On the Landmannalaugar To Thorsmork trail there are apparently many small crossings of watercourses. But there are also a couple of larger ones including one that may require waiting for a friendly vehicle if the bridge has washed out again.
I’ve never done anything much in the way of serious river crossings having always managed to avoid them outside of an ML course.
So for the last year or more I’ve been soaking up any knowledge I came across on the subject and thought I’d put it up here. If anyone has more to add I’d love to hear it.
The one thing that I do remember from my own experience becomes quickly and intuitively obvious; always aim for a point upstream of your entry point since that way the water is hitting your knees from the front. If it is catching them from behind it will tend to make them buckle.
But I only remembered that once I read the excellent Backpacker’s Handbook by Chris Townsend. Chris also mentioned Iceland specifically as an example of a trip where his route changed completely due to high water levels in rivers!
He advises stripping-off down to shorts and t-shirt where practical and putting your clothes in a waterproof bag. Zip off trousers are a good idea here unless, like us, you’re planning to take swimming kit for the hot pools (hmmm, maybe I should just use the zip-offs…).
It’s usually best to cross in a huddle, or in a sort of “conga line” with the strongest at the front, and preferably carrying a stick for support.
Also, find the widest spot as that will be shallowest and slowest. Don’t cross any white water!
The way you carry your rucksack is critical. Hip belt and chest strap must be undone or else they could hold you under, with the bag floating on-top of you. People have drowned in just that way.
Opinions vary on whether to also take off one shoulder strap. Chris advises keeping both on. I’d definitely use both since it would give far more load stability. The last thing you want is to instinctively move to balance a wayward pack and have that movement itself throw you off balance.
Crossing in bare feet is highly inadvisable. Stones and freezing-cold water make for an incredibly painful combination especially with the weight of a pack. As we found out a couple of years ago in the very far north of Sweden (I must post something on that one day…). It may also mean that you cannot feel that you are shredding your feet on sharp rocks.
One option is to take light shoes of some kind specifically for crossing and camp/hut use. Lighthiker, as ever, has come up with some very good options there. But with the amount of food we’ll be carrying, we don’t want to carry extra footwear. So we’ve decided to use Inov8 Terrocs only. Probably remove socks before crossing, possibly replacing with Sealskinz afterwards.
Of course the final option, other than turning back and trying another route, is to simply wait and let the waters subside. This can happen surprisingly soon after heavy rain and will scupper your itinerary less than a watery grave!