Everyone loves it when they can spend time in and around the streams in our mountains. Most of the time, it represents a chance to cool off and enjoy the sights and sounds associated with moving water.
The situation changes when the water is high or moving swiftly. First and foremost, if you have ANY doubt, reconsider your plans and avoid a water crossing entirely.
During the spring months, many streams become filled with high volumes of water due to snowmelt and crossing streams during this time can present significant risks.
– Water levels/flow that may be modest in the morning may increase significantly later in the day when snowmelt reaches its maximum.
– Crossing later in the day may be more difficult.
Do not automatically follow other hikers into a crossing without assessing it yourself.
Relatively modest amounts of moving water create significant forces that are more than sufficient to sweep someone off their feet.
– Children or smaller people are at higher risk.
Even for good swimmers, swimming in fast moving water is quite dangerous.
– Streambeds filled with rocks and rapids or water flowing in/around debris can easily result in significant traumatic injuries.
– Entrapment and drowning is a notable risk.
– Being swept hundreds of yards or even miles downstream is a possibility.
“Rock hopping” or trying to cross on a log may increase your chances of slipping/falling.
A rope stretched across the stream may be used as a handline but you should never attach yourself to the rope.
– If you are tied into a rope and are swept off your feet, you may not be able to escape the rope and will be pushed down and held under the moving water.
Always cross with the rope on the upstream side of your body to limit risk of entanglement.
We encourage you to learn more about stream crossing techniques and considerations by going to some of the many good online resources (Stream crossing safety while hiking and backpacking – Pacific Crest Trail Association (pcta.org); How to Cross Streams and Rivers – Trailspace) or by picking up a copy of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 9th Edition — Books (mountaineers.org) which can provide additional information on safely crossing moving water.
Go out to a safe location and practice these techniques with your friends.
As always, never hesitate to turn around if you are uncomfortable. The hike will still be there when the water is lower.
Waiting till water flows to drop is often the best choice.