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Backpacker Magazine – October 2011

Survival: Cross a River

Don't get swept away, use this technique.

by: Tracy Ross

After a multiday downpour, four friends and I tried to ford the waist-deep McKinley River, in Denali National Park. I was the last in a single-line chain (each hiker holding the waist of the person in front). But the chain broke, and I ended up floating down the glacier-fed river, with my pack dragging me down because I’d neglected to unbuckle it. My fingers went numb almost instantly, yet I got lucky and was able to open the buckles by batting at them repeatedly. Now, when I cross a river, in addition to unbuckling my pack, I remember these precautions:

1. Look for braids, which indicate shallower channels.
2. Avoid areas that have strainers, sweepers, or a cut bank on the far side that will be hard to climb up.
3. With multiple people, use the “pyramid” technique: Link arms, spread into a V with the point facing upstream, and move sideways across the river.
4. If you fall in, float feet forward and swim like hell for shore.

Choose Your Partner Wisely
Erik Weihenmayer, Blind climber, Everest summiter, and competitor on ABC’s Expedition Impossible

Learn Patience in Alaska
Andrew Skurka, ultra-long-distance hiker

Don't Always Trust A Topo
Jim Gorman, BACKPACKER contributing editor

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Jan 05, 2012

What the heck is a braid, a strainer or a sweeper? Bad article...

Sherpa Don
Nov 18, 2011

Over the years, Backpacker has had numerous articles on this subject written by experts. For a synthesis of their expert advice go to this website article:


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