Tehipite Dome via a perilous crossing of Crown Creek

4 Aug 1999 - by Rj Secor

See a related 1995 trip report by Eckert, which is mentioned in the discussion of crossing streams using ropes.

On July 4, 1983 I almost drowned crossing Crown Creek after climbing Tehipite Dome. That was a heavy snow year, in fact we hiked on snow through the forest on the way to Crown Valley. We crossed Crown Creek in the morning without incident. The creek was 80 feet wide and about thigh-deep, as I recall. But there was a lot more water flowing in the afternoon. Nancy Gordon crossed first, on belay and this rope was used as a fixed rope for those who followed. I tied into another rope and clipped a carabiner from my tie-in to the fixed rope. My logic was that it is important to double up on protection and in this case I was afraid that I may not be able to hang onto the fixed rope in the swift current.

I made it out half way through the now waist deep water to where the fixed rope assumed a V shape. The force of the moving water kept me from moving to the safety of either bank. While trying to release the "safety" carabiner I stumbled and my body folded itself in half, like closing a book. Dave Dykeman jumped in the water and crawled out along the fixed rope hand over hand, saw the problem, and ordered the fixed rope cut. Once this was accomplished he dragged me to the far bank, with my jockey shorts wrapped around my ankles.

The rest of the party did what we should have done in the first place: they hiked upstream for two hours and found a better crossing. Other alternatives that have been suggested include crossing the stream while on belay. My fear of this is that the belay rope may get caught on a rock on the streambed, resulting in a "fixed" rope, and a drowned hiker with his jockey shorts wrapped around his ankles. A better option is this case would have been to have the hiker hold a stick upstream for balance or have the whole party link arms and cross together. Someone may stumble and be swept downstream, but as in river rafting, those who fall overboard float with their legs facing downstream to bounce off of obstacles before reaching shallow water.

But the best option of all should have been to turn around and try Tehipite Dome later in the season. Years later, Dave Dykeman led Tehipite Dome as a day hike in October. We crossed Crown Creek on a series of randomly placed stepping stones and we never got our feet wet, either coming or going.

But the lesson I learned is that one should never use ropes to cross a river. It is a deadly practice.

Steve Eckert adds:

RJ Secor replies:

[WEBMASTER'S NOTE: See Clint Cummins report quoting 'Accidents in North American Mountaineering' for documentation of one such event.]

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