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How to Cross a Creek

There’s more than one way to cross a creek. We’re talking about  a “wet crossing” here—one without a bridge, a log, or stepping stones to rock-hop over. Regardless of the stream depth, it always means getting your feet immersed in the drink.

In his hiking guidebooks, Jim advocates plowing right through the water with your shoes or boots on. His opinion is that, providing you have the proper footwear to begin with, it’s too much trouble to take your hiking shoes off and put them on again over multiple stream crossings. With sharp and slippery rocks underfoot, he says, your footing is likely better when your boot soles are making contact with the streambed, and your boots will dry out after a while. Unless, of course, it’s raining—in which case they will be wet anyway.

But what about hiking in the wintertime, when your feet are less likely to warm up in soggy socks, woolen or not? On December 13 we hiked on a local trail here in the Smokies in search of one of Jim’s favorite secluded waterfalls—one he hadn’t visited in several years.  He remembered a wet creek crossing early on, and if we followed his preference we’d be walking in wet shoes for the following couple of hours. So we planned a different tack: crossing with shoes off, but socks on. When we got to the other side, we’d stash the wet socks in a plastic bag and put on the extra pair of dry ones we’d brought along.

Arriving at the crossing, stepping into the frigid water was of course just as cold as if our feet were bare, but we found we had better footing. The sock provided a thin layer of protection against sharp-edged gravelshoeless-crossing-12-15 and stone, and excellent grip on flat rocks that felt slimy even under boot treads. Walking across the creek in ankle-deep-or-less water seemed easy. On the other side we replaced the wet socks with dry ones, laced up the trail shoes, and continued with cozy feet.

All this would have been fine had we not discovered that hiking this trail required not one, but five wet crossings in close succession. Removing and replacing shoes became a time-consuming bother that was seriously cutting into our Sunday morning hike time. We agreed it’s a great way to go if you only have to do it once or twice on a cold hike, but depending on the weather and the number of crossings it may be more efficient to make the ford with your boots on.

We never did find the waterfall, though we searched for it. Jim says it was heavily obscured in a laurel “hell” when he first found it, and may now be completely overgrown. But as for creek-walking in our socks, enough was enough on this day. Since cold temperature wasn’t a big factor (this fall and winter have been unseasonably warm in the Smokies), on our return we reverted to the original method and splashed through the water, boots and all.



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