared for back aches.
• Take rope. A lot of it; 50 ft. minimum, 100 ft. would be great. The top pools of The Narrows are elevated above the others. Once you get down, it is too slippery to get up. If you go all the way down and then try to climb up and walk back to the start, the landowners can get you for trespassing, at least according to the deputy we dealt with (I’m not so sure you couldn’t argue that the banks outside of those wouldn’t count, but that might be pushing it and we didn’t risk it, we used rope). There are some rocks to tie to at the start.