Water Levels, Discharge and crossings


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New member
May 21, 2009
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Canterbury, NH
We are looking for information on a few specific crossings of rivers. Any information on your crossings at these trail points in regards to depth of water and discharge rate as well as possible rock crossings would be helpful.
1. Dry River, (two crossing locations) A. Dry River Trail to Dry River Connector (Dry River Tr.) B. Dry River from Mt. Clinton Tr back to Dry River Tr.
2. Multiple crossings of Rocky Branch, (Rocky Branch Tr. from Jericho Rd. to height of land)
3. Wild River, Crossing at "spider bridge", Black Angel Tr.
I have been looking at USGS conditions at Wild River but the station is in Gilead which is quite a distance from the crossing at Black Angel.
The Dry River and Rocky Branch don't have measurements and the closest is the Saco in Bartlett which they feed but is a very different river.
If I am missing a source or information on these sites let me know.
Not worried about walking in water just depth and water speed, especially in regards to a smaller hiker.
The gauge readings are still very useful despite the difference in location. I cant comment on the Dry River as its been years since I have been out there. Most river crossings in the whites are trivial in the summer except when there has been recent rain. If you look at the gauge info page they will give you a trend over several days with the option of increasing the number of days. Its pretty easy to corelate the peaks with recent rain events as snow pack does not factor in (in the spring it does so air and water temp has to be factored in). If you look at a peak you will find that it peaks quick and drops quick unless there is an extended multiday rain event. In the table is also long term average for the particular day. So if you pick a day or days to hike with low forecast for rain, the river is going to be running at the long term average unless a front comes through and there are heavy thundershowers. The spots that are picked for crossings are usually selected to be wide and shallow so unless there is an unusual short term precip event, think knee deep. Given that the FS just hacked in a couple of crossings on the Dry River after a major flooding event I could not speculate on how well the new crossings were selected. Note the former long term White Mountain Guide author Gene D was careful to point out that he rarely rock hopped as the potential injury and time spent dealing with a failed attempt made stopping to take the shoes off preferable. I use trail runners and if I get my feet wet they dry out quick.

That being said, I did the Wild River spider bridge two years ago in summer and the crossing was a dry foot rock hop , or a wet foot knee deep. I did the Moriah Brook last summer twice and I rock hopped while my friends wet footed it at best knee deep. I also did the Shelburne trail crossing and it was wet foot in one spot due to lack of suitable rocks. I also did the lower Rocky Branch last summer and the upper crossing was a rock hop. In the past the upper crossings heading towards Mt Isolation were minimal and a couple could be skipped by following an obvious herdpath on the east side of the river. On the lower Rocky Branch the biggest challenge is figuring where the trail is at the major washout/new course of the stream. The Rocky Branch predominantly follows the west side of the river prior to the wash out the stream took a sharp right around what I think was an ancient slide that diverted the stream. The trail went across the stream and then in about 200 yards crossed back. Post washout the stream had eroded a new channel substantially bypassing the old channel. So the trail still crosses the old stream but trail stays to the west side of the new channel. In some cases its in the new channel. Eventually its heads into the woods and goes down the old river bank and then crosses the old channel which still has water in it but is quite shallow. This is geological activity on the fast track, I would not be surprised if this area has changed since last summer but expect the new channel is better established (unless the steep banking it eroded through slides and blocks the new channel. The other lower crossing just south of the campground is strange, the bridge is still there in perfect shape but the ramps to the bridge had were gone leaving a significant drop to the river eroded out river bed that ate the ramps. Someone had rigged up something to deal with the drop but I remember thinking I probably could have waded across with less effort.

I am trying to line up someone this summer to to car spot and traverse from the Upper Rocky Branch lot west to the Mt Isolation trail with quick stop on Isolation and then hike the west side of the Mt isolation trail to the Dry River Trail and then out vis the Dry River trail partially as an excuse to see the washouts which appear to be impressive. I will do this when it has not rained for 24 hours and no rain is expected.
I did the Wild River crossing on the Black Angel Trail just beyond the old Spider Bridge location on 7/12/20. It had rained quite a bit the previous day. The gauge in Gilead (USGS 01054200 Wild River) was approximately 800 cfs at the time I crossed. Most of the crossing was slower mid-shin deep water but the main channel (approximately 20' wide or so) was fast moving water well up the thigh (I am 6'3"). You definitely needed to look around a bit for the right spot to cross. There were definitely spots that were "no go"material in my book. The area where the Spider bridge used to be was definitely not crossable nor was the official spot on the Black Angel Trail. I was able to find a decent spot maybe 100' or so downstream where I could walk on the lee side of good sized rocks and make a safe crossing. I didn't feel like I was pushing it but it was far from comfortable and would definitely have been an issue if I had slipped and fell. Much later in the day I did the Shelburne Trail ford. The gauge had dropped to about 600 cfs at that point. It was very wide (maybe 100 ft) but a comfortable, consistent knee deep crossing if you went a bit downstream of the official crossing area.

I would say that a 500 cfs reading or lower on the Gilead gauge would probably make for reasonable crossings. Definitely getting wet feet but I think the danger level would be reasonably low. Of course everyone's "go/no go" decision will vary. I generally hike alone so I lean to the conservative side on decisions like this. As peakbagger pointed out the Wild River rises and falls VERY QUICKLY and any precipitation in the area needs to be closely monitored relative to your route. The day before my hike the gauge spiked close to 3000 cfs from some heavy afternoon thunderstorms and was still 1500 cfs when I left my house in CT AM. By the time I hit the trail it had fallen to about 1000 cfs.

As far as a source for river "analysis" Wikipedia has river basin articles for each state that have a hierarchy of what rivers flow into other ones. This is NH:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rivers_of_New_Hampshire. When I started following all this stuff I found it very useful. It has just about every named brook you'll encounter on it so you can follow the streams down the map until you hit a USGS gauge that you can use as a reference. As peakbagger also said the gauge level is still very useful even if it is far from where you will be if you keep notes of what that gauge was the day you hiked and a mental image of how the crossings were that day. As an example, I use the USGS 01137500 AMMONOOSUC RIVER AT BETHLEHEM JUNCTION, NH gauge to monitor what I expect the crossings of the Little River to be like on the way to the Twins. When that gauge is 200 cfs or lower the 3rd crossing on the trail is usually rock hoppable with dry feet. I don't check this stuff nearly as often as I used to but there were 4 or 5 gauges I would check the night before that gave me a pretty good idea of what things were going to be like the following day.
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Someone just posted a recent trip report on the Dry River and they did not have any problems. As others said, rain will be the main issue. They should be relatively quick ups and downs as the drainage areas are not as large as your major rivers. Issue of course is that a T-storm could drop an inch or two in the Dry River drainage and not go far enough north to impact the Carter Range.
Worst case it someone gets to do an unplanned overnight. During the summer and early fall an uplanned overnight is not particularly dangerous. The biggest issue is keeping loved ones from calling S&R when it gets dark. Within 12 hours of heavy rain, the streams will be back to the prior flow. Note stream crossing usually are down in deep valleys where cell coverage is usually the worst.
1. Dry River, (two crossing locations) A. Dry River Trail to Dry River Connector (Dry River Tr.)
Do you mean the crossing of the Dry River on the Mt. Eisenhower Trail between the Dry River Trail and the Dry River Cutoff? (If you don't have a post-Irene map, you probably want to get one.) As of this past Sunday morning it was not hoppable but fordable with reasonable caution. Just above knee-deep on me (6'3") but really only for a step or two, and the bottom was good.
That is the one, and we will do the one below at the Mt. Clinton, Dry River Tr on the way out. Thanks
Hi All,
Thank you for all the information. We are currently continuing to monitor all these locations. Our current July pattern of thunderstorms every other day makes the level predictions a bit trickier. We were able to take some dates that folks made the Dry River and Rocky Branch crossing(s) in other years and use the information to look at the Saco for that date so that we can at least predict what we will find upstream. The actual crossing information posted here is helpful (we can look at those dates as well). Again, thanks, much appreciated.
If any others have dates of crossings they wish to share that would be great.
To start, thanks again to those who responded. I used your info as well as others to look at dates to make decisions on crossings. Now that we have done all of these crossings I'll provide some data for others making decisions on when to cross. Of course, this data is only a snapshot and your comfort/risk levels may be very different from ours. We crossed the Wild River 0n 7/30 above the old spider bridge. We had full backpacking gear which also limited us for a rock hop. We did not spend a great deal of time looking for a place to cross though there may have been one upstream (none down). We just put on Crocs and went across. Water was about knee high in deepest channel. Stream depth in Gilead (10 miles downstream) was at 40ft3/sec. Depth was 2.3'. It jumped to over 110ft3/sec overnight (thunderstorm of fairly short duration)and went up to a depth of 2.72'. On recrossing in the PM on 7/31 the depth had dropped to 2.45' and discharge was 60ft3/sec. No issues at this depth or speed, just waded across (knee high, thigh high on 5'4" partner).
We hiked Rocky Branch (south section) on 8/2 and all the crossings of RB were rock hops. Not even shoe soles got wet. Saco in Bartlett (River St) was at 40.3ft3/sec and depth was at 2.41'. On 8/9 Did the Dry River crossings (again using Saco River St. Data). Discharge was at 73.5ft3/sec and Depth was at 2.56'. The possibly problematic crossing at the Dry River Connector was an easy rock hop with only wet soles. Another inch or two of depth would have made for wet feet but still easy. There is also a higher upstream crossing that looks like it could be done in much higher water. Crossing the DR at the Mt. Clinton Trail was also a rock hop with wet sole but would also be easy but wetter at higher depths. As stated by PB the depths/speed change quickly with storms and coming through these watersheds with all the side stream you can see why. They also come down fairly quickly. Safe and happy trails.
How was the south section of Rocky Branch (from Jericho Rd to Isolation East) to navigate? Planning a one night loop over Stairs and Isolation sometime this fall.
Very easy to follow except at a couple of water crossings but a quick survey will show you the way. Much more enjoyable than Iso East which was by far the worst part of a 22 mile day!