Tararua Tramping Club

Celebrating 100 years of tramping

Bushcraft River Crossing

Map And Compass < Bushcraft > Student Notes

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For some of you your tramping experience will be largely on tracks where streams and rivers will be bridged. However, it is really important to understand the risks involved with river crossings as you may unintentionally find yourselves faced with an unsafe to cross swollen stream that is normally ankle deep and safe to cross.

Some facts about rivers in Aotearoa:

  • they can be dangerous and kill people.
  • there are on average 4 river crossing deaths a year.
  • it is not only novice trampers who get into trouble but experienced trampers do as well.
  • all rivers need to be respected.

So what are the problems:

  • river water is usually cold. In summer this may not be such a problem, but continually being in cold water and maybe wet clothes will eventually start to chill your body and can lead to mild hypothermia.
  • cold water in winter is even worse as the water temperature may be just above freezing point. A river trip in winter is not a sensible idea.
  • rivers may look benign, but the speed of the water flow can sweep you away or cause you to get jammed against rocks or logs, or under trees. River speed can be hard to judge.

Tonight you will receive information on crossing rivers safely but the best way to be safe in rivers is to practice crossing them and that will happen on Bush 2.

First principle:

  • treat every river crossing with caution. If in any doubt whatsoever donít cross.
  • donít get tempted after a long day with the car park or hut only 10 minutes away to take a chance. Be prepared to sit it out.
  • a well prepared tramper will always have wet weather gear that can be used for warmth and an emergency bag. Remember - If in doubt, sit it out.

Second principle:

  • always make sure all your group is together when you make a decision to cross or not.
  • you donít want to find your party split between river banks some with shelter and cooking gear and others without.
  • always have an up to date weather forecast. Know if there is likely to be rain in the hills that might affect your low land rivers.
  • have an escape route planned if you think you might be unable to cross a river or be prepared to camp and sit it out.
  • if there has been a lot of rain you might want to consider changing the trip away from river crossings.

Side streams:

  • side streams can be deceptively dangerous.
  • side streams can rise very fast, may be within confined banks with no easy escape.
  • be especially wary about crossing a side creek where a slip could mean you are washed into the main river.

Warning signs when you arrive at the river:

  • discoloured, surging water Ė the river is probably too fast to cross and you canít see the river bottom to see obstacles
  • the sound of rolling boulders on the river bed Ė the river is probably too fast to cross
  • trees or large pieces of debris being carried along Ė these could knock you over

Always use a decision making process and be aware of the strengths and weaknesses and experience of your group.

A note about young and inexperienced people in a group Ė they may regard a river crossing as fun without realising the potential dangers. They are generally more susceptible to the cold so taking them on a trip that includes extensive river travel may be unwise. There needs to be enough experienced adults to provide support and control during the crossing. Never cross if the river is more than thigh deep for young people or if the current is faster than an easy walking pace.

Decision making process:
The main questions to be answered in the decision making process are:

  • do we cross, and if we cross
  • where do we cross
  • how do we abort (back out from) a crossing

We wonít go into this in any more detail tonight.

  • the decision making process and how to cross rivers will be covered at the river on Saturday.
  • do bring an extra set of dry clothes or a set of clothes to use in the river and a plastic bag for your wet ones.

Remember! If in doubt, sit it out.

Any questions

Bushcraft Instruction

Page last modified on 2020 Oct 07 08:04

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