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Thread: Difficult Stream Fords: What are your techniques?

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    Member Buck Nelson's Avatar
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    Default Difficult Stream Fords: What are your techniques?

    Specifically, I am curious whether you like to face upstream or the opposite bank, along with other things you do to make the crossing safer when crossing on foot. I had two friends nearly killed while crossing streams last summer, in different incidents. I've found that opinions and tactics vary a great deal. So what works best for you guys in the real world?

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    Find the most suitable crossing, use a trekking pole or long stick on the downstream side, angle straight across or slightly downstream (don't "buck" the current - work with it). If it's too deep and swift to be done safely, find another spot or DON'T DO IT! Iv'e never done it, but I suppose if you thought there was a high risk of falling in, which proably means you shouldn't try it anyway, you might want to undue your waist waist belt and chest strap so you can quickly ditch the pack if you go down.

    Or, let your best little buddy go first!
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    Releasing the waist and chest strap is good practice when toting a pack, so is using a staff for a third appendage.Choose a likely best ford, face slightly upstream with kness slightly bent, move slowly and carefully downstream.

    As for Fido going first with a pack attached... not my dog. If he gets swept downstream wearing a weighted rig like that chances are too high that he may suffer an unwelcome fate. I remove my dogs' pack and put it on my pack for his safety, I can get out of my unsecured pack, a dog cannot get out of a secured pack.

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    I've crossed MANY streams and rivers. I've been very lucky as I am very stupid and can't swim. I never used a trekking pole before, but they really are helpful in crossing water. I try to move slowly and slightly down stream. NEVER buck the current! I've crossed places that were chest deep and you could barely breath because of the current and cold, but have made it every time. Have your partner on one side or the other ready to help if needed.

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    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Crossing rivers and streams...

    This summer, 2 of my son's friends came to AK to backpack Denali. They had an excellent trip in spite of rainy weather. The only misadventure occurred on a stream crossing. A few lost items of personal gear was all it cost them, but others aren't so fortunate. I don't recall if crossing rivers and streams was a chapter in Larry Kaniut's book, Danger Stalks the Land or not, ... but it could be. Some good advice in older discussions...

    Oakman posted (http://forums.outdoorsdirectory.com/...tream+crossing) a helpful ADN article (http://www.adn.com/2010/08/30/143187...hen-river.html). Good crossing technique tips bunched up at the end of the article. I usually like Oakman's tripod technique with hiking poles facing upstream (post#11) when alone, but a few times in deeper crossings (the Ninilchik R, 1st right bend just below the bridge), I've found wantj43's suggestion (post#4) of facing downstream works better...maybe because your downstream vector uses some of the current force to augment your direction of travel instead of working against you?

    This thread was a good one: http://forums.outdoorsdirectory.com/...tream+crossing too. The National Outdoor Leadership School's Wilderness Guide, by Mark Harvey mentioned (post#8) I picked up used - is full of valuable stuff NOLS teaches - most of which you and others on these forums probably already know.

    The "eddy method" they suggest is helpful for a group (2 or more) - all facing upstream, strongest at front leaning on a hiking staff, second behind him/her with hands on #1's hips or shoulders, then #3 directly behind and with his/her hands on #2, etc. The eddy behind #1 buffers #2, #3 etc. The support from each person behind gives each person extra support too.

    Knowing of some techniques to try is valuable, but some of the best advice I've heard is also in that thread: "Be conservative, plan carefully, think it through" (post#13).

    Good topic.

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    Member AlaskaTrueAdventure's Avatar
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    Face upstream...but as you cross don't fight ending up on the other side a little farther downstream...Dont stare at the hypnotic effect of the water ripples in front of you....use a wading staff if possible.....join hands with your buddy (....get over it, it will be alright)....cross where the stream/river is widest and shallowest...unsnap your backpack waist belt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Buck Nelson View Post
    Specifically, I am curious whether you like to face upstream or the opposite bank, along with other things you do to make the crossing safer when crossing on foot. I had two friends nearly killed while crossing streams last summer, in different incidents. I've found that opinions and tactics vary a great deal. So what works best for you guys in the real world?
    Buck, I would think you know more than anyone else on this topic. Being a retired smokejumper and having hiked all the way across AK, but I would agree with the others and would add cross with a partner and hold on to hands. But definitely unbuckle your pack straps. It would probably be wise to be sure you weren't crossing directly upstream from an obstruction like a sweeper, strainer etc.

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    Member broncoformudv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jpost View Post
    Find the most suitable crossing, use a trekking pole or long stick on the downstream side, angle straight across or slightly downstream (don't "buck" the current - work with it). If it's too deep and swift to be done safely, find another spot or DON'T DO IT! Iv'e never done it, but I suppose if you thought there was a high risk of falling in, which proably means you shouldn't try it anyway, you might want to undue your waist waist belt and chest strap so you can quickly ditch the pack if you go down.

    Or, let your best little buddy go first!
    This is how I have always crossed moving water and it has worked so far. On occasion the current has been going a bit too fast and helped me downstream but I was always able to keep my feet under me.

    How does facing upstream while going straight across or slightly downstream help one? To me it sounds like trying to walk backwards which I have enough problems doing on dry ground with no gear.

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    I have crossed streams many times and have managed very fast water with a load or even somebody on my back. I always face the opposite bank and the reason for this is that I don't want to allow the current to work against both legs,but primarily only against the upstream leg. It is FAR easier if two of you can cross together and hold hands as that in effect gives you 4 feet. A stick on the downstream side is also a great help. I generally end up further downstream on my exit as I gradually angle slightly downstream with the current. Always make certain that the foot moving ahead is securely placed on the bottom before putting your weight on it. There were also some other good ideas in previous replies so I won't repeat them.

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    We have large deep slow rivers to cross up this way and small fast shallow rivers to cross too...

    With the big rivers,or river moths by the ocean, I get naked and swim with my clothes bundled and placed onna large grass heap on a 3 log raft, If I dont have a trash bag along to put them in and tie shut to float with.

    Just hold one arm on and swim..........

    For fast water, i look for a wide shallow area , and walk out to test with a walking stick. Then I cross after determining how Im gonna do it.

    Rope is always handy, and I teach the kids how to swim together, one hand on the others shoulder and swim as a group, as well as taking a long slow swim with a log raft.
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    Some great advice here, ihmo. I use my walking sticks like a blind man feeling the bottom and then plant the one I'm favoring on the upstream side. I lean into the upstream side just a bit and work my way across.
    Leaning on a trekking pole that is down current could be disastrous if a guy loses his balance. Leaning slightly into the current will be for more stable.
    Don't just step, feel with your foot and place it with caution.
    Take your time! Traction can mean everything in a dangerous crossing.
    Scope the stream before even touching the water; look for riffles and more cross-able areas. Obviously slow, slack water generally means more depth.

    Seems like simple stuff, but I guess if a person hasn't done it....
    Proud to be an American!

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    Heres a tip, if you are wearing waders, put a old pair of rain bibs on over your boots, face up stream and walk into the current if you are strong enough, the current will take you downstream so you need know where your exit spot is going to be. ( don't underestimate your pullout, you can find yourself in a hole before you know it)

    The water may be above your belt but it won't be above your knees in your waders if youhave the bibs on.

    I've crossed more rivers than I can count, and have got wet on every one of them. This was the best I could come up with.

  13. #13

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    I always unbuckle my pack as that gear can be replaced. Head slightly down stream and stare at a specific rock or spot on the bank I want to get to. Use a stick or walking stick if you have one.

    More than once I've thanked the Lord above I made it cause it was nip and tuck......

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    I don't know if it is feasible in your scenario to have them but I always use spikes when doing any wading deeper than knee deep. I cut my teeth fly fishing in the great lakes the streams there are smooth shale bottoms with out Korkers you are going to fall and in the bigger rivers that will definitely kill you. When fishing in stocking foot chest waders I use Korkers' old guide model wading boots. I hike in the lug sole, but when its time to wade aggressively I swap out for the heavy spiked lug sole.

    A lighter traction options for crossing would be their new water shoe http://www.korkers.com/footwear/multi-sport/hyjack.html I would put in in my pack with the "studded rubber soles" on the shoes that definitely will give you the traction you need. Your other option would be to carry a packraft and use it to get accross. Either way is 4 to 6 pounds more weight you would have to carry, but if it gets you across safely it would be worth it.

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    Sometimes the lee side of large rocks can help break up a crossing. The wake can trail a surprisingly long ways downstream.

    There's a wide place on the Anchor River that's popular for crossing at usual water levels,
    but at high water deep and swift enough to cause problems for someone my size. Using the wake below larger rocks helps.
    Of course, this method becomes less useful the more weight you have to carry. When I was fly fishing, it was feasible, but
    crossing with a hunting pack along a similar Nigu River stretch seemed dicey - I just scouted a wider, safer spot.

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    Quote Originally Posted by broncoformudv View Post
    How does facing upstream while going straight across or slightly downstream help one? To me it sounds like trying to walk backwards which I have enough problems doing on dry ground with no gear.
    Our bodies are typically more stable with force being applied to the front (facing upstream, current coming at you). Just have someone push you from behind and then push you from the front to see the difference. If you are facing downstream, you are more likely to have your feet swept out from under you. Most of the time, you aren't really walking across as much as shuffling sideways/diagonally backwards when you are in current that is a potential threat. I wouldn't associate it with your "normal" problems of walking backwards.

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    ...and one more thought...
    Glacial Rivers can rise dramatically on a warm or hot day. Plan glacial crossings as early in the day as possible. Glance around for any thing that will burn. Because following a hot August day a glacial river may raise 18 inches and you may not be able to return to the other side until hours after the water quits melting off the upstream glacier. I have spent some long chilly nights on the wrong side of the river. Fortunately, if fire wood is anywhere it will be near the water. Those long, cold nights are not as bad if you are working on a super fresh sheep cape until your batteries go out.
    dennis

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    Now that I think about and reading what Dennis says, I do face slightly up stream when crossing. Another really important thing that fullkurl stated was "feel" with your feet. That maybe the most important thing of them all. One wrong step with bad footing and you are down. I've had to reach in and grab a friend as he was "floating" by me. The worse crossing are glacier fed rivers that are full of silt. There is no way to know how deep they are untll you start wading. I had to cross 9 branches of a river one time to get to the trees to head up the mountain. Last crossing was chest deep. It certainly was not fun and probably something I would not do again.

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    While moose hunting this past season I had to cross the Big Su wearing chest waders, 45lb pack and rifle. I'm here to tell ya, thank god, that once the water goes above your hips, it really has a hold of you. I used a very strong stick about 6 ft long and took baby steps. Never taking another step until I was sure. Had to turn back several times after getting more than half way across. The chest pocket on my chest waders was full of water when I finally made it back. I came to the conclusion that if I ever have to make a crossing like that I will spend the $700, or whatever on a pack raft. It's just not worth it

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    Things to consider, body weight and height. Being a tall heavy dude helps for water crossings.

    I don't understand the facing upstream thought here. I'm always sideways into current reducing surface area.

    The more weight on my back the better too. I get heavy and more difficult to move in current.

    I guess the one tought I have on water crossings is that you learn to read the water with time and experience. Many of the fishermen among us who spend lots of time on rivers will know what I mean. Each crossing is unique and a formulated plan pre dip is important. Anticipate failure and what the punishment will be.

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