Friday, November 2, 2012

Inside The Moments: Episode 7 - River Crossings

If you've climbed some White Mountain 4000 Footers (or NE4000 footers), then you've crossed some rivers and streams both big and small. Depending on the hike, the day, and the weather, they can either be a whole lot of fun or major obstacle that will cut precious time out of your hike. Looking back at my adventures, I've definitely had my share of both. For this week's episode, let's take a quick look back a few of the most memorable river crossings to date!

The Crossing: Rocky Branch on the Rocky Branch Trail (NH)
When: October 16, 2010 on the way to Mt. Isolation

I crossed the Rocky Branch before I set out on the 48 on tough October hike to Isolation in 2010. We arrived at the crossing and we looked down the frigid river as snow flakes flew. We had some pretty big packs, and it was a pretty nerve-wracking. As newbies, it took a lot of hours more than we thought to get to this point, but newbies or not, we knew a fall into the river at this moment would have some serious consequences. We managed to get across safely after a good amount of time pondering the best route. Arriving at the sight below for the first time, was one of the most beautiful sights I've seen, as I've said before, but the crossing on the way in was difficult and high risk, especially late in the afternoon. It was sunny the next morning, and the second picture shows where we crossed. You can see the crossing on the way out on video here. I've been here twice since this crossing, and this was the most difficult time.

The Crossing: Little River on the North Twin Trail (NH)
When: November 5, 2011 on the way to North Twin

One of my coolest crossings was at about 5:30am over the Little River on the North Twin Trail. In an effort to help my brother finish the 48 before year's end, we got an early start on a hike up the North Twin Trail last November. We went all of the way to Garfield that day, and back via Gale River and forest roads, but this crossing at the start, set us back about 45 minutes to an hour. The Little River Crossing is actually 3 separate crossings over a short distance of trail. The first one we came to is the part that makes me remember this one. It was a downed tree that was not exactly level, and the water just below it was about 3 feet deep. I described it best when I first wrote about it:

The first one required us to traverse a log over a swift moving section of the river. It took a while to find this too, but once we did, I switched into adventure mode and went for it. At the next one, we walked across one smaller log as we held onto another larger log at chest height over a deep pool, then rock hopped the other half of that crossing. On the third crossing, I had leaped over a large pool close to the bank which enabled me to hop across the rest of the way. However, this was risky, as that leap and then the final rock hops required momentum. Bill was lining up to take the same leap, however couldn't commit. After a few more minutes, he found a satisfactory route, but he still had to use a partially submerged rock.

The Crossing: Wildcat Ridge Trail over the Ellis River (NH)
When: July 2, 2011 on the way to the Carters

In high water this could be up there as one of the tougher crossings. Over the July 4th weekend in 2011, we did a Wildcat-Carters Traverse with an overnight in the woods near Zeta Pass. Starting immediately after crossing Route 16, we had to cross the Ellis River to get to the start of the trail. With overnight packs, this one was difficult and required caution and slow movements. It included traversing a log over some white water. In the video below, the first few seconds show the crossing done by my brother. We had no issues, but it was fun to cross. My dad dropped us off that day, and we were able to check out Glen Ellis Falls, and then he watched as we crossed (successfully).

The Crossing: Signal Ridge Trail over Carrigain Brook (NH)
When: December 3, 2011 on the way to Mt. Carrigain

On an early December hike to Mt. Carrigain, we faced a challenging crossing of the Carrigain Brook. At the first wide spot, the flow was high enough to cover most of the stepping stones that make the small drop. After pondering whether we could run right through it, we decided not too, which, I think was the smart thing  to do. We didn't really feel like taking off our boots either. We found another location, but it was not easy, as the area was still smashed from Irene. We found a much better spot, but it still required a 3-tier crossing with one solid leap of faith. After enjoying the summit with some patches of snow, descended, and were faced with the crossing again. We crossed in the very same area, but then we found another log that appeared solid, and it by-passed that leap of faith we had to make on the way in. The log was coated with ice (as you can see), and the water was raging. A fall in this spot would be result in one of us being wedged in the rocks being battered with frigid mountain water.

Middle of the Brook; at the far end of this patch, we leaped to the other side
Crossing the very icy log

The Crossing: Firewarden's Trail over the outlet of Stratton Brook Pond (ME)
When: October 6, 2012 on the way to the Bigelow's

While planning for this hike, I watched a video of this crossing, so I had some idea of what to expect. We set off before sunrise on the Firewarden's Trail. Mind you its extremely dark out, we had a little difficulty figuring out exactly where the trail started because after going down the road just a bit, there is another parking lot with cars, but we read that the parking was where we parked, up the road a bit. After some scouting around, we were assured that this was where to cross. At night, it was a bit intimidating because about 50% of the rocks where at least partially submerged. Immediately, I thought this one was going to give us a challenge. It was, but we tackled it just as good the first time at night as we did later on in the day. If the lake is high and the rocks are completely covered, this one is definitely a wader.

The Crossing: Appalachian Trail over the Carrabasset River (ME)
When: October 7, 2012 on the way to Sugarloaf, Spaulding, & Abraham

From the Caribou Valley Road parking area at the grate bridge, the Appalachian Trail south leaves the road on the left, and hikers are faced with a crossing of the Carrabasset River. When we arrived at the bank of the river, we took note of a wooden plank which bridged a gap of white water. We closely checked it out to see that it was a movable bridge so that hikers could use it varying river conditions. To us, it looked like a disaster waiting to happen, so we opted to scout about the area for a better way across. We found one within about 100 feet to the right. My brother was leading the way and started crossing. He made it no problem. When it was my turn, I was second guessing this. Of course, I had a reason to, as my right leg just didn't make it over to the rock, and my ankle and foot dunked in the Carrabasset, so off came my pant leg to dry. This is a pretty challenging crossing, and I would say likely treacherous in high water conditions.
Approaching the crossing  
The movable bridge, secured by a rope on one end 

These are just a few of many many crossings required to take on some 4000' peaks in New England. I've learned that river crossings take a lot of thought and confidence, which includes knowing what the consequences are and the appropriate decisions to make should thing go wrong. As I've said before, I'm sure that I will have a major FAIL at some point!



  1. Those are some great crossings! Several crossings of our own come to mind, some scary, in which if we'd had more experience and brains, we probably would have turned back. That said, I will leave you with a funnier and safer one. I did a solo hike out to Owl's Head in June 2011, and on the way back, pulled out my poles for a little extra stability on one of the two bigger crossings. After sighting a way across and getting about 1/3 of the way, with a combination of rock hopping and wading, I put finally put down a pole for balance and the whole pole collasped. I ended up sitting in the river, up to my waist, while the water rushed around me. Thankfully, this was June and not December! I was completely dry by the time I got back to the car, and now I *always* check to make sure my poles are completely locked before using them!

    1. Summerset, that is funny, thanks for sharing. That has certainly happened to me before too, just thankfully not during a river crossing. It's such a dummy thing, but when you're on a mountain, its easy to be bothered by something else and forget the little things like that. At least you've now learned what it's like to fall completely in.

    2. What's bad is that I wasn't even on a mountain or anywhere that was remotely interesting! I was in the middle of nowhere Pemi Wilderness! LOL. I guess I was too concerned about the crossing and not paying attention to the smaller, yet important details. At least I can look back on it and laugh at myself.