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Trip Report – River Crossing

By: Jim Petersen

Session 1: The Theory

Eight other keen outdoors people and I joined two experienced volunteer Mountain Safety Council instructors, Gunther and Emlyn on the evening of Friday 4 March 2016, for part one of our Safe River Crossing course. A combination of slides and short video clips provided an excellent introduction to the physical elements of a river and the impact these and weather have on what any river crossing is going to be like.

We learned about the terrain on and in the river. We learned about how the shape and make up of the river bed causes the water to create different pressures and in different places in a river. We learned about how these water conditions act on people when we are in the river. With this information in mind we were taught some very useful dos and don’ts that I for one had not thought about. We learned about when it is simply a better idea to stay put and how to indicate your presence to those who may come to find you.Basic joining-up procedures were introduced, as was the best method to cross single-handed with a pole.

Session 2: In The River

The next day dawned warm and sunny and just kept getting hotter! We were lucky to be spending the morning in the river. Our instructors broke us into two groups of 5 and started by asking us to identify good and bad crossing spots and describe why we had chosen the good spots. We then practised the joining up methods shared the night before. It is surprising how strongly the method shown to us connected each member to the group. I also learned how much communication is required to be sure that everyone is fully joined up.

Pack floating. Photo: Clayton Garbes

Pack floating. Photo: Clayton Garbes

The first crossing of mid thigh water was accomplished with ease, so we selected deeper crossing points to navigate. Next up we attempted in pairs. Anyone who saw the posts on the Canterbury Westland Section facebook page will have observed your correspondent having converted his first paired crossing into a paired float after he and his partner ignored instructions and attempted to resist the force of the water! our second attempt with the help of the water flow was successful.

This naturally led to instruction on and practise of pack floating and steering to the edge of the river, then finished with live exercises to release ourselves from our packs in a simulated snagging scenario. We did this both in face up and face down situations in the flow of the river. Over the course of the day in the river I learned that at every stage of a crossing, crisp communication by all group members is important. I can think of earlier experiences I have had crossing rivers that would have gone better with this knowledge combined with the other skills we learned and practised.

Anyone who expects to cross rivers in their adventures should consider attending this course.I want to extend a very big thanks to our instructors, Gunther, Emlyn and Regan.

Posted: 09/05/16

Posted By: Narina Sutherland