Storm surges and seasonal currents can make water crossings tricky. A little know-how goes a long way

People Crossing a River
Zach Lucero/Unsplash

Always check with rangers or administrators about seasonal water flow before heading out. Understand tidal flow and the impact of recent or expected rain on water level surges. Ask about any problem areas. 

For proper gear, bring spare footwear that may get soaked. Walking through a shallow stream may be safer than tightroping across a wet log. Pack a lightweight microfiber towel to dry your feet, and use trekking poles to create added stability and to test water depth. Additionally, convertible, zip-off pants help avoid extra drag during and after crossing water. 

Assess the current. Throw a branch into the stream to determine its speed and inspect to see if debris is surging with the current. Never attempt to cross a fast-moving stream. The best spots are straight, wide, slow, and shallow. 

If you don’t see an appropriate place, don’t even try. Better alternatives may be found off the trail. 

Loosen your pack straps so that if you fall and the pack becomes waterlogged, the bag won’t be hard to shed. 

As you cross, shuffle your feet and keep at least one of your trekking poles in contact with the stream bottom at all times. You should face upstream and move diagonally. 

Water may not be the only obstacle. You don’t want to have to scramble up a steep bank on the other side, either. Make sure terrain on the far side is passable before risking the crossing.

This Came from the 2021 Waters of the West Issue—Read It Here!

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