Liability Disclaimer
The following article is not intended to be a step-by-step procedure to follow when crossing swift water. This is merely a description of the procedures followed during my 1999 prospecting trip on the Yuba River in California and presented for entertainment purposes only. River prospecting involves many hazards and swift moving water is extremely hazardous. Always treat the river with a great deal of respect. Never underestimate the power of the river. It may not give you a second chance. 

I assume no responsibility in case of any accident occurring from using this procedure!
The Golden Optimist

Click on the pictures for full size version

Our prospecting caravan arrived at Union Flats on June 27th, 1999 after traveling two days from Colorado. The first thing we did was to inspect the river. It was still high and swift. Last year we had the same problem. The water had been high enough that it had been very hard to cross. Each time that we crossed we wondered if we would get washed down the rapids and have to walk back up the river bank. We had only crossed a few times in the 2 weeks we were there.  This year we didn't want to feel apprehensive each time we went to the dredges so we decided to dredge on the near side of the river.

Setup on the campground side of the river

During 2 days of working the same areas that had been worked last year with poor gold recovery results, we kept looking at the gravel bars across the river and saying to ourselves "That doesn't look so bad! I think the water has gone down a lot". Finally we worked up enough courage to try a crossing. The river was still too high to wade but I had came a little more prepared this year with plenty of rope and an inflatable raft to haul equipment back and forth.  Anytime that fast moving water is over knee deep, it is extremely hard to wade. One slip and you are off for a ride downstream. Sometimes through water that you would just as soon not navigate.

The first step would be to get a rope across the river. We could throw it across but it then it would need to be tied off. Someone needed to swim over to the other side. Chris and I both felt relatively comfortable about swimming it. We didn't mind going through the rough water one time. Chris was younger than I so he won the honor.

Chris crossing the first time

You can swim some pretty swift current if you select a spot where the current tends to carry you to the other side. We had found that out last year. You can swim across once through some pretty bad looking water if you are establishing a system that will make it easier to cross the next time. You don't want to have to fight the water to get back and forth on a regular basis. As we gathered up nerve to jump into the water I went over a checklist with Chris:

Getting the rope to the other side

Directly in front of me is the spot where Chris started his swim to the other side. I had brought a coil of 600 feet of 1/4" poly rope with me for moving equipment up and down the river. This should be a standard item for any dredger. We work in the water all of the time and tying equipment securely only makes good sense. No one wants to chase a errant dredge down the river.

I tied a 12" crescent wrench to the end of the rope for weight.  I then swung the rope around a clockwise direction spinning it faster and faster. When I had it swinging as fast as I could, I would then release it on the upswing and it would hopefully fly across the river. One problem I had though, was every time just before I would release it, I would dip my right shoulder and the wrench would hit the ground.  This would ruin it's inertia and it would go "ka-plunk" right in the middle of the river.  After a few tries I was successful and Chris then pulled it up the bank and tied it off to a large tree. I pulled enough slack from the roll of rope to allow it to wash down the river about 150 feet in a large "U". I then pulled all of the slack back to me and pulled it tight so that the rope  was 6 feet above the water. This would allow rafters to pass beneath it when we weren't using it to cross back and forth. Now it was time to get the equipment ready for the crossing.

Continue to Part 2

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