Fast Water Solo Stream Crossings - Looking for Best Practice Solo Method/Techniques
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GARY HEBERT
(garyhebert)

Locale: New England
Fast Water Solo Stream Crossings - Looking for Best Practice Solo Method/Techniques on 05/09/2010 08:36:10 MDT Print View

I've read/heard various conflicting methods for solo crossing somewhat fast moving streams up to crotch or waste high without rope assistance. I carry trekking poles, and wear shorts & good lightweight quick draining/drying footwear with good traction, solidly fastened to my foot. Generally I unhook my waist belt & loosen my pack straps enough to dump it if necessary but not so loose it swings about effecting my balance; But what approach/techniques can anyone recommend for the actual method of crossing the stream? Any good resources to read? I've heard/read to face and lean up stream & step sideways, moving one foot at a time, and continually replanting one or both poles upstream and to the side, using as another solid "footing" ; I've also heard to just face across the stream; I've tried several variations depending on depth and speed of water. It's exhilarating if not downright scary at times. But I love it! Any thoughts?

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Fast Water Solo Stream Crossings - Looking for Best Practice Solo Method/Techniques on 05/09/2010 09:20:59 MDT Print View

No experience. And just one observation.

"Generally I unhook my waist belt & loosen my pack straps enough to dump it if necessary"

I watched in horror as one individual did just this, and as he lost footing and fell, the pack, being mostly air, floated, with force, at the surface, suspending him face-down in the stream. He struggled - for a while - to extricate himself. It was close.

I've thought about the scene several times, and have decided a one-shoulder carry would be my technique. I'll risk awkwardness, and potentially losing my pack, to losing my life. YMMV

Edited by greg23 on 05/09/2010 09:21:35 MDT.

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Fast Water Solo Stream Crossings - Looking for Best Practice Solo Method/Techniques on 05/09/2010 09:33:58 MDT Print View

I prefer to face upstream and plant a single pole in front of me. In strong currents, poles can be hard to manage (but essential) so I find having two hands on one pole often helps. I also have a rule of moving only one thing at a time. I try to never move a foot and the pole at the same time.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Fast Water Solo Stream Crossings - Looking for Best Practice Solo Method/Techniques" on 05/09/2010 09:42:31 MDT Print View

Hey Gary,

I did a trip a few weeks ago that involved crossing the Gila river over X100 in the course of 4 days, most crossings were mid thigh to navel high and relatively swift snow melt. I had done crossings in the past but none that tested me physically like that trip. Like you said, there are a lot of different ways to do so, there are probably even traditional techniques taught in outdoor leadership schools and trekking courses. I've never been to any of those, more baptism by fire than anything.

This is only my experience but what I've found to work is:

Face across the stream and proceed forward, get a feel for the current and depth and check your footing before committing with each step. I use trekking poles and these serve as an invaluable tool for checking the rivers bottom ahead of me for depressions and debris that might take me down, they also can be used to "tripod" your body in the water. Placing one pole in the water at an angle on the rivers bottom downstream alleviated some of the force of the water and on my body. I wouldn't have been able to cross the river safely without the use of the poles IMO, they helped provide 3 points of contact with the rivers bottom when one foot was suspended in the water advancing forward. I've found that as the river gets more swift that I tend to slightly increase my lean forward and angle my body upstream gradually. One problem I found was sometimes I would lean too far forward facing upstream and on two occasions the water currents at the rivers bottom knocked my feet out from under me, this was mostly due to my center of balance being too far over my feet. But since I was facing upstream I was quickly able to brake in the water and plant my feet, my pack stayed dry on both occasions but our digital camera in my hipbelt pocket didn't! I did find that when I was fearful of the crossing or nervous I would get chicken legs in the river, usually I would back out of the water, regain my composure and try again with confidence. Basically, don't commit unless you're ready.

There is this weird affect I experienced on a couple of crossings where I would slightly panic and be forced into a standstill in the middle of the river, looking upstream I lost my equilibrium watching the water rush past me, for some reason the water passing by me made me feel dizzy, disoriented and out of balance. I would have to snap myself out of it on a few occasions and keep moving forward. Anyone else had this experience?

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: fast, solo, stream crossings on 05/09/2010 09:49:26 MDT Print View

With lighter packs and dry bags, I think that keeping the pack snug and the dry bags puffed up with lots of air is the way to go. If you dump, roll over onto your back with feet downstream. The pack with float you and allow you to do a backstroke ferry to shore.

(The obvious): Pick a crossing that is as broad and slow as possible. Sometimes deeper, slower water is easier than faster, shallower riffles, especially if the riffles have loose cobbles that make footing tough and foot entrapment a concern. Make sure the crossing has a good runout, so that if you slip and swim you won't end up in a strainer.

I think the go with the flow practice works best. Diagonal across the swiftest spots, facing down stream. Lean back into the current and use it to push you along. Heels down, toes up (foot entrapment bad!). Poles can be handy, but pole baskets can catch in the current and be more hurt than help. Perhaps remove the baskets, or lash the poles to the pack (if you might have to swim a bit).

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Fast Water Solo Stream Crossings - Looking for Best Practice Solo Method/Techniques" on 05/09/2010 10:00:39 MDT Print View

What I find interesting is how each river has its own language and set of patterns, after crossing enough times I've found I've become more fluent in reading the water and what it is doing, though I never assume anything. There are times when being subtle and methodical in your approach to water crossings is necessary and there are times when white knuckle death gripping your poles and muscling your body across the river is necessary.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: re: fast, solo, stream crossings on 05/09/2010 10:05:22 MDT Print View

"...that keeping the pack snug and the dry bags puffed up with lots of air is the way to go. If you dump, roll over onto your back with feet downstream. The pack with float you and allow you to do a backstroke ferry to shore."

We have a "stupid race" every year in our local stream and I watch as folks re-learn this lesson each year. Be it a blow-up doll or a beer keg, the "float" is always on top and the people are underneath, struggling to get up and out.

I would try this in a swimming pool first. I do not believe you will be able to "submerge" a snug pack to "stay on top".

Thom Darrah
(thomdarrah) - MLife

Locale: Southern Oregon
Solo Stream Crossing on 05/09/2010 10:06:25 MDT Print View

If not an overly wide stream crossing I will cross first without pack to test footing, depth and route difficulty. I will then return and recross with pack.

For wider stream crossings I have always unbuckled my pack belt and re buckled behind my back so webbing is well managed and not hanging loose. I undo the sternum strap (if used) and slightly loosen shoulder straps for easy exit if required.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: stream crossings and packs on 05/09/2010 10:48:24 MDT Print View

"I would try this in a swimming pool first. I do not believe you will be able to "submerge" a snug pack to "stay on top"."

Greg, I've used this system many times with great success. It is possible to overdue the bouyancy (testing is a good idea), and a snug hip belt is essential.

j lan
(justaddfuel) - F

Locale: MN
Re: Solo Stream Crossing on 05/09/2010 10:51:17 MDT Print View

How about using a grappling hook to swing you across while floating?

[link]http://www.countycomm.com/microhook.htm[/link]

I know, geeky and unpractical, but so cool!

Edited by justaddfuel on 05/09/2010 10:57:09 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Solo Stream Crossing on 05/09/2010 18:04:37 MDT Print View

I always liked the rope-pendulum method.

--B.G.--

GARY HEBERT
(garyhebert)

Locale: New England
microhook on 05/09/2010 20:56:41 MDT Print View

hahahahaha....the micro grappling hook!

Ya, maybe I can use it to make time swinging down the trail too!

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: re: stream crossings and packs on 05/10/2010 07:11:52 MDT Print View

I crossed a deep Sierra stream with my pack firmly attached. The current and depth swept me off my feet. The bear canister floated. I easily rolled over onto my back and kicked and paddled with my poles. It was a placid and deep stream, not a swift one, though.

I refuse to do anything that might kill me. I hiked two miles upstream on one creek on the PCT until it was safe to cross.

I don't face straight into the current, but may face 3/4 into the current at times.

I've heard of some smaller hikers carrying or putting big rocks in their packs to help weigh them down against the current.

Ike Mouser
(isaac.mouser) - F
my way on 05/10/2010 14:51:24 MDT Print View

I loosen my straps and undo the buckles, but i also tie a 50 foot long piece of line to my pack strap before crossing. I grip tightly to a loop in the line, i do not tie it around my wrist, if i want to let go of it i can. I do this that way if my pack does get loose, i have a chance at saving it, but you have to brace for the isntant tug when the line goes taut. Thats what the 50 feet is for, time to find a foothold and drag it to shore if necessary. If lost completely the line also has a decent chance to snag on something and possibly allow you to save the pack as well.

Edited by isaac.mouser on 05/10/2010 14:53:21 MDT.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Fast Water Solo Stream Crossings on 05/11/2010 19:34:36 MDT Print View

As a fly fisherman, I've had lots of practice at wading deep water.

When fishing, I always carry a wading staff and plant it down stream (I wouldn't wade deep water with two poles). An upstream pole plant is more difficult to make than a downstream plant... on a downstream pole plant your body breaks the current and pulls the pole away from you which is where you want it on a down and across traverse. Plant your pole and walk to the pole (once your pole is behind you it's useless). As others have mentioned, only move one leg (or pole) at a time.

Face across and slightly downstream, keeping the water on your side (smaller surface area). You can also reduce drag by taking off your pants... this is especially true once you hit crotch level.

Broken water like riffles or boulder strewn sections will actually be moving more slowly than a deep slow unbroken run even though the broken water looks faster (the rocks slow down the flow). The caveat is to be aware that there is a good chance there will be deep holes in behind the boulders so move a little downstream of them.

Also be aware of the position of the sun. You won't notice it until you get into deep water where the glare will obscure the view of the bottom. I've been caught with this a few times when I couldn't go forward and when I turned around to go back, I couldn't see the bottom (or sub-surface obstacles) because of the glare of the sun.

Greg Lewis
(gpl916) - F

Locale: PNW
Re: Fast Water Solo Stream Crossings - Looking for Best Practice Solo Method/Techniques on 05/11/2010 21:25:30 MDT Print View

The method generally used and accepted by Rescue 3 is done as Jack describes above. It works pretty well most of the time. A single pole or better yet, a large staff works well.

If you have more than one person you can form a single line, with everyone facing upstream. The person in front holds the pole and leans into it, and each person grabs a strap or something on the person in front of them and helps hold them down. the lead person calls each step and the members move the same foot in unison, one step at a time. It is generally pretty easy for everyone accept for the person in front, because they are in his eddy.

If you lose your balance it's important to roll over and get your feet downstream into the defensive position so that you can fend off rocks and use your arms to position yourself in a good spot for obstacles. When you see an exit point or a good eddy, roll over and swim aggresively to it, but never try to stand until you are at the shore or in shallow water to avoid foot entrapment.

They don't have specific recomendations for the pack straps that I am aware of, but loose seems like a good idea.
Greg

Edited by gpl916 on 05/11/2010 21:33:15 MDT.

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Sunglasses for Wading on 05/12/2010 11:12:07 MDT Print View

Nobody has mentioned sunglasses. Flyfishing has taught me that polarized sunglasses are extremely helpful for crossing rivers safely. The more you see of the bottom, the less you have to move your feet around trying to find the best place to step. I have often waded out into a river and seen a large log or hole 20 or 30 feet ahead of me with my glasses that I would not have detected without my glasses. I would have gone way out there, done some risky foot shuffling at the edge of the hole, only to return and try somewhere else. Most people carry shades already, so make sure they're polarized.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: sunglasses for wading on 05/12/2010 16:21:16 MDT Print View

The polarized glasses are a good call. I got some last year (primarily for fly fishing), and they can make quite a difference. Most of my previous stream crossing and river swimming experiences have been in the southwest, where the water is typically silty enough that seeing the bottom isn't an option under any circumstances. In the mountains, however, spotting cobbles ought to make life much easier.