On July 4, 1983 I almost drowned crossing Crown Creek after climbing Tehipite Dome. That was a heavy snow year, in fact we hiked on snow through the forest on the way to Crown Valley. We crossed Crown Creek in the morning without incident. The creek was 80 feet wide and about thigh-deep, as I recall. But there was a lot more water flowing in the afternoon. Nancy Gordon crossed first, on belay and this rope was used as a fixed rope for those who followed. I tied into another rope and clipped a carabiner from my tie-in to the fixed rope. My logic was that it is important to double up on protection and in this case I was afraid that I may not be able to hang onto the fixed rope in the swift current.
I made it out half way through the now waist deep water to where the fixed rope assumed a V shape. The force of the moving water kept me from moving to the safety of either bank. While trying to release the "safety" carabiner I stumbled and my body folded itself in half, like closing a book. Dave Dykeman jumped in the water and crawled out along the fixed rope hand over hand, saw the problem, and ordered the fixed rope cut. Once this was accomplished he dragged me to the far bank, with my jockey shorts wrapped around my ankles.
The rest of the party did what we should have done in the first place: they hiked upstream for two hours and found a better crossing. Other alternatives that have been suggested include crossing the stream while on belay. My fear of this is that the belay rope may get caught on a rock on the streambed, resulting in a "fixed" rope, and a drowned hiker with his jockey shorts wrapped around his ankles. A better option is this case would have been to have the hiker hold a stick upstream for balance or have the whole party link arms and cross together. Someone may stumble and be swept downstream, but as in river rafting, those who fall overboard float with their legs facing downstream to bounce off of obstacles before reaching shallow water.
But the best option of all should have been to turn around and try Tehipite Dome later in the season. Years later, Dave Dykeman led Tehipite Dome as a day hike in October. We crossed Crown Creek on a series of randomly placed stepping stones and we never got our feet wet, either coming or going.
But the lesson I learned is that one should never use ropes to cross a river. It is a deadly practice.
>a fixed rope for those who followed. I tied into another rope and >clipped a carabiner from my tie-in to the fixed rope.
From your comments later, I assume you tied in at the waist. This, IMHO, was a mistake. A chest tie-in would have been better.
>I made it out half way through the now waist deep water to where the >fixed rope assumed a V shape. The force of the moving water kept me >from moving to the safety of either bank.
This is precisely what my suggestion of a pendulum traverse is aimed at avoiding! The rope which got you into trouble was put up in exactly the same was as the rope which got Maggie into trouble. Straight across the stream means you are somewhat stable in every location, instead of the pendulum which has its only stable point when you come to rest back on the shore.
>While trying to release the >"safety" carabiner I stumbled and my body folded itself in half
No chest harness, probably not even a waist harness, just a rope around your stomach? Again, my original post warns against just a waist tie-in. Imagine a parachute harness. Would it work with no shoulder straps? No. Imagine hanging in a crevasse from a rope with only a waist harness and a full pack. Would you be upright? No. Why treat the river with less respect than a glacier or a parachute?
>A better option in >this case would have been to have the hiker hold a stick upstream for >balance or have the whole party link arms and cross together.
Sort of like roping up on ice without setting pro. Each year roped climbers fall together and die together because one can't stop the other. No one would suggest linking arms to cross a crevasse, yet we don't treat rivers with the same respect. (I've seen the arms technique suggested many times, but it's not safe unless you can survive being swept away on your own - once someone falls, they are most likely on their own.)
>But the lesson I learned is that one should never use ropes to cross a >river. It is a deadly practice.
The same lesson can be learned after watching a roped rock climber suffocate while hanging upside down unconscious. Without a chest harness, hanging limp from a waist harness will kill you.
The same lesson can ALSO be learned after watching a roped fall on rock where the rope catches on an obstacle and leaves the fallen climber danging in midair with no way to get back on the rock. Unless you think about your fall line and the angle of the rope, it can become a trap instead of a savior.
I still don't think the issue of ropes is black and white. They can save your life or they can kill you, just like on rock, and no one technique is correct for all situations. The problems you had are easily correctable with different rope placement and tie-in techniques.
Steve is quite correct. A chest harness would have been better. Sailors wear a chest harness so that their heads are above water while being dragged through the water at 6 knots or ten feet per second.
But I can't agree with Steve's "pendulum traverse." The rope could still get caught on a rock in the streambed, leaving the hiker in the middle of the stream. The only way to save the hiker in this case is for the belayer to let go of the rope to let him or her save him or herself. The belayer should do this before the hiker is too weak from the strain of cold, rushing water flowing around his or her body.
The rest of Steve's arguments compare apples and oranges. The force of moving water on the human body is greater than the force of gravity and there is no comparison between hanging free on a rope and having rushing cold water flowing over and around one's body. A climber may not hang upright while in a crevasse with only a waist tie-in and a heavy pack. But the climber can pull up on the rope to become upright.
I don't understand Steve's analogy of setting protection. How can one place pro in a raging river? But I do agree with Steve's statement that the hiker crossing a river is on his or own!
And Steve perpetuates the myth that a roped rock climber hanging free has suffocated. This has happened in crevasses on glaciers, but I have never seen a documented accident report describing this phenomena on a rock climb. It can happen, but it doesn't.
After having reviewed the literature, I have concluded that more climbers have suffered puncture wounds from pitons than have suffocated while hanging free on a rope on a rock climb. Fallen climbers have stood on prusik knots or employed the baboon hang to keep from suffocating. Consider this a challenge: show me an accident report about a climber suffocating while hanging from a waist tie-in on a rock climb.
Finally, Steve implies that I treat rivers with less respect than glaciers or parachutes. I don't know anything about parachutes, but I now treat rivers with great respect! And I know that relying on a rope to cross a river can kill!
To file a trip report, please fill in the Report Entry form or contact the webmaster.