Trapped by Flood Waters

‘I got away up the bush for a few days recently. Lots of rain came in. The rivers were in flood, went up over 2 metres and home was on the wrong side. Also discovered that the seam sealer tape on ultrasil dry bags deteriorates – my sleeping bag and all my gear was saturated wading through chest high water. Spent a rather uncomfortable night getting dry. (NB: Body warmth will dry everything out eventually – as was pointed out here, it is just not true that wet down has no insulative properties:’.

Just look at the amount of debris the river brought down with it – acres and acres of fallen timber.

I wrote this back in 2010 when the rainfall forecast had me failed and I found myself for a few days on the wrong side of a very swollen river. Nowadays I usually have supplies stowed in a drum for such an eventuality. You could easily have to wait it out for a week or so until the flood subsides!

This was back when, though I owned a digital camera I still had not somehow got my head around the fact that photos are now virtually free. Growing up with film cameras where every snap cost say a dollar or more, you become quite stingy of taking ‘trivial’ photos, so I don’t have actual photos of the flood, roaring water, etc. Next time…I went on:

‘I saw lots of deer though no good stags and had a good time really. An interesting test of myself and various gear. Learned a lot. Many things I can improve. Finally swam out (using my inflatable mat and pack tied together as a raft/kick board – as I have done many times before) and am home safe’.

A nice sunny day followed anyway for drying out the camp. You would not think on that slight slope that your groundsheet would soak through, but during the night I guess 1-2 cm of water was flowing through the tent. The pressure of my bum was enough to increase the water pressure so that the waterproofness of the Tyvek was exceeded. A lesson there.

‘I had a Tyvek tent floor and Sea to Summit Ultrasil drybags leak through (also a wet sleeping bag is not much fun!) and Tyvek is twice as waterproof as silnylon. I think this guy has the solution to increasing waterproofness. (Also his Supercat stove is excellent):’

I tried this waterproofing method out on the floor of a Mountain Laurel Designs Supermid we carried on our cross Tasmania hike in 2011 and it worked a real treat. The ground was very sodden in some places we had to camp in Tassie but all our stuff stayed nice and dry – as well it needed to since we were nearly 8 days on the trail without resupply or any other shelter.

About the Sea to Summit Ultrasil Dry Bags. I would not hesitate to recommend these as pack liners and to keep your essential gear dry in your pack. Apparently I had some of the earlier ones which had a fault (the tape peeled). After this episode we part- filled each one with water to see whether they leaked. Then we contacted Sea to Summit. Without even seeing the leaky bags (which we could repair with seam sealer, truth be told) they sent us new replacements which now have lasted many years.

I have even swum rivers with them, and used them in canoes and pack rafts where gear can get pretty wet (eg here and here) – but they have never failed me again. I am also most impressed by the company’s after-sales service. I have experienced it also with a Black Diamond torch (from them) on which a part broke – and they sent me the new part by express post same day. No questions asked!

I spent a couple of days trying to find a (safe) way across the raging floodwaters. I walked upstream for about ten hours for example, but there was no safe place to cross. A couple of times I found a spot where a large log spanned the torrent but with the water lapping up to its underside. Downstream there was always some huge tangle of debris or ruinous rapids such that if you slipped in you would be swept to your death. You must cross where the river is widest and the current least – but best to wait it out!

You have to be very careful with river crossings if you don’t want to end up dead earlier than you would like. The corollary of this is folks who fanny about overmuch trying not to get their feet wet. Hazards will occur in the back country. Be prepared for them, and be careful. Be especially able to light a fire in the wet.

However, this post and this illustrate perhaps what I said in my ‘About’ post: ‘I have camped out a lot, more than two years plus of my life in total. I have seen the failure of just about every type of gear, and experienced just about every disaster which can befall you in the wilderness, and survived.’

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Published Nov 30, 2010

This was by no means the only time I have been ‘trapped by flood waters’. I can remember the farm I grew up on being isolated for many days during the 1955 floods in the Hunter Valley for example. Once when I was a teenager I traveled on my motorbike to a fairly remote sheep station in Western NSW (someone I had gone droving for in years gone by) arriving at the shearer’s quarters late at night after several small creek crossings. No-one at all knew I was there. I had intended to go into the small town about twenty kilometres away in the morning to buy supplies. Instead the heavens opened and I was cut off there for a week with only my trusty .22 Lithgow for company. What a treasure it was. Every day I was at least able to feats on rabbit, kangaroo, galah etc. I was pretty sick of burned and boiled meat seasoned with wild onions, cress etc after a week of it I can tell you, but I was no worse for the wear!

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