The central section of 58 miles, between Bigelow Preserve and Monson, Maine, is less strenuous than the first and is spotted with ponds, streams, and swampy areas. One of the most distinguishing features of this section is the crossing of the widest, unbridged river along the Appalachian Trail, the Kennebec River. The Kennebec is approximately 70 yards wide with a swift, powerful current. As a result of releases of water from hydro-facilities upstream, the depth and current of the river change quickly and unpredictably. The Maine Appalachian Trail Club has arranged with local outfitters to provide a scheduled ferry service across the Kennebec at no cost to hikers (although tips are encouraged). This free canoe ride is the A.T.’s official route – there is even a white blaze painted in the bottom of the canoe.
There are many other streams and rivers that must be forded and these crossings are one of the most dangerous challenges hikers confront. River crossings can be deceptively hazardous. Even a very shallow, swiftly flowing body of water can pack enough force to knock a hiker off his/her feet. The use of extreme caution and lots of common sense must prevail.
I’ve discovered some very practical advice in crossing unbridged rivers and streams. One source is George G. Spearing’s thoughts in an online article found at www.danceswithmarmots.com/navtips.html#2. George suggests the following when attempting to cross a stream alone:
- If possible, view the river from above to identify the shallowest point and smoothest area of river bed.
- Avoid submerged snags, boulders etc. Do not attempt a crossing if large pieces of debris (logs, branches, etc.) are being carried downstream.
- Keep your boots on. Wet boots are preferable to damaged ankles or feet.
- Do not cross wearing long pants… pants will increase resistance to the current.
- Release the waist belt and the sternum strap on your pack before crossing – this way you will be able to free yourself quickly if you lose your footing or find yourself in a position where your pack is snagged and holding you down.
- It’s also good to remember that your pack has a certain amount of buoyancy and can serve as a flotation device if necessary.
- Generally, the safest area to cross will be a straight section between bends in a river. If you imagine the river in the shape of the letter ‘S’ then the safest area to cross will be the middle of the ‘S’ between the bends. That way, if you should lose your footing, hopefully the current will carry you into the bank on one of the bends.
- Use a strong pole or stick about five or six feet in length as support, placing it on your upstream side so that the current forces it into the bottom. Always keep two points of contact on the river bed at all times and cross diagonally downstream, resisting the current much like you would a strong wind.
- Take shuffling footsteps, feeling for the bottom.
- Try not to look down at the flowing water as this may upset your equilibrium, look ahead for the best possible route.
Canoe Photo: http://www.pjwetzel.com/2012/08/pierce-pond-and-kennebec.html