Jitters over stream crossings
I don’t know what it is about it about gushing streams, but each time I see one on a trekking route, I begin to look for bridges. Don’t get me wrong,
I love streams, and they add nothing but beauty to the existing landscapes. But knowing that I might have to cross one of those, then my mind begins to work: try and gauge the speed of the water flow, how much wet would I get, would my shoes get wet? And most importantly, is there a bridge we can use instead?!
Take for instance, the stream that we crossed at Kara campsite. Generally it is always good to finish the stream crossings early morning for the water level would be lower. Once the sun is out and the ice in the higher altitudes begins to melt, the water level rises. We had already got a bit delayed this morning due to a small incident with the horses. So our day began only at 8-45am.
In retrospect, I feel that stream was easy to cross. But I don’t know what was stopping me to just run across. Several shepherd groups passed by us amused by my state of mind which was in “deep thought and analysis” mode. This one shepherd with Chappals just crossed the stream in a Parkour like manner!
The other sat on his horse and crossed it. Several goats and sheep crossed after a little effort.
The way to cross is to figure out the place where the stream spreads out the most. There will lie the most shallow region. Then, chart a path step by step to find places that are not very deep or slippery. We finally crossed it slowly and it took us about half an hour (something the others did in 30 seconds).
Most stream crossings are done without shoes. Because obviously it is not advisable to have wet shoes for the rest of the journey. And if the climate is cold and non-sunny, then things don’t dry fast. Another thing that probably is a little scary about stream crossings is the water temperature.
Like for instance, take the time when we were doing the Landmannalaugar trek in Iceland. The main challenge there was the icy water we had to dip our bare feet in. In one crossing, we owed thanks to two German trekkers who lent their Nordic Walking Sticks.
We crossed the stream using the sticks and then “javelin”-ed it back to German trekkers. But then, there was this one specific spot between campsites Emstrur Botnar and Alftavatn, where we took an hour and half to do the crossing!!
For one, this was not a stream, it was much more. Water was flowing at quite a speed and not to mention freezing! We knew that this had to be crossed, for 3 trekkers before us had just crossed it and reached our side (we were trekking the opposite direction). The water level was almost till the waist, at the deepest point.
“When you are crossing, open the waist belt of your rucksack. And bend forward, facing the direction of the water flow.“, said one of the 3 trekkers. That was their advice.
I was sooooooooooo scared. How was I going to do this?! This was almost water till the waist level. The 3 trekkers had left. And now, 3 British tourists in a big car were our spectators. They seemed shocked to know that we were going to cross the stream on foot. After a while, they left too. I was glad they did. I did not want to make a fool of myself in front of an audience! We soon prepared for our journey. We had to change from pants to shorts, pack up our shoes and tie it to the bag on top, so that it would not get wet. We also covered our rucksacks (weighing 15kg and 22kg) with rain covers. Holding hands and facing the direction of flow of water, we began walking sideways like hermit crabs! No sooner we entered the water, than it felt like a 1000 pin pricks digging into your skin- that’s how cold the water was! I jumped back on to the bank. How was I going to withstand that for 2-3 minutes?!
The next couple of minutes were tense. We walked slowly as the icy water gushed over us. The water flow pushed us forward, but the heavy rucksacks that were on our backs balanced that force and kept us grounded. Few minutes later, we were on the other side! What a relief! I think I lost all senses from my feet to thighs, for they were numb for a couple of minutes! Just then, another pair of trekkers had just reached the bank, and they had watched us finish the last leg of the crossing, from afar. We passed on the same advice to them, as what the previous trekkers passed to us. It was really cold and so we quickly changed back to pants and put on our shoes. After relaxing for half an hour, we had regained our energy (more of the mind than the body), and we resumed our journey to Alftavatn.
Many trekking routes have stream crossings and for some reason, no matter how many streams I cross, thinking about it still gives me the jitters! All that comes to my mind is- Where is the bridge!?
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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.
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