Over the years river crossings have been some of the most tricky days of my life. It was not until my first Big Walk across Scotland that we encountered some huge rivers. Looking back we were very lucky to get away with it. On another epic I had to swim across to

Shenavall after climbing the Fisherfield 5/6 Munro’s with my dog. Many times we have had to gain lots of height when a river is in spate to find away across.

We expect heavy rain for the next few days so please be aware of flooded rivers. There is great advice on Mountaineering Scotland’s Website well worth a look.

At the weekend meets with the Moray Mountaineering Club a few of us spoke about river crossings as at times the rivers were high. Few folk new to the hills understand the dangers of flooded rivers they are and can be uncompromising and every year take a life.  In the past my day, my route my hills has had to change due to rivers at times they can be  uncross-able ask anyone who has spent time in the mountains.

DO NOT FALL INTO THE TRAP THAT WE HAVE TO CROSS, LEAVE IT FOR ANOTHER DAY.

PLEASE TREAT WATER  WITH RESPECT HERE IS SOME GREAT ADVICE.

Heather Morning – Mountain Safety Officer for Mountaineering Scotland.

Avoidance is the key – careful planning of a trip and good observation should almost eliminate the chances of a difficult crossing. However, local flooding is not always predictable and occasionally a wet crossing is necessary, particularly in remote parts of Scotland.

Fast moving water can be powerful and difficult to exit from. The water will be cold and the river bed slippery and awkward. Downstream obstacles such as trees, waterfalls and boulder chokes may prove killers if anybody is swept away.

https://www.mountaineering.scot/safety-and-skills

Mountaineering equipment is not designed with swift water in mind and will generally hinder rather than help. And if things go wrong during a stream or river crossing there can be many potentially serious problems to deal with, such as a split party, communication difficulties, immersion hypothermia, loss of equipment, injury etc. Worth thinking about!

This is from the Mountaineering Scotland web site and it has so much information in well worth a read and thanks to Heather Morning for letting me re blog it

Big river Feshie.

Storm Frank and the Glen Feshie epic
by Heather Morning

Weather forecasts: yep, check them and plan your adventures accordingly. So that’s what we did. Super high winds were forecast (100mph). Precipitation: ‘Mainly dry, risk of odd shower. Overnight extensive snow developing, later rain’. It must also be noted that a named storm, ‘Storm Frank’, was forecast by the Met Office. (Although the MWIS forecast above gave little indication of the amount of water that actually fell in Glen Feshie in the 24 hours we were out.) So it clearly made sense to stay low and plan a short walk in along a good track to a cosy bothy.


What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it happened, quite a lot…
The plan was formulated to head into Ruigh Aiteachain bothy in Glen Feshie from the road end at Achlean. A few kilometres on easy tracks with a return the following morning and out for breakfast in a local café.
Kit was packed according to the plan: old clothes (for chopping wood, didn’t want to damage that expensive Gore-Tex), a nice supper with liquid refreshment, and all the overnight accoutrements for a comfortable night in the bothy.
What we didn’t have were suitable boots, crampons or ice axes to go high. We also didn’t have a map or compass as the route to the bothy was a familiar and straightforward route. Neither were we dressed in our good waterproof garments, or carrying gloves and hats for high level travel. Why?

Because we had zero intention of leaving the glen. The walk in was uneventful, taking around 1.5 hours, and we arrived to find four young lads in residence, plus kit from two others who were out on the hill. (These turned out to be members of
the RAF mountain rescue team, who arrived back later after a good day on the hill.)

II was very aware during the night that it was raining HEAVILY, in fact so heavily that a) it kept waking me up and b) I started worrying about the river crossing between the bothy and the road end. I was up at 7am, dragging my partner out of his cosy sleeping bag and we headed out, early, still dark.

The ground immediately outside the bothy was flooded and within half a kilometre we were forced to turn back after reaching an uncross-able burn which the evening before had been barely noticeable. Back at the bothy, I persuaded the two RAF boys to pack and head out with us so we could assume a ‘line astern’ with four people to cross the first hurdle.
We crossed the first challenge, carrying Milly the dog on our shoulders, and proceeded to the major challenge: the outflow of Coire Garbhlach. As predicted it was a complete show stopper: there was zero chance of crossing it. Any slip would have had fatal consequences.
Breakfast was looking like a dim hope on the horizon as we trudged back towards the bothy, at times thigh deep in the flooded glen.

The decision had to be made. Do we return to the bothy, where we would be safe but had no food and no dry clothing? Or do we push up over the top onto the Moine Mhor around the head of Coire Garbhlach, which reaches an altitude of 950m, with no suitable kit and extremely severe winds forecast?

Our group of four decided to stick our noses into the high level option based on the strength and experience of the group. With a caveat that we would all turn around if any one of the group was unhappy.

Then we met the four lads from the bothy who, realising the plight of the situation they were in, had also left the bothy early in the hope of getting back to civilization.

Now, entering into a challenging environment with known skills and experience is one thing, to enter into it with four ‘unknowns’ is quite another, but that’s what we did. (Not my brightest moment!) As we ascended the land rover track to the south of Coire Garbhlach, the map that the young lads had with them blew away!

However, luck was on our side as the mist cleared, allowing navigation across the Moine Mhor without map and compass. And, surprisingly, the winds were not as bad as forecast,although bad enough to really hammer us as we descended down the track from Carn Ban Mor. The easy walk back to Achlean which should have taken 1.5 hours, took around six. We had no food,no breakfast before we left and no drink.

It would have been very easy for one of the party to have hurt themselves during the descent in high winds as we were battered like leaves in a gale. Equally as we committed to the featureless crossing of the Moine Mhor the visibility could have dropped, leaving us floundering with no navigation tools.On hindsight, perhaps it would have been wise to sit it out in the bothy until the floods subsided.

Footnote: You may well recall ‘Storm Frank’ as the weather event on 30th December 2015, which flooded Ballater and resulted in a huge amount of destruction.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Bothies, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, People, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to River crossings please be aware and the Glen Feshie epic by Heather Morning.

  1. ptsd17 says:

    I went on a military course to Norway, part of the course was on crossing rivers. We donned life jackets & helmets, was clipped onto a safety line and told to try cross the river. The force of water against the lifted leg was more than enough to spin you and dunk you in the drink, luckily we were pulled to the side to try again using different group scenarios. As a group we eventually succeeded in crossing safely, much to the amusement of the people who stopped on a bridge further down wondering why there was mad Brits in the water. It gave you great respect to fast moving water, and key points to look for in getting across safely. If I was out today, unless there was a bridge or visable stepping stones I’d enjoy the views, have a brew, and turn around.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ken Ross says:

    Dave Foy and I had had a few dodgy river crossings over the years!

    Liked by 1 person

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