So we were out looking for some new ice to climb today and discovered this short pitch of ice:

enter image description here

There's only one problem:

enter image description here

The ice is on the wrong side of a rather wide creek. The nearest crossings are pretty far away, and the approach from either direction would not be easy (steep cut banks, cliffs and thick trees). The easiest route to the ice is across the creek.

I found one spot to cross that looks only about knee deep, and the water is flowing probably a little bit faster than walking speed. Now I'm just trying to decide what would be best way to get across with all our gear. I'm thinking an extra pair of boots and pants combined with some warm blankets/towels and a thermos of hot chocolate at the other side. Pants off would hurt, this water is painfully cold in the summer time, I can only imagine what it's like now... What's the best way to wade through a creek in winter? Anyone know of any painless winter water wading techniques?

  • Painless might be impossible. With knee deep water, standard muck boots (wellies) would be too low. Perhaps hip waders would do the trick. Just getting your group across and back could be enough adventure for a day out. Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 2:32
  • 3
    "Wellies" I'm going to start calling them that, we call them gum boots or rubber boots here. Hip waders with some warm pants would be ideal I think, but we don't have any of those... But I'm wondering if we could fashion some out of gum boots and rain pants with a good seam of duck tape...
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 3:11
  • 1
    I mean, wellies and rain trousers ;)
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 3:12
  • 4
    "wellies", British slang term for wellington boot, so called after Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington who invented the item after ...instructing his shoemaker, Hoby of St. James's Street, London, to modify the 18th-century Hessian boot. :)
    – user2766
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 11:22
  • You know those chemical heat packs that they sell as hand warmers to put inside your gloves? If you're male ...
    – user2169
    Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 19:06

5 Answers 5


Traditional military routines for crossing a river under such conditions are the following

  1. Bag your pack and items in a waterproof sack/black bag
  2. Tie it up and use as a buoyancy aid
  3. Wear your normal boots and thin socks
  4. Ensure Gore-Tex socks are in your pack. They cost approx $10-14
  5. Cross the river and accept the cold - embrace it :-)
  6. Once across remove wet boots and socks. Bag the wet socks in a zip lock.
  7. Place the dry Gore Tex socks on your feet with talcum powder and dry socks if required underneath.
  8. Place boots on feet. The heat from your feet will now dry your boots from the inside out whilst maintaining completely dry feet inside Gore-Tex.
  9. If wet boots require further drying due to non-porous materials then pack two or three child's nappies.
  10. Remove the inners and stuff the absorbent pads inside your boots.
  11. Zip lock the wet nappies for disposal once they are sodden.

I hope this helps.

  • What about the pants? Any routines for those as well, since we are talking about knee deep water here? Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 7:49
  • Hi @PaulPaulsen - see point 5. Embrace the cold :-) You can always change your pants too but most won't. They drive very quickly if made of the right materials. Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 8:58

I thought about fishing boots.

Fishing boots

They would probably take the same space as an extra pair of pants and boots anyways, but they would save you from getting wet from freezing water and be a lot cheaper as well.


If the rivers fast moving, rope up. You prob want to use a figure of eight lasso:

  1. tie a single figure of eight in the rope, towards the end you want to build a lasso in
  2. tie a re-threaded figure of eight in the end and rethread so that the rope passes though the bight, ensure the first single figure of eight is on the inside of the loop. Make sure the loop in the bight is small enough so that the single figure of eight will not pass though it.
  3. Slide the single figure of eight up or down the rope so that the lasso won't tighten and constrict the person who is using it
  4. Put this over the person crossing the river, under their armpits

If someone looses their footing they can be swiftly swept down river, if it's very cold they can become unconscious very quickly so the idea of the rope is to prevent this.

A hip belay will likely be fine for this. If it's very fast consider constructing an anchor around a tree. Be careful not to pull the person under the water if they do fall. Let the rope slide a little and guide them to the side/shallower water.

Once on the other side you probably want to secure both ends of the rope to trees. This way you can haul your kit over separately and the other people can cross secured to this (use a lanyard/cows tail type set up).


Use fly fishing waders with fly fishing boots. underneath use your regular pants with whatever undergarments you normally wear (thermals, etc). The fishing waders and boots will keep everything dry, and by using a base layer (which you probably normally do anyway) you will be warm enough for the crossing.


If the water is running, it can't be much under 0 C. It's likely not much colder than it is during the summer. It's also likely warmer than the ambient air temperature. Of course, due to the much greater rate of heat loss due to conduction, that doesn't really mean much.

If you think the chance of falling in is low, ( current not too fast, reasonable footing) and that the crossing can be done quickly, I would just go with bare feet and legs. You'll need to be prepared to dry off on the other side. A foam sleeping pad would be handy to keep warm/dry while you're getting clothes back on.

The only real alternative is to find a friend that is into fly fishing and borrow their waders. Even that will still be fairly cold and unpleasant.

  • 3
    That is not true. Moving water can reach temperatures well below 0C without freezing. Here's more details about why here: reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/18sull/… That's also the reason why there's a lot of ice ready to climb just over the river while the stream itself is not turning to ice.
    – Dakatine
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 22:09
  • Survival time after immersion in 0 degree water and exiting to sub zero air tempretures is how long? Its far from summer conditions.
    – user5330
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 22:24
  • Immersion is not the same as crossing @mattnz although it's a valid concern. I think looking at the photos, it appears to be easily crossable. Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 14:14
  • Google "polar bear club", what is dangerous is wet clothes, not a brief exposure to cold water. Apparently people don't like my answer, but I've personal experience with falling in streams in winter and as long as you get dry clothes on ASAP it's not life threatening. Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 17:45
  • There are people who go for a dip in water like this... I think this answer is fine (though I don't know if I would do it - brrrrr....) Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 7:53

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