“You drown not by falling into a river, but by staying submerged in it.” (Paulo Coelho)

river_crossing4When I was a child I decided that the bridge over a small stream was far too easy an option and decided to use a tree branch instead.  The branch was the same diameter as I was, but unfortunately it was rotten and promptly snapped, sending me falling about 15 feet onto the stony river bed bellow.  My older sister discovered me moments later lying on my back yelling “I’m dead! I’m dead!”  which I very clearly and vocally wasn’t.

Perhaps not an auspicious start to river crossings and I’ve had my fair share of tumbles and soakings since.

Because of the nature of jungle trekking there are almost always rivers to be crossed and they can be potentially very hazardous to the unwary.  A few weeks back I was on overnight camping trip with a group of friends.  On the way out we had to cross a small river and there were boulders to use as stepping stones – unfortunately one of the group slipped and fell forwards, smacking her head on a boulder as she fell – as we all turned to help we saw her lying face down and motionless in the river… we lifted her up and luckily she was just a bit stunned and okay apart from a golf-ball sized bruise on her forehead.  But it could easily have been much worse and the incident reminded me of the dangers that crossing even small rivers and streams can pose.

In this video I cover some of the lessons that I have learnt (the hard way!).  If there is a simple golden rule to river crossings it is to take your time and heed your instincts that warn you when you are about do something stupid or badly thought out….“Cross  in haste, repent underwater!”

The other danger that rivers pose in the jungle is due to the speed with which they can rise.  In the photo below you can seem me recrossing a river in my Land Rover.  I’d crossed the same river just the day before and it had only been axle deep….on the way back it was coming in through the windows.

river_crossing3And let be honest here, I’d read about rivers in the jungle rising fast but for some reason never really believed it until it happened to me.  A few years ago I was camping about 15 feet up the slope from a dried out river bed….my friends were camped on the other side.  It had started to drizzle and I retired to my hammock for an afternoon nap with my ipod.  About an hour later I vaguely became aware of distant shouts and looked up to find that the river had risen so far that it was only a couple of feet from my hammock.  I managed to cross what was now a swirling torrent of muddy river to the other side thanks to a fallen tree,  but only 20 minutes later the same crossing had become impossible.

What was deceptive about both of the above incidents was that the rain fall where we were camping was just a light drizzle….but, of course, what caused the river to rise was the heavy rain that must have been falling further upstream.

The other danger posed by rivers comes in the form of waterfalls: clearly it is not a good idea cross a river near to waterfall if there is a risk of being swept over but it can also be risky to camp near to a waterfall as well….if you want to see what I mean by this last point then watch this Youtube video which is enough to make anyone think twice before setting up camp beneath a waterfall.