Energy & Sustainability

Tim Mowrer made this video documenting the technique used to cross Batang Tebo in central Sumatra, Indonesia. One tethered man swims across and ties a rope, then gear and people cross while attached to that rope. Tim and his team have been researching various ways to improvise rope bridges across this dangerous river which floods to twice its normal size during the rainy season. They were influenced by this site about rope bridges. (Thanks, Alex!)

12 thoughts on “HOW TO – Cross the Tebo River

  1. In a fast flowing river, being tied to a rope, as the 1st guy across, will greatly increase the risk of drowning. You end up being pinned down by the current while the rope holds you in place: better to be swept away but with your head above water. Letting go of the rope, besides defeating the whole point of being tied in the first place, won’t help either: now you’re swept away and you have a really heavy wet thing with huge surface area tied to you! It’s my understanding that the main way people die is by being pinned (by a rope, or more usually against a rock or tree) or by thonking their head on a rock and going unconscious.

    (Benefit of the doubt: perhaps they meant “carrying a rope” instead; that way he can drop it if he gets in trouble.)

    The rest of the video seemed to be setting up a fairly reasonable-looking tyrolean traverse, although who knows about those knots. :) They should invest in a few more carabiners to reduce their weird-knot factor and to help them pulley the rope tighter, as well as perhaps a PFD or two…

    I’m no expert on swift-water crossing, but I’m pretty sure there are safer ways to get an end of the rope across than having one guy duke it out alone.

    I’ve never seen a use of grappling hooks outside of hollywood stunt lots, but with all that vegetation they’ve got there, it may be possible to chuck something across that will snarl in a tree firmly enough hold body weight and be high enough to keep a head above water…

    More realistic solution to getting the first guy across: invest in a small raft like an Alpacka — only 4 lbs deflated! There is a learning curve, as with kayaks, but proficient folks navigate class 5 rapids without any problems.

  2. Just a note: your comment interface sucks. FF 2.0.14;
    – a successful anonymous comment dumps you at the article but says “0 comments”. (This is why I kept trying)
    – If you have the letters wrong and ‘go back’ it doesn’t show you the comment you were just editing.

  3. I’ve guided white water trips for many years and am qualified in swiftwater rescue. The only reason to tie a rope around someone is to make the body easier to recover.
    You can swim rapids with prroper gear and training but tieing a rope to anyone is absolutely foolish.
    Save a life, search for “Swiftwater Rescue” by Slim Ray.

  4. Thanks for the comments.

    I agree this could be much safer, but just to clarify: this river is waist to chest deep. Most of the time the initial crosser is not swimming, but merely wading across. He swims/floats briefly through a couple of swift areas.

    Untying the rope from the crosser is a good bit of advice, one I think we will use next time.

    We’ve tried locating a rubber dinghy, but without much success. If you know where I can pick one up in Sumatra or Jakarta, please let me know!

    Grappling hooks / snagging the rope is simply a bad idea, not to mention impossible; it is much less safe than braving the currents.

    This is definitely a temporary solution. We plan to construct a more permanent structure (i.e. bridge) in the future. We can’t simply leave the rope strung across the river month to month since small rodents would nibble on it, possibly on the far side where we cannot check.

    Thanks again for the comments / advice.

  5. Hi Tim,

    Slow to follow-up back here — cleaning out bookmarks and this was one of them.

    It’s rather $$, but you can get a nice raft from alpackaraft.com. Their checkout form seems to indicate international shipping is OK. Don’t forget a paddle. :)

    I’m certain you can get something cheaper shipped as well; the advantage of the Alpacka is that it deflates tiny and only weighs a few pounds, meaning you can do some very long treks and bring the boat along. (One advantage of the light weight: cheaper international shipping?)

    Finally: waist/chest deep is absolutely deep enough to be deadly in a quick-flowing river….

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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