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Rock hoppin' or sloppin'?

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Rock hoppin' or sloppin'?

Postby balzaccom » Fri Aug 16, 2013 8:50 am

On our last trip to Virginia Canyon, we ran into a group of students from the Athenian School, a high school in the Bay Area. They were on a 26-day backpacking trip as part of a graduation requirement from the school...and we enjoyed chatting with them. Nice kids, having fun.

But one thing struck us as a bit odd. We met at the junction where the Pacific Crest Trail fords Return Creek in Virginia Canyon, and as we hopped on the rocks across the creek, we noticed that the kids in the group were all sitting down, with their boots off, and wringing the water out of their socks.

When we asked about it, the bright young woman who was guiding them explained that "We don't rock hop across streams."

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OK. We do. We also use trees, where possible, as in the photo here. We like dry feet, and dry boots. At any rate...

We stopped there and pumped some water for the hike up to McCabe Lakes, and as we were finishing up, M noticed that their group was getting ready to hit the trail. No worries. Those young people were going to leave first, and were certainly going to hike uphill faster than us old folks.

Not so. In less than 100 yards we were right behind them, and they kindly let us go ahead. And fifty yards beyond that we came to the ford of McCabe Creek...which we rock-hopped across, and headed up the hill.

And we couldn't help thinking that they were going to stop after that one, sit down, take their boots off, and wring their socks out again. Seemed like a slow way to hike in the Sierra.

Then again, the next day M was carelessly rock-hopping across a small stream, slipped, and dunked her feet nicely into the water. She grimaced, swore, and then hiked up out of the stream and let her feet dry out, more or less, on the trail. That afternoon she set her boots in the sun and completed the drying process.

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On the other hand, where there are no rocks, we just take off our boots and wade in our Crocs.
Balzaccom

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Re: Rock hoppin' or sloppin'?

Postby RichardCullip » Fri Aug 16, 2013 10:27 am

I'll rock hop, balance on logs or just walk right on thru the water, all depending on what's available at the crossing. However, one thing I don't do is stop to take off my shoes. My lightweight trail runners (Inov8 Roclite 295's) have sticky rubber lug soles that do a decent job of sticking to both dry and wet rocks. They drain fast and, in combination with my thinny thin coolmax socks, dry quickly as I continue my hike down the trail.
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Re: Rock hoppin' or sloppin'?

Postby SSSdave » Fri Aug 16, 2013 10:39 am

Even though they stated thy don't rock hop, that is probably a simplistic response that the leader would have admitted is not the case when crossing a stream via rocks would be trivial. For instance the crossing of a small 6 foot wide 6 inch deep stream with a couple of flat stable rocks to step on to get across. If they all walked through the water there too it would be nonsense. Or the even smaller stream one just needs to jump 3 feet to get across. Same thing when crossing via logs. Some log crossings are trivial while others are difficult even for an acrobat. So they were referring to fords that require some level of coordination and balance to cross. It may have been the leader noticed when bringing total neophytes into such areas, some numbers of students would usually fall in or have too much trouble. Thus in order to not embarrass them in front of those that could, had all students cross the same way equally.

When most people of average coordination move across small talus boulders, we walk from one rock to the next dynamically. Our feet, ankles, and legs adjust automatically balancing the upper body stably smoothly so we don't have to really think about the angle of our feet on each step or what will happen when we get to the next rock. However I once brought a gal out on a group backpack that could only walk across even small talus boulders by going with both feet from one boulder to the next wobbling to a stop atop each one then looking down ahead apprehensively to make the next step.

Conventional wisdom on wading stream crossings is to do so with boots on. An example of overly simplistic black and white advice. However getting one's classic mountain boots and socks wet is also something to avoid if possible else hiking while wet may be unpleasant and prone to blistering. Many stream channels have all manner of various sized cobbles a bare foot in a cold stream will jam against painfully. That alone is enough to tip a person over. However in many situations the stream bottom may not have cobbles like where such it is mostly sand or mud. In such cases, one can choose to toss boots across or tie them on to the top of a pack and go across barefoot.
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Re: Rock hoppin' or sloppin'?

Postby jessegooddog » Fri Aug 16, 2013 11:07 am

One of the reasons I always now hike with 2 poles, and they have certainly saved me from twisting an ankle or getting wet more than once. Not a guarantee, but certainly increase the odds of staying dry.
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Re: Rock hoppin' or sloppin'?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Aug 16, 2013 12:50 pm

Safety always trumps. When I worked for NOLS, we almost always waded vs rock hopping or log crossing. Just as SSSdave said, with a large group, it just takes one person to fall in and more time is spent fixing that problem than simply wading. I wade all the time. It really only takes less than 5 minutes. Off with shoes, take out insoles, stuff socks and insoles in your pack, put on shoes, wade, wring out shoes, wipe feet with kerchief, put on socks, insert dry insoles, put on shoes. The shoes usually dry quickly and it actually is good for the feet to cool off wading. The only time I dislike this routine is when mosquitoes are out in force. Then, even a few minutes standing around a stream makes you a target for the little devils. I think people are too afraid of getting feet wet and then take stupid chances just trying to keep feet dry. I have never gotten blisters from wading a creek. If I anticipate a lot of wading, I take crocks. But, to cross a seriously raging stream or if the bottom is very rocky, I still wade in my hiking shoes, even if I have crocks with me. Crocks just do not have the stability needed for a hard crossing.

I have taken two serious falls into raging streams and the end result was lost gear, a broken elbow and much trouble, in addition to being scared out of my wits.
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Re: Rock hoppin' or sloppin'?

Postby TahoeJeff » Fri Aug 16, 2013 1:18 pm

I take crocks

X2
Great for kickin' around camp as well as water crossings!
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Re: Rock hoppin' or sloppin'?

Postby SweetSierra » Fri Aug 16, 2013 2:42 pm

Like WD, I almost always wade. I don't mind it at all and prefer it to balancing on a log (even a nice flat wide one if it's too high above a raging creek--it's the height I don't like). The waterproof boots I've worn for several years dry quickly if they get a little damp. On some trips I've walked in wet socks and damp boots nearly every day and I've had no foot problems. My feet are pretty tough, though. I also like dunking my feet in a cool stream and if the stream is deep and the bottom is not too rocky, I use my crocks. Sometimes I've gone barefoot. In these instances, poles come in very handy.
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Re: Rock hoppin' or sloppin'?

Postby freestone » Fri Aug 16, 2013 3:30 pm

If there are rocks and logs available, I use them, if not, then I wade with shoes on. Dismounting to change into waders is too much of a rhythm breaker. Admitedly, sloshing in wet shoes is not my favorite feeling, but if your in an area requiring multiple crossings, that's my preference.
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Re: Rock hoppin' or sloppin'?

Postby SweetSierra » Fri Aug 16, 2013 4:45 pm

freestone wrote:... Dismounting to change into waders is too much of a rhythm breaker. Admitedly, sloshing in wet shoes is not my favorite feeling, but if your in an area requiring multiple crossings, that's my preference.


Exactly my sentiments. I just like to charge on. If there are multiple crossings, even more so.
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Re: Rock hoppin' or sloppin'?

Postby sparky » Fri Aug 16, 2013 5:52 pm

rock hopping, logs, shoes on, shoes off, its all good!
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Re: Rock hoppin' or sloppin'?

Postby giantbrookie » Fri Aug 16, 2013 8:29 pm

I can see the rationale for a large group of making everyone wade. As for myself, I wade only if I can't cross comfortably via a log or logs, or by rock hopping. "Comfortably" will vary considerably for everyone, and it varies for me depending on how I feel at that time of the day, too as well as the degree of difficulty of the logs and rocks, and the potential consequences of a slip. I see no reason to get my feet wet if I don't have to, but I also avoid doing anything too strenuous simply for the sake of staying dry.

Over the years, I have tended to like rock hopping, whether it be across streams, or big boulders in talus piles, but I recognize that with age my agility and balance will no doubt decline and I'll probably consider wading at crossings where I might have routinely bounced across in the past.
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Re: Rock hoppin' or sloppin'?

Postby lambertiana » Fri Aug 16, 2013 8:42 pm

I have been fortunately blessed with very good balance and ankles, so I have no problem rock hopping with a full pack (bring on those big talus fields!).

However, when necessary, I will wade. I bring a pair of Merrell Trail Glove shoes specifically for such crossings (they make great camp shoes at the end of the day, too).
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