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Thread: Crossing Rivers and Streams

  1. #1
    Member DrSpartacus19's Avatar
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    Default Crossing Rivers and Streams

    In light of another thread I just read, are there any tips or safety precautions for hikers while crossing fast moving rivers?

    I know to look for slower moving braided sections in the river, but what else can be done?

    I read somewhere it can be helpful (if you have space) to bring a small inflatable dingy to put your pack in while you cross. Apparently this will allow you more mobility and the dingy with your pack in it can provide stability.

    Is there any truth to this?

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    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Crossing streams

    I'm sure you'll get some takers on the pack raft, but I haven't used one.

    Advice from my friends which has helped me:
    1. Cross at a downstream angle.
    2. Use a wading staff. Ones I've seen/use are stout.
    3. Unstrap your backpack/fanny pack whatever
    4. If you have a buddy, try the "Norwegian Bus". You'll need both hands free if possible. a. Cut a sturdy sapling or similar 5-6 ft or more.
    b. Standing side-by-side with your pal/pals, all grasp the horizontal stick firmly. c. Wade across, keeping the biggest, strongest guy upstream, the second biggest/strongest guy moving in his wake, and the third guy also, etc.

    Props to my friend, Axel Burgheim who taught me this. It's a great technique if you're not alone, making uncrossable stream sections crossable. For example, he and I used it to wade across the murky Talkeetna R. in May. Halfway across, just when the depth and current were becoming a little dicey anyway, we both ran into a tree, submerged at a shallow (near horizontal) angle - maybe 8 inches in diameter-at thigh level. The "bus" helped us stabilize each other - so we could step over the log. We came out mostly dry.
    It's cool -- when it works anyway.

    Caution definitely warranted though, especially if alone. Hikers die even in shallow streams as you prob know.

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    That is all good info. I usually cross upstream though. I find that the current wants to make me take over long steps when trying to cross downstream which makes it easy to lose my footing. But then again I also eat my bread butter side down...

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    Member Roger45's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 6XLeech View Post
    3. Unstrap your backpack/fanny pack whatever
    Amen to this! IF you fall in the water, you want your pack off ASAP. If it is strapped around your waist, chances are you may drown. This is the most important thing to do. The second most important thing, if you are wear hip boots, NEVER snap the calf straps as you want to be able to kick out of them as well!
    "...and then Jack chopped down the beanstock, adding murder and ecological vandalism to the theft, enticement and vandalism charges already mentioned, but he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you're a hero, because no one asks the inconvenient questions." Terry Pratchett's The Hogfather

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    Member dkwarthog's Avatar
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    something else you can do if your wearing hip boots is to wear rain pants over your hip boots. The water pressure keeps f the water from coming into your boots.

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    Member 9601's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 6XLeech View Post
    Props to my friend, Axel Burgheim who taught me this. It's a great technique if you're not alone, making uncrossable stream sections crossable.
    You wouldn't be talking about the same Axel that lives in the cabin near the confluence of the Talkeetna River and Clear Creek would you? I've stayed at his camp before if it's the same guy. Good times.

  7. #7
    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Current - walk upstream?

    Quote Originally Posted by LuJon View Post
    That is all good info. I usually cross upstream though. I find that the current wants to make me take over long steps when trying to cross downstream which makes it easy to lose my footing. But then again I also eat my bread butter side down...
    Agree with Lujon. As a rule, crossing upstream allows much better control. And crossing with 2 when you wouldn't cross with one - should be approached warily. I wouldn't cross any stream with any one if I wasn't willing to take a swim.

    9601: Axel still camps there summers. Knows that river - seeing it in the low, clear water levels of early spring to the later muddy, torrent it becomes in summer. Knows a lot of woods/camp craft. And that dude can fish!

    Anyway, DrSpratacus19, BrianM was keen on the AlpacaRafts - see http://forums.outdoorsdirectory.com/...php?t=31338you might search AlpacaRaft - Good luck.

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    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default NOLS Version-"eddy method"

    "This style may be your best choice in the really strong rivers. Put your strongest members at the front and the back of the line. The advantage here...those in the middle are buffered from the current,. The person in the front of the line should have a large stick to lean on. The next person in line, number two, puts his hand on the shoulders or pack of person number one both to support him and to put pressure on that person's feet should he or she have trouble with the footing...The entire line moves across the river in tandem..."

    from The National Outdoor Leadership School's Wilderness Guide, by Mark Harvey.

  9. #9

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    Originally Posted by 6XLeech
    3. Unstrap your backpack/fanny pack whatever

    Quote Originally Posted by Roger45 View Post
    Amen to this! IF you fall in the water, you want your pack off ASAP. If it is strapped around your waist, chances are you may drown. This is the most important thing to do. The second most important thing, if you are wear hip boots, NEVER snap the calf straps as you want to be able to kick out of them as well!
    I have a little different perspective on this. When I pack, I pack everything I want to stay dry in water tight bags/containers and zip locks Which is probably about 70% of my load.

    Once I crossed a spring run off flooded stream that was moving very rapidly about 80 yds above a cataract falls. A little less than half way acroos the water level was almost waist high and the current dumped me. I went right under, but my pack acted like a bouy and bounced me right up like a cork. Being already completely soaked at this point, I just bounced my way accross the rest of the stream. And I had a dry set of clothes to change into on the other side.

    Upstream or down stream doesn't matter to me. I look for the best crossing and try not to fight the current and usually give way to the current angling a little down stream as I go.

    I would never wear waders in a rapid and uncertain current as they act like an anchor and many a fisherman has drowned with their waders. I always have two pair of shoes or shoes and sandals and remove my main hiking boots and put on a lighter shoe (sometimes with wool socks for ice cold water).

    My two cents.

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    You can also get in one big circle if there are three or more of you. you grab each others shoulder straps and turn like a wheel in a circle, clockwise or counterclockwise. So you act as one big mass moving through the current. Small movements, one person at a time. The upstream person, which always switches, gets the brunt of current.

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    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Sometimes: "Scout upstream and downstream"

    Finally sat down to read The National Outdoor Leadership School's Wilderness Guide, by Mark Harvey, it's a used book, but one of the best hiking/camping craft books I've read. New motivation now as we plan our first flyout float for August.

    In the river crossings section, Harvey talks about scouting up/downstream. My first thought was that on familiar rivers, I wouldn't bother, but for a flyout float -unfamiliar river - it could matter a lot to walk upstream scouting for a better crossing, or downstream to see what kinds of trouble might await in the runout.

    But just last year (maybe 2 yrs), an experienced Alaskan fisherman on a familiar stream - Little Willow I think, tragically was swept under some deadfall and trapped. Anyway, I guess it's always good advice to think a couple of steps ahead to the "what if's" of crossing rivers safely.

    Good Spring topic, eh?

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    Member 1stimestar's Avatar
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    Also, don't look down at the water but out across towards the opposite shore. Looking down, which is our natural tendency, can cause vertigo.
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    Member Buck Nelson's Avatar
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    Default Scout carefully, use a staff, be conservative

    There's been some good ideas already given. One of the best is to scout carefully. It's well worth hiking a considerable distance up or downstream to find a safer spot. What's the stream like below you? What will be the consequences if you fall?

    Streams near glacier country will often be much shallower at 6 in the morning than at 6 in the evening. A screaming torrent a few hours after a rain might be a gentle stream a day later, so patience can be useful.

    On most of my trips in Alaska losing my pack would be a disaster in itself. If I fall and ditch my pack and crawl out wet and with no tent, sleeping bag, dry clothes or food, what then? I waterproof things as best as I can, release my waist belt, and make sure I don't put myself in a situation where I fall.

    A hiking staff is priceless for stability, and I never cross Alaska rivers barefoot. The water is usually too cold and the bottom too rocky.

    Be conservative, plan carefully, think it through.

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