I parked by Clark Street and was instantly facing a dilemma. On one hand, I needed my coffee after a restless night of sleep. On the other hand, I could see some amazing pre-sunrise colors already appearing on the eastern horizon.
Coffee won out, so I really had to hustle to get out to L1 to in time for the sunrise!
I knew it was going be a great one as I could see several people out there already with very large and sophisticated cameras. This group has a second sense about predicting the better mornings. Fortunately, I got to the lake front just in time for the grand entrance!
I took several shots before the sun disappeared behind a cloud bank. While it was temporarily obscured, we started getting our gear together to get into the 36.4F lake. We lucked out in that we had a very calm lake with just slight wind gusts. Plus, once the super bright sun reappeared a few minutes later, we had ideal swim conditions.
As far as gear, I went with my gloves, boots, hood, and neoprene shorts, and neoprene short sleeve top. I also added a short sleeve thermo shirt underneath it all so I could swim a bit more comfortably. This turned out to be the perfect set up as I was able to get in a 1/2 mile without any real discomfort.
Post-swim was somewhat of a challenge. While the 54F air temperature and abundant sunshine really took the edge off of the afterdrop, it was still a bit more lengthy than I expected. This was due to me spending so much more time in the water compared with previous weeks.
But, of course, I’m not complaining at all about any of this!
Mid-winter mornings in Chicago are crisp, cold, and clear, and today was no exception…
The air temperature out at L1 came in at a brisk 18F. The lake reading was 33.4F with perfectly calm conditions. The only glitch was that we had a stubborn and highly mobile ice field congregating around our swim spot. Fortunately, there was enough clear open water by the North Avenue Beach wall.
I went with the fullsuit this time, and that turned out to be a very good idea as I had to do “icebreaker duty” for about 10 meters so we could have a navigable path to the open water. The ice itself was much thicker (and sharper) than it looked from outside the lake, so I took my time clearing a path so as not to slice up my relatively new wetsuit.
Once in the open area, we were able to do laps and get in a decent workout. But the ever shifting ice soon closed in our swim lane, and we decided to call it a day.
Fred, Steve, and I all met out at L1 on Saturday morning to see if we could get in one last swim of January. We were fortunate in that the swim area was completely clear and calm. However, we certainly did not have the stellar conditions of last week!
The surface temperature of the lake came in at 35F, which would later be adjusted to an official in-swim reading of 34F. The air temperature, though, came in at a biting 24F with a rather cutting breeze plaguing us while out of the water.
Because I wanted to stay in the water longer this time, I went with a full wetsuit. As such, I was able to do a 1/2 mile quite comfortably with only a minimal afterdrop. Also, I did the old scuba trick of adding hot water (actually hot tea) into my gloves before putting them on, and this made an enormous difference in swim!
Since I haven’t been doing any lengthy swims with the fullsuit, I had forgotten how much it encumbers one’s range of motion in the arms. So after finishing my 1/2 mile, I was quite fatigued in my neck and shoulders.
And you all wonder why I prefer to swim without a wetsuit!
We really lucked out with the air temperature yesterday. It was already 46F at 7:00am, and the walk out to L1 from my parked car felt more like an April morning than a January one. But my hopes were instantly dashed the moment I exited the pedestrian tunnel out by the Chess Pavilion.
L1 was once again a complete bust on Saturday morning. The southeast winds had blown all the ice up from Ohio Street Beach, and there was no swimmable area anywhere around Oak Street Beach. So after some brief discussion, we decided to give North Avenue Beach a shot. And fortunately for us, things were much better at that site!
Because of the breakwater to the south, NAB didn’t get any of the ice floes that were plaguing L1. So we had quite a spacious area of open water to play in – and we took full advantage of it!
I went with a long sleeve neoprene top this time, and it worked out great with the hood, glove, boots, and neoprene shorts. The only quibble I had was that the top rode up a bit on my torso and exposed a small area of my waist to the water during the swim. So my waistline felt like it was being sliced with razor blades for the first several minutes or so.
I managed to get in around 1/3 of a mile. I was quite comfortable with that gear setup, and I probably could have gone farther if I had been in better swim shape. Still, my fingertips were getting somewhat uncomfortable in their gloves by the end of the swim, so I’m glad I didn’t stay in the water any longer.
Almost on cue, the sun broke out over the clouds just as we were stepping out of the water. This made for a very pleasant post swim transition period, and I barely had any afterdrop at all.
Bottom line, while we may get some more colder weather over the next month or so, we’re pretty much “over the hump” now that the days are getting longer!
L1 was completely iced over – as was most of the lakefront on Saturday morning. Fortunately, we found a patch of somewhat navigable water a bit farther north…
Even though 2017 started off a bit colder than normal, I still held out hope that the gusty winds from earlier in the week would have cleared away the ice along the shoreline. However, L1 proved to be a complete bust. So I finished my coffee and took a few photos of the carnage to prove to you all that I did at least try to give it a go.
By that time, Fred had arrived. And after a short deliberation, we decided to try out the south wall up by Montrose harbor where we’ve had pretty good luck in the winter months. And that proved to be a very wise choice!
Unlike L1, the Montrose south wall actually had some open areas in the ice where could get in some swim time if we were so inclined (and we were). Plus the ladders were clear, so getting in and out was pretty easy. So we suited up right away and plopped into the icy water.
I went with a full wetsuit this time given all the ice in the area. I have learned from past experience that the cold and sharp edges of the ice can really wreak havoc on one’s exposed skin. So I needed that extra protection if I had to climb or crawl over any of the ice floes. And that pretty much described what we had to do for most of the time in the water!
The biggest challenge once we got in the lake was finding a navigable area so we could continually swim. The reason for this difficulty was that we had to contend with a slight breeze that was constantly shifting the ice floes all around us. Because of this, we would often find ourselves coming to a dead end in the water where an open swim lane had existed just a few minutes before.
Getting back to the ladder was even more of an ordeal. By that time the ice had filled in almost all of the open swim area, and we couldn’t really see much at water level. So we ended up having to scramble over newly iced over areas in order to make it back to the exit point.
But even with all these challenges and obstacles, it was still great to get in the lake!
Winter arrived a bit early this year, and last week’s air temperature plunge really brought the lake into the basement on Saturday. Still, five of us made it out to the ole’ swim site and managed to get in a workout while we had a break in the snow storms!
The air temp out at 7:00am was a brisk 24F which, believe it or not, turned out to be the high temperature for the entire weekend. But that didn’t bother me that much as I was already pretty heated up after having to hack away at the ice around L1 in order to clear out a swim entry area for us.
As far as the lake temp…there’s no way to candy coat it. At 33.6F the water was simply ferocious.
I went with the same neoprene-based set up as last week – 1.5mm short sleeve dive shirt, 3mm shorts, 3mm hood, 5mm gloves, and 7mm dive boots. I also put on heaps of petroleum jelly on my face, neck, torso, and exposed areas of my arms and legs. Fortunately, this turned out to be more than adequate for the time I was in the lake.
I made it about 30 meters past the brilliant orange 1/8 mile mark and stopped by an ice floe to take a few shots from the water level. Fred and Tim had gone further out to where the open water ended in an ice shelf. And while I would have loved to have joined them out there, I did not want to extend my swim any longer than necessary given my limited accouterments.
Just for fun and games, I climb on top of the ice floe near me. It was much thicker below the surface of the water than it appeared, but it hadn’t completely frozen through. So instead of being able to stand on top of it, the floe just came apart beneath me (but not before barking my shin – ouch!).
The post-swim gear change experience was its usual frenetic trauma. But luckily, I only had to rush back to the North Avenue Beach lot before leaping into a heated car. Still, even with all this convenience, there was no way to avoid a vigorous afterdrop!
After flirting with 40F lake temps over the past couple of weeks, we finally broke through the floor this weekend!
Five us came out on Saturday morning, and the surface temp gave a reading of 39.6F. However, the official in-swim temp came in at 37.4F, which is about average for this time of year.
The air temp was a bone-chilling 20F, but we were fortunate enough not to have any wind. Still, it was awfully difficult getting in and out of our gear with painfully numb hands!
Because we had calm water and clear conditions – as well as a welcome appearance from the sun – I didn’t go with a fullsuit. Instead, I opted for my 1.5 ml short sleeve top, neoprene shorts, foot covers, gloves, and my Cressi hood. The lake was a bit bracing at first, particularly on my exposed arms and legs. But the discomfort subsided after about five minutes, and I was quite comfortable for the remainder of the swim.
I managed to do about 1/2 mile total. I could have done more, but I must confess that I am not in as good of swim shape as I would like to be. Plus I was still shaking off the last vestiges of the rather stubborn cold I had fought off the week before.
Post-swim was the usual Kafkaesque ritual of furtively changing into warm and dry clothes with little to no manual dexterity followed by a dreamlike trot back to the sanctuary of a heated car. And the afterdrop was predictably nasty, but mercifully limited to about 15 minutes.
Here at OWC, a small group of us will continue to swim during the months of November through March – often in extreme air, water, and weather conditions. It is a very intense challenge that requires a completely different mindset as well as meticulous planning and preparation.
With this in mind, I’d like to take this opportunity to provide you all with more details on exactly how we engage in this type of activity. But before I dive this topic, I need to emphasize three things:
1) OWC winter meetups are NOT “polar bear” swim events.
This is not a “get in, get out” photo op moment that you do on a dare and follow up with hot cocoa in a warming tent. We are serious year-round swimmers, and you will find no support tents, lockers, changing rooms, hot showers, or equipment/gear rental services whenever you come out to any of our meetups.
So do NOT come out to any of our meetups if this is your expectation. At the very least you will embarrass yourself and be asked to leave. At the very worst, you will jeopardize your physical health and safety and potentially eliminate the OWC winter swimming opportunity for all others. Which leads me to my next point…
2) If you are unprepared for this experience, you can easily succumb to very negative consequences such as shock, frostbite, hypothermia, and untimely expiration.
During the warmer months, the key swimming hazards are infrequent and are usually limited to large waves or heavy chops. But the calculus is completely different once the air and water temperatures fall below the 50F (10C) demarcation point.
Under these temperature extremes, “system shock” due to rapid heat loss and cold temperature exposure is almost assured unless you have deliberately taken measures to prevent it. Which is a perfect segue to my final point…
3) As a responsible adult, you need to arrive at each meetup fully prepared to swim in whatever conditions present themselves while out at the lake – and to take full responsibility for your own personal safety at all times.
Bottom line – if you have any difficulties understanding and accepting the aforementioned items, then you candidly have no business engaging in this type of activity. For your sake and for the sake of others, please stay out of the lake this time of year!
Now that I’ve totally rained (snowed?) on everyone’s parade, let’s dispense with the gravitas and delve into the actual specifics of successful cold water swimming…
The OWC Winter Swimming Guide: (Almost) Everything You Need to Know About Year Round Swimming
Based upon my experiences with year-round swimming over the past several years, I believe there are five key areas that you need to focus on in order to maximize your chances for a successful winter swimming outcome.
I’ve organized this information into chapters below – just click on the links for the details:
As with all of my instruction and advice, this is a continual work in progress. So whenever I discover new information or experience something that adds to or alters this knowledge base, I will be sure to keep you all updated.