Snowmelt prompts safety reminder from Forest Service

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

As warm weather sets in and the snowpack begins to melt in the surrounding mountains, the Shasta-Trinity National Forest staff urges outdoor recreationists to take precautions when playing in or crossing streams and rivers.

This year’s snowpack is 40 percent greater than average which means increased flow and very cold water, according to a Shasta-Trinity NF press release.

“Crossing streams can be fun and is adventurous, but you need to be extremely careful and prepared for changing conditions” said forest hydrologist Christine Mai.

A trickle in the morning can turn into a roaring stream in the afternoon because snow melt increases throughout the day as temperatures rise. “Be prepared to spend the night or ensure there is an alternate route in case you can’t cross back the way you came. Always avoid crossing frozen lakes or streams which may still be present at higher elevations. What appears stable at the surface can be treacherous below and you do not want to break through into ice-cold water.”

Forest officials remind recreationists that “sudden immersion in ice-cold water can stimulate a gasp reflex causing an involuntary inhalation of air or water. It can even trigger cardiac arrest, temporary paralysis, hypothermia and drowning.”

Mai said, “be sure to wear appropriate clothing.” Lighter, moisture-wicking fabrics are preferred. Avoid wearing jeans. Wet jeans can act like an anchor weighing you down in swift waters.  Maintain or bring extra dry foot wear. A safety pack with a flashlight, dry or waterproof matches, a light jacket and an extra snack are smart accessories for a day hike that could become an extended stay.  

Swimmers, paddlers, boaters, anglers and even hikers cooling off at the water's edge can be surprised by a sudden change in water flow. The Forest Service suggests you “stay safe by wearing a life jacket near deep water, avoiding alcohol, looking for submerged hazards, being aware of the current and checking local conditions before your trip. Parents should also exercise caution with young children playing in or near the water.”