[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[pct-l] re: More on water crossings & ropes

  My personal thoughts on the subject of installing a rope to help stream

1) If you want to read about the dangers of roped stream crossings, then you
can find an excellent example in Ray Jardine's "The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's
Handbook".  In short, his climbing partner was killed when they tried to cross
the stream above Yosemite Falls (I think; I'm quoting from memory) using a
belayed rope crossing; his friend slipped and was held under by the force of
the current against the rope, the major problem with all such roped crossings,
and drowned.

2) I have never used a rope for any stream crossing, nor have I ever used a
fixed rope such as being discussed.  My feelings are that if I cannot safely
cross the stream/river without a rope then it is too dangerous with a rope
(unless, of course, I am using a boat).  My experience includes not only the
Kennebec River on the AT and all of the PCT crossings, but dozens of Alaskan
glacial rivers, including the McKinley River in Denali National Park, which is
about a dozen braids where the river is 2 miles wide, and is notorious for
sweeping people away.

3) Anytime you use a fixed rope (whether on stream crossing or, more commonly,
mountain climbing), you are taking a big risk that the rope is in good shape as
well as the anchors; on a stream crossing, you cannot examine beforehand the
anchor on the other side.  A quick look through mountaineering accidents will
reveal a high number of deaths due to trusting a fixed rope.  There is no
backup system in place if the rope or anchors fail.  If you think that this
does not apply to stream crossings, then please think carefully: the load
placed on a rope system on stream crossings is in fact higher than that in
mountaineering due to the force of the stream on the hiker's body.  Generally,
the rope used for stream crossings is inferior to that used in mountaineering.

4) This may sound crazy to some of you but I would rather see a permanent
bridge built than a rope system.  Please do not take this to mean that I am
sanctioning the construction of bridges where none existed before, in fact, my
personal feelings are to simply leave the stream crossings without bridges if
not needed.  However, a bridge at least is a sanctioned construction and (one
would hope) its safety will be regularly checked, which is not the case with a
rope system.

5) As far as a rope system set at a 45 degree angle, that's fine for the folks
on one side of the stream but not on the other; of course, this assumes that
you are talking about a fixed rope system (this is in response to someone
else's response; I apologize if you meant a temporary roped system, not fixed
as the original subject indicates).

6) Water dynamics is too variable to determine if the rope system you put in
place today will be safe at another time, especially in early season.  I well
remember Bear Creek on the PCT, even though its been 23 years for me.  The
guidebook described it as a simple crossing, which it was not when I was there;
a rope system could have been fatal when I was there, and since I did not have
a lot of experience then I probably would have used it.  The crossing was
waist deep, almost too swift to cross and incredibly cold (snow on both banks).

7) I will argue also for keeping such things as roped crossings out of the
wilderness.  I am, as Craig put it (no offense taken), one of those who likes
to make his/her own way and find such things a detraction from the wilderness. 
I do not hold the same point of view toward cairns, probably because I find
them to be more a part of the landscape.  This spring, on a long backpacking
trip through the Grand Canyon with my 14 year old son, we arrived at the rappel
site for the route we were on.  We had to climb up what most persons rappeled
so were fully prepared with the gear to do it; the rangers were unable to
provide us with any information as to whether it was possible to "reverse" the
route.  When we reached the top, we discovered 2 ropes on the ledge and a rat's
nest of slings for the anchors.  Had I not been carrying so much weight already
and still had several days to return to "civilization", I would have removed
the whole mess.  Why?  Because I feel that it is not only litter but it changes
ones perceptions of the wilderness: my son and I were self-sufficient and
viewed the route as a challenge and were thus prepared mentally and physically,
and we were ready to turn back if it was too much for us; other hikers, hearing
that there was a rope to descend the cliff, might be tempted to try it rather
than turn back and thus lead to an accident.  A fixed rope stream crossing might
do the same.

Sorry to be so wordy.  Just a couple of weeks ago over the 4th of July weekend,
I happened to go for the dayhike on the Appalachian Trail just south of Fontana
Dam, in what is usually called the most rugged section of the AT.  I had not
been on the AT since I had thru-hiked this section 24 years before so I was
apprehensive that it might have changed for the worst due to popularity.  I am
very happy to report that this was not the case and I had a very delightful
day, mostly to myself but also chatting with a few section-hikers along the
way.  Considering that I was there on one of the busiest weekends (if not the
busiest) of the year, this was an unexpected surprise.  Though the AT can
hardly be classified as wilderness, I found it refreshing to find my fears were
all for nothing, that no "improvements" had been made in those 24 years.  I
hope to find the PCT similiarly "primitive" when I finally head down the long
trail again.

* From the Pacific Crest Trail Email List | For info http://www.hack.net/lists *