Adventures in hiking…

Posts tagged “Hiking the JMT

Crossing Streams and Other Bodies of Water

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On the Appalachian Trail

So, this is the real McCoy.  My previous blog was written for fun during my furlough.

If you hike long enough in the backcountry, you will inevitably have to do a water crossing.  It may be on a log, stepping on rocks, or fording through it.  Over the past several years, I have done quite a few crossings and  learned a lot along the way.

Honestly, I didn’t know much about the topic beforehand so I researched the Internet, read about it in my backpacking field guide and various articles in Backpacker magazine.  I’ll share my experience crossing various bodies of water including an ocean inlet, streams, creeks, brooks and rivers.  By no means am I an authority on water crossings – it’s mostly common sense.  If crossing over or through water intimidates you, you are not alone – it’s very common.   With a little planning and will power, you can conquer this.

My first real water crossings were on the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine.  This remote part of the Appalachian Trail has plenty of water.  There were two of us and we used the buddy system on some crossings.  

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A rope was handy while crossing the Little Wilson in the 100 Mile Wilderness.

Methods for crossing (Fording the body of water)

 Always – Put on your water shoes, roll up your pants.    Loosen your backpack straps and unbuckle the sternum and waist strap.  This may help if you slip.  A pack can pull you under. 

Solo – Facing upstream, use hiking poles. side step and try to keep three points in contact with the bottom at all times.

Two or more – Couple of methods here.  You can face upstream, lock arms and side step your way across.  You can also form a single file and face upstream.  The person in the front forms a barrier.  Place the weakest at the back of the line where there is less resistance to the current.

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Hazards

Swollen, fast current.  This is a judgement call.  My general rule is if the current is fast, I don’t usually cross if it’s higher than my waist.  It’s difficult to keep your footing in a strong current with a slippery bottom.

Obstacles.  Never cross upstream close to logs, tangles or debris in the water.  If you slip, you may end up getting sucked under the obstacle.

Rapids, bends, waterfalls.  Avoid crossing near these if possible.  Water flows faster in curves and bends.  Rapids are full of hidden hazards.  Slip near a waterfall and well, you know…

Temperature.  A cold mountain stream will numb your legs and feet within a couple of minutes.  It can be shocking and cause you to panic.  Move as quickly as possible to avoid cramps.

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Some thoughts here.  Did you know in Maine (other parts of New England as well) a brook is what most of us would call a stream or creek?  A stream can be a large creek or what many out west would call a river.

Crossing over on a log

This is challenging if you are afraid of heights.  The sound of rushing water just adds to the fear factor.   I find it easiest to hold my poles out like a tightrope walker as it provides a bit more balance.  One foot in front of the other and keep moving.  If you are with others, it may help to carry the pack of the person who is struggling.  That 30-40 lb pack lets you know that it’s there.  Unbuckle the waist and sternum, loosen the shoulder straps.  If you do fall, roll out of the pack to avoid getting pulled under.

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Crossing on rocks, boulders

Choose your stones wisely.  Most rock crossings are on shallow streams and creeks.  I often use my poles for more stability and have slipped off many rocks.  Your best tool here is a pair of hiking shoes with sticky soles like the Camp Four 5-10’s.   Avoid moss-covered ones and test to see if the rocks are wobbly.  Boulder hopping with a full pack is tricky.  Lean to far and you’re going in.   Believe me, I know.

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River night crossing on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. That’s my friend’s headlamp

Night Crossing

While I’ve done a few, it’s a bit sketchy.  Always use a headlamp and test the water depth with your hiking poles.

Equipment:  You really don’t need much, but here are some ideas.

Water shoes – A good pair of waterproof shoes provides traction and forms a barrier between your feet and a rocky bottom.  Hiking shoes with good soles for rock hopping.

Trekking poles – Gives you that third or fourth leg for added stability.  Also can be used to pull you out if you fall.

Paracord – If you need to fasten it to your buddy, it can provide some assurance.

Extra socks – It’s no fun to hike in wet socks.

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Umm, don’t cross here.  Nevada Falls, Yosemite

My hardest water crossing was an unplanned one.  On a beach hike, my wife and I crossed a tidal inlet to a lagoon at low tide.  On our return, the tide was rushing in and the 10 foot crossing at 1 foot deep became a 50 ft. wide crossing up to our shoulders.  We put our daypacks above our heads, locked arms and barely made it across.  Before and during the crossing, I briefed her what to do if we lost our footing.  Fortunately, the current was coming into the lagoon.  If the current had been going out, I doubt we would have risked it.

We’ve run across many solo hikers in the backcountry where there are an abundance of water crossings.   It’s all the more important to understand the hazards when you are alone.   Find the safest place to cross and never cross at night when you’re alone, it’s just not worth it.

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Sometimes, you gotta jump

Some final thoughts.  Hike long enough and you will have to cross water.  With the proper gear and techniques, it’s just mind over matter.


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 2 – Rosalie Lake to Thousand Island Lake

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See a YouTube slide show of the first half of the hike here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

The first full day of hiking on the JMT was enjoyable but tough.  On any extended backcountry trip,  mileage is important.  It’s good to have a zero day planned in your itinerary just in case you are coming up short each day.  Our goal was to do 9-10 miles per day.  For a seasoned hiker,  easy enough – right?  Well let me tell you from experience,  pack weight is everything.  If your pack is heavy, your speed and distance drop.  Anyhow, I tend to err on the side of caution and bring a few extra things .  Bottom line is you will determine what you absolutely need because the extra weight will slow you down.

We would have a good breakfast of eggs and bacon before leaving Rosalie Lake. My brother would fish a bit and pull in a couple of rainbow trout.  As would be the norm for our week, we would break camp late and hit the trail by midmorning.  No need to rush out here, you just hike until you want to stop.  Yesterday’s climb of 1,800 ft  brought us up to our current altitude of 9,400.  Today, we would have a handful of SUDS (senseless ups/downs before going back up to around 10,000.

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There is water everywhere in this section of the JMT in July.  Brooks, streams, creeks, rivers, ponds, tarns, lakes – omigosh.  Even with minimum snow this year, this area has plenty in early summer. We would pass Shadow Lake,  which appeared to be approx. 1,000 meters  long and 300-400 m wide.  The views were really beginning to open up now.  As we passed to the south and west of Shadow Lake, we came upon Shadow Creek which we would follow for a few miles.  Its’ cascades were fast and amazing.  Something about fast-moving water just leaves you in awe.  The noise and the way the current flows around rocks and down the gullies is so cool.  Around every turn was another beautiful view.  We would see Banner Peak and Mt Ritter in the distance, both majestic in their own accord.

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We would leave the cascades of Shadow Creek and began a steady 1,400 foot climb into a canyon that seemed to have a dead-end.  The boulders and scree were large as we picked our way to the top of the canyon.  The wind really picked up and was gusting 20-30mph. It was starting to sprinkle a bit.  Nearing lunchtime, we found a tarn with a small stand of trees that offered some shelter.  Garnet Lake was below and in the distance, there were numerous dark cumulus clouds.  We need to keep an eye on those clouds.  One thing I’ve learned is to avoid peaks and passes during mid-day storms.  In the Sierras, summer afternoon thunderstorms are common, especially when it has been hot.  The heat wave that hit the Sierras created a recipe for strong storms.  We would have our lunch amidst the little trees while the wind buffeted us as we held our belongings.  We broke out the rain gear as intermittent sprinkles were pelting us.  Below on Garnet Lake, you could see whitecaps blowing across the lake.  There was some serious wind down there.

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The wind calmed a bit as we got back on the trail and descended to the lake.  We met a rider and his mule who said that his animal would not cross the log bridge across the Garnet Lake Outlet.  Another southbound hiker said earlier the winds around the lake were gusting between 40-50 mph.  Well, that will take your toupee’ off.  Filtering some water, we started a hot climb out of Garnet and topped out around 10,400 ft.  The afternoon sun and heat really saps the energy.  We prayed for some cloud cover and were rewarded with a nice forest covering before we descended to Ruby Lake. Quite a few nice campsites around this little lake, but we wanted to go a bit farther.  We use this Katadyn water filter, it is fantastic: Katadyn Vario Multi Flow Water Microfilter

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We were reaching the end of our hiking day as we neared Emerald Lake.  It was an awesome lake, but camping was prohibited between here and Thousand Island Lake to the northwest.  I scouted out some sites nearby, not realizing that it was still a no camping zone.  Dropping my pack at the top of a granite outcropping, I went back a few hundred yards to tell my wife and brother about the potential sites.  Another southbounder reminded them about the no-camping zones around these lakes.  Drat, I had found a nice spot with killer views.  Oh well, there is a side trail on the north side of Thousand Island, we will go there.  As I returned to retrieve my pack, I noticed a big fat marmot sniffing my pack.  Still a hundred yards away, I yelled but it ignored me.  For some reason I thought about the gophers in Caddyshack.  I started running up the granite slope and picked up a few rocks which I threw at the vermin.  He trotted off, fussing at me.  “Au revoir gopher”.

Fortunately, I made it to my pack before it was pillaged.  Lesson learned, don’t leave your pack alone for long – especially if there’s food in it.   The lake below was the best one yet.  We made our way west on a side trail and began looking for a site.  You have to hike another half mile or so and if you get there late, most of the good sites have been taken.  We did find a granite slab about 100 ft. from the lake and it was stellar.  If you hike the JMT, I highly recommend camping around Thousand Island Lake.  The mosquitoes were bad, but ourheadnets and long sleeves kept them at bay.  I imagine that there are less bloodsuckers in late Aug/early September.  To cut down on mosquitoes, we treated our stuff with Permethrin: Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray, 24-Ounce

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We were bushed and actually ate dinner in our tents.  The cool night air wafted through our tents.  Sleep would come quickly…..

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