Most backcountry routes in Wrangell-St. Elias require numerous creek and river crossings. Bridges and log crossings are virtually non-existent. These crossings can be VERY dangerous without preparation, patience, and planning. Hikers must be familiar with safe techniques for crossing rivers and streams. Many are impassable, even for experts. Other can change quickly from trickling creeks to raging torrents, so be especially cautious.
The water volume, clarity and velocity may vary drastically according to season, time of day and upstream weather conditions. On warm days, melting snow and glacial ice can swell streams that were easily crossed in the morning to flood stage by mid-afternoon. In glaciated areas, hotter, sunny days cause higher volume in the streams due to the ice melt (geologists call this diurnal flux). Voluminous, warm rain is also a contributing factor. Safe footing is difficult to obtain: silty water obscures channel bottoms while clear water allows for slippery algal growth. Icy water numbs feet quickly and even shallow streams are surprisingly swift when flowing down steep inclines. This combination of factors makes stream crossings one of the most hazardous parts of any backcountry experience.
Keep these points in mind when crossing water channels:
If a crossing seems too risky...it probably is!
Last updated: April 14, 2015