When the water level begins to reach waist deep or the current is too swift for even a team crossing, the chosen site must be closely examined. The stream at this point may be impassable. Many times though, a crossing site which may be unsafe for individual or team crossings can be made safe with the installation of a handline or rope bridge. Crossing on a handline will still require each individual to enter the water and get wet. If a one-rope bridge can be constructed, it may require only a couple of individuals to enter the water. Deciding whether to install a handline or a rope bridge will depend on the anchors available, height of the anchors above the water, and the distance from the near and far anchors. The maximum distance a one-rope bridge is capable of spanning is approximately 1/2 to 2/3 the length of the rope in use.
a. Establishing the Far Anchor. Whether a handline or rope bridge is to be installed, someone must cross the stream with one end of the rope and anchor it on the far side. This duty should be performed by the most capable and strongest swimmer in the party. The swimmer should be belayed across for his own safety. The belay position should be placed as far above the crossing as possible. In the event that the current is too strong for the individual, he will pendulum back to the near bank. Rescuers should be poised on the near bank at points where the individual will pendulum back, should he fail to reach the far bank. The initial crossing site should be free of obstacles that would snag the rope and prevent the pendulum back to the bank for an easy recovery.
(1) The individual may attach the belay rope to his seat harness or a swami belt with a carabiner. He should NEVER tie directly into the rope when being belayed for a stream crossing. If the swimmer should be swept away and become tangled, he must be able to release himself quickly from the rope and swim to shore as best he can. The individual may also choose to tie a fixed loop into the end of the belay rope and hang on to it, where he can immediately release it in an emergency.
(2) Anytime a crossing site must be used where the swimmer may encounter problems getting to the far bank, he should have on a life vest or other personal flotation device (PFD). If the swimmer must release the rope at any time, he will have to rely on his own water survival skills and swimming ability to get to shore. A PFD will greatly increase his own personal safety. A PFD may also be used by the last man across, as he will release the rope from the anchor and be belayed across as the first man b. Installation of a Handline. If it is possible to use a rope high enough above the water to enable soldiers to perform a dry crossing, then a rope bridge should be installed as such. If this is impossible, and the rope must be installed to assist in a wet crossing, then it should be installed as a handline (Figure 9-4).
(1) The far anchor should be downstream from the near anchor so that the rope will run at an angle downstream from the near anchor, approximately thirty to forty-five degrees, rather than straight across the stream. Here again, it is easier to move with the current as opposed to directly across or against it.
(2) The rope may be anchored immediately on the far bank, pulled tight, and anchored on the near bank, or it may be installed with a transport tightening system if a tighter rope is required.
(3) Crossing will always be performed on the downstream side of the handline, shuffling the feet with the downstream foot in the lead.
(4) A second climbing rope is used as a belay (Figure 9-5). One end of the belay rope will be on the near bank and the other end on the far bank. It should be sent across with the strong-swimmer. An appropriate knot is tied into the middle of the belay rope to form two fixed loops with each loop being approximately 6 inches long. One loop is connected to the handline with carabiner(s) and the individual crossing connects one loop to himself. The loops are short enough so the individual is always within arms reach of the handline should he slip and let go. The individuals are belayed from both the near and far banks. If a mishap should occur the individual can be retrieved from either shore, whichever appears easiest. The belay on the opposite shore can be released allowing the individual to pendulum to the bank. It is important that the belay rope NOT be anchored or tied to the belayer so that it may be quickly released if necessary.
(5) Under most circumstances, the handline should be crossed one person at a time. This keeps rope stretch and load on the anchors to a minimum.
(6) Rucksacks can be either carried on the back the same way as for individual crossings, or they can be attached to the handline and pulled along behind the individual.
(7) If a large amount of equipment must be moved across the stream, especially heavier weapons, such as mortars, recoilless rifles, and so on, then a site should be selected to install a rope bridge.
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