Crossing a river safely on foot, especially in cold water or strong currents, can be dangerous and challenging for even a very experienced hiker. There have been many people who have lost their lives while crossing a river. However, if you do find yourself needing to cross a river, there are some guidelines that can help you to read the river and be able to cross it safely. Before ever crossing a river, you should study it very carefully.
Some dangers that you want to look for in the water include:
1. Fast-flowing or deep water
2. Rocks that are sharp, slippery or submerged within the water
3. A bottom that is unstable or uneven
4. Trees that have fallen and submerged underneath the river
If any of the above is seen, the river could be too dangerous to cross. You may need to rethink your strategy to cross the river or possiblye need to prepare to wait out the dangerous water until it is a safe time to cross.
Once you have decided on the condition of the river, there are many things you should do before crossing. It is important for the pack you are carrying to be securely waterproofed with a strong liner. The straps on your pack should also be loosened in case you need to get out of it very quickly. Unless the bottom of the river is sandy and clear, reef sandals need to be worn in the water. If this type of shoe is not available to you, boots can also be worn. Proper footwear is recommended to keep your feet safe from sharp objects or other things that can be found in the water. If you see that there are obstructions in the river, you need to go ahead and plan out a route around them before you enter into the water, but also be prepared to change that route if you run into expected things.
You always need to walk along the river’s bank to find a good spot to cross the river. Look for a place that is wide and has mostly straight sections, as these places tend to be more shallow and easy to get through. Also check to make sure that the opposite bank where you will exit the water is easy to get out of. Areas of the water that reach over your knees and have fast-flowing waters should be avoided. It is very easy for feet to get trapped in areas like these. Never underestimate the strength and power of running water. If your ability to cross a river is questioned, you should not even attempt it. Instead, travel up the river to find a bride or safer area.
How to cross the river
You should never try to cross a river without some sort of stick to help with your balance. If there are rocks or logs that you have to cross, a walking stick will reduce your chances of slipping and falling. While crossing, face upstream and slide your feet along the bottom. By facing up stream or against the current, you will be able to see the current and can prevent the force of water from knocking you over. You cannot walk with a stride, but more of a shuffle sideways.
If you are crossing a river by yourself, use your walking stick to test the depth of the water in front of you. The stick can also be used as support, allowing you to always have two points of solid contact with the bottom of the river. If you are traveling across the river in a group, hold hands as you cross angled upstream. Arrange your line so that the weaker hikers are placed in the middle of the line and stronger hikers on the end.