This time of year is typically a “break through” point for us. Since we’ve been coming out to the lake fairly consistently, we’ve finally managed to acclimate to the point where the whole winter swimming thing is now quite tolerable – or at least it’s not the shocking ordeal that it was in late December or early January!
Bottom line, we are officially “over the hump” and now easily coasting towards Springtime – which is a wonderful feeling!
Mary Ellen, Tim, and Fred all met up with me out at L1 where we had practically ideal swimming conditions. But for a slight ripple, the lake was perfectly calm, and the cloudless sky allowed for plenty of life-enhancing sunshine during our journey out into the open water.
Because of these more favorable circumstances, I chose to go with just a neoprene short sleeve top and shorts along with my hood, gloves, and boots. The 34.2F water was at first a bit painful on the exposed parts of my arms and legs, but I fully acclimated by the time I hit the 1/8 mile point. My hands, however, were frozen clubs the entire time I was in the lake.
I was wearing new 7mm slip on scuba gloves that, for the most part, worked great. But since I had no sleeves to tuck them into, I had a constant stream of cold water circulating through my fingers. So while these gloves will be ideal for use with my wetsuit, I am still seeking the “holy grail” of winter swim gloves!
Nevertheless, even with this equipment glitch it was still an amazing morning out at the old swim site. And now that the days are getting longer and Spring is just a few short weeks away (so sayeth the groundhog), I suspect that we will soon be waxing nostalgic about our winter adventures while overheating in a 60F lake!
Three of us met out at L1 earlier this morning just in time for yet another magnificent sunrise. And even better, the ice floes that had been at the shore had now moved out about 100 feet, forming a thin breakwater sheltering a perfectly calm swim area. So we suited up as soon as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and got into the lake.
My three-year-old wetsuit had started to show some wear over the last couple of months, so I decided to try out a brand new one that I had in reserve. And what a difference that made!
Other than the cold water on the exposed parts of my face, I was completely comfortable during the swim. And even the initial cold shock on my face wore off after a couple of minutes. Of course, having abundant sunshine and perfectly calm water helped out a lot…
I made it out to the 1/8 mile point until I ran into an impassable mass of ice floes. So I started back and decided to navigate outside of the ice flow breakwater into the clear areas of the lake. I swam there for most of the way back to before “punching through” to the inside area of open water.
We finished up our swim and had just changed back into our civilian garb when the sun disappeared again behind some clouds that came in from the west. Lucky for us, we got to take advantage of all of the day’s sunshine!
L1 at daybreak
Navigating the shore hazards
Swim start with Fred and new Ice Monster Mary Ellen (congrats!)
While L1 is still the finest swim spot on the planet, it’s always a treat to see “how the other half swims” during the winter months…
I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to return to Kauai earlier this month, and I wasted no time getting back into the water. The ocean temperature at Shipwreck Beach was a uniform 79.1F, and the buoyancy factor of the salt water made swimming a breeze compared to Lake Michigan.
There were some funky swells near the shore, but things were quite calm about 150 feet out. So after getting out there, it was a fairly textbook out-and-back mile swimming parallel to the shore. Plus I was able to scope out the area underneath the cliff for reasons which are quite obvious in the video.
The air temperature was a fiery 31F this morning out at the lake, but an east wind had forced all of the ice onto the shoreline. So despite checking out multiple sites on the lakefront, we could not find one single patch of swimmable water.
Nevertheless, it was a very photogenic morning. So all was not lost!
Three of us met out at L1 during a veritable heat wave. The 27F air temperature was downright balmy compared to the single digit temps a few days earlier, and the skies were completely clear outside of a peevish cloud wall on the eastern horizon.
The water conditions, though, were a bit of a challenge…
The official lake temp came in at 34.0F (1.1C). While that was itself rather daunting, we also had to contend with fairly vigorous 2 to 4 foot swells that intensified in the middle of our swim.
Nevertheless, I managed to do an out and back 1/4 mile in the icy chops before my numb fingertips commanded me to get out of the lake!
A couple of very dedicated photographers
An icy lakefront
Swim finish at L1 (with bonus airplane and Danny shots!)
In stark contrast to last week’s meetup, yesterday’s swim was more akin to something we’d normally experience in mid to late January…
I arrived a bit early and decided to park in the NAB lot since the air temp was a biting 18F (-7.7C). I joined the rest of the late Autumn crew already alighting around L1, and I quickly placed the thermometer in the lake, trying to expose my hands as little as possible to the icy air.
We were expecting the mercury to be below 40F (4.4C), but much to our astonishment, it came in at a rather scorching 42.4F (5.7C)! We waiting until well after the sunrise before we started to suit up since it was as astonishing as ever, as you can see below.
I went with the same setup as last week – neoprene gloves, booties, shorts, and hood – and was actually quite comfortable once I got into the lake. In fact, my hands, which had become painfully numb after being exposed to the nippy air, actually warmed up whilst in swim!
Given my limited accoutrements, I only did 1/4 a mile this time. And when I exited the lake back into the frigid air, I grabbed all my stuff and made a mad dash to the mercifully close parking lot where I threw all my stuff into the back seat of my car and blasted the heat in anticipation of the inevitable afterdrop.
It took about 10 minutes before the shivering ceased, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as some of the ones I’ve experienced in the past. I think the quick transition from the swim to the warm car really made a difference.
So the $15 spent in the NAB lot turned out to be an excellent investment!
Tim, Fred, and I met out at L1 on a morning that looked nothing like mid-December. With the dense fog, 50F air temperature, and 44.2F lake reading, Saturday morning was more akin to early Spring than late Autumn. But we certainly weren’t complaining!
Because of the unseasonably warm conditions, I decided to channel Marton and Nick and forego the wetsuit for this swim. I still wore my neoprene gloves, boots, shorts, and hood. But my chest, arms, and legs were at the mercy of Mother Nature.
Fortunately, it wasn’t as extreme as I was expecting!
I stepped down the ladder to let the water over lap my legs, and it wasn’t as shocking as the previous week. So I waded out into the open water, go acclimated pretty quickly, and started heading south.
I swam down to the 1/4 mile mark where Fred and Tim were waiting. I am a much slower swimmer than they are, so they had quickly overtaken and passed me early on. We chatted very briefly, and I turned around to head back while I was still in “aerobic mode.”
The return part of the swim seemed to take a bit longer as there was a slight southbound current we had to swim through in order to get back to L1. So the last 100 meters seemed to take an agonizingly long time in the frigid lake!
We didn’t waste any time once we got out of the water. I doffed my neoprene, got into some warm layers, and started pounding down hot cups of coffee from my thermos – just in time for the arrival of the good ole’ afterdrop!
We got a surprise visit from Danny whom we haven’t seen out at the lakefront for quite some time. We also saw some of the other summer “regulars” out on the bike path.
Again, if I hadn’t checked my calendar, I could have sworn it was early Spring!
Five of us met out at L1 just a little before sunrise. The air, at 31F, was a bit nippy, but the lake was mostly calm.
We decided to wait a bit for the sun to peek out over the cloud wall to the east. In truth, it was just procrastination as we had to overcome a lot of inertia to summon the nerve to get into the lake!
After re-checking the lake’s surface temp (just over 43F) we suited up and gingerly climbed down L1 into the cold abyss. As expected, the first few minutes were a bit uncomfortable – particularly on the exposed areas of my face and neck. But that subsided by the 1/8 mile point, and it was a fairly textbook swim from that point onward.
I stopped at the 1/4 mile point and took some pictures and video clips. There were several runners out that morning on the lakefront path, and we got the usual looks of incredulity we’ve been accustomed to receiving since October.
I had a bit of difficulty with my right glove that required a brief exit from the lake. It was not completely covered by my wetsuit, so I was getting a constant inflow of cold water throughout the swim. Fortunately, Pete was riding by on his bike, and he helped me adjust it – something I could not do with both hands fully gloved!
When we finished up, it was a mad dash to get out of our freezing neoprene and into warm and dry clothes. But by then the sun was out in full force – and it really took the edge off of our “open air” swim locker room!
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.
A larger than expected group of hearty Lake Monsters met out at L1 to take on big bad Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, L1 was a chaotic mess with 5+ foot waves and a completely unnavigable swim area. So we opted for Plan B and hightailed it down to Ohio Street Beach.
The breakwaters at OSB gave us much better swim conditions, but it was still very much of a “washing machine” out in the water. Still, several of us got in close to 1/2 mile out in the chops before heading back to the beach.
I opted to go with a wetsuit for the first time since April, so the swim itself was pretty tolerable. I didn’t have my thermometer on hand, so I am estimating the lake temperature at around 48F just based on the “pain factor” on my hands and feet (I had forgotten my gloves and foot covers – I shan’t be making that mistake again!).
We didn’t get any snow at 7:00am, so we missed the opportunity to get in our first official “snow swim” of the year. But we still earned our Lake Monster stripes in the constant sleet and 37F air temperature.