You're walking along without a care in the world and all of a suddenWhoa there!a torrent of water is blocking your way. Maybe it's recent snowmelt. Or there's been a big rainstorm and local flooding. Or maybe you just didn't read the guidebook carefully enough. You see the trail on the other side, and between you and itroiling whitewater. What do you do?
Scout first. The obvious trail often crosses rivers in places that are easy enough to handle when the water level is low. When the water is high, there may be other, better routes. Before you plunge in, be sure that you feel comfortable and confident. It might be better to walk along the shore a bit to find a safer route. Look for the easy way. Currents are slower and water shallower where the stream widens.
Dry crossing or wet? If the stream is ankle-deep or if there are lots of well-placed boulders, you may be able to rock-hop across, especially if you have trekking poles. Otherwise, take off your boots and switch to sandals (if you have them). It's usually not a good idea to cross barefoottoo many obstacles and hazards. If you don't have extra footwear, take off your boots and socks, remove the boot inserts, put your bare feet back in the boots, and cross. On the other side, you'll be surprised to find that the dry socks and dry inserts will actually keep your feet quite comfortable, even though the boots themselves are wet.
Cross in the morning. If the rivers are swollen because of snowmelt, try to plan your day so you cross in the morning, when the flow is lighter. This is because snowfields up high refreeze at night, slowing the melt-offand reducing the force of the stream.
Be suspicious of bridges. Algae-covered logs can be slippery; they can also be unstable. Approach them cautiously, and if you don't like the look or feel of them, back off. Same goes for rock hopping, or for using snow bridges in early season. Warning: Snow bridges can collapse without warning. Look for changes of color, which indicate changes in the density and stability of the snow bridge.
Unbuckle your waist belt so that you can take off your pack quickly if you need to.
Don't walk through whitewater. If your feet get caught between rocks, the current could knock you over and hold you down.
Ropes seem like a safety tool; actually the opposite is true. The force of a current against a rope can hold you under. However, if a fixed rope is in place across a stream, you can use it to keep your balance. Stay on the downstream side and do NOT tie in to the ropeinstead, hold on with your hands.
Always give yourself the option to turn back if the crossing appears too dangerous.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication