I am preparing a dayhike with some buddies of mine but to get to the trailhead, we have to cross more than ten river crossings which are passable by huge vehicles. The water there is quite fast and raging. In the interest of time so we could be able to complete the hike in a single day, I'm planning to start the hike early so we can be at the trailhead before the sun rises. What things should I keep in mind?

  • How are you getting to the trailhead? Driving a car through the river crossings? Are you passing in a huge vehicle such as those used on Icelandic mountain roads, or are you walking?
    – gerrit
    Feb 7, 2017 at 12:16
  • @gerrit we'll be walking to the trailhead, and the bulk of the river crossings lies before the trailhead, and majority of them are knee-deep or lower.
    – user19652
    Feb 7, 2017 at 12:26
  • Is anyone in your party very familiar with the route?
    – gerrit
    Feb 7, 2017 at 12:31
  • @gerrit I've been there before but I only crossed the river thrice, the trailhead for the mountain I'll be hiking would be at least ten river crossings further. The water where I crossed didn't go pass my knees but the current was strong, we swam on it after our hike before and if you let go the water carries you quite easily.
    – user19652
    Feb 7, 2017 at 13:30
  • 6
    "raging river" + "night" + "needing to ask" = probably not a good move.
    – Glenn
    Feb 7, 2017 at 15:26

3 Answers 3


Don't, unless you know the route very well and are sure the rivers can pose no danger.

Travel the day before so you arrive to the trailhead before it gets dark, then spend the night at the trailhead. Big river crossings at night are too dangerous. A headlight will only do so much as the light will just reflect off the surface. You won't be able to tell the depth of the river.

Travelling the afternoon the day before has the added advantage that you will do the river crossings in the afternoon, minimising the risk that swelling river levels trap you on the far side of the river.


There are a couple of things you will want to do.

  • Headlamps are essential as you will want the full use of both of your arms.
  • The darkness will make it more difficult, mostly because you be able to see much less.
  • The darkness can also mess with your judgement of how far things are.
  • In mountainous areas, the stream levels will usually go up later in the day once the snow starts melting, so something that is barely possible at dawn will probably not be possible at noon.
  • There will also be an added level of danger because of the added difficulty of getting warm if you fall in (no sunlight to warm you up).

Beyond these all of the standard precautions apply.

Personally, I wouldn't say that this is an automatic turnaround, but there is an added level of danger when river crossing at night.

  • 5
    Another level of danger comes from being unable to find and therefore assist in the event someone is swept away. In my country river crossings kill an order of magnitude more people than any other out door danger. Better late than dead we say.
    – user5330
    Feb 7, 2017 at 6:12
  • 3
    This description of diurnal streamflow is only partially accurate. While snowmelt happens during the day and increases the volume the impact felt is highly dependent on total volume of the stream and distance from snow fields. Any stream collecting from multiple basins will be too hard to accurately predict without extended direct observations. Even then peak steamflows will change based on total steamflow. By that I mean during higher flows the changes will be much more rapid. During less than peak times the changes will take more time to propogate.
    – Glenn
    Feb 7, 2017 at 15:24

A couple problems

  • Not in a good position to access the danger and you have not done the route.
  • If someone does fall rescue is now much more difficult. You don't even know which side they got out on or how far. You would need to split your party in the dark. Even with a successful rescue you have lost hours and will not make trail head at dawn.

If you know someone that has done the route recently to tell no problems then OK. Fast water above your knees in the dark is not a good combination.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.