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Out Alive: Trapped by Rising Water

Five hikers fight a raging river before attempting a dangerous bushwhack to safety.
BP0812SURV_Stecker_Illo_445x260Illustration by Kyle Stecker

Key Skill Assess River Crossings

Rule of thumb Don’t ford rivers more than knee deep. Gauge depth by using a trekking pole as a dipstick or lobbing a fist-size rock—a hollow “ker-plop” sound indicates deep water.
See rocks rolling along the bottom? The current may be too strong to cross safely. Scout up- and downstream for safe crossing zones: braided areas (1) or wide shallows (2).
Unsafe areas: bends (3), narrow (fast-moving) channels (4), and upstream of hazards like strainers (5).

Never Forget Water may continue rising long after the rain stops. Precipitation higher in the watershed or runoff upstream can cause rivers to continue rising for two to 24 hours
after rain ceases. Resist endangering yourself with a bushwhack or unsafe ford; find a safe spot and wait until the river returns to normal levels.

Cross Safely
Wear shoes, unbuckle your pack, angle downstream, and use partners for better balance.

2-person
>> Link arms, side-by-side
>> Strongest in front
>> Use one pole each
>> Shuffle sideways
>> Face upstream, lean into the current

3-person
>> Form a tripod
>> Tallest person upstream
>> Shuffle short distances, one at a time

Swept Away? Ditch your pack, turn feet-first downstream, keep your toes up, and fight your way to shore. Avoid reaching for logjams or other debris.

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