Thin Ice and Spring Melt

Buckeye CreekI recently went hiking in one of my favorite spots in the San Isabel National Forest near Leadville, Colorado. I didn’t quite know what to expect since I hadn’t been there in a while, but I thought that I’d find some combination of mud, snow, and ice. And that’s exactly what I found. The lower portion of the trail was sloppy and slippery with mud. But then as I got higher, the mud turned to snow, and I needed to put on my showshoes to prevent post-holing and breaking through the unstable crust.

When I came to the Buckeye Creek crossing, the water was still entirely covered with snow and ice (see photo, above right), but I could hear the moving water gurgling underneath as I approached. I could see recent ski and snowmobile tracks going over the crossing, but I still checked the area carefully before crossing on foot.

I found open areas in the snow, and I could see water flowing underneath:

Creek melt

I also crossed a deep, clean crack through in the snow. I peered through the crack and saw the water flowing about three feet below.

snow crack

I know this area well and knew that it was safe enough to cross with that much snow and ice still on top of the water. But even if I’d never been to this area before, I had several terrain clues in my surroundings, alerting me to presence of water. First…the willows:


Buckeye Creek also flows through an obvious ravine, and I could hear the water flowing underneath the snow and ice. All of these clues, including local knowledge, helped me hike safely through the area.

Want to know more about icy water crossings?
Read my article on the Survival Skills site:
“How to Survive a Fall Through Thin Ice”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.


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