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Planning & Preparation


Reconnaissance of the route (map, photo, and or aerial) may not always reveal that a water obstacle exists. In a swamp, for example, unfordable sloughs may not show on the map, and they may be concealed from aerial observation by a canopy of vegetation. Whenever it is possible that a unit will be required to cross a water obstacle, its commander must plan some type of crossing capability.

a. Site selection is extremely important once you determine that you must make a crossing (Figure 9-1). Look for a high place from which you can get a good view of the obstacle and possible crossing sites. A distant view, perhaps from a ridge, is sometimes better than a hundred close views from a riverbank. Site selection must be made before the arrival of the main body.

Figure 9-1. Normal locations of shallowest water and safest crossing sites.

Figure 9-1. Normal locations of shallowest water and safest crossing sites.

b. A dry crossing on fallen timber or log jams is preferable to attempting a wet crossing. Depending upon the time of year, the closer you are to the source, or headwaters, the better your chances are of finding a natural snow or ice bridge for crossing. If a dry crossing is unavailable, the following considerations should be made:

(1) The time of day the crossing can be an important factor. Although early morning is generally best bcause the water level is normally lower during this period, recent weather is a big factor; there may have been havy rain in the last eight hours. As glaciers, snow, or ice melt during the day, the rivers rise, reaching their mximum height between mid afternoon and late evening, depending on the distance from the source. Crossigs, if made during the early morning, will also allow clothing to dry more quickly during the heat of the day.

(2) A crossing point should normally be chosen at the widest, and thus shallowest, point of the river or stream. Sharp bends in the river should be avoided since the water is likely to be deep and have a strong current on the outside of the bend. Crossings will be easiest on a smooth, firm bottom. Large rocks and boulders provide poor footing and cause a great deal of turbulence in the water.

(3) Many mountain streams, especially those which are fed by glacier run-off, contain sections with numerous channels. It is often easier to select a route through these braided sections rather than trying to cross one main channel. A drawback to crossing these braided channels, however, is the greater distance to the far bank may increase exposure time and often the sand and gravel bars between the channels will offer little cover or concealment, if any.

(4) The crossing site should have low enough banks on the near and far side to allow a man carrying equipment to enter and exit the stream with relative ease. If a handline or rope bridge is to be constructed, the crossing site should have suitable anchors on the near and far bank, along with safe loading and unloading areas. Natural anchors are not a necessity, however the time required to find a site with solid natural anchors will probably be less than the time required to construct artificial anchors. In some areas, above the tree line for example, artificial anchors may have to be constructed. Deadman anchors buried in the ground, or under a large pile of boulders work well.

(5) Log jams and other large obstructions present their own hazards. Logs floating downstream will generally get hung up in shallower sections creating the jam. Once a log jam is formed, however, the water forced to flow around it will erode the stream bottom. Eventually deep drop-offs or holes may develop, especially around the sides and off the downstream end of the log jam. A log jam that totally bridges a section of the stream may be the best way to cross. A wet crossing in the vicinity of a log jam should be performed a good distance below or above it. Some things to consider when crossing near log jams are:

  • Cross well to the downstream side when possible.
  • Keep a sharp lookout for floating timber that could knock you off your feet.
  • If you must cross on the upstream side, stay well upstream from the log jam. If a person is swept off his feet and caught in the debris of the jam, he could easily drown. A handline will greatly increase safety here.
  • (6) When possible, select a crossing site that has enough natural protection on the near and far banks so that security teams may be placed out and enough cover and concealment is available for the size of the element making the crossing. When cover and concealment is minimal, as in the higher alpine zones, the crossings must be conducted as efficiently as possible to minimize exposure to enemy observation.

    Preparation of Troops and Equipment

    Prepare men and equipment for a crossing as far in advance as feasible. Final preparation should be completed in a security perimeter on the near side just before crossing. Preparation includes the following.

    a. Waterproof water-sensitive items. Wrap radios, binoculars, SOI, papers, maps and any extra clothing in waterproof bags (trash bags also work well), if available. These bags also provide additional buoyancy in case of a fall.

    b. Trousers are unbloused and shirts are pulled out of the trousers. All pockets are buttoned. This allows water to escape through the clothing. Otherwise the clothing would fill up and retain water, which would weigh the body down. This is especially critical if an individual must swim to shore. Depending on the circumstances of the crossing (for example, tactical situation, temperature of the air and water), the crossing can be made in minimal clothing so that dry clothing is available after the crossing. Boots should be worn to protect feet from rocks; however, socks and inner soles should be removed. On the far side, the boots can be drained and dry socks replaced.

    c. Load-carrying equipment harness and load-bearing vest (LBV) is unbuckled and worn loosely. It is extremely difficult to remove a buckled harness in the water in an emergency.

    d. Helmets are normally removed and placed in the rucksack in slow moving streams with sandy or gravel bottoms. If you have to resort to swimming it is easier done without the helmet. However, when crossing swift flowing streams, especially those with large rocks and other debris, the risk of head injury if a person slips is high. In this case the helmet should be worn with the chinstrap fastened.

    e. The rucksack should be worn well up on the shoulders and snug enough so it does not flop around and cause you to lose your balance. The waist strap MUST be unbuckled so you can get rid of the pack quickly if you are swept off your feet and have to resort to swimming. If a pack has a chest strap it must also be unbuckled. Secure everything well within your pack. It is easier to find one large pack than to find several smaller items.

    f. Individual weapons should be attached to the pack or slung over the shoulder.

    Back to Mountain Stream Crossing

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