River water levels are pretty high right now with all the snow runoff. The news has covered multiple deaths or near enough over the past month of people who have ended up in the water one way or another and never made it back out.
As trail runners, we bound through rivers on a regular, if not frequent basis, without much of a thought. With the level of water in Utah’s rivers, I suspect most runners would stop and think about crossing the river. I would. There are definitely going to be times where the risk is too high to cross a river. You’ll have to make that call depending on your experience, the availability of security items, and what you have to loose.
Here are some tips for safely crossing a river:
First take a look around and decide if the section of the river that meets the trial is the best place to cross at the time. There are a lot of conditions which can effect the volume of water flowing including: weather, temperature, time of year, and debris. The safest route on one day can be different on another, so even if you’ve crossed at the same point the day before, make sure it is still safe to cross in the present.
Prepare to cross by releasing the clip on your hydration pack (chest and/or waist). If you go down in the water, you need to be able to get the pack off. The pack will weigh you down and is another object for the water to grab onto. If you have other things about your waist, take them off and stick them in your pack or clip them on. You can even try throwing them over to the other side.
Foot placement and shoes are key factors in getting across so make sure your shoes are secure and that you have the proper ones on. You’re not going to be able to see the bottom of the river. Slipping because of wet or rolling rocks is a definite possibility. You also have the force of the water pushing against you to content with. I know some runners put plastic bags over their feet, cross barefoot, and some hikers carry sandals for crossing. You are more likely to slip with sandals or with bags over your feet. Wet shoes is better than wet head to toe. As for the barefoot, you need to protect your feet from sharp rocks, sticks and other such stray objects beneath the surface of the water. Wet feet are better than bleeding feet.
Check down river as well as up river. You don’t want to cross where there is wood, trees, branches along or overhanging the banks. If you are swept downriver, you can get pushed against these and actually pulled under them. Not a good place to be. Rocks and curves in the river can create an eddy, which is a place where the water actually flows upstream. These can be a safe haven.
Look for rocks protruding from the river. Behind the rock the current is usually not as strong, but along either side it can have more force. Standing behind the rock can give you a break from the force of the river. Do not cross in the whitewater part of a wave
Crossing where the river is narrow may make sense at first glance, but the current is actually stronger at narrow points. An island in the middle of the river is a better point because it breaks up the current and force of the river.
Use trekking poles or a large stick to help you balance and to probe the river in front of you checking for large rocks or deeper parts. If you are out with a running partner or two, cross together. If you walk side by side, the person more upstream will break the force of the water for the person next to them.
If you do go down and are being swept down stream, put your feet down river. It’s better to have your feet hit something rather than your head.