The Water is Wide and Deep and Fast and Might have Crocodiles

This current rainy season seems to be making up for the brief drought we experienced over the last month or so. Every day, tall stormheads sprout up like mushrooms by late morning, and by noon they start to creep over the land, dumping rain as they go, thundering all the while.

And leaving behind spectacular sunsets.

With such narrow and discrete showers, we can often feel the effects of nearby storms even when they aren’t currently drenching us. Damp air carries the sounds of thunder for miles. Slight breezes carry the scent of mud and wet foliage. The rumpled valleys and rolling hills of this region quickly fill up and form streams and rivers that swell along their whole lengths.

That last one is a problem for us especially, since monkeys often lead us over little trickles of water that we easily ignore. It isn’t until heavy rains upstream turn them into torrents that we realize that a), we should have paid more attention to the weather and b), we might have to sit and wait for a while.

One river we regularly cross here is only ankle-deep, with a few stepstones above water. The other day, a park guard alerted us that the approaching storm had already been filling the rivers upstream, and that we should contact our other party who had crossed. They answered just as the downpour began. By the time they reached the river–sprinting, not even bothering with ponchos–it was about calf-height, and they just forded through. A few hours later, it was chest-height, had spread about 30 extra meters in width, and was full of small trees being carried by the current. If they hadn’t crossed when they did, they would have been stuck on the wrong side until the water had gone back down.

This guy should be standing on dry land.

Crossing rivers is no joke. Water is deceptively strong, and its strength is exponential to its depth and speed. Even little rivers, shin-deep, can sweep you off your feet, especially when wearing a full unbalanced backpack and walking on loose stones. Ever tried to right yourself while tangled in straps and your nose and mouth are filling with muddy water? I once fell and got my pack caught on an underwater snag. I couldn’t find the buckles and couldn’t keep my head out of the water. I had to cut myself free, and always carry a knife within arm’s reach when I hike now.

Another time I found a river that was deep, but not too swift. The channel had spread and allowed it to move slowly. I took off my boots and lifted my pack over my head to keep it dry, priding myself on foresight. It wasn’t until I was halfway across and neck-deep that I saw the crocodile. It was about 3 meters long and lying on a bank upstream. It helps to pay attention to more than just the water.

Crocodiles rarely ever attack people, but won’t say no to a stupid drowning hiker.

My advice for crossing a river that has risen from the rain is this: use common sense. If it looks still passable, loosen your bag, unbuckle your straps, and pick your steps with care. Maybe carry a stick, and have the smallest person go in the middle of the group. Don’t bother walking on rocks; you’ll probably slip and wet boots are a worthy sacrifice for not drowning. If the water is too deep or too fast, just wait it out.

If, however, you feel that you must cross a flooded river despite the danger, I have a handy 3-step guide:

  1. Don’t.
  2. Stay put and get comfortable.
  3. The fuck is wrong with you?

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