FORDING: Thoughts and Guidelines

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 07 November 2016

Thoughts and Guidelines

Two things kill more backpackers than any other High Sierra Danger: Lightening and Fording.

Lightening and Fording are two serious risks in the High Sierra, and sometimes they work together, but most of the time they are most dangerous at different times during the changing seasons in the High Sierra.

Fording is very dangerous during Spring. Even small creeks can be flowing with sufficient force to kill you during the Spring Thaw. As the Spring Thaw diminishes so too do the dangers of fording.

Fording Tips: General Plan

Always have a plan. Hell, you should have a plan for every way things can go wrong. Especially in waist deep fast-flowing water: What will you do if things go wrong, and you fall? We Gotta have a plan!

Note that I hike solo 99% of the time. By "plan" I mean a realistic and successful self-rescue plan. When I screw up there is no one around to pull my ass out of trouble. I have found this requires that I already know what I am going to do when shit hits the fan. There will be no time to ponder after things go wrong. Be prepared.

Our solo hiking circumstances demand that we pay extra attention to potentially dangerous situations. Group travel also requires plans. The advantages of a group are squandered if the group does not take the proper mutually supporting actions in an emergency.

My plan starts with gear. A tripod stick and river crossing shoes are a good start. A buttpack with what I will need for survival if I lose my pack during a fording disaster is also a good idea. Knowledge of, the distance to, and a plan for what it will take to jog out to the nearest trailhead, if I lose my pack during the ford, keeps reality close at hand. Pack Prep: The gear in my pack is stowed in big sealed zip locks which provide excellent buoyancy, as well as keeping my clothing and gear dry. This setup assures that my pack will float.

Our ass is on the line crossing rivers, and our life will be on the line if we screw up.

Specific Plan

Scout the ford. I've walked miles scouting, and sometimes it provides a fording tree across the river, other times it reveals a wide section of the river or a section where the river braids up into a series of streams that makes fording safe and easy. Yeah, sure. Most times scouting reveals no better fording spot, but it does show us the layout of the river to make specific disaster plans.

Therefore scouting provides information even if it does not provide a better ford. Scouting can show us where to swim, and where our pack will likely be swept off to.

These are questions your Disaster Plan Answers
What do I do if I fall down? At what point do I jettison the pack if I fall down? Which bank do I swim for if I fall down? Where is the water going to push me after I fall down? Where is it going to push the pack, if I have to let go of it? Where do I look for my pack, and for how long do I search for my pack if I lose it, before I start jogging for a trailhead?
What's the distance and plan for self-rescue after getting out of the water?

To put it simply we should consider everything that can go wrong with the ford and what we will do about it if it does go wrong. We should have answers to all of these questions before wetting a foot. 


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